Sales of rifles and shotguns have dropped sharply in California since the election of Donald Trump, who has expressed his intent to defend Second Amendment rights and was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
The political climate often drives gun sales. Whenever state or federal leaders discuss gun control, gun sales tend to rise.
Last year, buyers rushed to beat a state ban on rifles equipped with “bullet buttons” that allowed for faster reloading. They also feared the election of Hillary Clinton, who has expressed support for gun control. More guns were sold in California during the presidential election year of 2016 than in any year in history.
Californians bought fewer long guns – a type of firearm including shotguns and rifles – in the first six months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, according to new data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
In the first half of 2017, Californians bought 166,167 long guns compared to 230,666 in the same period in 2016. The 2016 sales reflect a bump from the previous two years, but the 2017 sales are the lowest they have been since 2011.
Handgun sales, however, have steadily increased throughout the decade, rising from 101,685 sales in the first half of 2007 to 264,961 in the same period of 2017. The number of handgun sales remained steady from 2016 to 2017, FBI data show.
The FBI collects monthly data on the number of firearm background checks conducted, which is required every time an individual attempts to purchase a gun. This number is widely used as a measure of gun sales.
The turbulent sales of long guns can be attributed to gun buyers’ fear of future legislation that would prohibit them from purchasing long guns, said Bill Durston, president of Americans Against Gun Violence.
Because gun control laws usually include a grandfather clause that allows people to keep the guns they already have, people rush to buy guns before stricter laws are enacted.
In 2016, as Hillary Clinton was leading in the presidential election in all major polls, people bought guns fearing that her presidency would bring gun control legislation, contributing to the bump in long gun sales last year.
Political uncertainty is the main driving force behind trends in gun sales, said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. Dealers can often predict trends and know what to stock up on ahead of time.
A possible reason behind the steady increase in handgun sales is that the Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale maintained by the California Department of Justice has shrunk over time, Paredes said.
The list has over 700 approved models today compared to more than 1,100 in 2014, according to Guns.com. Consumers may be stocking up on handguns anticipating that the list will shrink each year, Paredes said.
“When I hear the rumor that one of the manufacturers is going to drop a certain gun off the handgun roster, I can talk to any dealer, and those guns are selling off the shelves like hot cakes,” Paredes added.
In the same vein, the drop in long gun sales in 2017 can be attributed to the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Durston said. Now that people believe their ability to buy guns is no longer in jeopardy, they are less driven to make purchases.
When taking into account the roughly 300 million guns already owned by Americans, “a drop in gun sales is not going to have a significant effect on gun violence in the country,” Durston said.
Most firearm-related deaths are also caused by handguns, sales of which reached an all-time high last year.
Long gun sales may also have dropped because dealers are still waiting for the Department of Justice to specify which guns are legal and meet requirements outlined by a set of statutes that are already in law, Paredes said.
Dealers are hesitant to stock up on guns that may turn out to be illegal, and as a result, have a reduced their inventories of long guns. These smaller inventories may drive people toward buying handguns instead, Paredes said.