Registered Gun Owners Double in California Since 2012, Even as State Toughens Regulations

March 10, 2019 Updated: March 12, 2019

California has more than 2.5 million gun owners registered as of Jan. 1, according to the state’s Justice Department. That is about double the number in 2012.

The number of gun owners has been increasing by about 6-15 percent a year despite the state’s ever-expanding regulation of gun ownership.

In 2008, there were about 2.5 registered gun owners per 100 Californians. By the end of 2018, it’s increased to nearly 6.3 per 100, based on the department’s “Armed and Prohibited Persons System” annual report (pdf), as well as population estimates released by the state and worldpopulationreview.com.

The number isn’t quite an accurate depiction of gun ownership, as there are also many undocumented gun owners in the state. It does, however, provide a solid measure of legal gun ownership.

Strict Gun Laws

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, with waiting periods, background checks for private sales, magazine capacity limits, open carry restrictions, and mandatory firearm registration.

Starting July 1, a new law will require ammunition be sold only to an individual whose information matches an entry in the state’s gun registration database and who is eligible to possess ammunition, with some exceptions.

Gun Sales Up

The increase in firearm owner registrations in California follows a broader trend of gun ownership in the country.

Gun sales increased more than 80 percent between 1999 and 2017, according to The DataFace, a San Francisco data analysis company, which based its estimates on FBI background check data.

There have been reports that far fewer households now own a gun—31 percent in 2014 compared to over 47 percent in 1980, according to surveys by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago (pdf).

Yet several other polls contradict the NORC numbers. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey revealed 47 percent of households with a gun on the premises in March 2018 (pdf). Gallup reported 46 percent with a gun on premises in October.

There was an estimated 11 percent decline in gun sales in 2017 accompanying the election of President Donald Trump, who has largely supported gun rights, The DataFace reported.

“With the prospect of relaxed gun laws for the next four years, demand has diminished and guns sales in the U.S. have waned,” the company stated.

It’s not clear though how long the phenomenon persevered. The Trump administration moved on Dec. 18, 2018, to ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire almost as rapidly as automatic ones. At least some gun rights advocates opposed the ban.

Accidental Gun Deaths Down

Despite the abundance of guns, deadly shooting accidents have diminished over the past several decades.

Accidental firearm discharges killed 486 people in 2017, down more than 50 percent since 1997, according to mortality data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Decreased popularity of hunting, improved trauma care, and gun safety education campaigns have likely helped decreased the fatalities.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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