Aurora aftermath: How easy is it to buy ammo online? Really easy.

How hard is it to buy ammunition online? Really, really easy.

James E. Holmes, the 24-year-old accused of opening fire at a late-night screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, on Friday, had an arsenal of more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition packed inside his booby-trapped apartment, reports The New York Times. All of this ammo — and the bullets that almost certainly killed 12 people and wounded 58 others — was purchased on the Internet.

Included in Holmes’s cache were 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun, and ammunition for an AR-15 assault rifle. He had also purchased a large “drum magazine” that held 100 rounds, bullet proof vests, a gas mask, and a Blackhawk Urban Assault Vest, which is used to carry additional magazines.

These are the tools of war. In this case, the tools of tragedy.

.223 ammunition

So, just how easy is it to stockpile such a collection of ammunition and other tactical gear? Really, really easy — often as simple as purchasing a book, sunglasses, or an external hard drive. A quick Google search delivers a countless array of online ammunition retailers — I found more than a dozen in less than 10 minutes — all of which sell the types of ammo used in the Aurora shooting. 

While some of these sites sell ammunition only, others provide all types of gun-related items, including drum magazines for AR-15s, and other outdoorsman gear. Some sell actual firearms as well. Guns purchased online must be shipped to a dealer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). In most states, ammunition can be legally delivered straight to your doorstep.

Of course, there are laws concerning the sale of ammunition and ammo feeding devices over the Internet, but they vary wildly from state to state or from city to city. New York state, for example, allows the online purchase and shipment of ammunition, but New York City law forbids it. In Illinois, buyers must present the ammunition retailer with a Firearms Owner’s ID (FOID) before the purchase may go through. New Jersey has a similar requirement. Alaska and Hawaii impose restrictive fees on shipping ammo to their residents, and many online ammunition retailers simply refuse to sell to customers in those states. Many states and municipalities restrict the sale of feeding devices (magazines) to those that hold fewer than 10 or 20 rounds, with tighter restrictions often imposed on rifle magazines. The sale of incendiary rounds or other high-capacity rounds are also restricted in some locations. Most states do not require any background checks for the sale of ammunition.

Colorado imposes no such limits.

There is no law restricting the sale of ammunition on the federal level either, aside from a law that requires buyers be 21 years of age or older to purchase handgun rounds, or at least 18 years old to buy rifle rounds, as well as a U.S. Postal Service rule that forbids it to ship ammo. As the Times reports, a bill was introduced to Congress in 1999 to regulate the sale of ammo online, but the measure was not adopted. Since then, no other legislative efforts have come up for a full Congressional vote. And in 2004, the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) expired, re-allowing the sale of firearms such as the AR-15 used in the Aurora massacre.

S&W M&P 15

President Obama vowed to reenact AWB during his tenure as president, but has so far not taken up the cause, which would likely fail to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Several states have imposed their own assault rifle bans, including Massachusetts. That law was signed by Obama’s GOP rival, former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney. (Massachusetts also requires that all ammunition dealers be registered in the county where their buyers are located, effectively banning the practice of selling ammo online.)

The sickening tragedy in Aurora has already reignited the national conversation surrounding the sale of ammunition online. Whether or not new laws will pass remains a wide-open question, given the power of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying wing, as well as unlimited support of the Second Amendment by many Americans. In 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger signed into law California bill AB962, which would have required ammunition sellers to keep logs on anyone who purchased ammunition. It would have also banned the sale of ammunition online by mandating that all handgun ammo sales took place face-to-face. The bill was supposed to take effect on February 1, 2011. But in a last-minute decision on January 18, 2011, Fresno Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton ruled in favor of the NRA and the California Rifle and Pistol Foundation (CRPF), deciding that the law was unconstitutionally vague.

“People will not take on the NRA,” said Steve Schmidt, Sen. John McCain’s chief strategist for his 2008 presidential campaign, during an appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “It’s the most powerful interest group in Washington D.C.”

What do you think about selling ammunition online? Should it be allowed as it is, or more tightly restricted? Should state or federal law require background checks for the purchase of ammo? Let us know what you think in the comments.

UPDATE: I previously listed a slew of sites that legally sell ammunition online. I have removed this list to respect those readers who were offended by this part of my reporting.

Lead image via ck/Shutterstock, .223 image via TFoxFoto/Shutterstock