California gun owners brace for shortages, price hikes under new ammo regulations

“Matt Ball isn’t the type of gun enthusiast who hoards ammunition – at least not normally.
Ball, a 39-year-old banker from Roseville, is a casual shooter who spends a few days a year at the target range. Typically, when he’s running low on ammo, he swings by a local sporting-goods store and buys what he needs, or he orders online.
But like thousands of other hunters and target shooters in California, Ball has been stocking up in advance of a host of new state gun laws, set to take effect this year and next, that include ammunition regulations that are among the most stringent in the nation.
“I’ve definitely been picking up a little more than I typically would,” Ball said. “I do worry about – not so much about supply but prices. The fact California has these extra rules in place, what’s that going to be like?”

California lawmakers and voters passed a slew of gun control laws in 2016 that impose significant new restrictions on the state’s more than 6 million firearms owners. The new regulations, which take effect in stages over the next two years, affect a broad range of practices, from where you buy your ammunition to how you store your guns and who can borrow them.

Several of the new laws specifically target ammunition purchases. Among the changes coming as of January 2018: Californians who want to buy ammunition online or through catalogs will have to ship their purchases through a licensed dealer. And for the first time, state residents will have to undergo a background check when buying ammunition.

Although the restrictions on ammunition purchases don’t take effect for another year, retailers say gun owners have been buying more ammo amid uncertainty and confusion over the new laws.

“We’re selling a lot more ammunition right now,” said Patrick Jones, owner of Jones’ Fort gun store in Redding. “And we will continue to do so up until the time the registration kicks in.”

It’s not unusual to see spikes in gun and ammunition sales almost any time a new gun law is proposed – let alone passed – at the state or federal level. But law enforcement officials, retailers and other experts on firearms policy say, in the case of California’s new regulations, the fears that gun enthusiasts have about rising prices and limited availability of some types of ammunition likely are well-founded.

A major concern is that the new regulations, intended to keep ammunition out of the hands of felons and other dangerous people, will particularly disrupt life for rural hunters and shooters who have limited local options for shopping.

“There are some definite things in there that concern me – the difficulty that it’s going to create for legitimate sportsmen and sportswomen … completely legal people trying to buy ammo to try to do a legal thing,” said David Bess, chief of enforcement at the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The game wardens Bess oversees enforce state hunting and gun laws and are among the law enforcement officers most likely to encounter hunters and target shooters in the field.

Under the existing rules, anyone age 18 or older (21 or older for handguns) can buy ammunition without a background check, and sellers need no special training or license. The new laws mandate that by Jan. 1, 2018, all ammunition in California must be purchased in person through a vendor licensed by the Department of Justice. Starting that date, online orders of ammunition also must be processed through one of these vendors.

With limited exceptions, people will be barred from giving away ammunition without going through a vendor, and people won’t be able to legally import ammunition purchased out of state, unless it’s shipped to a licensed California dealer. Violators can face misdemeanor charges.

Starting July 2019, another layer of oversight kicks in: Anyone buying ammunition from a vendor will be required to undergo background screening via a state system.

The idea behind the new system is to make it more difficult for felons and others who can’t pass a background check to get ammunition – with the hope that lives will be saved. “It just makes it a little bit harder for those people to have ammunition,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law who writes about Second Amendment issues.
But adding to the confusion for law-abiding gun owners, there are two conflicting background check requirements that the courts may need to sort out.

by Ryan Sabalow

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