Government / Politics

AB 711 and Prop 63 create new ammunition laws

AB 711 is a statewide bill that requires use of non-lead ammunition for hunting and depredation of wildlife, whereas Prop 63 requires background checks to buy ammunition of any kind in California.
Dan Ryan hunting with copper bullets. Photo by Dan Ryan and provided by Devii Rao.
Dan Ryan hunting with copper bullets. Photo by Dan Ryan and provided by Devii Rao.

This article was contributed by Devii Rao with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

On July 1, two laws related to ammunition went into effect in California: 1) California State Assembly Bill AB 711: Hunting: nonlead ammunition and 2) California Proposition 63: The Safety for All Act of 2016 (see page 163). Although the two laws went into effect at the same time, they are not related, and they focus on different aspects of ammunition. AB 711 is a statewide bill that requires use of non-lead ammunition for hunting and depredation of wildlife, whereas Prop 63 requires background checks to buy ammunition of any kind in California. Both laws are likely to affect ranchers throughout the state.

On July 11, I spoke with Dan Ryan, invasive wildlife biologist and non-lead outreach specialist at Pinnacles National Park, to learn more about the laws. This article summarizes the information shared by Mr. Ryan.

AB 711 was signed into law in October 2013 and was phased-in over a few years. Some requirements began phasing-in on July 1, 2015 and as of July 1, 2019 all requirements were in effect statewide. Mr. Ryan explained that the bill requires, “the use of non-lead ammunition for the taking of all wildlife, including game mammals, game birds, nongame birds, and nongame mammals with any firearm.” Basically, he said, that means if you remove any wildlife for any reason, whether it’s hunting (e.g. deer) or depredation (e.g. pigs, ground squirrels), non-lead ammunition is required. Non-lead ammunition is required for use with all types of guns when taking wildlife: shotguns, centerfire rifles, rimfire rifles, and handguns. Non-lead ammunition is not required for pellet guns since they are not legally considered firearms. Since the law was developed specifically for wildlife take it does not address whether non-lead ammunition is required for putting down a cow or other livestock.

People in San Benito County have been using non-lead since July 1, 2008 because of AB 821 which required use of non-lead ammunition for big game and coyotes within the range of the California condor. Click here to see the text of AB 821. Ten years ago, it was difficult to find non-lead bullets in a lot of calibers and they were two to three times more expensive than lead bullets. But, today, “every major manufacturer has at least one non-lead option in the majority of popular calibers and grain weights,” said Ryan. If you can’t find non-lead ammunition in your particular caliber, there are custom loaders and custom bullet manufacturers who will make any ammunition you need.

Non-lead bullets are for the most part premium bullets. Because of that they have excellent performance. At the premium level, the cost of both lead and non-lead bullets is similar. However, non-lead bullets will be more expensive than an economy-priced lead bullet. Federal Ammunition does make a non-lead bullet in the economy price range called Powershok Copper HP loaded in seven popular calibers and Mr. Ryan notes it’s likely that we’ll see more non-lead economy-priced bullets in the future as more manufacturers start making additional non-lead ammunition options.

If you have questions about cost, availability, or performance of different caliber non-lead bullets, you can check out http://www.huntingwithnonlead.org/. They have contact info on their website if you have a specific question you need answered.

For more information about AB 711, you can contact California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) at (916) 445-0411. Here’s a link to their website for additional information: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/nonlead-ammunition.

Prop 63 is the other law that recently went into effect. It is a California proposition approved by the voters and is not related to the non-lead ammunition legislation. Instead, it requires a face to face transaction for purchase of all ammunition in the state of California and it requires a background check for all ammunition purchases in our state. All transactions must be through a certified California Ammunition Vendor.

