In the days following Dec. 14, gun control advocates snapped into action. The Newtown, Conn. shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School left 26 people dead.
In response to the proliferation of talks of stricter firearms regulations, gun enthusiasts got moving as well.
Gun sales at Peninsula Guns and Tactical in San Bruno quadrupled during the first few days after the shooting, said owner Jeannie Z., who did not want to give her complete last name. Last week, the store was completely sold out of AR-15s — a type of legal automatic rifle that could potentially be banned in the near future.
Sales have been on the rise in the past couple of years, said Jeannie. The fear of guns being taken away is the main motivation for people buying more guns, she said.
"There’s been a lot of media hype,” she said as she helped customers in her crowded store. The idea that some types of guns may not be available in the near future because of new regulations has motivated more people to buy guns.
"A ban makes them more valuable,” she said.
At first, Jeannie was hesitant about working in a gun shop, but she has found that her customers are responsible.
"The average customer has many guns, goes to the range and knows gun safety,” she said. She finds that most male gun owners are fascinated with collecting firearms in the same way that many women are fascinated with collecting handbags.
"For guys, it’s a hobby mostly,” she said.
Jeannie does not have a problem with making it harder for first-time gun purchasers to buy a firearm. But the repeated paperwork, background checks and showing a second proof of residency — such as a bill or a lease — is a burden on repeat customers.
"The people who don’t have experience with guns want more laws, but gun owners think the laws are too stringent,” she said. "I understand why they have these laws for certain people, but these are people who won’t abide by the laws anyways.”
Buying a gun
To purchase a rifle or "long gun” in California, a person must be 18 years old and show a valid ID. No safety certification is required for rifles.
Ammunition purchases are not registered or tracked.
Handgun purchasers must be 21 years old, present a valid ID, show a second proof of residency, pass a safety test and watch a safe handling demonstration.
The test and demonstration are usually completed in the firearms store. After 10 days, a background check on the purchaser is complete and the firearms dealer can deliver the gun to the purchaser. A customer can be denied a firearm if the background check shows the person has a record of felonies, domestic violence, mental hospital visits or DUIs.
Max Grossman, who has worked at Peninsula Guns and Tactical in San Bruno for more than a year, thinks it should be harder for a first-time buyer to purchase a handgun. He pulled out a copy of the 30-question handgun safety test and read some of the questions aloud.
"True or false? You may be guilty of ‘criminal storage of a firearm’ if you keep a loaded firearm where a child obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes injury or death, or carries a firearm to a public place,” said Grossman.
A person can get seven questions wrong and still pass the safety test.
"It’s embarrassing,” he said. "It’s worded in a way that is meant for you to pass.”
Grossman suggested that new handgun purchasers be required to take a one-day safety course. He said new gun owners should be asked detailed questions like: "Did you know a 9 mm I still lethal at 200 meters?”
Grossman argued for more gun safety training, but said it won’t necessarily prevent shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"It’s like trying to prevent DUIs by making it harder for people to buy cars,” he said.
Gun safety training
Along with a rise in firearms purchases, the Peninsula is seeing an increase in demand for voluntary gun safety training. Burlingame gun safety training facility Bay Area Firearms has seen a dramatic increase in people wanting training, particularly with AR-15s.
Owner Scott Jackson said the center is training 300 people each month on AR-15s.
"Eighty-five percent of the students are women. Women don’t feel safe in society anymore,” he said, adding that people are mostly interested in guns for self-defense. "People are afraid, they think society is going downhill.”
And people are worried they won’t be able to buy the guns in the future, he said.
Jackson was originally a scuba diving safety instructor but decided to start teaching firearm safety after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The [mandatory] gun safety certification is terrible,” he said, as he set a customer up with a gift certificate. "It’s just a 30-question bonehead test. There’s nothing about how to handle a gun.”
Jackson said all gun owners should have mandatory training on safe handling and storage.
For more information on California gun laws visit oag.ca.gov/firearms.