As a student in California my entire life, I have always thought that gun violence was an outside issue that did not pertain to my communities. I believed that our largely Democrat lawmakers, government officials, and the general population had already done their part in regulating access to guns.
However, something that many Californians don’t realize is how our state indirectly plays a part in this national problem — specifically, how our large population supports gun manufacturers and indirectly the very gun lobbying groups that prevent federal gun control laws from being passed.
An often forgotten reality of our nation’s law-making process is the influence that advocacy groups — organizations that attempt to influence figures in public office — have on the bills that are passed. The National Rifle Association, the center of many controversial discussions about gun rights, is one of these groups. This organization typically spends around $3 million per year in lobbying, not counting other funds that are indirectly spent towards fighting gun control.
Naturally, organizations like the NRA direct their money towards Republican legislators because they typically support the Second Amendment and individual gun ownership. If the NRA can secure fewer restrictions on gun access, more firearms will be sold, earning the gun manufacturers more money.
This cycle is the foundation of a $28 billion dollar industry, one that relies on filling the pockets of congressmen to ensure that their products will continue to be sold. Despite the reservations of many Americans, the profits created by the firearms industry continue to obstruct the passing of progressive bills.
The most interesting trend that California gun owners have seen in recent years is that gun sales actually increase as Democratic administrations are elected, and decrease as Republican administrations are elected.
Take for example the elections of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. In a trend dubbed the “Trump Slump” by the NRA, the entire firearms industry experienced a notable decrease in sales after the election of Donald Trump. In contrast, sales increased by 30% in 2021, likely influenced by the emergence of the Biden Administration.
The growth of the gun industry can be attributed to the basic economic principle that consumers will buy products they believe are available for a limited time or will be taken away. So gun owners want to buy guns before Democrats (potentially) restrict firearm sales, especially when taking into account the increased polarization around the topic in recent years.
Essentially, fear of restriction combined with a lack of tangible legislation breeds more sales for the firearm industry. This response is seen on the state and local level as well, making California a leader in the gun industry with a high number of guns per capita. And with California’s large population, this results in more profit for gun manufacturers — money that is often used to distribute firearms to other states and lobby to restrict lawmakers’ willingness to pass gun-control bills.
Even in California, the state with the most restrictive gun laws, this industry is alive and influential. Just three years ago, San Diego federal judge Roger Benitez struck down Proposition 63’s limit on large magazines, arguing that the law “hits at the center of the Second Amendment.”
Despite unpopularity in California, supporters from various gun rights groups expanded their influence here because of this landmark decision, further contributing to the already large industry. In reaction, Gov. Gavin Newsom accused Benitez of being “a wholly-owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association.”
Whether or not our elected or bureaucratic officials intend to contribute to the gun business, it is alarming for a state that prides itself on support for gun control to be so influential in gun sales. The solution to these conflicting realities lies in an answer that both experts and citizens have been seeking for years: national policy that mitigates gun lobbying and the multi-billion industry that California strengthens.
Especially with the recent tragedies that have occurred in Uvalde, TX, and Buffalo, NY, it is time for Californians to recognize the ways in which we perpetuate gun violence — even in indirect ways.
Mark Allen Cu is a student and journalist from Chula Vista studying public policy at Stanford University.