Mr. Ryan explained how it works:

  • You have to go into a shop to get ammunition.
  • You can still purchase ammunition online, but it must be shipped to a certified California Ammunition Vendor where you can go in and pick it up.
    • Some large stores like Walmart and Sportsman’s Warehouse give you the option to “pickup in store” during online checkout which helps avoid shipping fees. However, we don’t have either of these stores locally. Sometimes smaller stores will allow you to pick up at the store as well, even if you make the initial purchase online.
  • You cannot buy ammunition in another state and bring it back with you into California. However, you can buy ammunition out of state and have it delivered to a certified California Ammunition Vendor and pick it up there.
  • As of July 1, 2019, you have to have a California driver’s license or a California ID to purchase ammunition. It does not need to be a “CA REAL ID,” but if it’s not, the background processing time may be longer since vendors may need to input data by hand.
  • When you pick up your ammunition at the vendor, they do a background check every time you buy ammunition.
  • Based on the State of California Department of Justice (DOJ) website, there are three types of background checks (DOJ uses the term, “ammunition eligibility check”): “standard,” “basic,” and “certificate of eligibility.” Mr. Ryan explained that the certificate of eligibility check is only relevant for people who sell firearms. So, for most people, there are two options: “standard” and “basic.”
    • “Standard” checks will be for anyone who has an active record in the Automated Firearms System (AFS). The “standard” background check should be fast, about two minutes. It’s not like a background check to buy firearms, where they do a much deeper background check. There’s no waiting period like there is for firearms background check.
    • You will need a “basic” check if you are not current in the AFS or if you don’t have a current certificate of eligibility. This check can take multiple days. This check is similar to the background check done when purchasing firearms.
    • The “certificate of eligibility” background check requires that you have a current certificate of eligibility. These checks take about two minutes.
    • “People can ‘add’ a gun into the AFS (even if they are not buying new gun, just adding something they already have but had not filed for ownership) if they want to move from the ‘basic’ to the ‘standard’ cheaper check,” said Ryan.
  • Cost
    • If you are current in the AFS, then the cost is $1 per “standard” ammunition background check.
    • The cost for the “certificate of eligibility” check is also $1 each time you purchase ammunition.
    • If you are not in the AFS or you don’t have a current certificate of eligibility, the “basic” ammunition background check to get into the system is $19. Based on the DOJ website, people will have to do the $19 check every single time they purchase ammunition until they have a current entry in the AFS or until they have a current certificate of eligibility. For more information about background checks go to the DOJ’s frequently asked questions page at https://oag.ca.gov/firearms/apfaqs#7.
    • Mr. Ryan notes that there’s one background check each time you purchase ammunition. So if you are buying one box or many boxes, it’s still $1. And there’s no limit on how much ammunition you can buy.
  • There are no caliber restrictions regardless of which firearms you have registered.
  • People who have a carrying concealed weapons (CCW) license are not exempt from the ammunition background checks.
  • For further questions or information on this new law or to register a firearm visit the DOJ website at https://oag.ca.gov/firearms/apap.

Prop 63 complicates the ability to buy non-lead bullets. If you go into your local store and they don’t have the non-lead bullets you need for hunting or depredation what can you do? You can purchase non-lead bullets online and have them delivered to a certified California Ammunition Vendor and you can pick them up at the vendor’s location. You can also go into local stores and ask them to order the particular product and caliber you need. Mr. Ryan expects that more retailers will stock more non-lead options, so it will be easier to get what you need over time. One suggestion he had was to purchase your non-lead ammunition early in hunting season so you get the caliber you need before it runs out.

Mr. Ryan said that, “Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) is continuing their free non-lead ammunition program based in Monterey County. They have become a certified California Ammunition Vendor so that they can continue to provide free non-lead ammunition to hunters and ranchers who need to make the switch. The same process and background check that you would go through with any other California vendor will apply with VWS, but they can currently only perform the “standard” background check and will cover that cost as well. VWS also tries to have a supply of the harder to find rimfire cartridges. Check out their webpage https://www.ventanaws.org/ammunition.html or contact Mike Stake directly at (831) 800-7423 or nonlead@ventanaws.org.”

If you want to discuss hunting or depredation with non-lead ammunition, you can also contact Mr. Ryan at daniel_ryan@nps.gov or (831) 389-4486 x 270.

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Devii Rao

I am the UC Cooperative Extension Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor serving San Benito, Monterey, and Santa Cruz counties.