Nearly anywhere in America, a felon with a violent criminal history can walk into a gun store and walk out minutes later – no questions asked – with hundreds of rounds of ammunition for an assault weapon.
We already have laws on the books designed to prevent such sales, but the disturbing truth is that we do not require enforcement.
Under current federal law, people who are prohibited from purchasing firearms – such as violent felons, domestic abusers and those adjudicated as severely mentally ill – are also prohibited from purchasing ammunition. However, unlike firearms, federal law does not currently require a background check for the sale of ammunition.
That means retailers selling ammunition have no way of determining if a potential customer is legally barred from buying bullets. It’s a dangerous loophole that puts lives at risk and reveals a startling gap in our law-enforcement system.
That’s why we’ve joined together to introduce the Ammunition Background Check Act. Our bicameral legislation would require instant background checks for the sale of bullets to prevent criminals from illegally purchasing ammunition.
It takes more than just a gun to end an innocent life. It also takes bullets. We need to do all we can to make sure neither of them end up in the wrong hands.
Closing this absurd loophole will not by itself end mass shootings or eliminate the daily gun carnage that too many neighborhoods experience every day. But this approach must be a part of any larger strategy for ending senseless gun violence.
Several states have already taken action to require background checks for ammunition purchases. It is time for the federal government to follow their example.
Our proposal, like nearly all gun-safety reforms, has widespread support. A 2016 Morning Consult poll found that almost three-quarters of Americans support the idea.
It’s also extremely effective. A study published in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, estimated that universal background checks for ammunition purchases could reduce the national firearm mortality rate by a staggering 81 percent.
And notably, we can do this without inconveniencing law-abiding gun owners. That’s because nearly nine out of 10 background checks are processed instantaneously at the time of purchase.
In the weeks since the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we have been inspired by the incredibly brave young people who are demanding real change – and refusing to take no for an answer. The Ammunition Background Check Act is a vital step toward achieving a future free of gun violence.
No student should feel unsafe at school or on their way home. No parent should have to fear for the worst while they anxiously await a call or text from their kids. And no criminals should be able to walk into a gun store and buy deadly bullets without even having to give their first name.
We both come from communities that have been directly affected by the scourge of gun violence. Too many Americans can say the same.
Gun tragedies have taken lives on our streets and airports, in our churches and schools. We have met with many of these victims’ families and we intend to honor their loved ones with action. More than a million Americans just took to the streets demanding it.
Closing this loophole is a common-sense component of a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence. We will not be intimidated by the NRA or anyone else who makes the mistake of standing in our way. Protecting the lives of families, friends and neighbors is simply too important.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, is the senior senator from Connecticut. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Florida's 23rd Congressional District.