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Anonymous online ammo sales would be banned under proposed law

July 30, 2012|By Richard Simon and Tina Susman
  • Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) announce a proposal to increase regulation of online purchases of ammunition.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) announce… (Justin Lane / European Pressphoto…)

Citing the more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition bought online by the Aurora, Colo., mass shooting suspect, gun control advocates on Monday started a drive to ban anonymous bullet purchases over the Internet.

“It's one thing to buy a pair of shoes online, but it should take more than a click of the mouse to amass thousands of rounds of ammunition," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), joined by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) at a New York City news conference to announce plans to introduce the Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act.

The measure would require ammunition sellers to be licensed, maintain records of sales and report the sale of more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Buyers would be required to present photo IDs, a requirement that the bill’s sponsors say would effectively ban the online or mail-order purchase of ammunition by civilians.

Gun control legislation faces a battle in Congress, where Republicans have pushed to expand gun rights and many Democratic have been skittish about the issue as their party courts votes in rural states.

A new poll released Monday found no significant change in public views on gun control and gun rights following the Colorado shooting.

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According to the survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 47% of respondents said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46% said it was more important to protect gun rights.

Currently, there is no requirement for those who purchase ammunition, even in large amounts, to undergo background checks or present identification, said Ben Van Houten, managing attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Sellers are not required to keep records of ammunition sales.

The calls for new controls of ammo sales came as James E. Holmes was formally charged with 142 criminal counts, including 24 of first-degree murder, in connection with the July 20 movie theater shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded. 

The suspected gunman purchased his firearms legally at local gun stores and ordered more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition online, police said.

A 1968 federal law required ammunition dealers to be licensed and prohibited interstate mail-order sales of ammunition, but the requirements were dropped when Congress enacted the Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986, Van Houten said.  

At a news conference on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan, Lautenberg and McCarthy insisted their proposed legislation would not infringe upon  2nd Amendment rights, but would make it easier for dealers to spot potential criminals by bringing buyers into the open.

“Warning signs are not detectable online,” said Lautenberg, citing the suspected Colorado gunman’s ability to anonymously purchase thousands of rounds of ammunition on the Internet. “He didn’t have to interact with another human being. … You don’t have to be a scientist to see how wrong this is.”

He and McCarthy, flanked by victims of gun violence and relatives of shooting victims, challenged other politicians and regular citizens to stand up to the National Rifle Assn., which McCarthy portrayed as a bullying group protecting gun makers. 

“Their job is to intimidate legislators and members of Congress,” said McCarthy, whose husband, Dennis, was killed and son Kevin severely wounded in 1993 when a gunman went on a rampage on a Long Island commuter train and killed six people.

“Our voices cannot be heard unless the average citizen … says enough is enough,” she said.

An NRA spokesman declined comment, saying he wanted to first review the legislation.

The lawmakers and other speakers echoed New York Mayor Michael
R. Bloomberg
in calling on the presidential candidates to support stricter gun laws.

“The presidential candidates haven’t said enough,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose brother was shot and seriously wounded by a gunman who opened fire on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in 1997.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 signed a law that required sellers of handgun ammunition to obtain buyers’ thumbprints and keep sales logs. It also required anyone buying ammo over the Internet to pick it up at a store, where the buyer would present ID and be fingerprinted. But the law was put on hold by a Fresno judge, whose ruling is being appealed by the state attorney general.

Calls to a obtain comment from a number of online ammo sales outlets were not returned.

But John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, said: "If they were serious about helping stop mass shootings, they would be better served to introduce a bill to repeal the so-called Gun-Free School Zones Act.... One thing that is shown to stop shootings at least from escalating into mass shootings is the presence of an armed potential victim. If they want to get serious about saving lives, they should stop trying to pass laws that will only affect law-abiding citizens."

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richard.simon@latimes.com

tina.susman@latimes.com

Simon reported from Washington and Susman from New York.

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