Guns don’t kill people, bullets kill people — but would this proposal replicate an experiment from decades ago that, opponents say, failed?
14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg competed in dance competitions and wanted to become a pediatric physical therapist. She was killed in 2018 by a mass shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The shooter passed his background check for the actual weapon.
Since then, Jaime’s father Fred Guttenberg has pushed for legislation that would institute federal background checks for purchasers of bullets or ammunition, as already exists for purchasers of firearms. Six states — all blue states — have passed such laws on a state level: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.
However, even if advocates say such a law could prevent future mass shootings, it’s not clear that such a provision would have prevented the Parkland shooter specifically. Since he passed his background check and legally gained access to the AR-15, it seems likely he could have also passed a background check to legally acquire ammunition.
What the legislation does
The congressional version of the legislation, requiring passing a federal background check to acquire bullets or ammunition in all states, is called Jaime’s Law. Limited exceptions would be permitted for ammunition or bullet transfers, including:
- at shooting ranges for purposes of target shooting;
- when hunting, trapping, or fishing;
- as a gift between immediate family members;
- between law enforcement, the military, or private security;
- “to prevent imminent death.”
What supporters say
Supporters argue the legislation could save lives without violating the Second Amendment, which says the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but doesn’t explicitly say anything about bullets.
“No person should endure the agonizing pain of losing someone they love to gun violence. Families in towns and cities across the country who have been touched by this agonizing epidemic are joining Fred Guttenberg and other gun safety advocates to demand Congress address this public health crisis,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz said in a press release. “[The bill] is a crucial piece of the multifaceted approach needed to end the gun violence epidemic.”
“To impose background checks on purchases of ammunition is really the epitome of common sense,” Sen. Blumenthal said in the same press release. “There is no infringement on the Second Amendment, and there’s no inconvenience involved. The purchase of ammunition is seamless and quick for people who are law abiding. The point is to keep ammunition, as well as guns, out of the hands of people who are dangerous to themselves or others. We are inspired to work to pass [the bill] and to make it the law of the land.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the law would overly burden law-abiding gun owners, and that it replicates a prior similar attempt at ammunition regulation from decades past which was subsequently repealed for a reason.
“Every law-abiding gun owner would be forced into a potentially lengthy background check procedure each time they purchased ammunition,” the NRA-ILA (National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action) wrote. “A shooter couldn’t pick up a box of .22lr from his friend on the way to the range. A reloader couldn’t give a friend a new rifle load for them to try out on their own property.”
“The Gun Control Act of 1968 required all ammunition dealers to be federally licensed. Moreover, the GCA required all ammunition dealers to keep a record of sales,” the NRA-ILA continued. “The experiment was not a success.”
“In 1984, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee concluded that ammunition dealer licensing ‘was not necessary to facilitate legitimate Federal law enforcement interests.’ In 1986, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms supported eliminating the record keeping requirement,” the NRA-ILA noted. “As a result, the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 repealed the ammunition restrictions.”
Odds of passage
Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s prior 2019 version attracted 82 cosponsors, all Democrats. Despite the party controlling the chamber, it never received a committee vote. The current version has attracted a notably smaller 25 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Blumenthal’s prior 2019 version attracted one Democratic cosponsor. It never received a vote in the Senate, then controlled by Republicans. The current version has again attracted one Democratic cosponsor. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.