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New York’s Ammunition Background Check System: An Expensive Wreck?

Monday, September 25, 2023

New York’s Ammunition Background Check System: An Expensive Wreck?

The F-35 stealth jet isn’t the only example of expensive technology that crashed recently. The implementation of New York’s ammunition background check law – the rollout of which was, to be generous, extremely low visibility – was a disaster of its own, judging from initial reports.   

The new law was actually passed as part of broader gun control legislation a decade ago. The so-called SAFE Act (2013) authorized a statewide ammunition background check database and required that the superintendent of the state police make a formal “certification” that the database was “operational” before the law could take effect.  

Confusion over whether this has occurred and what the new changes involve is understandable.  Readers of the government’s official “Gun Safety in NYS” website were still being given the following outdated information as of September 21:

Is there any background check now required for purchasers of ammunition?

Not yet. The law provides that background check requirements imposed on all retail sellers of ammunition are scheduled to take effect on September 13, 2023.

To complicate things, the implementation of the ammunition background check law coincides with another gun control development in the Empire State, pursuant to which the New York State Police (rather than the FBI) is responsible for conducting all firearm and ammunition-related checks using both NICS and a “statewide license and record database.”

The database requires detailed personal information about the purchaser: name, “up to five additional names/aliases,” residential address, date of birth, height, weight, race, ethnicity, “prior military status,” country and place of birth, citizenship, whether and what driver’s license or government-issued identification the person has, social security number, contact information, and (for ammunition buys) the manufacturer, the “Ammunition Identification Number,” the caliber and amount of ammunition being purchased. (The State Police guide for dealers has, out of a total of 21 pages, devoted eight to the initial personal information needed.)   

All background check transactions currently “need to be processed online,” as an “Interactive Voice Response (IVR) telephone solution is in the process of being implemented but will not be available until October.”

Shortly before September 13, a gun store owner indicated that there was no outreach: “No dealer in New York has been contacted by the state about how it will work.” Other ammunition retailers complain that the new system isn’t actually working – apart from the time it takes just to enter the required customer information online, there are significant delays in getting the system up and running and in response times. “It took eight hours between a computer tech and me to play with their website to get their website working,” reported one gun store owner. Only a few days after the system went live, another retailer expressed frustration with delays before a sale could proceed, describing his longest wait time for a response (at that point) as 22 hours.

Even worse, an improper denial means the person has to appeal to the State Police and wait out the appeal period of up to 30 days before being able to purchase ammunition. Tom King, the executive director of the New York Rifle & Pistol Association and the holder of a state pistol permit for over 40 years, was denied when he tried to buy shotgun shells, and has since appealed. “They’re denying everybody I’ve talked to,” he said.      

Gun owners are dinged with additional fees to pay for this, being $2.50 for ammunition purchase background checks and $9.00 for firearms, and the law will have other, less obvious financial repercussions. “We lose money on every box of ammo we sell because of the time involved,” one retailer says, adding that, “It’s not going to get easier. We’re going to have to raise our prices.”

A newsletter from New York’s Assembly Minority Office of Public Affairs confirms there are “very legitimate concerns about the burden this new system will place” on the business community, the State Police, and gun owners. “Costs will go up and it is unclear what benefits this new law will generate…This law targets law-abiding gun owners and puts yet another financial burden on already overtaxed businesses and individuals. It is hard not to look at this as anything more than a punitive fee for access to the Second Amendment.”

Empire State residents who are not gun owners won’t escape the reach of this folly, either – a reported $20 million in the 2023-24 budget has been allocated for the State Police for implementation, including the hiring of 100 additional personnel.

The most ridiculous thing about all this wasted time, money, ink and effort is that New York’s dangerous criminals will continue to flout the law. The executive director of one New York gun control group was quoted as saying that, although “lawful gun owners may have to wait a bit longer right now in the immediate, they themselves understand what could potentially happen if an individual who does not have a license or does not pass a background check is able to obtain that gun.” Contrary to her claims, lawful gun owners understand all too well that criminals don’t waste time jumping through government hoops to buy guns or ammunition. “The only people that this is affecting,” says Tom King, “is the lawful legal citizen in New York state.”

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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.