California would become the first state in the nation to require a permit to purchase gun ammunition -- a permit covering all firearm ammo, and one requiring the buyer to pass a background check -- under legislation being introduced at the state Capitol.
"It is tough for me to fathom that we can ask people to obtain a license to hunt in the state of California. "We can ask them to obtain a license to fish." said Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, the bill's author. "But we cannot ask them to pass a background check to purchase ammunition."
De Leon's bill is an expansion of a 2009 law he authored that was focused on handgun ammunition. That law was challenged by the National Rifle Association in a state court and blocked, with an appeal pending. The NRA has asserted that "handgun ammunition" was a vague term that would lead to confusion by gun owners and users.
"If the NRA believes that law shouldn't be limited to handgun bullets," De Leon said at a Capitol news conference Tuesday morning, "then I will give them exactly what they want."
In other words, a permit and background check process that applies to all ammunition.
The bill is one of an early group of proposals being talked about in Sacramento in the wake of last Friday's mass murder at a Connecticut elementary school. While at least one other state has a law requiring registration, no other state has a proposal on the books of this sort.
"This could be a national model," said De Leon.
The odds of passing major gun control bills in the Legislature may have changed somewhat after the November elections. Democrats, by holding a supermajority of seats in both houses, may now have enough votes to allow for some defections among their ranks. Some Democrats, with more conservative streaks or from rural parts of the state, are a much tougher sell on the issue.
But the real question is how Gov. Jerry Brown will approach these new efforts at restrictions on guns and ammunition. Brown has walked a fine law on gun issues in both his current term as governor and for four years as California's attorney general. This year, he signed a ban on carrying unloaded rifles and shotguns, but vetoed measures like a ban on resale of law enforcement weapons.
A spokesman for Brown hasn't yet responded to a request for comment.