California: The Small Caliber State

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Someone should call Dianne Feinstein. She seems to think California has nothing but new, big guns from Texas. But a recent report shows that guns in California are mostly small caliber, kinda old, and mainly come from the Golden State itself.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) is charged with regulating and tracking guns. That doesn’t explain why they deregulated the trafficking of untraceable guns to Mexican drug cartels via the Fast and Furious program, but their number crunching division does occasionally emit information concerning guns, most notoriously through gun “trace” reports. Gun traces typically happen when local law enforcement finds a gun (not always in criminal use) and asks the BATF to tell them where it was originally purchased and who first bought it. Some politicians misuse trace data to inaccurately target select gun stores or specific types of guns. Most notably, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg abused trace data to make claims about crime guns and gun stores selling them (his now infamous Southern Campaign infuriated BATF staff due to Bloomberg’s lack of pre-sting coordination interfering with ongoing BATF investigations).

Once in a while, a BATF report show surprisingly unalarming information. For California, it showed we have little to worry about.

During 2012, the BATF was asked by California law enforcement agencies to trace 31,244 firearms, or about one for every 1,200 residents of California (about 0.08% of the population). What the ATF was asked to trace shows not only the lack of danger average Californians faces, but also the lack of validity in trace numbers as an indicator of crime trends. Thirty eight percent of all traces were done simply because somebody was in possession of a firearm, not because they misused one (it is common for police to trace firearms found in private homes after the owner passes away, or to see if they are stolen). Contrast this 38% of casual possession traces against the 2% of homicide traces, and the defect of tracing for criminal statistics becomes clear (this also ignores that fact that many firearms traced at a scene of a homicide were not the homicide weapon).

The BATF report gets interesting when discussing the nature of California’s traced firearms themselves. Twenty-two caliber firearms – the same rounds you likely shot at summer camp – were the most traced guns in California. The 7.62mm round – used in the dreaded AK47s that Dianne Feinstein loves flaunting at press conferences – were the least traced caliber reported, comprising a mere 3% of traces. And since 7.62mm ammo is popular with hunters and used in many types of rifles, the number of traced AK47s is much, much lower than 3%. In fact, the other popular “assault weapon” caliber – the .223 used in AR15s – is not even mentioned in the BATF report because the number of traced .223 caliber firearms is so low as to be statistically insignificant.

Which brings to the fore the most interesting data, and omission, in the BATF report. Rifles – which include the aforementioned AKs, ARs and other so-called “assault weapons” – comprised only 19% of all traces. But this is all rifles, including hunting rifles, sporting rifles and small caliber plinking rifles. Aside from rifles being a minority of traced firearms, only a small subset of these rifles are the types Dianne Feinstein fears, or more accurately, wants you to fear.

It is a shame then that the BATF didn’t detail how few of the traced rifles were considered “assault weapons.” Maybe they have as much trouble figuring out what an “assault weapon” is as many police agencies do. Cynical people might assume that the breakout wasn’t reported for California’s traced rifles because California’s senior senator would be shamed by the sparseness. But we do know that in local-level analysis conducted before her 1994 “assault weapons” ban, major metropolitan cities in California reported these AR and AK model firearms to be less than 1% of those used to commit crimes. If 2013 is statistically similar to 1994, then at worst 312 “assault weapons” would have been traced in California in 2012. Keep in mind, again, that many or most traced firearms are not guns used in crime.

Where the ATF’s report gets ever more depressing for California gun control advocates is in showing that most traced guns are old and were originally sold in California. Forty two percent of traced guns were originally retailed in the state. The next numerically nearest source of traced firearms is Arizona. That state contributed a mere 3%, many of which were legally imported by people relocating to California. Neighboring Nevada sent only 2% despite having a 5/100 scorecard by the Brady Campaign for gun control strictness – California has a score of 81. Perhaps more important is that 45% of the traced firearms were minted more than three years before being traced. Oddly, California’s guns are older than the national average, racking up an ancient 14 years compared to the national mean of 11.

Yet we have to face one disturbing fact the BATF did disclose; nearly half of all big city firearm traces come from Los Angeles. This isn’t because LA is overstocked with armament. It is because the City of Angels is controlled by anti-gun politicians and has been headed by a gun control devil in the form of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a member in good standing (if I can misuse the phrase) of Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The LAPD traces more guns than most other police departments. Los Angeles disproportionately traces guns due to its own policy, and so racks up a full 18% of California gun traces despite having only 10% of the state’s population (they claim 45% of traces for major metro jurisdictions). Aggressive tracing by Los Angeles inflates all the statistics, but likely inflates traces attributed to mere and primarily legal possession.

Seems Villaraigosa’s ego isn’t the only inflated object in LA.

Distilled, this means that big, bad, dangerous guns are not menacing California (a tiny 0.1% of traced guns were machine guns). Small personal protection and target firearms are the bulk of those traced and should be the cause for a grand lack of concern.

Now if we can keep Dianne Feinstein’s fear mongering down to a dull roar, we can all rest easier.

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