NJ watchdog agency urges expanding ammo purchase database, upping fees

The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation released a report Wednesday arguing the state’s tracking of ammunition sales is “antiquated and ineffective” and needs revamping.

The SCI, the Garden State’s independent watchdog agency, looked into how ammo was sold in the state in 2006, which they credit with legislation that passed in 2008 criminalizing the transfer of handgun ammunition to anyone who does not have valid firearms purchaser identification card (FPIC), handgun carry or purchase permit. Now, 10 years after their first investigation and with the law on the books for most of that period, they feel more can be done.

“Commission investigators recently tested that law, however, and found that while it does make it more difficult for anyone not a gun owner to legally obtain bullets, the measure does not nearly go far enough to ensure that ammunition sales are free from abuse,” noted the nine-page report to Gov. Chris Christie and legislative leaders.

In a number of recent test buys, undercover purchasers were asked for their firearms card. However, in some instances they successfully bought ammo using another person’s FPIC card because the seller didn’t check the name on the card against a second form of ID, such as a driver’s license, to verify the buyer’s identity.

To fix this, SCI recommended firearms cards in the state be issued with a digital photograph in the future, or that the firearms permit information simply be embedded in a New Jersey driver’s license.

Another problem cited by the agency is the current mandate for ammo vendors to keep log books to maintain the name, address, date of transaction, and the amount, type and caliber of ammunition sold. Law enforcement agencies consulted by the group found going through such records painstaking, citing that the logs are sometimes illegible and often inconsistent, going so far as to classify following up on the vendor logs as a”non-productive use of police resources.”

What they recommend to update the registry is to put it online so that interested agencies could do searches in near real time, comparing it to the digital records kept by pharmacists in the state for the sale of superscription drugs.

“The creation of this type of central database in the realm of ammunition sales would allow law enforcement agencies to coordinate and share criminal intelligence data related to suspicious sales or firearms-related investigations,” the report says. “By plugging into a searchable database, police could determine if there were links between criminal activity and recent ammunition purchases. Further, the database could be used to ‘red flag’ excessive ammunition purchases.”

To pay for the enhancement, SCI recommended the current $5 fee — and $57.50 for a fingerprint background check — for the paper FPIC card be upped to $30 plus the fingerprint fee. While the current cards do not expire, SCI advised this could also be changed to generate revenue to continue to fund the database.

The practice of regulating ammunition sales past federal mandates and asking for proof of age is rare in the country.

Besides New Jersey just three states, Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts, require proof of a firearms license for ammunition purchases. In 2013, New York’s SAFE Act was enacted with language to adopt a statewide registry and additional checks for ammo sales but has been put into stasis as being unworkable.

Earlier this month, California voters approved Prop. 63, which will require a state Department of Justice background check on ammo sales — a first for any state — as well as largely end online purchases for residents of that state by 2018.

While the effect of New Jersey’s mandate on legal gun vendors is not addressed in SCI’s report, the agency did note they were unable to conduct any test buys at major sporting goods stores.

“That is because, since the passage of the law restricting ammunition sales, many of those type of establishments no longer sell bullets at their New Jersey locations,” the report says.

Firearms industry trade groups panned the report, arguing its non-binding recommendations, if implemented, will do little to stop crime while passing the buck to legal gun owners.

“The SCI proposal will do nothing to enhance public safety in New Jersey because criminals are not going to obtain photo ID ammunition purchase cards,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told Guns.com. “They’ll get their ammo the same way they get their guns – illegally. What’s so hard to understand about that?  The proposal proposes another wasteful exercise that would be carried out at the expense of law-abiding citizens.”

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