ammo laws

The Spread of Ammunition Laws


A car without wheels, a smart phone without a battery, shoes without soles — what do all these things have in common? They’re missing a core component and it essentially makes them useless or severely restricted, which is a concept behind ammunition laws driven by gun control measures.


The competing ideas of whether guns kill people or people kill people is a tired argument consistently battled in political arenas, but ammunition legislation is a way to circumvent the issue there entirely and remove the sole technical function of a gun — firing ammunition.


This type of legislation is applied in multiple ways and is present at the federal and state level.


Federal Ammunition Laws

federal ammo laws

Federal ammunition laws are much broader in scope than state laws. They target the import, sale and purchase of ammunition.


Federal legislation also specifically targets armor piercing ammunition, which is defined under 18 U.S.C., § 921(a)(17)(B) as “A projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.”


It’s illegal for any person, manufacturer or importer to sell or deliver armor piercing ammunition, with an exception when used by federal and state departments and agencies. There is also an exception for testing or experimenting with armor piercing ammunition when approved by the Attorney General, according to U.S.C., § 922(a)(7 - 8).


This ammunition is specifically designed to puncture metal and body armor.


Anyone who imports or manufactures ammunition must file an application for, and receive, a license to do so, and must pay an annual fee. Licensed firearms dealers may not sell ammunition to those they have a reason to believe are below the age of 21.


Unlicensed parties may sell ammunition to anyone they believe is 18 or older.


Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d) and (g), there are nine categories of individuals prohibited from purchasing or simply possessing ammunition.


There has been numerous pieces of proposed legislation targeted at ammunition, specifically in the mid-1990s when the number of firearm-related deaths had statistically peaked. Higher taxes on ammunition, reinstating a ban on mail-order ammunition sales, background checks at the point of purchase for ammunition, a limitation on the number of rounds one has (stockpiling) and a restriction on types of ammunition were proposed, according to Plugging the Bullet Holes in U.S. Gun Law: An Ammunition-Based Proposal for Tightening Gun Control.


As with any firearms laws and regulation, things really become dicey at the state level.


States Approaching Ammunition Laws


states ammo laws

The specific states that have approached stricter ammo laws shouldn’t come as a surprise: New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and also Washington D.C — just to name a few.


At the state level, there are laws, depending on the state, that require background checks either during purchase or that require one to apply for a license prior to purchasing ammunition.


Those in D.C. will need a registration certificate for a firearm or need to be at a firearms safety course in order to acquire ammunition, as per D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2505.02, 7-2506.01. New York requires dealers to record identification and demographic information at the point of sale for anyone purchasing ammunition, and it will be recorded into a database, according to N.Y. Penal Law § 400.03.


Illinois requires a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card in order to purchase or possess ammunition. New Jersey similarly requires a state firearms purchaser identification card or a handgun carry permit. Massachusetts requires a firearm permit or license to purchase ammunition. Connecticut follows in line with similar legislation passed in 2013.


Get this, it goes even deeper. D.C., Minnesota and California all have some level of restriction on even displaying ammunition in cases visible to the public or accessible by persons under the age of 18 (D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2504.07, Minn. Stat. § 609.663 and Parker v. California, 221 Cal. App. 4th 340), with California requiring an employee to aid the purchaser with the ammunition.


State age restrictions can range lower than the federal 21-year-old age requirement, as is the case in states like Idaho and New Hampshire, which only require the purchaser be at least 16 years old.


About 20 states have laws on armor piercing ammunition, eight states have a ban on exploding ammunition, three states with flechette ammunition, three more target dragon’s breath ammunition and New Jersey has limitations on hollow nose ammunition, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.


There is more to it than restrictions on the type of ammunition and who may purchase, manufacture and import it. There are organizations pushing the idea that ammunition should be traceable.


Microstamping as a Tool for Crime Investigation


microstamping ammunition

Microstamping is the idea that spent cartridges are imprinted before they are ejected, therefore being traceable back to the firearm from which they were shot.


When firearms are registered in a state database and are attached to a specific gun owner’s identity, this creates a chain of responsibility (or liability) for actions taken with a given firearm.


Think of it like license plates or a vehicle identification number on a vehicle. The issue some tend to point out is that vehicles, like firearms, could be stolen if not properly locked, therefore obfuscating a criminal investigation.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives proposed this idea in the mid-’90s with the advent of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and produced a report titled Missing Link: Ballistics Technology That Helps Solve Crimes.


A centralized system like this would require cooperation at a mass scale between local, state and federal agencies.


”This program draws upon a variety of resources with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and crosses traditional boundaries between Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies’ areas of responsibility. The program’s success depends on the cooperation on which it is based,” according to the report.


In 2010, the American Bar Association released a report in support of microstamping technology, stating, “the American Bar Association urges federal, state and territorial governments to enact laws requiring that all newly-manufactured semi-automatic pistols be fitted with microstamping technology which would ensure that when a firearm is fired, an alphanumeric and/or geometric code would be stamped on the cartridge casing by way of the firing pin, breech face or other internal surfaces of the firearm, that would enable law enforcement to identify the serial number of the pistol and hence the first known purchaser of a weapon used in a crime.”


There have been attempts to push this practice as legislation in states like California and in D.C.


Where microstamping efforts have had marginal success, magazine capacity laws have gained some momentum over the past few decades.


High Capacity Magazine Bans


high capacity magazine ban

The intention behind high capacity magazine bans is clear: limit the amount of accessible ammunition without having to reload and therefore mass shootings will be handicapped.


There was a federal restriction imposed in 1994 with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that “[banned] the manufacture of 19 military-style assault weapons, assault weapons with specific combat features, ‘copy-cat’ models, and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds.”


However, it allowed magazines produced prior to enactment of the bill to be circulated. It expired after a decade, but there are about eight states (and D.C.) that currently have some form of high capacity magazine restriction.


Seven of those states impose that ban on any firearm, but Hawaii’s pertains to handguns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.


Jake Smith 

About The Author


Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter and photographer based in the Pacific Northwest who enjoys shooting pictures and ammunition outdoors.

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