Beginning on July 1, 2019, California will become the first state to require point-of-sale background checks to purchase firearm ammunition. Proposition 63, which voters approved in 2016, in conjunction with other legislation created the requirement and set the enactment date. Proposition 63 was a ballot initiative designed to ban large-capacity magazines, require background checks for people who purchase ammunition in California, and prohibit out-of-state purchases of ammunition unless the ammo is transferred to an in-state dealer who can run a background check.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who was lieutenant governor in 2016, was involved in developing Proposition 63. On June 24, Gov. Newsom discussed the background checks going into effect, saying, “At the end of the day, it is a perverse fact: Guns don’t kill people. Unless a gun is used as a blunt instrument, a gun is not particularly dangerous. A gun requires a dangerous component and that’s ammunition.”
Chuck Michel, an attorney of the NRA and California Rifle & Pistol Association, stated, “For retailers and the average recreational shooter, these new requirements are going to, at a minimum, create practical and financial problems and friction when trying to make a simple ammunition purchase, and they will do nothing to stop access by criminals who have so many other ways to get ammunition.”
Proposition 63 is facing at least two court challenges. In Duncan v. Becerra, Judge Roger Benitez of the U.S. District Court for Southern California ruled that Proposition 63’s ban on large-capacity magazines violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney General Xavier Beccera (D) appealed Judge Benitez’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Proposition 63 is also the subject of Rhode v. Becerra—a case in which plaintiffs argue that the initiative’s out-of-state ammo ban violates the Second Amendment and imposes an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. Both of the cases are ongoing.
Four other states—Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey—require individuals to obtain licenses to purchase ammunition, which include an initial background check, but do not require background checks at point-of-sale. In 2013, New York passed legislation for a point-of-sales background check for ammunition, but the law has not gone into effect.