Sales of semiautomatic rifles in California more than doubled this year

Sales of semiautomatic rifles in California more than doubled this year, a dramatic increase gun rights advocates say was driven by the state’s aggressive pursuit of gun-control measures in 2016.

California Department of Justice statistics show that semiautomatic rifle purchases rose from 154,000 weapons registered with the state in 2015 to 365,000 registered with the state between Jan. 1 and Dec. 9 this year. The year began with state lawmakers returning to session vowing to tighten gun-control laws in the wake of last December’s San Bernardino massacre.

California gun store owners say they expect the 2016 sales numbers to climb even more due to a spike this month in sales of semiautomatic rifles with so-called “bullet buttons” from customers rushing to get their hands on the specially outfitted weapons before a new state law removes them from shelves Jan. 1.

The bullet button is a tool developed by gun manufacturers that allows magazines to easily detach for rapid replacement. The new law adds guns featuring the device to its list of assault weapons already prohibited in the state.

“What we’re hearing is that busy gun retailers have been selling pallets of rifles over the past month or so,” said Brandon Combs, president of the gun rights group, Firearms Policy Coalition, who added that many gun buyers were rushing to beat the clock for buying bullet-button weapons.

Because of the state’s 10-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, the last day to buy a bullet-button weapon was Dec. 21. People who purchased bullet-button weapons before 2017 can keep the weapons but must register them with the state Department of Justice.

Todd Settergren, CEO of Setterarms LLC gun shop in Walnut Creek, said he saw a “huge spike in sales,” particularly for bullet-button weapons.

Nearly 1 million firearms have been sold in the state between Jan. 1 and Dec. 9, according to Department of Justice statistics. That’s up from 704,000 for all of 2015.

“I’m getting a lot of first-time buyers right now, not just men, but families and women,” Settergren said earlier this month. “Suppliers are running out of firearms to sell.”

The bullet-button ban and other gun-control laws passed this year in the state are part of California’s arsenal of gun control laws aimed at curtailing mass shootings and keeping weapons and ammunition away from those who mean to do harm. The laws add to the state’s reputation as having the strictest gun regulations in the nation.

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