New York Legislators Propose Another Unenforceable Ammunition Limit

Purchases would be limited to twice a weapon's capacity every 90 days.


Office of Roxanne Persaud

The package of gun controls that New York legislators hurriedly passed in January 2013, a month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in neighboring Connecticut, banned the sale of magazines capable of holding more than seven rounds. Later Gov. Andrew Cuomo—who had insisted that the bill, known as the SAFE Act, be passed before legislators had a chance to read it, let alone consider its implications—realized "there is no such thing as a seven-bullet magazine" for most guns. The law was therefore changed to allow continued sale of 10-round magazines while prohibiting New Yorkers (those without badges, that is) from putting more than seven rounds in them, except at "a recognized firing range." (No, really.) A bill recently proposed by two Democratic legislators from Brooklyn promises to repeat the mistake of imposing an ammunition limit that cannot be enforced.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports that the bill, introduced by Sen. Roxanne Persaud and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, would make it illegal for a gun owner to purchase more than twice "the capacity of the weapon" in any three-month period. Since the SAFE Act bans possession of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds (including those previously grandfathered), that means the maximum amount of ammunition that could be legally purchased for any given weapon would be 20 rounds every 90 days. As the Eagle notes, the 90-day limit might be lower. It would be 12 rounds for a six-shot revolver, for example, and two rounds (I assume) for a single-shot, bolt-action rifle. That does not allow for much target practice.

"I don't even have to own a gun to stock up on bullets," Simon said, explaining the need for the new limits. "Nothing stops me from having friends buy even more bullets for me. The sky is the limit. The San Bernardino shooters had 6,000 rounds of ammunition. We need this legislation so that cannot happen here." Persaud said "limiting the quantity and duration between purchases of ammunition is one step in preventing someone with criminal intent from easily accessing large quantities of ammunition."

That's the theory, but how would these limits work in practice? The Eagle dryly notes that "the practicality of limiting small-capacity gun owners to a less than a box of bullets is unexplored." And that is just the beginning of the enforcement challenge. To abide by these limits, a gun dealer would need to know 1) which guns a customer owns and 2) how much ammunition he has already purchased in the previous three months.

New York requires all handgun owners to obtain permits, and it collects information about those weapons. It also has information about whatever small fraction of grandfathered "assault weapons" New Yorkers have bothered to register (as required if you want to legally keep them). Assuming all that information can be gathered together and made easily available to dealers, they still would have no way to confirm ownership of other long guns, which outside of New York City require neither permits nor registration. So if a customer buying 200 rounds claimed to have 10 rifles, each with a 10-round magazine, how could a dealer determine that he was not actually buying that number of rounds for five, one, or zero firearms? Such uncertainty would put dealers in a tricky situation, since the punishment for selling someone too many rounds would be one to four years in prison.

Dealers would have to keep records of each customer's ammunition purchases, and that information would have to be entered into a database they all could consult to make sure no one exceeds his 90-day limit. They also would be prohibited from "selling ammunition for a firearm to anyone unauthorized to have such a weapon, regardless of the weapon type." At a minimum, that would mean verifying that someone buying handgun ammunition has a pistol permit and that someone buying ammunition for an "assault weapon" has registered it. It might also mean performing a background check on all ammunition buyers to make sure they are not legally disqualified from owning firearms. Such background checks were notionally required by the SAFE Act, but the necessary database was never created, and last July the Cuomo administration announced that the plan was on hold indefinitely.

Robert Farago, publisher of The Truth About Guns, notes that the database for ammunition buyers proved "unworkable and really, really expensive." The Persaud-Simon bill would require an even more ambitious database, including a lot of information the state does not currently collect. "This amendment to the SAFE Act could well be the most impractical gun control legislation ever drafted," Farago says, "and that's saying something." 

[Thanks to CharlesWT for the tip.]