FPC Brief: Background Checks for Ammo Violate Second Amendment

ammo background checks

Yesterday, Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) and Firearms Policy Foundation (FPF) announced the filing of an important amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Rhode v. Becerra. The brief was joined by the California Gun Rights Foundation, Madison Society Foundation, and Second Amendment Foundation. It is available online at FPCLegal.org.

In 2016, California enacted a series of regulations on ammunition sales. Ammunition sales must now be conducted by a licensed ammunition vendor, occur face-to-face at the vendor’s California location, and be approved by the California Department of Justice. DOJ approval requires a background check on the purchaser, for every ammunition purchase. Making matters worse, the background check system denies 16% of lawful purchases due to deficiencies in the system. In the first few months of its enactment, over 100,000 lawful acquisitions were refused, and countless others were deterred by the system’s complexity.

While the background check system has prevented a great number of lawful purchasers from acquiring ammunition, it has prevented prohibited purchasers from acquiring ammunition in only 0.1% of checks. The system, therefore, has imposed a tremendous burden on every Californian while providing virtually no benefit.

“If background checks are effective, why are California’s firearm background checks not enough to prevent prohibited persons from committing firearm violence?” asked FPC Director of Research and brief author, Joseph Greenlee. “If firearm background checks are ineffective, why would ammunition background checks fare better?”

Firearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 grassroots nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to protect and defend constitutional rights—especially the right to keep and bear arms—advance individual liberty, and restore freedom.

Firearms Policy Foundation (www.firearmsfoundation.org) is a grassroots 501(c)3 nonprofit public benefit organization. FPF’s mission is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the People’s rights, privileges, and immunities deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition—especially the inalienable, fundamental, and individual right to keep and bear arms.


  • In 2016, California voters enacted a series of regulations on the sale and purchase of ammunition. This complex scheme requires that (1) ammunition sales be conducted by or processed through a licensed ammunition vendor (to become a licensed ammunition vendor, one must have a physical presence in California and obtain a license from the California Department of Justice); (2) ammunition sales occur face-to-face at the vendor’s physical location in California; (3) the DOJ approve each sale before the purchaser can take possession of the ammunition; and (4) it prohibits California residents from bringing ammunition into the state that is acquired outside the state.
  • To acquire DOJ approval for an ammunition purchase—which is required for every ammunition purchase—the purchaser must pass a background check. The purchaser begins by providing proof that she is lawfully present in the United States. This often requires a valid passport or birth certificate. (A standard driver’s license will not suffice, because California does not require proof of lawful presence to obtain a driver’s license.)
  • After proving citizenship, four different background check options are available, depending on the purchaser’s particular circumstances: a Standard Check, Basic Check, Firearms Eligibility Check, or COE Verification Process. The background check options vary in cost and efficiency, but each has been riddled with problems.
  • So far, over 16% of lawful purchasers have been refused ammunition due to administrative errors or defects in the system. By comparison, only 0.1 percent of would-be purchasers are the prohibited persons the checks were designed to prohibit. Put differently, the background check system prevents 133.5 times more legitimate purchases than illegitimate ones.
  • The United States District Court for the Southern District of California enjoined the ammunition scheme. The court recognized that the background check system was incredibly burdensome for lawful purchasers yet ineffective in preventing gun violence, and that out-of-state ammunition dealers were unfairly discriminated against.
  • The State appealed the district court’s injunction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where FPC filed its amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs and the injunction.

    Firearms Policy CoalitionFirearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 grassroots nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially the fundamental, individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, advance individual liberty, and restore freedom. Gun owners and Second Amendment supporters can join the FPC Grassroots Army at JoinFPC.org.