California Rifle Sales Slump by Over 50%

Figures released last week show that annual long gun sales in California have fallen dramatically. Reports suggest that California’s firearms dealers submitted 54% fewer FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System applications when compared to figures from July 2016.

Dealers submitted 21,721 applications this July compared to a huge 48,000 processed back in July 2016. While on the surface this seems like a victory for Governor Jerry Brown’s SB 880 gun control legislation, drafted in response to the December 2015, San Bernardino mass shooting, that saw the introduction of harsher gun control measures. This included a ban on new rifles with California’s infamous bullet buttons as well as ‘assault weapon’ features like pistol grips and removable magazines.

While this initially seems like a victory for Governor Brown it must be remembered that the announcement of the legislation kick started a massive spike in sales. This massive spike lead to California topping the list of rifle background checks for several months. California gun owners with bullet button rifles have until July 2018 to register their weapons.

In the meantime a number of companies including Towle Inc and Mean Arms have introduced work-around systems to mitigate the limits of the ban. These include stripper clip systems like the MA Loader.

The news of slowing rifle sales in California comes as gun owners in the state won a small but important victory. The victory saw the wording of a bill that would have extended California’s one gun a month purchase limits on handguns to the purchase of rifles changed. The anti-gun lobby sought to use, SB 497 – a bill that originally dealt with law enforcement officers storing guns in unattended vehicles, to limit rifle purchases. However, the bill was significantly amended at the Committee stage to remove language that would have extended the limits.

Matthew Moss is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written for a variety of publications in both the US and UK he also runs, a blog that explores the history, development and use of firearms. Matthew is also co-founder of, a new video series on historically significant small arms.


  • PK

    If such a thing were possible, I would suggest looking at mail order upper/parts kit figures along with sales of 80% receivers, jigs, etc.

    That, and I know an awful lot of scratchbuilders of firearms in CA. There are whole groups which buy parts kits, puzzle out how to get them back together best by Federal standards, and fab new pieces.

    None of that would show in FFL figures.

    • Greg Anderson

      There’s a lot of people thanking the stars that it’s basically impossible to track mail order parts on a large scale.

      • PK

        I sincerely hope so.

      • iksnilol

        It should be pretty easy to track them though.

        • Greg Anderson

          So many different manufacturers with so many different SKUs and multiple means of producing the same product, all while no details are reported anywhere central?

  • BillyOblivion

    How much have sales of long guns across the US “slumped” this year?

    • gunsandrockets

      Don’t know about the subset of long guns.

      But according to FBI records, sales of firearms this year are the highest of any year on record, except compared to 2016. Gun sales this year are double what they were in 2008.

      Welcome to the new normal!

      • BillyOblivion

        So sales HAVE slumped since last year!

        :::::::: )))))))) assemble as many smilies as you need.

  • And thus the ultimate goal of the gun banners is achieved. Make is so difficult and confusing to buy/possess a firearm the people just give up, while the politicians can still claim to be 2nd Amendment supporters because there is not a total ban by law. Ridiculous!

  • datimes

    The Champaign corks are popping in Sacramento, San Francisco, LA, and the rest on this news. Order up more caviar and foie gras as this will be a great party.

  • 1911Junkie

    Riiiight. Just like in 1920s – “Alcohol sales in US slump by more than 50%”.
    That’s because there’s no point buying a neutered rifle and registering it with the CA DOJ. People buy 80% receivers, mill them and build whatever they need.

    • Marcus D.

      After 1/1/17, 80% milled receivers, to be legal, must have a serial number issued by the DOJ and engraved on the receiver BEFORE milling the fire control pocket. Existing 80% lowers must apply for and receive a serial number, and have the serial numbers engraved or etched on the receiver before they may be registered as “assault weapons.” The serialization requirements are the same as for a manufacturer under federal law. Going “featureless” avoids registration but not the serialization law. Serializing a polymer 80% lower is so difficult and probably destructive of the receiver that you might as well go aluminum.

      And I disagree that going “featureless” “neuters” a rifle. Yes, the fin jobs like the Hera are awkward and awful, but the Thordsen stock pictured (which is the old style, the new style is much nicer looking) allow a full grip. And you get to dump the bullet button. The only other restriction is a fixed stock–which the Thordsen is–and no “flash hider” (but muzzle brakes are legal). Alternately, you fix your magazine and use a Patriot Button to allow reloads, or do the top reloading like the loader pictured (which is probably a whole lost faster and easier).

