Background Checks For Ammunition Could Soon Be The Law In California Voters in four states will decide whether to strengthen gun laws next month. In California, a first in the nation ballot measure would make it much harder to buy ammunition and for felons to own guns.
NPR logo

Should Ammunition Buyers Face Background Checks? California's Voters Will Decide

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/499262781/499262782" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Should Ammunition Buyers Face Background Checks? California's Voters Will Decide

Should Ammunition Buyers Face Background Checks? California's Voters Will Decide

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/499262781/499262782" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

With gun control efforts stalled in Congress and many state houses, some advocates are forging another path forward. They're going straight to voters. Four states have gun control initiatives on the November 8 ballot - Maine, Nevada, Washington and here in California. Polls show all of the proposals have strong support. Marisa Lagos of member station KQED in San Francisco has more.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: In Nevada and Maine, voters are being asked whether to strengthen background check requirements for gun sales. Washington state voters already did that. Now they're considering whether to allow a court to take guns away from potentially dangerous people. California already has all of those laws on the books.

Now, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to make the state's already strict gun laws even tougher. Proposition 63 would require background checks for buyers and sellers of ammunition, and allow law enforcement to track who is purchasing which types of bullets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: The most important folks we're trying to bring in under the ammunition background check are people that quote, unquote, "don't own a gun," but are legally buying ammunition.

LAGOS: Newsom says Prop 63 will let the state crack down on the most dangerous gun users who account for the most deaths - those with illegal firearms. Gun rights supporters say the ballot measure won't stop criminals. Craig DeLuz is a lobbyist for the Firearms Policy Coalition in Sacramento.

CRAIG DELUZ: Most of the provisions in this bill do not affect anyone who's been convicted of a crime. It does not affect terrorists. It does not affect potential mass shooters. It does not affect criminals. It only affects law-abiding citizens.

LAGOS: But Julie Leftwich of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says the most important part of Prop 63 is a provision that would require someone convicted of a felony to prove to a court before their sentence that they no longer have a gun, either by handing it in to law enforcement or selling it to a licensed buyer like a gun store.

JULIE LEFTWICH: We currently have no clear, verifiable process to get guns out of the hands of newly-convicted felons.

LAGOS: Currently in California, there are an estimated 34,000 guns in the hands of people who became felons after buying the guns. Prop 63 also requires people to report to police when a gun is lost or stolen, something that Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed. Gun enthusiasts say the ammunition provision of the ballot measure will just drive up prices for those abiding by the law.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

LAGOS: At the Jackson Arms shooting range in south San Francisco, longtime recreational shooter James Cloud has finished target practice.

JAMES CLOUD: You could go through easily a thousand rounds in one day - easily. Normally you would buy it online because the stores are too expensive.

LAGOS: The thing is, ammunition regulations are coming to California with or without Prop 63. Lawmakers here passed a similar law this summer, after Newsom had already submitted the ballot measure. It was an unusual move, but supporters of the ballot measure think Democrats in the legislature were moved to act by Prop 63.

In general, voters have been far more willing than state or federal lawmakers to buck the NRA and support tighter gun laws. Newsom says ballot measures are important because they're harder to undo than laws passed in the state house.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEWSOM: All these things can be changed and I fear will be changed because of the gun lobby that's been very persuasive, even with Democrats.

LAGOS: The powerful NRA has largely sat out the state fights this time around, only dumping resources against the Nevada measure. But gun supporters may be eyeing another front altogether. Many observers wonder if the group is waiting to challenge the laws in court. For NPR News, I'm Marisa Lagos in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.