Capitol Alert

Californians buying lots of guns, but ownership rate low

Matt Dittmer, 26, left, holds a semi-automatic rifle he is purchasing with salesperson Blake Prior at Auburn Outdoor Sports on Dec. 11, 2013 in Auburn. Californians are buying nearly a million firearms a year, but the state’s rate of gun owmership is well below the national average, according to a new study.
Matt Dittmer, 26, left, holds a semi-automatic rifle he is purchasing with salesperson Blake Prior at Auburn Outdoor Sports on Dec. 11, 2013 in Auburn. Californians are buying nearly a million firearms a year, but the state’s rate of gun owmership is well below the national average, according to a new study. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Californians bought more handguns in 2014 than any other year on record and are annually adding nearly a million firearms to their personal collections, but are still much less likely to own firearms than residents of most other states, a new study reveals.

A team of academics studied gun ownership rates from a variety of sociological standpoints and found big state-to-state differences ranging from a low of 5.2 percent in Delaware to a high of 61.7 percent in Alaska, with a national average of 29.1 percent.

According to the report, “Gun ownership and social gun culture,” published in Injury Prevention, a journal of peer-reviewed academic studies, 20.1 percent of Californians own firearms, by far the lowest rate of any Western state.

Given the state’s large population, however, that easily translates into millions of firearms and bolsters previous estimates that Californians own about 20 million guns, which may be the highest number of any state. However, the state’s rate of homicides involving guns has been falling and is at its lowest level in more than 20 years.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Justice reported that California dealers sold more than 510,000 handguns in 2014, 76,000 more than the previous record set in 1993. There were also 418,000 rifles and shotguns sold in the state last year, the third highest number on record. None of those figures includes firearms sold on the unrecorded black market.

Authorities have attributed the surge of California gun sales to fears among shooters that the state will increase its gun controls, which are already among the nation’s tightest.

The new national study is based on a survey matched to Census Bureau characteristics of the nation’s population. It attributes the stark differences in gun ownership among the states to differences in “social gun culture,” which it defines as the gun-related values of respondents’ social circles.

Not surprisingly, gun ownership rates are the highest in states – mostly in the South, upper Midwest and West – that also tend to be conservative in their voting patterns and lowest in state with liberal political bents, including California.

There are, however, notable exceptions, such as Hawaii, a dependably blue state that nevertheless has a 45.1 percent gun ownership rate, higher than those of Nevada, Arizona and Colorado. Meanwhile, California’s 20.1 percent rate is out of synch with other Western states, and is more in keeping with those in New England.

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