Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
When suspected gunman James Holmes was apprehended following a deadly shooting spree at the midnight showing of the “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., Friday, police also recovered four guns and 6,000 rounds of ammunition at the scene.
The amount of ammunition, while large, may not be that uncommon according to some area gun owners and gun rights advocates.
“That’s nothing,” said Jacob Rieper, vice president of Legislative & Political Affairs for the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the New York State affiliate organization of the NRA.
Rieper said boxes of ammunition vary based on the caliber of the bullet. For example, he said rifle ammunition is often sold in a 20 round box, but bulk packages can have anywhere from 200 to 1,000 rounds.
“I know people who have so much more than that,” said Rieper, who lives upstate in Columbia County and owns eight different guns.
Al Tompkins, a journalist who works for the Poynter Institute, said 6,000 rounds is a large amount but said “it’s not at all unusual for an avid gun owner to have that many rounds.”
“My son and I sometimes go to the gun range and it would be nothing for us to burn off maybe 200 to 300 rounds in a very short period of time while we’re shooting at targets,” said Tompkins, who an article on Poynter’s website Saturday entitled What Journalists need to know about guns and gun control.
The rules for buying and possessing ammunition are a bit different in New York City, compared with the rest of New York state.
Gun owners must have a gun license issued by the New York City Police Department.
Under the New York City Fire Code (NYC Admin Code Section FC 105), a person must also have an explosives permit to own or sell 200 or more rounds.
The city Fire Commissioner also issues “storage permits” to dealers who store and sell more than 200 rounds of ammunition.
The Firearms Policy Coordinator for New York City, Janey Rountree, rejects the idea that 6,000 rounds of ammunition is an insignificant amount.
“To put in a different context, most U.S. soldiers carry 100 to 400 rounds if they are ‘light and mobile’- meaning carrying their own weapon for combat,” said Rountree in an email. “That can vary quite a bit by the mission, the person, and where they are fighting, but it's clear that 6,000 rounds is a huge number. He had enough ammunition to kill hundreds if not thousands of people.”
Gun control advocates argue this latest incident shows the danger of current ammunition sales policies, specifically the lack of mandatory background checks.
“When James Holmes walked into the Century Aurora movie theater, he was prepared for war. No civilian should ever be able to purchase 6,000 rounds of ammunition--online or otherwise--without undergoing some type of background check,” said Ladd Everitt, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Some states have started to regulate the online sale of ammunition.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, pointed to a law passed in 2009 in California, which requires handgun ammunition sales or transactions, sold over the Internet to be completed through a face-to-face transaction with a licensed ammunition vendor.
The buyer must present identifying information and also provide their thumbprint.
“There are things that can be done to regulate ammunition that seem reasonable, that would seem like they have nothing to do with the fundamental right to bear arms,” Gross said.
On Friday and again Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed President Barack Obama and his expected Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney to go beyond statements of sympathy and really explain how they will tackle the issue of gun control.
On Sunday night, the Brady campaign petition posted an online petition calling on the candidates to address the issue.