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I laugh when the elitists and busybody extremists who comprise much of the opposition to the right to keep and bear arms whinge that owning and carrying a firearm involves less bureaucracy than purchasing an automobile. Laws related to firearms in the United States are so labyrinthine that they require a team of attorneys to keep things straight. Heck, some of the regulations are occasionally dreamed up by the people tasked with enforcing them. The stakes are high . . .

An innocent mistake may result in years in prison and losing your right to own firearms and (in some jurisdictions) your right to vote — for life. It’s small wonder that people just trying to go about their business in an honest, lawful fashion sometimes find themselves run out of town by regulations that don’t explicitly ban their trade, but are designed to harass and otherwise encourage them to consider a different line of work.

In constitutional law, this is known as a “chilling effect,” which my trusty copy of Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed.) defines as “any law or practice which has the effect of seriously discouraging the exercise of a constitutional right….” Courts have found “a number of cases that constitutional violations may arise from the deterrent, or “chilling” effect of governmental action that falls short of a direct prohibition against the exercise of the First Amendment.” See Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 593 F.2d 1030, 1052.

It’s important to keep that in mind when we consider Bass Pro Shops’ policy concerning online ammunition sales to customers in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A Pittsburgh-area man who posts under the username ‘Emptymag’ on the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association forum recently experienced firsthand the results of this chilling effect.

As a shooting sports hobbyist, Emptymag is always on the lookout for good deals on ammunition and firearms accessories. In December 2014, he noticed that Bass Pro was offering an online sale on .22 Long Rifle ammunition. With visions of hundreds of rounds of ammunition under his Christmas Tree dancing in his head, he placed an order. To his surprise, he promptly received this cancelation notice:

We take great pride in providing you with the best possible service. However, we regret to inform you that we are unable to process your order because the items you requested are restricted from the shipping address on your order. Your order has been cancelled, and you have not been charged. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but look forward to serving you in the future!

Confused, Emptymag immediately reached out to Bass Pro’s online customer support. The representative he chatted with directed him to a notice on basspro.com:

Ammunition is restricted from sale to CT, DC, IL, MA, NJ, NY, Annapolis, MD, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Carson City, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Marin County, Contra Costa County, and San Francisco, CA, New Orleans, LA, St. Paul City, MN, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, PA.

Since I am a resident of Pittsburgh, I tried placing my own ammo order from Bass Pro, and received a similar cancelation notice. I spoke directly with a friendly customer service representative who explained that Bass Pro was trying to comply with a Pittsburgh municipal ordinance. As the ordinance requires photo identification and record keeping for all retail sales of ammunition within Pittsburgh city limits, and since Bass Pro’s online site was not set up to accommodate these requirements, they were canceling online ammunition orders from the city of Pittsburgh.

Fair enough. It is important to scrupulously follow the law, particularly when it applies to products such as firearms and ammunition. There’s one problem, though.

Pennsylvania’s legislature long ago preempted (at 18 Pa.C.S. § 6120) all local laws in the Commonwealth relating to the regulation of firearms or ammunition. Any laws in Pennsylvania regulating those two subjects can only come from the legislature in Harrisburg, not from township, borough, city, or county administrations. Laws enacted by municipalities in defiance of the pre-emption law are unenforceable.

As an aside, the legislature has carved out some special rules for cities that have more than one million in population, (called “cities of the first class”), but Philadelphia is the only municipality that qualifies as a “city of the first class” [insert your own Philly joke here] under the statute.

When you boil it all down, Bass Pro has decided to follow a Pittsburgh ordinance that on its face violates Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act. Attempts were made to contact Bass Pro’s communications director and a manager, but I have yet to hear from them regarding why they chose this policy. I can speculate, however, that they might be concerned that some repression-minded politician in Pittsburgh might decide to liven up his career by trying to prosecute a disfavored company for violating a municipal firearms ordinance.

Even if Bass Pro managed to win on the merits in Pennsylvania courts, it still might stir up a hornet’s nest of costly retirbution from the ranks of politicans, bureaucrats from the FBI and ATF, and certain elements in the media. After all, Bass Pro is already in the crosshairs of the EEOC for alleged ethnic discrimination in hiring practices (despite an apparent lack of plaintiffs).

The winds of change, however, may picking up a little in the Keystone state. Pennsylvania enacted a law last year that would not require gun owners to show that they were actually harmed by ordinances that violated Pennsylvania’s preemption of municipal laws on firearms and ammunition. Lawsuits are currently being filed challenging several municipal statutes under that law. (There is also another lawsuit claiming that the new law violates Pennsylvania’s constitution filed by several cities–including Pittsburgh).

