In the United States, firearm sales are subject to federal regulations and restrictions. However, ammunition sales are not. Without ammunition, firearms are merely as dangerous as other blunt objects. While gun laws vary by state, ammunition laws vary by state as well.
Federal Laws for Firearm Ammunition
Many federal firearm laws do not apply to ammunition. This includes the law that states purchasers buying from licensed dealers must present ID and pass a background check, or that high volume handgun sales are regulated. A 2013 Fox News survey found that about 80% of Americans support laws requiring background checks for ammunition purchasers. Currently, the only federal laws regulating ammunition are limited to prohibiting sales to certain categories of people and prohibiting the manufacture, importation, and sale of armor-piercing ammunition. While federal law prevents prohibited purchaser categories from purchasing ammunition, it does not require sellers to conduct background checks on purchasers to ensure they are not in said categories.
States Laws for Firearm Ammunition
Six states have laws regulating ammunition sales and require background checks: New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Other states restrict ammunition access through age limits or restricting certain categories of dangerous people. The table below outlines the restrictions for each state.
In 2013, New York enacted a law requiring every purchaser of a “commercial transfer” of ammunition goes through a background check before completing their purchase. The background check is conducted through a statewide license and record database.
California is the only other state with New York to require a point-of-sale background check. Proposition 63 was approved by California voters in November 2016. The law generally requires all ammunition sales to be processed by or conducted through a licensed vendor who will conduct the background check. This includes mail-order sales and sales between unlicensed parties.
In 2013, Connecticut enacted a law authorizing state agencies to issue “ammunition certificates.” Ammunitions are issued by the state and must be renewed every five years. The law also prohibited the sale or transfer of ammunition unless the purchaser or transferee presents a firearm permit or ammunition certificate.
Illinois residents must obtain a canid Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card to lawfully purchase or possess firearms or ammunition. FOID cards are valid for10 years.
In Massachusetts, residents are required to obtain a firearm permit or license to purchase ammunition. Different types of licenses permit holders to purchase and possess different types of ammunition. The three types of licenses are the Firearms Identification Card (FID), the License to Carry Firearms (LTCA), and a Class 3 or “Green Card” permit for fully automatic firearms.
New Jersey residents are typically prohibited from acquiring any handgun ammunition unless a valid firearm purchaser identification card or a permit to purchase a handgun is presented. A firearm identification card to buy ammunition does not expire after 90 days; however permits to purcahse handguns expire after 90 days and can be renewed for an additional 90 days.