GUN SALES IN CALIFORNIA
This post examines firearms transactions in California. It looks at how firearms sales changed over the last two decades, where individuals are most likely to purchase guns, what types of guns they buy, and whom they buy from.
- Gun transactions have been growing in recent years, increasing 2.5 times between 2007 and 2017
- New guns have steadily become a larger percentage of transactions (~75%) compared to used guns
- Most guns are sold by dealers (65% of handguns, 82% of long guns), followed by private parties (16% of handguns, 10% of long guns)
How have gun sales changed over time?
Gun sales have surged in recent years, driven by sales of both handguns and long guns. From 1996 to 2007, sales were relatively flat except for a spike in 1999, where long gun sales increased 75% and handgun sales increased 30% (probably in anticipation of the passage of several California gun regulation laws). The rise in 2013 likely again reflected purchases in anticipation of gun-related legislation. In 2011 a law was passed that would require record-keeping on who purchases long guns (a longstanding requirement for handguns). Sales of long guns increased 75% in the two years prior to the law going into effect in 2014. In 2016 more than 1.3 million guns were sold in California, reaching an all-time peak.
Total Gun Sales split by Handguns and Long Guns
Over the course of a typical year, gun sales tend to peak in December. This surge may be following seasonal shopping trends starting on Black Friday and continuing through Christmas. There is a smaller rise around March, which may be due to tax refunds being used towards purchases. Month-by-month data also highlight gun sales that may be related to specific events. The big spike in January 2013 may have been a response to President Obama's proposals for gun regulations after the Newtown shootings in December 2012. The highest monthly sales in the last 20 years was December 2016, which may have been a combination of holiday sales and a reaction to the Pulse shooting in Orlando, FL.
Gun Sales By Year and Month
What share of guns sold are new versus used?
Total gun transactions includes both new guns sold, and the transfer of previously purchased weapons (used). In 2007, new handguns accounted for just over 60% of all handgun sales. In 2016 and 2017, about 75% of handguns sold were new. In other words, not only are more guns being sold, more new guns are being sold. This suggests that the total number of guns in the state is quickly rising.
New vs. Used Handgun sales
What guns are being bought?
Californians purchase firearms made by hundreds of different manufacturers. The top three manufacturers in terms of guns sold in 2017 were Glock (13.1%), Smith and Wesson (12.5%), and Ruger (8.9%). The top ten manufacturers accounted for over 60% of guns sold in 2017.
Sales of top 10 gun makers in 2017
How are guns transacted?
About 65% of CA handgun transactions are dealer sales. 15-20% are private party transfers, 5-10% are out of state registration, almost 10% are curios/relics. 80% of long gun sales are through dealers, with the remaining transactions primarily split between private party transfer and out of state registration. Unlike most states where private party transfers are unregulated, in California they still require a background check and registration of the sale via a dealer. Also unlike many other states, California requires background checks for sales at gun shows. Nationwide, an estimated 20-40% of sales occur at gun shows, allowing many purchasers to avoid a background check (see here and here). In California, less than 2% of recorded gun transactions take place at gun shows.
Percentage of Handgun and Long Gun Sales by Transaction Type in 2017
How has the number of gun dealerships changed over time?
From 1996 to 2007, the number of gun dealerships dropped by almost two-thirds while gun sales stayed relatively flat. The dramatic growth (240%) in gun transactions from 2008 to 2017 has not been accompanied by similar growth in the number of licensed gun dealerships, which only increased by 40%. The concentration of sales among gun dealers has increased in the past two decades.