Civil Liberties

The Impossibility of Gun Control, In One Image

In California, one gun was sold for every 39 state residents just last year.


California is a state where officials pride themselves on tightening the screws on gun owners. The state even spends tens of millions of dollars it doesn't really have to stumble its way through an ill-conceived scheme to confiscate guns from people over felony convictions, varieties of mental illness, drug use, domestic violence allegations—even 40-year-old marijuana busts and screwed-up hospital documentation.

But it's a losing battle. Even in a political environment where villainizing guns and gun owners is a winning tactic, the ranks of the same are beyond officials' grasp, and growing.

Last year, almost one million firearms were sold in the state of California—through legal, official channels that the state knows about (under-the-table transactions swell those numbers by an inherently unknown amount). California has a population of about 39 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So in just one year, about one gun was sold for every 39 state residents.

That's after the hundreds of thousands of rifles, pistols, and shotguns sold each year, for decades.

California Bureau of Firearms

Strangely, state officials' strident touting of their anti-gun bona fides seem to have worked as an excellent marketing plan for the objects of their dislike.

There's a bit of media mythology at the moment, based on strangers knocking on people's doors and asking nosy, potentially fraught questions, that gun ownership is in decline across the United States. Maybe. But somebody is buying all of those guns in California, one of the minority of states moving in a more restrictive direction even as other states loosen gun laws. If ownership is in decline in the Golden State, a couple of people are amassing impressive collections.

Maybe those purchases are replacements for older firearms that wore out. Guns do eventually wear out. My Marlin lever action still shoots fine, but it shows some wear and tear. After all, it was manufactured in 1900. I expect that my son might have to retire the piece someday.

But it's a good bet that California's gun owners, and their guns, are here to stay.