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Should Consumers have to Undergo a Background Check when Buying Ammunition?

Box of bullets

Encompassed in the study of Criminal Justice is the subject of whether certain laws are constitutional or unconstitutional. The recent passing of a law requiring consumers to pass a background check to purchase ammunition provides another opportunity to view arguments on both sides of the debate. Let’s explore.

As of July 1, 2019, consumers in California who wish to purchase ammunition for their firearms are required to undergo a background check through the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ). While some say that this should decrease the number of deaths occurring in the state due to gun violence, others argue that it’s a violation of the rights of law-abiding citizens.

It’s always important to ensure that we’re not acting with knee-jerk reactions or infringing on the rights of those who abide by the law and act responsibly with the firearms in their possession. At the same time, ensuring that our communities are protected and free from senseless crime is of the utmost importance. This is especially salient given the more recent shootings in El Paso, Texas and the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California — to name only a few. Because it’s difficult to monitor proper usage of firearms, erring on the side of caution in an effort to make access to ammunition more restrictive seems to be a reasonable means to an end.

However, this is the current topic of many hot debates throughout the state.

Arguments for Background Checks for Ammunition

Of course, the biggest argument for the California DOJ background checks is that it would keep people on California’s streets safer. If people are required to undergo several security screenings before they can own a firearm (or anything related to a firearm), it may ensure that they will use those purchases wisely and responsibly. This could help reduce the number of fatalities seen on California’s streets, particularly given that the state has seen far too many just recently.

Others argue that the matter should not even be up for debate. These proponents of the new law say if you do not have anything to hide, undergoing a background check should not be much of an inconvenience. These individuals also state that background checks are not an invasive procedure and can be done fairly quickly. As such, they also do not infringe on the rights of those who already comply with the law.

Some people just want to see more regulations on anything pertaining to firearms, even if it is only ammunition. These individuals also cite the latest shootings in California, and raise concern for the increased numbers seen throughout the country in the last several years. In a place where it seems that gun violence is something read about in the news every day, those making this argument will do just about anything to stop it.

Arguments against Background Checks for Ammunition

People who are against the new law are also quite vocal about their displeasure. Again, the main argument of these critics is that firearm owners are already following the law. They have purchased a gun legally, obtained the proper registration, and now are required to jump through one more hoop just to use what is legally theirs. This argument also states that those who illegally possess firearms are also not likely to go through the proper procedures for purchasing ammunition for them. As such, the new law will not do anything to keep dangerous ammunition out of the hands of those who should not have it.

Of course, there’s also the old saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” This argument is made nearly every time any form of proposed gun control policy comes up and this time, it’s no different. Critics pushing this argument state that the  background checks for ammunition purchases will not stop mental health issues and will not prevent the number of fatalities from gun violence. They believe that individuals who want to use their firearm in a way that shows blatant disregard for human life will not be dissuaded from doing so simply because they have to undergo a background check.

Some of the loudest critics argue that background checks on purchases of ammunition are simply unnecessary. When a person purchases a firearm, they are already required to undergo a background check. It doesn’t make sense for individuals to go through another one just to buy ammunition, which is essentially an accessory to their last purchase. Some critics state that this is merely an example of government bureaucracy, and a way for the state to take more money from its residents.

The California Rifle and Pistol Association is so upset by the new law that they’ve filed a lawsuit to fight it. They say it’s an unconstitutional law, not only for gun owners and law-abiding citizens, but for dealers too. It has been said that many people do not pass a background check. In fact, the number is as high as 60 percent. There are many reasons for this and few, say critics, have anything to do with an individual’s willingness to abide by the law. However, when they cannot pass a background check, they cannot purchase the ammunition they are legally entitled to.

California’s Background Check Process

In California, anyone wishing to purchase a firearm must undergo a background check. To do so, the consumer must first submit an application to buy the firearm, also known as a Dealer Record of Sale, to the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ). They can do this through a licensed dealer. The dealer is required to provide certain information to the CA DOJ, such as the purchaser’s age and the type of firearm that they would like to purchase. This is sent to the CA DOJ via electronic transfer, although sometimes the agency allows for another form of delivery.

When making a purchase, the consumer must also present photo identification to the dealer who obtains information from it using the magnetic strip on the back. This is the only form of data collection the CA DOJ allows.

After the CA DOJ receives this information from the firearms dealer, they perform their own investigation. During this time they will search authorized records, such as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database. This process allows them to search through past records, whether the person is prohibited from possessing firearms, and other information of interest. The CA DOJ will also review their own records as well as those from the California Department of State Hospitals.

In cases where a consumer is prohibited from owning firearms, and now ammunition, the dealer must make the CA DOJ aware and provide the purchaser with a Prohibited Notice and Transfer form. This states that the individuals cannot own firearms or ammunition for reason of the CA DOJ’s prohibition.

It is important that anyone wishing to purchase a firearm in California also understand that they must provide proof of residency. This is simply something that states that the person lives within the state. Often, utility bills or lease agreements are used as proof of residency. Now, consumers wishing to purchase ammunition will have to undergo many of the same procedures.

Whether California’s new laws will help better protect everyone in the state or infringe on the rights of residents is yet to be seen. As of this writing, the new law is currently very much in its early days.


About the Author
Jo-Anna NievesJo-Anna Nieves has dedicated her life to the law. She obtained her Juris Doctorate from Florida State University College of Law and has since worked in both the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office. As the leader of her own law firm, she is passionate about helping those who have been wrongly accused retain their freedom.

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