An ammunition vendor at the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show
An ammunition vendor at the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show / Stephen Gutowski

New York Ammo Background Check Law Upheld

The Empire State’s requirement that gun owners pass a background check for every ammunition purchase is constitutional, a federal judge has ruled.

On Thursday, US District Judge Frank P. Geraci denied a request by gun-rights advocates to block enforcement of a New York law requiring ammunition sales to be handled by a licensed dealer and subject to a background check for the purchaser. He determined that the law fit within the country’s historical tradition of gun regulation.

“The Court concludes that the ammunition background check requirement is consistent with ‘the well-recognized historical tradition of preventing dangerous individuals from possessing weapons,'” Judge Geraci wrote in New York State Firearms Association v. Chiumento. “Accordingly, Plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing they are likely to succeed on the merits of their Constitutional challenge.”

The ruling deals a blow to gun-rights advocates in their fight against the novel law that has drawn complaints from ammunition sellers and buyers alike over alleged delays and improper denials. It not only allowed the background check requirement to remain in effect but also dismissed the case entirely—though advocates are allowed to refile.

The case stems from a 2022 Concealed Carry Improvement Act provision that required the New York State Police (NYSP) to establish “a statewide license and record database specific for ammunition sales.” The provision attempted to address issues that had long-plagued New York’s 2013 requirement of background checks for ammo sales, which officials suspended due to perceived infeasibility. Following the creation of the NYSP database, the state officially began enforcing the background check requirement in September 2023. The New York State Firearms Association and four New Yorkers challenged the law as a violation of the Second Amendment that same month.

In his ruling, Judge Geraci held that the ammunition background check law implicated the plain text of the Second Amendment—a central prong of the legal test established by the Supreme Court in its New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision. However, he determined that New York’s law aligned with the country’s historical tradition of gun restrictions because it is analogous to a colonial Virginia law disarming Catholics.

“The problematic aspect of this law is that religion is the basis upon which the legislature determined that a particular group was deemed dangerous,” Geraci, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote. “However, ignoring the invidious discrimination informing the determination of what constitutes dangerousness, the legislature’s decision to restrict gun (or ammunition) ownership because of the prospective owner’s dangerousness is perfectly permissible under the Second Amendment and well-established in the historical tradition of gun regulation in America.”

He also reasoned that the loyalty oaths that allowed Catholics to regain their gun rights at the time were similar to New York’s background check law. He argued that they each function as a “dangerousness” screening before allowing someone to be armed.

“Although an oath and a background check are distinct in their mechanisms, they are analogous in their objective as well as in how they are situated in the process of purchasing a firearm,” he wrote. “Their objectives are the same in that they both serve to assure the state that the purchaser would be a law-abiding, responsible gun owner.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.) praised the decision in a public release.

“Our gun safety laws are meant to protect New Yorkers and help the residents of this state live free from gun violence,” she said. “Part of these commonsense laws is a strong background check provision for purchasing ammunition, and this court decision will help keep that effort in place. My office will continue to fiercely defend New York’s gun laws because we know that every New Yorker deserves to feel safe in their home and community.”

Attorneys for the New York State Firearms Association did not respond to a request for comment.

New York is one of only two states in the country to require point-of-sale background checks for ammunition purchases. California is the other, though a federal judge struck down its law as unconstitutional in January. The state is currently appealing that ruling.

According to the ruling, the New York State Police processed 29,464 ammunition background checks in the first month of the law. The agency approved 29,037 of those transactions and denied just 161, or 0.55 percent, of those prospective sales.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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