Gun shows are frequent events and usually laid back, but the one staged on Aug. 20 at the former McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento had a noticeably frenzied ambiance.
While many attendees just wandered from table to table, looking at firearms for sale, others were lined up five and six deep at a booth against the wall – one with hundreds of plastic cases, each filled with 500 or more rounds of ammunition and priced well under retail store prices.
It was not uncommon for customers to purchase a half-dozen or more, some using hand trucks to move the heavy boxes to their cars. And as they waited in line, their chatter left no doubt why.
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The show was staged just weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a half-dozen new gun control laws, including one requiring background checks for ammunition purchasers, similar to those already required for gun buyers.
California already had the nation’s most restrictive gun laws before Brown signed the new bills. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s measure on the Nov. 8, ballot, Proposition 63, would go even further on regulation.
The McClellan show’s buying frenzy was what happens after every new political effort to make it more difficult to acquire guns and ammunition: those who resent the hassle stock up.
“Every single time the politicians start talking about firearms or increasing regulation, folks start to realize this is a right that if I don’t exercise it, I may lose it,” Craig DeLuz of the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees said last year as the state neared a record for gun sales. “It’s not the sole motivator, but it’s a significant motivator.”
California – and national – gun sales have been on the rise ever since Barack Obama was elected president and made stronger gun control laws a goal.
California has relatively few gun owners, roughly 20 percent of its 39 million residents, but there are at least 20 million guns in the state. In 2015, Californians legally purchased 891,862 firearms, nearly three times as many as in 1996 and only slightly under the 2013 record level, the state Department of Justice reported.
Nationally, the FBI processed a record 2.2 million firearms background checks – a proxy statistic for gun sales – in July. Meanwhile, stocks of U.S. gunmakers such as Smith & Wesson have been soaring because of record-high sales.
Now, with one new ammunition law on the books and another on the ballot and likely to pass, sales of cartridges are also exploding.
Firearms dealers, even such chains as Big 5 Sporting Goods, and online sellers are offering bulk sales of ammunition to Californians, knowing that there’s a big demand, at least until Election Day.
The irony is that as Newsom seeks to crack down on buying guns and ammo, he also seeks, via Proposition 64, to make buying marijuana easier.
Government, its advocates contend, can’t eradicate a recreational product, even a dangerous one, that substantial numbers of people want to enjoy.
There are, one should note, far more gun owners in California than devotees of pot.