Crime & Justice

Gun sales spiked in California after San Bernardino shooting

A man enters a gun store in Los Angeles, California in August, 2015.
A man enters a gun store in Los Angeles, California in August, 2015.

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New data obtained by KPCC from the California Department of Justice shows Californians rushed to purchase guns last month, especially in the days after the San Bernardino shooting.

Requests to buy guns statewide were up by more than 18,000 over last year in December. For nine of the ten days following the December 2 terrorist attack, more than 1,000 additional requests to purchase guns arrived at the California Department of Justice each day, compared to the same calendar day the previous year.

That spike came during what was, overall, a down year for gun sales in California.

month 2014 firearm purchase requests 2015 firearm purchase requests
November 91,473 81,485
December 117,527 135,874

Gun sales and transfers are tracked by the state's Dealer Record of Sale system, in which gun sales, private transfers and gun show purchases are reported to California's Department of Justice. The vast majority of sales are approved.

"Most mass shootings have not triggered quite this great an increase in gun purchasing," said UCLA law professor Adam Winkler. He attributed a jump in background checks nationally to the fact that the incident was an act of terrorism, the wall-to-wall media coverage it received, and the public conversation about gun control that followed, including from President Barack Obama.

"The fear of new gun control leads to more gun sales," Winkler said.

At the Bullseye Sport gun store in Riverside, business was brisk in December. The stores's hold message for callers features owner Vince Torres thanking customers for their patience over the past few weeks.

"Due to the circumstances in San Bernardino, you're averaging fifteen, twenty people all day long," Torres told KPCC. "You're working in sixth gear, going 100 miles an hour, trying to help every customer that comes in."

Before the incident, he said business "was even Steven or going down ... then December came and all the things went straight up vertical—to double."

Torres said the increases at his store this December came from all types of gun buyers, with many purchases by single women, the elderly and families. Torres added that he had to hire an additional instructor to satisfy demand for gun safety classes.

Torres, who has been in the gun business since 1976, expects sales to stay strong in 2016.

The DOJ's data shows 462,954 handguns and 381,714 long guns, such as rifles, were purchased in California last year. Those numbers could tick up slightly, once pending sales are approved.

While both totals are down compared to last year for the state, that wasn't the case in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, where overall gun sales for the year were up. Taking a longer view, statewide, handgun sales have more than doubled since 2010, when there were 227,239.

Historical numbers for long gun sales don't exist, as the DOJ was prohibited from retaining information about those until last year.

The chart below shows handgun purchases in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties since 2010.