State Headliners: Firearms policy experts call AG Donovan’s ammo background checks costly, meddlesome

By Guy Page

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan’s proposed federal law requiring mandatory background checks on all purchases of ammunition would unnecessarily increase consumer costs and red tape, and would create “licensing” and a federal government list of all Americans legally exercising their Constitutional right to bear arms, Vermont Second Amendment rights advocates say.

As reported by Headliners on Wednesday, Oct. 2, Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan and 21 other states attorneys general want Congress to approve HR1705, a/k/a “Jaime’s Law,” named after a victim of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting.  In a Sept. 23 letter Donovan and the other AGs write that “each of us swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms….but we need additional tools” because “existing law has too many loopholes that can be exploited by individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms. We must close these loopholes, starting with ammunition sales.”

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

This call for federal involvement with ammunition purchases doesn’t sit well with two Vermont firearms policy experts, both of them well-known and respected in the Vermont State House.

“The frightening component of AG T.J Donovan’s letter is the idea of a license process in the pursuit of an individual right,” William Moore of Johnson, Firearms Analyst for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, wrote in response to Headliners’ request. “Both the current NICS background check and any license requirement create a ‘list of citizens’ engaged in exercising a civil right. This ‘individual right’ is now co-equal to all 1st amendment exercises under the Heller and McDonald decisions. Would the AG recommend a ‘speech’ or ‘free association’ license to combat cyber bullying or to monitor right wing groups with racist views and leftist groups such as Antifa organizers?

“This law would inevitably create a national list,” Moore continued. “The current NICS system already creates a potential list available by Executive Order to any future president (see ATF Form 4473 page 3). NICS creates a detailed inventory by name of the make, model and serial number at point of firearms purchase. This has always been a major criticism of expanded background checks for private sales. We at VT Traditions Coalition have always pointed to this flaw in NICS when discussing background checks.

“Any move to create a POS (point of sale) record of legal and now constitutionally protected ammunition purchases should be constitutionally suspect at any level of scrutiny. Either method does this and retailers’ ability to secure customer records is poor. License issuance is abhorrent to the exercise any of our rights. Consider literacy tests for voter registration to prevent black citizens from voting. Consider any proposal of this type by asking what it would look like for freedom of speech, the press, association and the establishment of state approved churches?

“Either way, POS systems creates at the least a set of ‘meta-data’ of firearms owners, and a system of that type is vulnerable to either state or criminal misuse. The current NICS Form 4473 is the case in point. Future SCOTUS rulings will likely place this and any similarly onerous and intrusive system in question. How can any state requirement of this type stand scrutiny? In 1st amendment law we abhor these obstacles and government infringements (such as ‘prior restraint’ of the press) and ‘meta-data’ abuses under the Patriot Act and NDAA continue to be adjudicated by federal courts.

“Finally, the AG knows that these proposals have little likelihood to impact criminal access and use of firearms. Any ideas he has to enhance the effectiveness of the current NICS system without infringement of individual rights are welcome and we look forward to discussing them.”

The comments of Chris Bradley, president of Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Club, focused his comments on the negative impact the law would impose on law-abiding citizens.

“What a Federal Ammunition Background check system would do is to seriously raise the cost of ammunition to honest citizens; it would overload NCIS; it would cause some retail sellers to cease selling ammunition altogether (which would serve to inconvenience honest citizens), and it would create a black market for ammunition that does not exist today,” Bradley, of Northfield, said.

“This an expensive political solution to a problem that can best solved by prosecuting those who violate the existing firearm laws. This is not sound public policy,” Bradley said.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

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