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July 4, 2020
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California Proposition 63 Ammo background checks law

July 12, 2019

In 2016, Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence partnered with then-Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, to write, campaign for, and pass Proposition 63—the most comprehensive gun safety ballot initiative ever submitted to US voters. On election day, Californians voted overwhelmingly to pass Prop 63 into law, building on Ca. record of leadership with the strongest gun safety laws in the nation. On July 1, 2019, a critical piece of Prop 63 went into effect for the first time, making Ca. the first state in the nation to require a point-of-sale background check to buy the bullets that make guns deadly. 

How Prop 63 reforms California’s gun laws 

Prop 63 closed over a dozen gaps and loopholes in state law. Some of these changes became effective immediately upon passage, while others have been implemented over time, including reforms to: 

Ensure people convicted of serious crimes provide proof that they relinquished their guns after conviction

Bring more transparency and accountability to the firearm and ammunition industry

Help law enforcement break up gun trafficking rings and prevent firearm thefts

Strengthen background check systems 

Protect Californians from military-style weaponry  

Crucially, Prop 63 also made California law treat ammunition sales like gun sales. Before passage of Prop 63, ammunition sales were essentially unregulated in Ca. Businesses could sell unlimited quantities of this lethal product without a business license, accountability, or background check. And people with extensive histories of violence or domestic abuse could have unlimited quantities of ammunition delivered to their door, anonymously, with no background check or sale record, no questions asked. The California Police Chiefs Assn. told the Legislature that unregulated ammunition sales were the “fuel that drives gun violence,” but that it was easier to buy ammunition in the state than cigarettes or cold medicine. Researchers found that just 10 stores in Los Angeles had sold over 10,000 rounds of ammunition to illegal purchasers in a two-month period. Voters demanded a change.

Thanks to Prop 63, ammunition sellers must now obtain business licenses, pass background checks and comply with responsible business practices. Starting July 1, ammunition sellers will also be required to share records of their sales with state law enforcement. And most importantly, purchasers will be required to pass a point-of-sale background check to verify that they are legally eligible to buy ammunition.  

How will ammunition background checks work?

Balancing public safety and buyers’ convenience, the law will provide ammunition purchasers with multiple ways to electronically pass a background check at the point of sale:

Standard AFS match: The vast majority of people buying ammunition —anyone with at least one legally recorded firearm in the state Department of Justice’s (DOJ) records—will simply present ID at the location of a licensed firearm dealer or ammunition seller, pay $1, and undergo a seconds-long DOJ background check. That check will verify that the buyer owns a legally recorded gun (by matching their ID with records in DOJ’s Automated Firearms System “AFS” database) and confirm that the buyer has not become legally prohibited from accessing weapons. People who do not own a legally recorded gun in AFS (e.g., because they do not own a firearm or bought certain firearms before DOJ started keeping records of such sales) may (1) submit a Firearm Ownership Record Form to DOJ in advance so their record will appear in AFS once DOJ updates its records, or (2) take advantage of one of the three options outlined below.

Certificate of Eligibility: People can apply online to DOJ in advance for a Certificate of Eligibility, which confirms they are eligible to purchase ammunition for one year (unless revoked after a criminal conviction, etc.). Only first-time applicants must submit fingerprints for their background check. At the point of sale, a certificate holder will present ID to a licensed firearm dealer or ammunition seller, pay $1 and undergo a seconds-long DOJ check to verify that they have obtained a certificate and that they have not subsequently become prohibited.

Basic eligibility check: California residents may also request a “basic eligibility check,” similar to the process for buying firearms. To pass a “basic eligibility check,” someone may present ID at the location of a licensed firearm dealer or ammunition seller, pay $19, and return to complete the sale after DOJ has completed the background check. The person will be issued an Ammunition Transaction Number and can use that number to monitor the status of their background check on DOJ’s website. Once they are approved, they can use the transaction number to buy ammunition in a single purchase within 30 days.  

Firearm purchase: People purchasing a gun and ammunition in the same transaction will only be required to pass a standard firearm background check to receive both.

**Note that, unrelated to Proposition 63, new DOJ regulations effective July 1, 2019, will require people whose drivers’ licenses state, “Federal Limits Apply,” to present additional documentation verifying their lawful presence in the US, such as a birth certificate, passport, or permanent resident card, in order to obtain firearms and ammunition.**