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Lack of timetable for ammunition background checks leaves dealers in limbo


Ammunition dealers haven’t been told by state police when they’ll need to conduct background checks to comply with the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Act, because a statewide records database needed to do so is still under construction.

North country dealers, who are already combatting higher ammunition costs, say they are frustrated with how the state has left them in limbo about the background checks, which are expected to drive the already-steep price of ammunition even higher.

The state previously reported that ammunition sellers would be required to conduct background checks and record sales for customers on Jan. 15, but that provision won’t take effect until the state police completes its database system. The SAFE Act FAQs page, which may be viewed online at, states that background checks for ammunition will take effect 30 days after the state police certifies the database is ready.

“The state database is currently under construction and not operational, and prior notice will be given to all sellers on a timely basis before the database is completed and requirements are relevant,” states an open letter from the New York state police superintendent, which was mailed to sellers of firearms and ammunition in late December.

Darcy L. Wells, director of public information for the New York State Police, Albany, could not give a timeline for when the database would be launched.

“We have to create this database, and the police superintendent is not going to start this process unless we’re able to handle it,” she said.

Ms. Wells confirmed that several other components of the SAFE Act will still take effect Jan. 15:

n All sellers of ammunition must register with the state police. Sellers holding a valid federal firearms license will be registered automatically; others must fill out a registration form.

n All ammunition transfers must take place in person, including Internet sales, which must be facilitated by a certified ammunition seller.

n Gun owners must dispose of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. Those who don’t will face a class A misdemeanor charge, with few exceptions.

Sellers of ammunition in the north country, meanwhile, are dissatisfied with how the SAFE Act has been implemented. Todd K. Cerow, owner of 1000 Island Bait Store on Route 12 in Alexandria Bay, said he might decide to discontinue ammunition sales due to the inconvenience of background checks. Though the shop is a licensed firearms dealer, it stopped selling guns two years ago and now sells only ammunition.

“First of all, doing a background check for someone to buy a box of ammo is crazy,” said Mr. Cerow. “If we have to log in to a database to get approval, I’m just not going to do it because it’s not worth my time. I won’t have time in the summer months.”

Ammunition prices at VanTassel’s Gunsmithing on Route 37 in Evans Mills skyrocketed this fall after the SAFE Act took effect, said owners Dennis J. and Mary A. VanTassel. The couple had expected background checks for ammunition sales to take effect in January until they were recently informed about the delay. The background checks could force the small business, which is a hub for hunters and sportsmen in the region, to hire a part-time employee due to the extra work involved.

“We want to know when it’s taking effect so we can plan for it,” Mr. VanTassel said. “But the delay doesn’t surprise me, because this is how they operate in Albany. They’re so quick to react and slow to respond.”

A 500-round brick of .22 long-rifle rimfire ammunition cost about $55 at the shop because of the high demand, Mrs. VanTassel said. Its price was about $20 two years ago.

“The background checks are going to make the ammo even more expensive,” she said. “And we still don’t know anything about the process. That’s the problem.”

Terry H. Zimmer, an Evans Mills resident who has bought ammunition as a customer here for three decades, said ammunition has already become an expensive commodity for sportsmen like himself. Background checks will only raise the prices more, he said.

“They’re going to have to raise the price enough to cover the cost of doing it,” said Mr. Zimmer, a member of the Northern Tier Trap League who participates in outdoor target shooting competitions. “And the price is going to be so high that the average person isn’t going to afford it. My friends and I used to buy 1,500 rounds of ammunition to go target shooting for three hours when it was (inexpensive). Now we can’t do that.”

NY SAFE Act deadlines
Along with NY SAFE Act provisions that take effect Jan. 15, the following elements of the law will go into effect at later dates:
• All retail sellers of ammunition must complete background checks and record sales for purchases (effective date to be determined).
• All assault weapons must be registered by April 15.
• All pistol licenses must be renewed every five years, starting January 2018. Permit holders will receive a notification with further details on how to renew or re-certify a pistol permit before the renewal deadline.
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