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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

Gun Retailers Take Aim at New Regulations

A slew of new gun-restriction bills have made their way through the Sacramento state house, and local gun retailers who say they are already bogged down in bureaucratic red tape are displeased, to say the least.

Several retailers in Burbank, a city whose own government reported the second most gun stores per capita in the United States last year, voiced frustration on how additional taxes and permit requirements make business more difficult in a state already known as the strictest in the country concerning gun sales.

On Sept. 12, state lawmakers approved new rules restricting who can carry loaded weapons in public. The bill, authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino, who represents Burbank’s 25th District, responded to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down a segment of California’s conceal-carry law requiring permit applicants to provide compelling reasons for why they need to carry a gun in public.

Once signed, the law will require applicants to be 21 years old or older and complete 16 hours of training – double the amount currently required by the state.

The new conceal-carry provisions came less than a week after the California Assembly approved an 11% excise tax on the sale of guns and ammunition, which will go into effect on July 1 of next year. It is the first such bill to make it to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk after similar sales or excise tax bills failed half a dozen times in the past decade.

The activity is a sign of the pressure being put on lawmakers to respond to the Supreme Court’s undercutting of gun-sale restrictions. In addition, two high-profile mass shootings in California have increased calls for legislation. Local retailers feel they are caught in the crossfire of a debate about gun violence, violence they shouldn’t be blamed for.

“Weapons are used in a vast majority of crimes, but the people that are committing these crimes are not the people that come into gun stores and pass background checks,” said Jonathan Soloman, chief executive of Redstone Firearms, a gun shop based in Burbank that also provides firearm safety and permit-preparation classes.

Soloman opened the store with his wife, Geneva, in 2015, and saw business surge following the onset of the pandemic amid reports of rising crime in cities including Los Angeles.

Shrinking sales?

Jared Millhouse, general manager of Redstone Firearms, inside the store. (Photo by Thomas Wasper)

Soloman said business has steadied, adding that the store sees between 40 to 50 visitors a day by appointment. But with an excise tax pushing costs higher for the average handgun sale, the number of customers willing to shell out hundreds for weapons could shrink, he said.

“Now we have to pay an 11% increase on items that are already overpriced because we’re in California,” Soloman said.

On the concealed-carry front, other store owners have reported more customers are looking for smaller handguns, even if they’re stuck on a months-long permit waitlist.

After last year’s Supreme Court decisions struck down the California statute giving county sheriffs discretion over who could qualify for concealed-carry permits, applications flooded the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department system. In initial reporting, then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva reported thousands of applications were received that year. According to California Department of Justice data, the county had issued only 336 permits in the decade prior.

“The main reason people tell me they want one is, ‘There’s been a lot of crime in my area. I don’t feel safe,’” said Eric Fletcher, a sales associate at Burbank Ammo & Guns.

While there isn’t a centralized database on gun use or its protection efficacy in the U.S., both the Gun Violence Archive and National Crime Victimization Survey find defensive gun use makes up a small fraction of overall gun incidents per year.

The Burbank City Council voted last August to extend a moratorium on new gun shops opening within the city’s limits for 10 months. The moratorium is still in place more than a year later.

High end

Gun shops are few and far in between in the Los Angeles metro save for one city: Beverly Hills.

While the city of Los Angeles has prohibited the opening of new gun shops, the incorporated hillside city can issue its own business permits. Over the past three years, four gun shops have opened in the 90212 ZIP code, cashing in on worries wealthy residents have about crime in the city.

Beverly Hills Guns opened in 2020. Owner Russell Stuart takes credit for starting a “jewelry store” experience for high-profile customers looking for guns. Operating out of an office building on Wilshire Boulevard, the shop doesn’t have a public storefront; customers buying a Glock can’t be snapped by paparazzi.

“I have a lot of celebrity clients, and those clients going into the pandemic were asking about firearms,” Stuart said. “One of them said, ‘I want to get a gun, but because of who I am, I can’t show my face at a gun store.’”

Stuart said almost all of his clients are looking for handguns suitable for concealed carry, and Beverly Hills even aided clients with the concealed carry-permit process at one point.

But backlogs in the county’s permit-processing system made it difficult to service customers looking at two-year waiting periods to carry a weapon in Los Angeles County. New concealed-carry standards set to go in effect next year through Senate Bill 2 could further hinder the number of people able to carry.

“The process was made to fail,” Stuart said. “It was made to slow it down.”

In the city of Los Angeles, applications are processed through the Los Angeles Police Department, and in-person interviews are conducted by a department investigator. 

For a newer Beverly Hills-based gun shop, Bear Arms Defense Corp., business has remained constant despite increased regulatory scrutiny. Elias Dhalhub, the store’s owner, said the state’s new 11% tax hike doesn’t dissuade the rich customer base willing to shell out thousands for Colt Magnums or the kind of high-end weaponry seen in movies.

If anything, the fear of not being able to reach requirements future laws require prompt people to buy now. In the past year, three gun laws were introduced by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, adding a local layer of regulatory scrutiny following the Monterey Park shooting last year. In February, the Board approved ordinances restricting gun sales and possession in unincorporated areas.

One prohibits the sale of firearms with half-inch thick bullets, and another prohibits carrying firearms on county government properties.

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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