California has among the most stringent gun laws in the country and on Monday a far-reaching new initiative to curb violence will require background checks for every ammunition purchase.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and other proponents said it will save lives but opponents are suing in hopes of eventually undoing a law they said will mostly harm millions of law-abiding gun owners.
Voters approved the checks in 2016 and set an effective date of July 1. Ammunition dealers are seeing a surge in sales as customers stock up before the requirement takes effect.
“In the last two weeks I’ve been up about 300%” with people “bulking up because of these stupid new laws,” said Chris Puehse, who owns Foothill Ammo east of Sacramento.
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spokeswoman Amanda Wilcox appeared with Newsom at a news conference Tuesday and said the checks are “the kind of thing that could have prevented” last week’s fatal shooting of rookie Sacramento police Officer Tara O’Sullivan.
Prosecutors charge that Adel Sambrano Ramos fatally shot the 26-year-old officer using one of two rifles assembled from parts to create assault weapons that are illegal in California. Wilcox and other supporters said ammunition background checks can help authorities discover so-called ghost guns that aren’t registered with the state.
The state Department of Justice, which will administer the background check program, estimates there will be 13.2 million ammunition purchases each year. But 13 million will be by people who already cleared background checks when they bought guns in California, so they are already registered in the state’s gun owners’ database.
They will pay a $1 processing fee each time they pick up bullets or shotgun shells.
Store clerks will run buyers’ identification through that database and a second database of those who bought guns legally but are no longer allowed to own them because of certain criminal convictions or mental health commitments. Those who pass get their ammo on the spot.
But the Democratic governor and Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said there are still some issues that must be addressed. People who bought rifles or shotguns before 2014 and anyone who bought a handgun before 1996 are likely not in the state’s Armed and Prohibited Persons System.
“Sometimes in the drafting process little bits and pieces don’t always fit perfectly together,” Thomas said.