California’s ammunition background check law has been a disaster for lawful gun owners since it went into effect. Earlier this year, US District Court Judge Roger Benitez issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law, writing in his opinion that, “California has tried its unprecedented experiment. The casualties suffered by law abiding citizens have been counted.”
And those casualties include tens of thousands of lawful gun owners whose ammunition purchases have been incorrectly denied by their overseers in Sacramento.
Background checks may have stopped “more than 750 prohibited individuals” from purchasing ammunition at legal outlets, but that was almost incidental to its real impact. “Unfortunately, the Standard background check also rejected 101,047 other law-abiding citizen residents that the laws were not designed to stop,” U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez wrote in an April 23 decision blocking enforcement of the law for several reasons, including constitutional concerns. “The standard background check rejected citizen-residents who are not prohibited persons approximately 16.4% of the time.”
Judge Benitez wasn’t first to note the mess California made of background checks. In December of last year, the Sacramento Bee led a story on the issue with the case of Zachary Berg, a Sutter County sheriff’s deputy who was unable to purchase shotgun shells “because his personal information didn’t match what state officials had in their database.” For Berg and the tens of thousands of other Californians wrongly turned away, “the rejections appear to have occurred because of errors and omissions in the Department of Justice’s own gun-registration database,” the story noted.
Shoddy implementation of the law is no surprise given that ammunition background checks and raids on supposedly forbidden would-be purchasers are extensions of an earlier policy regarding firearms. The state has applied its heavy hand to such dubious targets as Lynette Phillips, who was listed as “prohibited” because she checked herself into a hospital after adjusting poorly to a psychiatric medication change (seized guns were subsequently returned). It also went after Jeffrey Scott Kirschenmann, who made a good-faith effort to register a gun but was unable to keep current with the state’s ever-shifting restrictions on just what features are and aren’t permissible on rifles (charges were dismissed after state agents seemingly misread the paperwork).
The potential for not just injustice, but tragedy, in such cases is apparent, since news reports describe the raids as being carried out by contingents of armed and armored California Justice Department agents. Anybody who needs a refresher course in the potential dangers of police enforcement of laws great and small need only take a peek at current headlines regarding the killing of George Floyd over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill and the resulting protests and unrest. Or they could consider the killing of Breonna Taylor during a misfired drug raid. And then there’s the killing of Duncan Lemp during a raid for alleged illegal firearms possession.
– J.D. Tuccille in California Ammunition Raids Put Innocent People at Risk of Police Violence