Maryland’s Attorney General, Brian Frosh, recently joined 15 other State Attorneys General in filing a brief in a case now pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a California law that required background checks on the purchases of ammunition. The case, Rhode v. Becerra (Case No. 20-55437) which emanated from the U.S. District Court of California (Southern District).
In 2016, California enacted several statutes that placed restrictions on the purchase, sale, transfer or importation of ammunition. For the sake of brevity, I will only discuss how these laws impose a significant burden on the purchase, transfer or importation of ammunition affects the end user of such ammunition.
The law states that as of January 1, 2018, a resident of California may not bring or transport into California any ammunition that was purchased outside the state. The only way that a resident can purchase ammunition from out of state is to ship to a licensed vendor to process the transaction and maybe subject to a fee imposed by that vendor.
AS of January 1, 2019, all ammunition vendors were required to register the sale of every individual ammunition purchase by recording such transaction and submitting it to the California Department of Justice and required the following information to be recorded: the purchasers drivers’ license number, the brand, type and amount of ammunition sold, the purchaser’s full name, signature, date of birth, address and telephone number. This information is also required for private party sales that must be completed through a licensed ammunition vendor.
However, if the above was not draconian enough, as of July 1, 2019, every individual ammunition sale must be pre-approved by the California Department of Justice PRIOR to the purchaser taking possession of the ammunition. These sales, for the most part will only be approved to an individual who already has a firearm registered in the California Automated Firearms System(1).
The lawsuit that was filed by a collection of citizens and firearms related businesses, sought to overturn this law on several grounds.
At the original trial court level, the judge in April of this year issued a stay of enforcement to this byzantine set of laws and regulations. Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the District Court judge and the laws remain in effect right now while the case is being actively litigated.
On June 19, 2020, the Attorneys General of 16 states, including Maryland filed a Friend of the Court brief. In this brief, the Attorneys General argue that “the Supreme Court has recognized that the Second Amendment allows states to address the harmful effects of gun violence through new regulations.” They further postulate that California’s ammunition regulations is an appropriate use of that authority.
It is interesting to note that the Attorneys General also state that the California law is similar to other states’ laws that restrict the sale of ammunition. Only one state, New York, has enacted any such law, which was in 2013, but by 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended that due to its enforceability and inability to implement that portion of the law.
While certain states do have requirements on the purchase of ammunition, none of those states require a background check to purchase ammunition nor do they prohibit ammunition purchased from out-of-state to be brought back into the jurisdiction by legal gun owners.
While this type of law has not been introduced into Maryland, if California proceeds to win this case and the laws are therefore ruled constitutional, it would be a safe bet that Maryland will introduce a similar law that will further restrict legal gun owners from purchasing ammunition as they now know it.