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More Guns = Less Crime; California Style

C.D. Michel March 27, 2015. Posted in Legal Frontlines

Very little is predictable in crazy California. But anyone familiar with gun control advocate spin tactics could have predicted that the civilian disarmament groups would be spewing their morning lattes after learning that last year the Golden State actually had way more handguns, and much less crime.

Imagine that.

Year Handguns Long Guns All Guns
1991 329,133 160,300 489,433
1992 382,122 177,486 559,608
1993 433,822 208,375 642,197
1994 382,085 217,587 599,672
1995 254,626 157,042 411,668
1996 215,804 138,068 353,872
1997 204,409 150,727 355,136
1998 189,481 153,059 342,540
1999 244,569 268,849 513,418
2000 201,865 184,345 386,210
2001 155,203 198,519 353,722
2002 169,469 182,956 352,425
2003 126,233 164,143 290,376
2004 145,335 169,730 315,065
2005 160,990 183,857 344,847
2006 169,629 205,944 375,573
2007 180,190 190,438 370,628
2008 208,312 216,932 425,244
2009 228,368 255,504 483,872
2010 236,086 262,859 498,945
2011 293,429 307,814 601,243
2012 388,006 429,732 817,738
2013 422,030 538,149 960,179
2014 512,174 418,863 931,037
Table 1: California Firearm Sales, DOJ

The California Department of Justice (DOJ) keeps statistics of the number of guns sold at retail in the state. According to its most recent reports, around the time California started requiring a written test to buy a handgun (2003) the rate of handguns being sold started escalating, and have been going up ever since. This happened despite laws passed during that same time period that ban handguns that don't pass a pretextual performance test, require buyers to take a written test and get a "Safety Certificate" to buy a handgun, and mandate that all new handguns be equipped to microstamp spent shell cases (though the technology doesn't work).

Licensed gun dealers sold all these handguns despite new laws imposing myriad impediments and red tape on retailing guns including abusive taxes, time consuming and redundant record-keeping requirements, draconian zoning restrictions, increased inspections and outright bullying of gun stores by regulators. Despite all of the legislative and regulatory obstacles placed in the way of handgun sellers and buyers, Californians have nonetheless shown an unrelenting appetite to buy more and more and more handguns. Last year Californians bought an average of 1,400 handguns ... every single day. They have been on a handgun buying spree!

Handgun sale increases may be driven by the fear that available handgun model choices will be limited in the future as new models can't get approved for sale because of the state's moronic and non-functional microstamping requirement. Regardless, from these DOJ stats we see a clear picture of a steadily increasing demand for handguns - those firearms almost certainly to be used for self-defense. Meanwhile, the rate of gun violence, which almost exclusively involves handguns, has fallen and continues to fall.

During the same period, the number of long gun (rifle and shotgun) sales went down from 1,474 per day to 1,174 per day. And overall, all firearm sales dropped from 2603 per day in 2013 to 2550 per day in 2014. This downward trend on long gun purchases may be a side-effect of the Great Recession, or likely market saturation of the "black rifle" semi-automatic sporting rifle long gun segment that has boosted long gun market sales since about 2005.

One thing is certain, contrary to claims made by the gun ban lobby, California's plummeting gun violence rate has no statistical relationship to California's new gun control laws. The various new gun control laws that have been passed created great inconvenience to law abiding gun owners and buyers, and kept some honest citizens from getting guns, but had nothing to do with the crime rate going down. Instead, that resulted from new crime control laws.

Back around 1993, California voters passed a pair of laws that work and have had a dramatic effect on violent crime. The "Three Strikes" law started putting repeat bad actors, gang bangers, and thugs behind bars for extended stays. California's 10-20-Life law, which focuses specifically on increasing punishment for those who misuse guns in committing crime, took many gang members off the streets (read our deeper review of California's Three Strike and 10-20-Life laws). The result was a fast and sustained drop in violent crime, bringing California in line with the rest of the nation.

California handgun sales and violent crime rate
California handgun sales and violent crime rate

California handgun sales and firearm homicide rates
California handgun sales and firearm homicide rates Nonetheless, gun control advocates continue to wrongly claim that the supply of guns, particularly handguns, defines how many gun deaths there will be. But while DOJ figures show that the rate of handgun sales has grown 250% since 2008, in the same period violent crime fell 23%, murder 24%, rapes 33% and even aggravated assaults fell 20%.

Oh, and firearm homicides fell 19%.

To echo the title of a well-known and ridiculously well-researched book, we have "more guns and less crime." That a regression analysis shows a strong correlation between handgun sales and falling crime (with statistically small odds that the covariance was based on random chance) positively certifies that California is safer when its people exercise their right to own the most effective tool available to defend themselves or their families.

Guns deter criminals and guns save lives. But then, we learned all that anecdotally after the L.A. riots.

NOTE: 2013 and 2014 violent crime statistics were extrapolated from preliminary FBI crime reporting for the first half of each year (firearm homicide rates were pulled from the Center for Disease Control's mortality database). We expect the numbers to hold true after the full crime reporting numbers are available.