It’s begun: Maryland bill would require background checks to purchase ammo, establish owner registry


BALTIMORE, MD – The Firearms Policy Coalition is sounding the alarm over a new law proposed in Maryland that would establish a searchable gun registry and require a federal background check to purchase ammunition.

Maryland HB 175 has been placed at the House Judiciary Committee for consideration, and a hearing will be held on March 1.

The bill would require an ammunition vendor to confirm the identity of the purchaser and any potential recipient of ammunition, run a background check, and create an electronic record of any sale, including detailed personal information of the purchaser and/or receiver.

The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) placed a call-to-action notice on their website asking readers to notify legislators to oppose the bill:

“Maryland’s HB 175 mandates federal background checks for ammunition purchases and the creation of indefinitely held, detailed transaction records that identify the recipient and what they have purchased.

“Under HB 175, ammunition dealers will be required to check ID and run a NICS background check before they can sell or transfer ammunition.”

FPC explains that HB 175 will establish a database of electronic transactions for ammunition purchases. Dealers will be required to enter transactions for ammunition, including the seller and purchaser’s name, address, date of birth, and telephone number.

The database will also require the purchaser’s signature on file.

Electronic records in the database would be retained indefinitely and could require other information as determined at the discretion of the Secretary of the Maryland State Police. JPC stated:

“This bill also grants the Secretary of the Maryland State Police the discretion to determine how long these electronic records will be kept on file, and whether or not to require additional information.”

Violation of the new law would result in a minimum $1,000 fine, which could be scaled upward dependent on issues such as the seriousness of the violation, probability of another violation in the future, and previous violations.

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 The primary objection to HB 175 is that it violates the Fourth Amendment by creating a gun registry, something the FPC calls a “more pertinent concern”:

“The second and more pertinent concern arising from HB 175 is its record-keeping requirement.

If passed, this bill requires ammunition dealers to submit extensively detailed records of ammunition recipients to state police, while affording the Secretary the discretion to draft regulations which may result in indefinite retention of these records.

In effect, this would result in a registry, raising obvious Fourth Amendment concerns.”

FPC said the proposed law would “devastate” individual gun rights:

“(HB 175 is) A bill that would have a devastating impact on the right of individuals to be free of government monitoring, to keep and bear arms, and would place a substantial burden on existing government entities, systems, and would negatively impact small businesses across the state by impeding their ability to serve customers.”

Another objection to the bill by FPC is the use of the federal NICS system:

“HB 175 requires that individuals purchasing ammunition submit to a federal background check. These checks use the NICS system, which is already known to be overburdened, and which has crashed in the past.

By requiring background checks to be conducted for every ammunition purchase, HB 175 will only make a bad situation worse.”

The Bill has also come under attack from the National Rifle Association (NRA), who criticized the legislation as “deeply flawed” and “vague”:

“House Bill 175 is a deeply flawed bill that requires “ammunition vendors” to conduct a federal NICS background check on prospective recipients of ammunition.

“Ammunition vendor” is vaguely defined in the legislation and could potentially mean that private individuals cannot sell or give ammunition to friends, family, fellow hunters, range buddies, etc.”

The NRA pointed out that federal law only requires federal firearms licensees and state government authorities to run NICS checks, and only for the purchase of a firearm. Because several businesses only sell ammunition, they cannot run NICS checks for ammunition-only sales.

The bill also creates a problem for gun owners to keep a supply of ammunition after learning to use or practicing with the firearm to become or maintain proficiency.

This can create a safety issue if gun owners fail to train with their guns because of fear of not being able to purchase new ammunition.

The NRA explained the concern:

“The bill exempts ammunition transfers by vendors at shooting ranges that hold a ‘business or other regulatory license’ only if the ‘ammunition is at all times kept within the facility’s premises.’

That means that people may not keep ammunition that they purchased to replenish expended ammunition brought from home or keep leftover ammunition without taking the time to go through government red tape.

“Vendors for those shooting on private property, such as a visiting instructor bringing ammunition for students, presumably may not distribute ammunition.”

Generally speaking, there are no registries or databases that track and connect gun owners to firearms within the United States. The Brady Act adopted in 1993 mandates federal background checks for the purchase of firearms and a five-day waiting period.

However, that law requires that the records of each background check be destroyed within 24 hours.

The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) is a federal law that revised the Gun Control Act of 1968 to make it illegal for the federal or state governments to keep any database or registry that ties firearms to their owner. The wording of the prohibition states:

“No such rule or regulation prescribed [by the Attorney General] after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established.

Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary’s authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation.”

Despite the federal prohibition, several states have moved to restrict and/or track gun owners. These laws attempt to create loopholes in the registry prohibition by not directly linking owners with their firearms.

In New York City, for example, the NYPD has a record of the manufacturer, model, serial number, and caliber of every firearm, including handguns and long guns.

In New York, gun owners need to have a registration certificate on their person for every long gun, in addition to needing a “Permit to Possess Rifles or Shotguns in New York City”, which are limited to five rounds among other restrictions.

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