New ammunition background checks begin in California on Monday, July 1, 2019. In this article, we will attempt to share information you need to avoid being turned away from an ammunition purchase even though you are not prohibited from possessing ammunition.
Our friends at the California Rifle and Pistol Association have done thorough research on the topic – please feel free to explore their comprehensive resources.
Updated: The California Department of Justice has posted an FAQ (frequently asked questions) on ammunition purchase requirements here.
Keep in mind that the regulations are new and somewhat complicated, and we just don’t know how it will all shake out when background checks begin. We will update this article as new information or advice becomes available. If you have questions that aren’t answered below, please let us know using the form at the end of the article. (Note: We will not respond to questions whose answers are contained in this article).
Finally: If you are legally entitled to possess ammunition but you are rejected when you attempt to purchase it, we would like to hear about it, if you’re willing to share your story with us.
This article covers:
– What’s required
– Three background check options
– Identification requirements – don’t skip this one – it’s really important
– Travel in and out of California with ammunition
– A note about problems you may encounter
Most people will have to get a background check every time they buy ammunition in California. Private party transactions must be processed through a licensed ammunition vendor, which can charge a fee, and the buyer is subject to background check. However, there is no limit on the quantity of ammunition you can purchase, or the gauge/caliber (this is a common misperception).
Certain types of people are exempt from the background check requirement: licensed ammunition vendors; people on the California Department of Justice’s exempted FFL list; federally licensed gunsmiths, wholesalers, manufacturers and importers; authorized law enforcement representatives of a city, county, city and county, or state or federal government, who also provide written authorization from the head of the agency authorizing the transfer; properly identified sworn peace officers or federal law enforcement officers who are authorized to carry a firearm in the course and scope of their duties who also present their credentials and verifiable written certification from the head of their agency. Everyone in these categories must present government-issued identification that includes their name, date of birth, description and photo. Note: CCW holders are not exempt from background checks.
In addition, the law does not require people to get a background check when purchasing ammunition at shooting ranges, but only provided they use all of the ammunition while they are there. Some shooting ranges may require background checks to be safe, because they may not be able to ensure that people fire every single shell and bullet purchased that day.
Friends sharing shells and bullets in the field is allowed without a background check.
Also, people may transfer ammunition to a spouse, registered domestic partner or immediate family member without going through a licensed ammunition vendor or background check.
Standard Ammunition Eligibility Check – $1 – estimated to take 2-3 minutes. This is only for California residents who are in the California Department of Justice’s Automated Firearm System (AFS). If you have purchased a handgun since Jan. 1, 1990, or a long gun since Jan. 1, 2014, in California, you are in the system, but the name and address on your ID must match the address in the system, which depends on where you lived when you bought your most recent gun and whether your address or name has changed since then (more information below). You can also get in the system by registering a gun, which you can do with this form (note: there is a $19 fee). There is no option for non-gun owners to get into the system, so if you are a new hunter who is still borrowing a firearm, you cannot use this option.
Note: Though this system uses records of past gun purchases, it does so just to show you cleared a the background check. There is no requirement for the ammunition you purchase to match the gauge or caliber of firearm(s) listed in your AFS records.
COE Verification Process – $1 – estimated to take 2-3 minutes: People who have a valid Certificate of Eligibility – usually people who work for ammunition vendors and/or handle ammunition in the course of their duties – may use this option. COE holders only need their COE number; they do not have to carry the actual certificate.
Note: This is the only option available to non-residents who want to buy ammunition here, even if they are former California residents who are in the Automated Firearm System, which means they need to plan well in advance – it could take several months to get the COE, which costs $71 initially and $22 to renew every year. However, non-residents are allowed to bring ammunition into California without shipping it to a vendor or submitting to a background check.
Basic Ammunition Eligibility Check – $19 – can take several days (no time estimate provided by the Department of Justice). This is for California residents who are not in the Automated Firearm System. Unfortunately, using this option will not get you entered into the AFS, so until you purchase or register a gun to get in the AFS, you have to pay the $19 every time you buy ammunition.
Note: If you purchase ammunition while purchasing a firearm, you do not need to get a separate background check for the ammo – the check for the gun will suffice. But you won’t be able to take home your ammo until you take home your gun.
Ammunition buyers who are California residents must show a valid California driver’s license (or California identification card for non-drivers). Military identification is also accepted. If you do not have one of these forms of ID, your only option for a background check is obtaining a COE (see above).
If your license says “Federal limits apply” in the upper right-hand corner (this is the new license given to undocumented immigrants and to people who didn’t think they would need the new federally compliant REAL ID) you must also present one other document proving you are in the United States legally. Accepted documents are a valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card; a certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate; a U.S. Certificate or Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a U.S. Citizen; a valid, unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. immigrant visa and approved Record of Arrival/Departure (I-94) form; a certified copy of birth certificate from a U.S. Territory; a Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. Citizenship; a valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card. If your name is different on these documents than it is on your ID, additional documents will be required.
Note: You can also go to the DMV and get a REAL ID, which requires additional documentation and a fee, but then you won’t be required to take the other documents to buy ammunition in the future.
Very important: For those using the standard (AFS) eligibility check, all of the information on the ID must match the information in the AFS. We are not sure yet whether non-substantive differences, such as “Ave.” versus “Avenue,” will pose a problem. If your ID has a P.O. Box instead of a residential address, this is likely to be a problem. If you’re not sure your AFS record will match your ID, you can check your AFS records using this form, but it is not instantaneous, and note that the form must be notarized. Buyers whose names or addresses have changed will not be able to purchase ammunition until they have updated their AFS records, which they can do here starting July 1. Note that documentation is required and the update will not be instantaneous.
Californians who buy ammunition outside of California may bring it back into the state only if they ship it to licensed ammunition vendors and submit to a background check to pick it up. Vendors may charge a fee for this service. (The same applies to ordering ammunition online, which for all practical purposes has ended.)
Californians who travel out of state with ammunition they purchased in California may bring it back without shipping it to a vendor and submitting to a background check. However, we cannot anticipate how this might be enforced. If you have a receipt, taking it with you on your trip is a good idea. Note: Prosecutors bear the burden of proof – they must prove that you bought ammunition out of state. However, this does not mean you are immune from prosecution if they lack proof; it just means you can’t be convicted if they don’t have proof.
Ammunition buyers may encounter obstacles due to the provisions of law and regulations, but they may also encounter problems due to the choices ammunition vendors make that are more restrictive than laws and regulations require. It may be hard to distinguish between the two. Please understand that vendors do not want to lose their licenses, and may take a “better safe than sorry” approach if they feel your purchase falls into a legal gray area.
Now, any questions?