No Real ID needed for ammo purchases? California justice department contradicts Newsom

While touting California’s gun control policies, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that residents would need Real IDs or equivalent documents to buy ammunition next month.

Minutes later, the California Department of Justice contradicted him, clarifying that there would be no Real ID requirement as part of new firearm and ammunition regulations taking effect July 1.

The mixed messages are adding to the confusion and frustration California gun owners and advocacy groups have expressed in recent weeks as they try to navigate new regulations they first learned about earlier this month.

Starting next month, under a 2016 gun control initiative, Californians must submit to background checks to purchase ammunition.

Regulations announced this month by the Department of Justice to implement the voter-approved gun control initiative have confused gun owners and advocacy groups about whether identification known as Real ID would be required starting July 1.

Last week, gun rights advocates such as the California Rifle and Pistol Association began warning members that they’d need Real IDs to buy ammunition. Most Californians do not yet have a Real ID, and getting one would require a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice, whom the department declined to name, said Tuesday that Californians could use regular California drivers licenses to purchase ammunition and would not need a Real ID. He said there was no regulation requiring Real IDs for ammo purchases moving forward.

The only licenses that would not be acceptable are ones that say “federal limits apply,” such as licenses for undocumented immigrants that are authorized under a 2013 California law. People with those licenses would also need additional documentation, such as a passport or birth certificate, according to the Department of Justice.

That clarification from the department undercut what Newsom said minutes before at the news conference promoting the new requirements, where he said Californians would need a Real ID or equivalent documentation starting July 1.

The California Department of Justice added that the regulation would also apply to gun purchases, not just ammunition.

J.R. Young, a gun owner in Los Gatos who shoots and hunts recreationally, said he researched the new requirements and thought regular California drivers licenses would not work for ammunition starting next month. He said lawmakers are adding “another layer of complexity” for gun owners like him as hunting season approaches.

“Folks in California are wanting to be compliant, they’re wanting to do the right thing,” he said. “But now we’ve got all this confusion surrounding Real ID and the background checks.”

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, sought clarification from Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office about the new proposed rules about Real ID but remains confused.

“This seems like another monumental conflict and screw-up of policy making,” Patterson said. “There has to be a clear checklist of documents to bring. We’re going have an awful lot of people who I think are going to be denied guns not because they are suspect but because the system is so confusing.”

Becerra left the news conference early and did not contradict Newsom on camera. While fielding questions from reporters, Newsom looked over his shoulders for help in explaining the proposed regulation.

“Now I need my attorney general to look at the legal framework,” Newsom said.

Speaking more broadly about gun purchasing restrictions approved by voters in 2016 under Proposition 63 and set to go into effect next month, Newsom said Californians have had plenty of notice on many rule changes. He also said it’s currently more difficult to buy cold medicine than ammunition and that the new rules will help ensure dangerous people don’t have ammunition.

“Gun safety laws save lives,” he said. “The extreme rhetoric on the other side that goes against common sense has to be called out.”

Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
Support my work with a digital subscription