Of course, none of that helps our friend Emptymag who was denied a little Christmas cheer due to Pittsburgh’s unenforceable laws. To make matters worse, he doesn’t even live within the city limits of Pittsburgh. According to Bass Pro’s own policy, he should have been in the clear. I suppose that whatever team manages Bass Pro’s online sales system was so concerned about obeying Pittsburgh’s unenforceable law that they were a little over-inclusive in their verboten zones. So as it stands right now, if you live in Pittsburgh, or just close to it, you’ll have to shop elsewhere for your online ammunition needs. Bass Pro loses business; citizens lose a choice from whom to buy.

And that’s what a chilling effect is all about, Charlie Brown.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are solely my own; the references to statutory and case law are made for background reference, and do not reflect legal advice, nor do they establish a attorney-client relationship in any manner whatsoever. Case law and statutes change over time, and no guarantee is made that any information relating to the law is accurate. If you need legal advice, you are urged consult your local bar association for recommendations on hiring an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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47 Responses to Bass Pro Shops: No Online Ammunition Sales to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia

  1. From the view of a corporate lawyer, going the extra mile to comply with a stupid law could save millions in litigation costs-and spare Bass Pro an unpleasant headline article on CNN.

    “Dealer of Death Violates Gun Laws-13 year old shot with .9mm bullets bought from Bass Pro Shop Online -Click Here for more from CNN.com!”

    The story writes itself. Cue hand wringing, Al Shaprton jumping on a plane, piles of negative publicity and liberals boycotting a sporting goods store they’d never visit anyways. Yeah, I’d skip that BS too if I had a choice.

  2. Let’s not forget unintended consequences. In New York, you can’t buy ammo online either, unless it’s shipped to an FFL who will charge to transfer it to you. (Or ship it out of state to a relative you plan on visiting.) So now the cost of the transfer needs to be factored into the cost of the ammo. Which means you want to buy a lot of ammo to spread the transfer cost over. So last time I ordered Red Army Standard copper-jacketed 7.62 I only wanted a few hundred rounds, but found it much more economical to buy the bulk 1080 pack.

    So in their wisdom, the geniuses who gave us the SAFE Act now ensure that my ammo stockpile is a lot larger than it would be if I could just have the damn stuff shipped to my house when I need it.

  3. Bass Pro is not in business to provoke undo harassment (labeled “scrutiny” by the leftists) from any alphabet government agencies or even state and local governments.

    BPS find their headquarters in Louisiana very accommodating and hopefully, that will continue.

    • When Sandy Hook happened Dicks Sports cancelled a bunch of orders for a special Bushmaster they had promised to (and taken deposits from) a bunch of people, and seriously pissed off the world. They also removed all modern sporting rifles from their inventory, and I refuse to set foot in their shops to this day.

      I was pleased to note that the advertisements from Bass Pro and Academy Sports continued to feature sporting rifles of all types, and I support them when I can (mostly for ammo. Their firearm selection is …, uh … limited.)

      Louisiana is quite definitely firearm friendly, and I’m glad that BPS and Academy are here. They’ve got a bunch of good stuff besides firearms and ammo (like 5:11 T gear!).

  4. I know the feeling. You’d be surprised at how many on line retailers, who will not ship to NYC, include Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, just for the helluvit. Under the SAFE Act, all ammo shipped into NYS must be received by an FFL. But many will not ship at all. Nothing. Not even a rifle sling.

    • Reminds me. I just finished watching Sons Of Liberty. John Dickinson abstained from voting for Independence saying life is easier if we comply. Ironically he was from PA. Thank God for Benjamin Franklin.

  5. Fun fact! Many of the municipalities that share a border with the City of Pittsburgh have Pittsburgh, PA as their official mailing addresses. It is standard procedure here in PA for your official address to have a place name that is entirely different from the name of the local government entity under whose jurisdiction you actually live.

    • We have some of that in TX, too. I can use either of two cities in my address, and I don’t live in either. Perhaps those folks can use the other name, to avoid having “Pittsburg” in their address, and go ahead and order!

    • Mailing addresses are based on the post office that delivers your mail, not your municipality. It seems to be worse in PGH for some reason though. For Pete’s sake, parts of Ross Township have a PGH zip code.

  6. They’re not going to worry about it, it’s a drop in the bucket.

    YOU, as an aggrieved consumer, could sue… instead of telling others to do so!

    • Sue Bass Pro? No, he couldn’t. They aren’t breaking any law or violating any contract or duty by being cautious in this manner.

