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Background Check Fee Shows Even California DOJ Can’t Decipher State Gun Laws

Monday, February 3, 2020

Background Check Fee Shows Even California DOJ Can’t Decipher State Gun Laws

When a state’s lawmakers and government officials can’t even decipher the maze of gun laws they have created, it’s probably a good sign that there’s too much gun control on the books. Such is the case in California, where a recent change in state law passed by anti-gun lawmakers inadvertently lowered the cost of a “Basic Ammunition Eligibility Check” from $19 to $1. Unaware of the change until it was brought to their attention by gun rights supporters, the California Department of Justice collected the $19 fee in contravention of state law.

Since July 1, 2019, gun owners in the Golden State have been required to undergo a background check each time they purchase ammunition. The program has been a disaster. In December, the Sacramento Bee reported that tens of thousands of law-abiding Californians have been improperly denied ammunition purchases under the program, while only 101 were prohibited persons who were rejected. According to the report, “[b]etween July 1 and November, nearly one in every five ammunition purchases was rejected by the California Department of Justice.”

There are two types of “Ammunition Eligibility Checks” in California. A “Standard Ammunition Eligibility Check” cross-references an applicant’s name with the information maintained in the state’s Automated Firearm System, which is populated with information gleaned from firearm purchases, firearms registration, and concealed carry permit records. The fee for this type of check is $1. If an individual’s information is not in the AFS, the person must undergo a “Basic Ammunition Eligibility Check,” which the California DOJ describes as “a comprehensive review of its records to determine the person’s eligibility to own or possess ammunition.” The fee for this check was $19.

On October 11, 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1669 into law. In order to shift how certain funds collected during firearms transfers could be used by the state, the legislation reduced the fee placed on firearms purchases in Penal Code § 28225 ($14 by statute, but raised to $19 by regulation) to $1. At the same time, the legislation created a new separate fee of $31.19. The legislation went into effect on January 1.

The drafters of the legislation and the California DOJ appear to have neglected to understand how the reduction of the first fee to $1 would impact other sections of the Penal Code.

Penal Code § 30370 makes clear that for a “Basic Ammunition Eligibility Check,”

The department shall recover the cost of processing and regulatory and enforcement activities related to this section by charging the ammunition transaction or purchase applicant a fee not to exceed the fee charged for the department's Dealers' Record of Sale (DROS) process, as described in Section 28225 and not to exceed the department's reasonable costs.

Therefore, the fee for a “Basic Ammunition Eligibility Check” is not to exceed the fee charged under Penal Code § 28225 - $1. However, after January 1 California continued to charge the improper $19 fee in violation of state law.

The National Rifle Association and California Rifle & Pistol Association have made the California Department of Justice Aware of this discrepancy.

This episode is illustrative of just how little respect anti-gun lawmakers and administrators have for gun owners. These individuals do not hesitate to impose ever more convoluted burdens on law-abiding gun owners or to punish well-meaning gun owners whose benign conduct falls just outside their byzantine regime. Yet these same people cannot be bothered to comprehend or hold themselves to the progressively ridiculous laws that they create and administer.

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CAUTION: Federal and state firearms laws are subject to frequent change. This summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.