The Corner

The Unintended Consequence of California’s Gun-Control Laws

In April 2014, community-college student Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree throughout Isla Vista, a small college town bordering the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rodger stabbed, shot, and ran over his victims, taking the lives of six people and wounding 14 more. One of the victims, Christopher Michael-Martinez, was shot and killed. His father, Richard Martinez, has since become a gun-control advocate, blaming “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” for Rodger’s attack.

The Isla Vista massacre was horrific, just as all mass shootings are. But it’s clear that Americans are not in agreement with politicians who have responded to cries from advocates such as Richard Martinez by passing arbitrary gun-control legislation. Indeed, as state and federal politicians have proposed such legislation, an unintended consequence has reared its head: Americans have purchased more guns than ever before.

In July, California’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, signed six gun-control bills into law, including one that bans rifles with “bullet buttons,” which allow for the removal and replacement of a magazine and had hitherto been the feature that made semi-automatic rifles compliant with California’s firearms laws. The Press Democrat reported that the new bills also added to California’s list of prohibited items “a protruding or forward pistol grip, a thumbhole stock, [and] a folding stock or a flash suppressor.” As of the January 1, 2017 enactment date, so-called assault weapons that were previously legal, such as the AR-15, have been taken off the shelves in California gun stores.

The result of the laws’ passage was predictable. Between July 2016, when Brown signed the bills into law, and December 2016, Californians rushed to gun stores to purchase the firearms that would be deemed illegal come the New Year. An astonishing 257,895 semi-automatic rifles were sold in the span of six months statewide. To put that into perspective, the entirety of 2016 saw 364,643 sales of semi-automatic rifles in California, and 2015 saw a mere 153,931.

The spree was not limited to semi-automatic rifles, either. In 2016, 1.3 million guns were sold in California, a dramatic increase from the 700,000 that were sold in 2015. “California has seen between 800,000 and 960,000 gun sales during each of the prior four years,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “By comparison, a decade ago, between 2002 and 2005, the state never saw more than 345,000 gun sales in a single year.”

California reflected a trend that was evident across the country. FBI background checks, one of the strongest indicators of national gun sales, totaled 27,538,673 in 2016, shattering the record of 23,141,970 set in 2015. According to the Washington Free Beacon, “During President Obama’s eight-year tenure, the FBI has processed 157,233,157 firearms checks — 61,249,149 more than [in] the previous ten years.”

It would appear that Obama and his ideological fellow travelers in the gun-control movement have been the best gun salesmen the industry could ask for.

Austin Yack — Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.

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