On May 12, 2015, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) introduced one of the latest assaults on the Second Amendment with H.R. 2283 or the Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act of 2015. The exact language of the bill can be found here. While the bill does stop short of a complete ban of online sales, the devil is in the details. Perhaps the most notable detail should be the government’s own track record of trying to regulate ammunition sales.
First, we need to understand the sheer volume of ammunition sales. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 10-12 billion rounds of ammunition are produced domestically each year. Added to the domestic production are the billions of rounds that are manufactured overseas and imported each year. Regulating and tracking even a small portion of those sales, such as online or high volume, is a huge undertaking; using it for any law enforcement purpose would be spotty at best. More likely, the only purpose of the law would be to place a burden on retailers and buyers and here is why.
If passed and signed into law, H.R. 2283 would force you to submit a photo ID, in-person, every time you made an ammunition purchase. Because you cannot show ID in person online, your order would have to be shipped to an “authorized dealer.” Essentially, this would mean your ammunition would be received by a local gun store and have its receiving fee tacked on. Like most firearm-receiving charges, the fees seldom cover all of the labor involved due to the onerous paperwork and inspections that may result days, weeks or even years later. I saw how this put the majority of gun retailers out of business in Los Angeles during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Another provision of H.R. 2283 states anyone purchasing more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in a five-day period would be reported to the U.S. Attorney General. The bill does not specify how the information would then be used. However, the data would be stored in a database maintained by the Department of Justice. Perhaps the government has failed at a national gun registry, but this is an attempt to compile a list in other ways? H.R. 2283 would also require all ammunition sellers to be federally licensed. How this would affect your ability to reload a few rounds and sell them to your buddy or split a group-buy with a few buddies is unknown. Currently, there are no federal licensing laws regarding the sale of ammunition that I know of.
The federal government has shown a tremendous aptitude at failing when similar laws were enacted in the past. The Gun Control Act of 1968 imposed similar regulations on ammunition sellers and purchasers. Ammunition buyers were required to sign, and ammunition sellers required to maintain a record of pistol-caliber ammunition purchases. The first obvious flaw appeared when government agencies looked at the crime statistics for .22 rimfire ammunition, yet it took well over a decade (1982) for Congress to exempt the rimfire caliber from the records-keeping process.
Then, in 1984, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee concluded that ammunition dealer licensing “was not necessary to facilitate legitimate Federal law enforcement interests.” By 1986, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms admitted the failure of federal ammunition regulation. In fact, on February 10, 1986, the BATF released a memo stating:
“The Bureau and the Department have recognized that current recordkeeping requirements for ammunition have no substantial law enforcement value. In addition, their elimination would remove an unnecessary recordkeeping burden from licensees.”
According to the backers of H.R. 2283, the legislation’s purpose is to act as a law enforcement tool to detect “[I]f someone is trying to stock pile ammunition for a malicious reason.” However, merely buying ammunition, in any quantity or through any venue (in-person or online) is not illegal. Tracking ammunition sales to determine who is going to use it for malicious reasons makes about as much sense as tracking all airline ticket sales to predict who is going to hijack a plane. After all, how many criminals are buying ammunition by the thousand? Applying parallel reasoning we could ask, how many drunk drivers buy liquor by the case and how would that be a predictor if they did?
H.R. 2283 has a zero chance of preventing a crime. Limiting the ability of law-abiding gun owners to purchase ammunition online or through catalogs will not prevent any criminal from purchasing ammunition from a local retailer. A box or case of ammunition is the same if it is bought from a local gun store, big box retailer or online seller. Online retailers take the same precautions as a local store to verify the age of the shopper and typically have a better record keeping process because you cannot pay cash and walk out. A method of payment and shipping address is required. The package would then typically arrive requiring an adult signature.
H.R. 2283 would not, as it should not, limit the number of rounds a person can purchase or possess. At best, this would provide a paper trail after the fact, but it would be far too easy for someone with a “malicious” intent to purchase just enough to stay under the radar or purchase larger quantities under the guise of a straw purchase. Even if you looked at all of the gun related tragedies of the past two centuries, how many did the perpetrator fire over 100 rounds never mind 1,000? The national average only puts the number of rounds typically fired during a criminal act or an act of self-defense at about four. How many of your practice sessions averaged only four rounds fired?
During negotiations at the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, U.S. negotiators were quoted as saying, “Ammunition is a fundamentally different commodity than everything else we have discussed… It is fungible, consumable, reloadable, and cannot be marked in any practical way that would permit it to be tracked or traced. Any practical proposal for ammunition would need to consider the significant burdens associated with licensing, authorizations, and recordkeeping for ammunition that is produced and transferred in the billions of rounds per year.”
So, why does the Democrat from New Jersey and at least 30 of her colleagues in the House of Representatives believe H.R. 2283 will do anything history has already taught us is impossible, and leading U.S. officials have already admitted cannot be accomplished? The answer can be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to enact gun control by another name; To cause such a heavy burden on the shooters and retailers as to run them out of business. If they cannot outlaw the guns, they want to make it so you cannot buy the ammunition—plain and simple.
How do you view the motives behind Rep. Watson’s H.R. 2283? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section.