California ammo background check law blocked 100-plus sales last month. Is it making the state safer?

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, accompanied by Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, right, accompanied by Gov. Gavin Newsom, at a recent event.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California blocked more than 100 felons and other prohibited persons from buying ammunition in the last month using a new law requiring background checks, the state attorney general said Monday.

The new figures were released just days after mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio that left 34 people dead and dozens of others injured.

Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra reported the numbers to a federal judge in arguing against an injunction sought by gun owner rights groups to block the law requiring background checks, which was approved by voters in Proposition 63 and through legislation.


“The evidence shows that, in the absence of eligibility checks like the ones challenged here, prohibited persons regularly purchase ammunition from unwitting vendors,” said the written brief filed late Monday in federal court in San Diego.

The law that took effect July 1 prevents ammo purchases by customers at gun shops if they cannot show they have a registered firearm or are on a list of felons or severely mentally ill, thus are disqualified from possessing guns.

“California has a substantial interest in increasing public safety and preventing crime, and the Ammunition Eligibility Check Laws, which prevent convicted felons and other prohibited persons from purchasing ammunition, is a reasonable fit to address that interest,” Becerra said in the filing.

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The state made the claim as it fights a lawsuit by the California Rifle and Pistol Assn., the state affiliate of the National Rifle Assn., that is seeking to block enforcement of the new background checks for ammo purchasers.

“As loving parents, gun owners want to stop the misuse of firearms by violent criminals. But this system isn’t catching terrorists,” said Chuck Michel, an attorney for the gun groups.

Sean Brady, another attorney for the groups, said the state’s filing also shows that some 10,000 other ammunition purchases were not immediately approved during the first month, which he says indicates glitches in the system impacting law-abiding gun owners.


Gun shop owners say many of the other denials may be people eligible to buy ammo but whose names on their driver’s licenses do not exactly match gun registration records.

Becerra and Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters Monday that they are hopeful the law will survive the court challenge.

“We are going to fight like the dickens,” Newsom said. “We are confident that we will prevail.” He said that the law requiring background checks for ammunition buyers is needed because guns alone don’t kill people. “Guns require a dangerous component: That’s ammunition.”

The request for an injunction was filed last month in federal court by the California Rifle and Pistol Assn., and argued that the background checks have created mass confusion and unconstitutional burden on law-abiding gun owners.

“While making sure dangerous people do not obtain weapons is a laudable goal for government, California’s scheme goes too far and must be enjoined,” the injunction request argues. “California ammunition vendors have reported as high as 60% of people who undergo California’s background check do not pass.”
The law took effect July 1.

“California’s scheme imposes severe burdens on exercising the right to acquire ammunition, including effectively barring some from acquiring ammunition necessary to exercise their right to armed defense at all,” the gun group argued to the federal court.

The law challenged with the injunction filing also requires Californians buying ammunition from out of state on the internet or at gun shows to have it shipped to a licensed vendor in California where background check is required.


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The injunction request was added to an earlier lawsuit by plaintiffs including Olympic medalist shooter Kim Rhode seeking to have the entire law tossed out.

The court filing by Becerra comes just days after a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people, an attacker in El Paso killed 22 and a 19-year-old armed with an AK-47-style rifle in Gilroy, Calif., killed three.

Meanwhile, a state lawmaker on Monday reacted to three mass shootings in the previous week by saying he plans to introduce a new tax on ammunition purchased in California to pay for an expansion of violence prevention programs.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) said he will add the bullet tax to a bill he plans to revive that would also set a $25 tax on the sale of handguns and semiautomatic rifles sold in California. The tax revenue would go to grants to local programs that seek to reduce violence in communities where gun crimes are common.

“We are not helpless or hopeless when it comes to ending gun terror in the United States,” Levine said. “A $25 tax on firearms is a small amount for gun owners to pay to stem the tragic violence guns inflict on innocent Californians and will create a permanent and desperately needed funding source to reduce gun violence in our state.”