Attendees at the Kings Gun & Archery Center's New Shooter class learn trigger discipline and how to properly hold an unloaded Walther. 22 pistol. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
With the national discussion on guns continuing to dominate the news media, gun retailers in the Central Valley would normally expect a bump in sales to accompany talks of bans, but a litany of new legislation has made selling in the area unclear and difficult.
In fact, when Donald Trump was elected, gun retailers saw a massive decline in sales.
“The Trump slump is real,” said Todd Cotta, president of Kings Gun and Archery Center in Hanford.
Manufacturers like Remington filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March when people weren’t buying guns as much. The GOP-controlled administration and Congress made gun people feel more comfortable, according to Cotta, meaning there wasn’t the urgency to buy firearms.
But now, following the Parkland shooting and the March for Our Lives, a student-lead protest across the country demanding gun reform, history has shown gun dealers would normally be expecting an uptick in sales.
After the Newtown shooting in Connecticut in 2012, gun dealers couldn’t keep up with demands.
“Over night, every warehouse was empty,” Cotta said. “We’re not seeing that as much.”
Gun owners like Cotta and Eli Smedley at PRK Arms in Fresno attribute the continuing sales slump to a culture of continued restriction in California.
“California gun owners have had enough and they’re burned out,” Smedley said. California has had in place many regulations that other states are now trying to enact that would limit access to ammunition and semi-automatic rifles.
Even gun dealers aren’t exactly sure about how the rules are going to look in the future.
“There’s a difference between what was passed in Proposition 63 and what the legislature passed and that explains the angst,” Barry Bauer, president of Herb Bauer Sporting Goods said.
In 2016 voters approved Proposition 63, which sought to restrict ammunition sales in stages — first by banning online sales by requiring purchases to be done through only licensed dealers. While Cotta sees how theoretically it should be a boon for local business-owners, he just hasn’t seen it. Instead, people are going into Nevada to buy their ammo, while technically illegal, “how many fireworks from Nevada do you see?” Cotta said.
Beginning in 2019, ammunition will be further restricted, requiring a background check before each purchase that could require another fee for each purchase.
This may affect sales for ammunition at the Visalia Sportman’s Association, according to Russ Beechnor, vice president.
The association has a range and most of their customers are competitive shooters.
“If you want to stay competitive, it’s not hard to go through 1,500 to 3,000 rounds per month.”
Other legislation sought to restrict the kinds of guns being sold.
Assembly Bill 1135 and Senate Bill 880, both approved by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016, sought to end the sale and limit possession of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, mandating that anybody who has these style weapons register them before July 2018. But in gun stores across the Valley, semi-automatic rifles, which California defines as rifles with pistol grips and detachable magazines still line the display shelves.
“Everybody’s confused. I have four or five sales staff who know what the laws are, but the customers don’t,” said Bauer. This confusion, according to Bauer, has been a major contributing factor to declining sales.
Adding to the fray of the gun debate are multiple lawsuits across the state challenging regulations which many say are in violation of the Second Amendment.
In 2017, a federal judge overturned part of Prop 63 which forced people who owned large-capacity magazines bought before 2000—when the law changed making them illegal to buy—to turn them in or face a fine and possible jail time.
Though gun dealers have only seen nominal increases in sales since the Parkland shooting, people in the Central Valley have been filling out safety classes.
“Our training classes are really booming,” said Cotta. The new shooter, skill builder and concealed carry (CCW) classes over at Kings Gun and Archery Center have doubled in the last six weeks. He’s booked out for the same amount of time.
The demographics are also varied. For his New Shooter class, attendees are 80 percent women.
In Visalia, interest in guns is also peaking, according to Beechnor, vice president of the Visalia Sportsman’s Association. Safety and CCW classes are full, and he has 25 new kids in the safety class.
Beechnor has seen farmers, teachers and a number of former military coming in to either shoot or learn about firearms.
He hears customers who feel that many of the larger cities don’t represent the more rural communities whose needs are being overlooked.
“People feel left out,” Beechnor said.