UKIAH — With a little extra money on hand after holiday shopping, Steven Serna came into Pacific Outfitters sporting goods store in Ukiah on Dec. 21 to buy a semiautomatic rifle before new gun control legislation limits the gun’s features in California.
He was out of luck.
Rifles with bullet buttons for the quick swap of ammunition magazines and other soon-to-be banned features have been flying off the shelves, driving statewide sales up 40 percent by early December.
Serna said he went straight to the North State Street outdoor gear store and firearm dealer after he learned Dec. 21 was the last day to purchase a gun with bullet buttons, because of the 10-day wait for a background check. He said he’d shot his first deer several months ago, and wanted to expand his arsenal.
“So where can you buy an AK?” Serna said, referring to an AK-47 rifle.
“You probably can’t,” hunting sales employee Amy Taglio said.
“Shoot, I knew I should have bought one earlier this year,” Serna said.
The new gun control legislation, six bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July, was a boon to 2016 gun sales already on an upward trend. Nearly one million firearms were purchased in California as of Dec. 9, the most recent state data available, compared to just over 700,000 guns sold in all of 2015. Sales have likely soared beyond one million guns since then.
Semiautomatic rifle sales have more than doubled. The California Department of Justice reported 364,643 semiautomatic rifles had been sold by Dec. 9. Only 153,931 rifles were sold last year.
Pacific Outfitters managing partner Chris Ostrom said they haven’t had any semiautomatic rifles in stock for weeks, and before that they’d sell out the day a shipment came in.
“Compared to a normal year, sales are up one thousand percent, it’s ridiculous,” said Petaluma firearms dealer Gabe Vaughn, who owns Sportsman’s Arms on Bodega Avenue. “Pretty much the second we got them they were gone. A lot of them were pre-sold before they arrived to the store.”
Vaughn said he sold 60 semiautomatic rifles just on Dec. 21.
California lawmakers pushed for the new gun controls after a mass shooting in San Bernardino last year. Armed with AR-15 rifles and 9mm pistols, a married couple inspired by foreign terrorist groups shot and killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a county health department holiday party.
The new gun controls reclassified semiautomatic rifles that have what are called “evil features” as assault weapons, which have been banned in California since 1989. The features added to the prohibited list include a protruding or forward pistol grip, a thumbhole stock, a folding stock or a flash suppressor.
The law was meant to address what’s often called the “bullet button” loophole developed as a workaround to an earlier ban of detachable magazines. The bullet button enables a shooter to use a bullet or small tool to depress a button to eject spent magazines. There’s a way gun owners can keep their so-called “evil features,” but it’s an unpopular one, according to Ostrom and others.
California residents can register the assault weapon with the state, which costs $15. Ostrom said the gun cannot be sold or gifted and must be destroyed if a person no longer wishes to have it or when the owner dies.