Skip to content

Blumenthal and Wasserman Schultz Introduce Ammunition Background Check Act

[HARTFORD, CT] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) announced today that they have introduced the Ammunition Background Check Act of 2018, a bicameral piece of legislation that would enforce current federal law by requiring instant background checks for the sale of gun ammunition to prevent criminals from illegally purchasing ammunition.

“Ammunition sales should be subject to the same legal requirements as firearm sales, and that includes instant background checks. The same laws that prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing firearms also prohibit them from amassing arsenals of ammunition, with one major loophole: there are no background checks for ammunition sales to enforce the law. Closing this ludicrous loophole is a common sense component of a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence,” said Blumenthal.

“This common-sense legislation simply enforces existing federal law, and will make it harder for criminals to amass hundreds of rounds of ammunition without so much as sharing their first name with a gun store clerk,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Closing this absurd loophole will not by itself stop the next mass shooting tragedy. But this popular approach must be part of our larger strategy for ending gun violence. Studies show it can help keep ‘bad guys with guns’ from perpetrating another mass slaughter like the one we witnessed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in my Broward County community, or the thousands of other acts of gun violence that devastate communities across the country. It takes more than just a gun to take an innocent life. It also takes bullets. We need to do all we can to make sure neither of them ends up in the wrong hands.”    

Under current law, just as criminals, domestic abusers, and dangerously mentally ill individuals are prohibited from purchasing a firearm, they are also prohibited from purchasing ammunition. Unlike firearms, however, federal law does not require a background check to prevent the illegal purchase of bullets. The Ammunition Background Check Act of 2018 would close this loophole by requiring all buyers of ammunition to undergo an instant background check under the same FBI National Instant Background Check System (NICS), the same quick and easy process that applies to the purchase of firearms.

Under the proposed Ammunition Background Check Act, federally licensed gun dealers could simply use their existing system to run instant checks on ammunition purchasers, either by phone or electronically. Sellers who are not federal licensees could continue to sell ammunition by conducting a background check through an existing licensee or by obtaining a federal license.

Many states, such as Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, are leading the way in requiring a background check to obtain a license to purchase or possess ammunition. California and New York will soon require point-of-sale ammunition background checks. However, it is clear that gun safety measures save far more lives when they are enacted nationwide, and don’t allow purchasers to evade background checks by crossing state lines.

Various experts point to the lack of enforcement of existing ammunition prohibitions as one of the most non-invasive yet effective strategies for curbing gun violence.

“Federal law currently has a gaping loophole: virtually anyone can buy ammunition without being subject to a basic background check. So while Congress has set out a list of people who are prohibited from buying ammunition, nothing is being done to actually stop these people – including criminals – from purchasing ammunition. The NRA has long argued that we don’t need more gun laws; we just need to enforce the laws we have. In a sense, this is what this proposed legislation will do. It simply enforces the already existing federal law that prohibits people who shouldn’t have access to deadly ammunition from obtaining it,” said Professor Michael Siegel, MD, MPH at the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health.

“Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for universal background checks on firearm purchases in the primary and secondary markets. Extending this legislation to include ammunition has the additional advantage of creating further obstacles on individuals planning to use a firearm acquired illegally in the commission of violent crimes. It is a common sense, important step to solve the problem of keeping individuals who cannot legally purchase firearms from using them,” said Professor Jay Corzine, Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida.

“This bill is a very meaningful step in the larger efforts to reduce gun violence.  The current practice of selling thousands of rounds of ammunition to someone without checking whether the purchaser has any disqualifying factors in his or her past is reckless.  I applaud the Senator and Congresswoman for offering this sensible bill,” said Stephen Teret, Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Like nearly all sensible gun safety reforms, there is broad public support for background checks for ammunition. For instance, a 2016 Morning Consult poll found more than 70 percent of voters support the policy (link here).

Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and launched by the FBI in 1998, NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms. More than 230 million checks have been made since then, which has led to more than 3 million denials.