      You can take such a “neutered” rifle anywhere you want, and sell it or transfer it whenever you want. A registered “assault weapon” can be transported only between your house and a) the range, b) where you hunt, or c) to a gun smith who has the specialty license for working on “assault weapons.” And even though you’ve registered it, the regulations specifically prohibit removal of the bullet button. You cannot sell it, give it away, or leave it to anyone in your will. Instead it goes straight to the police for destruction.

      Right now I have gone featureless with a finned handgrip (it sucks) and a fixed stock. When money allows, I will spend $130 on the Thordsen and a muzzle brake (I hate muzzle brakes) instead of a thread protector. I have already removed my bullet button. Avoiding registration and having a standard mag release is wonderful.

  • raz-0

    Hmm if a certain category of firearm, now banned, accounted for 54% of sales, would one not say it was in common use?

    I would.

    Given that the homicide rate in california has been pretty flat since 2002, would you not find it hard to argue that these weapons are exceptionally dangerous?

    I would.

    • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

      Don’t worry, the 9th will find logic to disagree with you 🙂

    • KidCorporate

      CA rebuttal: “Oh god, my emotions!”

    • Nationwide, Scary Black Devil Rifles are used in less than one half of one percent of homicides, so it’s patently obvious that bothersome things like “facts” and “reality” get stopped at the metal detectors before they can even enter the California State House.

  • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

    The legislation is working as intended.

    Meanwhile there will be no effect on crime. But that’s not the goal, is it?

    • If Cali lawmakers couldn’t see the obvious problem with drafting gun control legislation in response to a mass murder where three of the four firearms used were already illegal under then-current CA law… yeah, it’s pretty clear what their actual intent is.

  • Ark

    Wooo! We did it! There won’t ever be another mass shooting again…right?

    • larry


  • Zapp Brannigan

    I would bet that a significant reason why firearm sales are slumping in California is the very high cost of housing. When you have to spend a huge chunk of your pay on rent or a mortgage, it makes it hard to spend money on anything else.

  • Cal.Bar

    Reporting from the “front lines” I can report the following:
    1. CA gun owners (while numerically larger than most other states) are a relative small percentage of the 40 million population.
    2. ANYONE who wanted/needed/ cared about etc. an “assault: type rifle has already bought a half dozen or more (with lowers to spare). Educated estimates puts the number of active AR shooters in CA to be less than 3 percent of the population. That 3% can only buy so many.
    3. After the ban, while perfectly legal to sell AR’s in a featureless configuration, VERY few gun shops are willing to sell them (why I have NO idea). Even ranges and shops that are VERY pro 2A and stand right there with us…. just don’t want to stock featureless rifles (yet).
    4. CA has spooked so many other suppliers from out of state, that few out of state dealers are even willing to deal with CA.
    5. With the upcoming ammo restrictions next year, the state will continue to tighten it’s grip and slowly choke CA shooting sports to death. (perhaps within a generation)

    • Marcus D.

      True. There was a large rush on AR and AK rifles prior to the first of the year because of the new law, and the demand side of the equation is exhausted.

    • gunsandrockets

      The big sporting goods chain Turner’s Outdoorsman continues to sell featureless rifles.

    • gunsandrockets

      hell yes on number 4

  • Edeco

    Can’t blame them. I never planned on owning a Glock, AR or AK if I couldn’t get new assault mags. Used to be in my tighty-wighties looking at ninjed-up 10/22’s on dial-up internet worried Dreadnought Reno would kill my cat just for that.

  • Marcus D.

    I think the slump is affecting regular rifles as well. I was in a Sportsman’s Warehouse here in California, and it had a sale on Savages ($50 off) on top of a Savage $100 rebate. Series 111, pick your caliber. For a net well under $500 with a Nikon BDC scope mounted, I was sorely tempted to max my credit card.

  • John

    Who would want to buy that abomination that you have pictured with the article? It’s no surprise sales have slumped.

  • Well, that’s just according to keikaku– the whole point of Cali drafting laws like this was to discourage the uppity peasants from arming themselves.

    If I ran a firearm company I would give big discounts to anyone living in hellstates like California, et al., just to flip a big ol’ middle one to their idiot legislatures.

  • trant

    Well, of course. All the anti-gunners want to get rid of all “assault” weapons in CA anyways…