Randall Benton Sacramento Bee file.
Sacramento County residents continue to buy firearms at an unprecedented rate, according to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Justice.
Annual gun sales increased 406 percent in Sacramento County during the last 15 years, a larger jump than in any other urban California county. Each year since 2001, on average, about three guns were sold for every 100 county residents.
Over the entire 15-year period, that translates to about one gun sold for every two residents in the county.
“I believe those statistics are probably very accurate,” said Josh Deaser, owner of the Just Guns store on Auburn Boulevard.
Deaser said Sacramento County residents increasingly feel the need to protect themselves, particularly following statewide ballot measures and legislation that have led to the release of thousands of criminals with nonviolent convictions from prisons and jails.
“Every day I get people in here that have been mugged or were a victim of robbery,” Deaser said.
Violent crime increased significantly last year in much of California, including the city of Sacramento. But violent crime rates remain below levels seen a decade ago thanks to a preceding, long-term decrease in crime, state figures show.
Gun sales increased across the state during the last 15 years – just not as much as in Sacramento County, the Justice Department figures show.
Two-thirds of guns purchased in Sacramento County over the last 15 years were handguns rather than long guns, a higher ratio than in almost every other California county.
Department of Justice officials were unaware of any particular factor that may explain why gun sales increased so much more in Sacramento County than elsewhere.
The increase began in earnest around 2008, the same year Barack Obama was elected president. Some believed that Obama, along with the California Legislature, would further restrict access to guns, Deaser said. They responded to that perception by purchasing weapons while they could. “That’s kind of a common-sense thing,” he said.
Obama has proposed gun control measures like expanded background checks but also has expressed support for the Second Amendment. “How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people’s guns?” he asked earlier this year.
The state Legislature has enacted a series of gun control laws in the last few years. A ballot measure in November would require a permit to purchase ammunition.
Nick Wilcox, legislative co-chair of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed that the increase in gun sales is likely due to an increase in gun control legislation. “It’s a paranoid response to tighter controls,” he said.
But, Wilcox added, the spike is likely to be short-lived. In the long-term, he said gun control measures will likely decrease the number of guns in California and be beneficial for public health.
Mass shootings in California and across the nation have also increased gun sales here and elsewhere. A Sacramento Bee analysis after the San Bernardino shootings found a sharp uptick in firearm purchases in California after major mass shootings.
Speaking in 2013, Wesley Lewis, owner of Guns N Stuff in North Highlands, told The Bee that one day shortly after the Newtown shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, he found he “had three handguns. Usually, I have 45,” noting that he could not keep guns in stock due to brisk sales.
Locally, the increase in gun sales also affected the suburbs. In Placer County, where a large Bass Pro Shops outlet opened a year ago in Rocklin, dealers sold almost four guns per 100 people, on average, over the last 15 years. El Dorado and Yolo counties saw lower rates of gun sales.
All told, 700,000 guns were sold in Sacramento County and 200,000 in Placer County between 2001 and 2015. Dealers sold more guns in Sacramento County than in any other county besides Los Angeles, which has seven times as many people. They sold more guns in Placer County than in Alameda County, which has about four times as many people.
Sacramento County has had a dramatic rise in the number of concealed weapons permits issued since 2010, when Scott Jones was elected sheriff. Jones, a Republican congressional candidate, reversed a Sheriff’s Department policy of tightly controlling the number of permits.
By the end of 2015, Sacramento County had the third-highest number of concealed carry permit holders in California, only behind Fresno and Orange counties.