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Gun sales data reveal popularity of guns in Mendocino County

People buy guns more frequently in Mendocino County than nearly any other part of California, according to data released last week by the California Department of Justice.

The county ranked seventh in gun sales, per person, among California’s 58 counties, according to a report that examined the types of guns people purchase and where they buy them.

About 34 guns were sold per 1,000 people each year since 2001 in the forested and rugged North Coast county. Only six counties ­- all rural and located in Northern California - registered higher rates of gun sales. Shasta County topped the list, with about 65 guns sold annually per 1,000 people during the period.

About 16 guns were sold per 1,000 people each year in Sonoma County, which ranked 35th statewide.

“In any kind of rural area where law enforcement could be an hour away, you’re going to see a strong increase in gun ownership,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.

Since 2007, guns have been flying off the shelves across the state, soaring 240 percent following a decadelong plateau, according to the state data. Experts say gun sales rise when lawmakers introduce legislation to restrict weapons and ammunition, during Democratic presidential administrations and after mass shootings.

Firearms sales jumped after the June 12 mass shooting that killed 49 people and injured at least 50 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Background checks of people trying to buy guns climbed 40 percent in June and July of this year compared to last year, according to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The state figures, published through the Attorney General’s Office “Open Justice” data program, are like sales receipts. They don’t reflect how many guns are owned by residents of a county. The guns are registered, but gun owners are not.

While gun sales per capita are higher in Mendocino County, far more guns are sold in Sonoma County, which has nearly six times the population as Mendocino. Each day, an average of 13 handguns and nine rifles or shotguns were sold in Sonoma County since 2001. About eight guns total were sold each day in Mendocino and Napa counties, with about 60 percent being rifles and shotguns. At Pacific Outfitters in Ukiah, “our most popular gun is anything small and concealable,” said Chris Ostrom, whose family opened its first outdoor recreation shop in Eureka in 1968.

“The conceal-carry market here is huge,” Ostrom said.

Also popular are semi-automatic assault rifles like the AR-15, Ostrom said. Often touted as the most popular gun in the country, the AR-15 is easy enough that “My grandpa that’s 88 years old and my daughter that’s 9 years old, both can shoot it,” he said.

California’s gun laws are strict and more regulations taking effect in January will further clamp down on the assault rifle market, he said. Ostrom said Californians can buy fewer than 10 percent of the kinds of handguns available elsewhere because of its laws.

Ammo Plus, located on North State Street in Ukiah, recently stopped selling guns after 15 years because of “too much paperwork,” store clerk Jesus Padilla said.

California’s surge in gun sales comes amid a decadeslong drop in violent crime, although violent crime rose 10 percent between 2014 and last year. In contrast, aggravated assaults and robberies decreased in Mendocino County.

“We haven’t seen an increase in gun crimes, we haven’t seen an increase in gun thefts or any type of gun violence,” Allman said.

Allman said he didn’t think the prevalence of marijuana in Mendocino County played a role in his county’s strong gun sales.

“You’re always going to have people buying guns for several reasons, mainly hunting and home protection,” Allman said.

Mendocino County is a prime hunting destination and regularly ranks among the top five counties in the state for large game, such as wild boar and bear. Ostrom said the bear take is high in a county where deer hunting and logging are popular.

Other gun facts provided by the state Attorney General’s Office “OpenJustice” data program:

Sacramento, San Bernardino, Ventura and Riverside counties disproportionately contributed to the growth of gun sales in California.

The most popular gunmakers were Smith & Wesson, Glock and Ruger, in terms of guns sold in 2015.

Less than 2 percent of recorded gun transactions take place at gun shows in California.

Sales of long guns (rifles and shotguns) increased 75 percent in the two years prior to 2014, when a new law required new record-keeping standards for these types of guns.

More than 1 million guns are expected to be sold in California this year.

View the data at https://openjustice.doj.ca.gov/firearms/overview.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.

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