      Sue Pittsburgh? Sure, but under current PA law he doesn’t need to be an aggrieved consumer to do so.

      • No, not Brass Pro, the city.

        Seems like it would be more fruitful than posting that Brass Pro should do something they certainly have no interest in doing.

  7. I work online fulltime. I used to run an online firearms accessory store. It did very well. Why did I stop? Well, because of all the constant changing laws. I didn’t have enough manpower to monitor laws to determine if I could ship a magazines, stocks, grips and lots of other things which were constantly getting classified as assault weapon parts, or high capacity magazine, even just outright forbidden. I knew I either had to stop selling to those states all together or just close down and move on to something less stressful. It put a huge burden on my business to try and keep up with everything knowing one day I might just slip up and ship an “assault weapon stock” to someone which could land me and that person in a lot of trouble. I would need a whole legal team just to keep things straight. I did all of this without an FFL because I never sold ammo or guns, just cases, stocks and things like that. I couldn’t imagine the mess you have to go through if you actually sold ammo and guns.

    • I always wondered, if you’re not operating in a particular State, short of just sending you a nasty cease and desist letter, how could that state enforce it laws on you. I mean, for example, if you actually shipped ammo directly to someone in NY (no FFL), what could Andrew Cuomo really do about it? You’re not violating any law to which you are subject (e.g., federal or state). And the recipient is not breaking NYS law by receiving it.

  8. same in chicago. even though the law changed 18 months ago and all local ordinances were nullified by state preemption, almost nobody will shipp ammo to chicago. total BS

    • vactor, have you tried GTDist.com? They shipped ammo to me in Chicago city limits a few months ago.

      As a side note, I’ve had the hardest time buying ammo from physical stores in IL. I’m here on military orders as a non-IL resident, so I don’t have a FOID. Even though IL law only requires that IL residents have a FOID for purchasing ammo, nobody will sell it to me. I’ve tried to explain that it’s not illegal, but they’re too worried about breaking the law.

      Actually, the only place in IL so far that would sell me ammo is the Bass Pro Shops up by Wisconsin. Go figure.

      • Funny thing, you can buy brass, bullets, primers and powder, and get them all shipped to Illinois.

        And it would be easier to do that, and buy a reloading press, than it would be to convince a minimum-wage Wal-Mart employee that it is in fact legal for an out-of-state resident to buy ammo without a FOID card.

        • The problem lies with, I think it’s hard to find that information. As someone who just moved back from Texas, it was hell getting ammo. Wisconsin luckily is close by. Not good for much else except for ammunition.

  9. As a Pittsburgh resident, I intend to inform Bass Pro Shops that I will not be doing any business with them & will be urging other people I know to do the same.

      • I also fish, hike & do other things, so my spending with Bass Pro Shops is not limited merely to firearms & ammunition, therefore, they’re losing out on the entirety of my business.

    • This is not a Bass Pro Shops problem.

      I used to be a compliance atty for a Fortune 500 financial services company. While we did our best, keeping in compliance with state and federal regulations was hard and expensive. Not only did we need to know the laws in 50+ states/territories, but we had to make sure underlings could follow corporate guidelines. Even if laws had exceptions, we couldn’t risk having underlings making decisions about whether an exception applied.

      I suspect that BPS is in the same boat as it relates to municipal laws. Getting the website to make the “right” decision is probably impossible.

  10. Yeah vactor I know. Plenty of BS information about Cook co. too. I can legally buy pretty much anything in my Southern Cook town but a LOT of internet sites are uninformed to say the least…I can cross the border to Indiana and get lots of deals. I have no opinion on Bass but I sure don’t blame them. My local big box Cabelas does a pretty good job.

  11. Those foul smelling cesspits are blights on PA, truly the cancer from within!

    I’ve been alone in the Bronx and I’ve felt safer than the times I’ve been in Philly and Pitt (and I was even CCW while in Philly and Pitt), not to mention the gun laws that violate TWO constitutions. PA is very imperfect (the recent law the allows state police to search your car and phone with no warrant or consent), but we’ve managed to stay resilient while surrounded with anti-human rights bastions like MD, NY, NJ, and nearly CT.

    • As we sometimes say, everything between Philly and Pittsburgh is Kentucky. Go an hour (or sometimes less) outside either city, and you can end up in the sticks.

