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 2013
- New guns have steadily become a larger percentage of transactions (~75%) compared to used guns
- Most guns are sold by dealers (65% of handguns, 83% of long guns), followed by private parties (17% of handguns, 9% of long guns)
- A small number of dealerships (5%) account for over half of total sales
- Gun purchases have been increasing in every county, with a few counties contributing a disproportionate amount of growth
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 peak 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 million guns are expected to be sold in California.
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 2015, which may have been a combination of holiday sales and a reaction to the San Bernardino shootings.
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 2014 and 2015, 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 2015 were Smith and Wesson (13%), Glock (11%), and Ruger (9%). The top ten manufacturers accounted for 60% of guns sold in 2015.
Sales of top 10 gun makers in 2015
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
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 2015 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.
Gun Sales and Gun Dealerships over Time
How fragmented is the gun dealership industry?
Gun sales is a relatively consolidated market. The top dealership is responsible for more than 10% of gun transactions in California. The top 20 (many are chains) are responsible for over 35%, and the top 100 are responsible for over 60% of gun transactions. The remaining ~1,800 dealerships have around 38% market share.
Gun Market Concentration from 2001 to 2015
How do counties differ by gun transactions?
Counties differ substantially in number of gun sales per capita and what types of guns residents buy. While the split between handguns and long guns generally hovers around 50:50, some counties have as many as 4x the number of long guns sales as handguns while others have 2x the number of handgun sales as long guns. (Note that these data reflect the location where the gun was sold, not the address of the person who purchased the gun).
Average gun sales per 100,000 people by county from 2001 to 2015
Total gun sales by county from 2001 to 2015
How has this changed over time?
From 1996 to 2007, total sales were relatively flat in California, but the distribution of those sales shifted across counties. Los Angeles, Orange and Alameda had the largest drops. The growth in transactions sales beginning in 2008 has come from virtually all counties in California. Sacramento, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Riverside counties have disproportionately contributed to the growth of gun sales in the State.