  12. As a New Jersey resident, I have a fun time buying ammunition online as well. Some places are great about it. Some will ship to NJ, but only AFTER you place the order will they tell you that you need to scan your state-issued Firearms Owner I.D. card and driver’s license with matching addresses. Since NJ law requires the FOID and picture ID for pistol ammunition purchased in-state, I will try once to inform the website that my shotgun ammunition doesn’t require any form of ID anywhere. If they refuse, I cancel the order. I’m lookin’ at you, luckygunner.com. And even if I were buying pistol ammunition, NJ can’t regulate interstate trade, so their laws would be unenforceable from the retailer’s perspective anyway. I understand that places can’t keep up with the insanely high number of gun and ammo laws. But I also have the option to vote with my wallet.

    All that being said, sgammo.com is my go-to much of the time.

    • SGAmmo might be OK for NJ but their website specifically states:

      ” Will SGAmmo ship my ammunition order to a New York State FFL holder ?

      No, Sorry, Given the protocol for doing business in New York State after the safe-act was put in place we no longer do business there. We do hope that the law is eventually changed or removed to allow direct online sales of ammunition, but until it is legal for us to ship directly to the consumer in New York we will not be doing business there.”

      There are a lot of Snowbirds in South Carolina with a temporary address. I suspect some of them might be headed home with the front wheels a little light.

  13. Yep, they are just using the zip code, which almost never corresponds with the borders of a municipality, so you are SOL. In my area, Aurora and Naperville IL meet up and those in Aurora’s zip code are denied online sales of 10+ magazines from many vendors.

    It sucks for those on the edges of these totally made-up areas.

  14. Couldn’t you just establish a PO Box or a UPS Mail Box in a place outside of Pittsburgh? In other words, what’s the point of this law?

  15. John L. Morris is the founder and majority owner of Bass Pro Shops. He is very supportive of 2A and the NRA as well.

    We don’t have a beef with BPS. The company is on our side. We do have a beef with hoplophobic elected or appointed officials in PA and other states.

    Please direct your anger appropriately. BPS is not the enemy.

  16. Holy shit! New Orleans, LA. I had no idea that the antis had made headway in Louisiana. That would be the last state I would expect something like this.

    • I currently live in the cesspool known as NOLA; however, that is the first and only thing I have heard if it being illegal to ship ammo to the Big Sleazy. I have no idea why BPS put NOLA on the list. I haven’t seen any other companies that wouldn’t ship here. I also haven’t heard of any local laws being passed. Even if they were passed, they wouldn’t last too long considering that LA has a firearms preemption law.

      LA. REV. STAT. ANN. § 1796 Preemption of state law

      No governing authority of a political subdivision shall enact after July 15, 1985, any ordinance or regulation more restrictive than state law concerning in any way the sale, purchase, possession, ownership, transfer, transportation, license, or registration of firearms, ammunition, or components of firearms or ammunition; provided, however, that this Section shall not apply to the levy and collection of sales and use taxes, license fees and taxes and permit fees, nor shall it affect the authority of political subdivisions to prohibit the possession of a weapon or firearm in certain commercial establishments and public buildings.

      • As I recall one of the Landruxes is mayor there’bouts. And before that it was Ray “We don’t have any busses” Nagan (currently under federal indictment on 21 charges including wire fraud, bribery and money laundering).

        I like New Orleans. There’s the Cafe du Monde. And Felixes. But it’s a weird kettle of fish, and I never stay overnight. Last time I was there we were stalked by a fake statue and an itinerant banjo player.

  17. Bass Pro doesn’t care to initiate. They’d likely stand with a lawsuit (not on the suit) from a business standpoint. Because they sell ammo you can bet they dislike turning down money, but they are not a legal business. If the local law is BS, find someone willing to go after the City, there’s usually someone around who can’t wait to wage legal war.

  18. I’ll take “Emptymag” some bacon when I see him at the next group event in the spring. That’ll cheer him up!

  19. Of course our political hack dingbat Attorney General (who has had criminal charges recommended against her by a Montgomery County grand jury) refuses to enforce the new law requiring municipalities to rescind their illegal ordinances.

  20. I have the misfortune to live in NJ. However, I order ammo online all the time and have never been refused delivery. I have recently seen online dealers who will not sell firearms with 15 round mags for delivery to a NJ FFL when such arms are totally legal in the state. This is becoming a ridiculous situation.

  21. Never been to a BPS, not real big on ordering ammo online since shipping pretty much kills any savings. All that said, the “chilling effect” is a very potent weapon in the leftard’s arsenal, it being a major component of Obamacare in several points and also as applied by EPA against the coal and electric industries. People better wake the f*ck up, we are well on our way to being North America’s Venezuela.

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