Can California's gun industry survive Newsom's assaults?

Can California's gun industry survive Newsom's assaults?
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

The new 11% excise tax on guns and ammo signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom is just the latest attempt to curtail the right to keep and bear arms in the Golden State; a “sin tax” (according to Newsom himself) that’s ostensibly meant to provide about $160 million in funding for school safety and anti-violence efforts.


Rather than asking (or demanding) that all Californians share in the cost of those efforts, Newsom and Democrats in Sacramento are instead foisting that burden on the backs of the lawful gun owners who are already subjected to a nearly endless number of laws, rules, and regulations restricting their right to keep and bear arms. CalMatters reporter Alexei Koseff recently spoke to several folks in the state’s beleaguered firearms industry, many of whom wonder how much longer their companies can survive without intervention from the federal courts.

It’s not a death knell for Rifle Supply. Though that 11% is more than the typical profit margin for gun and ammunition sales, owner John Koukios said he would pass on the cost to customers, as much as he can.

But it’s another burden, in a long line of California laws and regulations and restrictions and paperwork — so much paperwork — that makes many people in what remains of the state’s firearms industry wonder whether those in charge are simply looking for a way to push them out.

“Recently, I’ll be honest with you, we felt like this business in California has an expiration date,” said Koukios, sitting in his sunny second-floor office, where antique rifles and shotguns leaned against the wall in one corner.

“Every time they change a law and take something away, it takes another chunk out,” he said. “At what point does it get whittled down so far that I can’t employ all of my employees anymore, that I can’t actually make enough money to operate a functional business?”

To be a gunmaker in California is to whipsaw between hope and frustration, with the constantly changing contours of America’s gun control battles.

Lately, there’s the promise of a federal judiciary, empowered by a historic Supreme Court ruling last year, that seems determined to dismantle California’s strict firearms laws. And then there’s the uncertainty that comes with state leaders still looking for ways to counteract that momentum, including by passing dozens of new gun control measures.

“When you’re selling a product that’s…a purveyor of death for our kids, how about a little humility and grace and accountability?” Newsom said at a press conference Tuesday to promote the gun and ammunition tax, which was among 23 bills related to firearms that he signed. “The carnage is too much. We just can’t normalize it. We can’t accept it. So this is a small price to pay.”

Operating in such a challenging political and business climate, the gun manufacturing footprint in California is modest, even as sales remain robust. The FBI has already completed nearly 1 million background checks for prospective buyers in the state this year through the end of August.

About six dozen California-based companies reported commercial production to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2021, the most recent year for which data is publicly available. They collectively made 82,532 firearms, fewer than 23 other states and comprising less than 1% of the national output.


I’m surprised there are that many left, to be honest. Over the past decade we’ve seen many gun (and gun-adjacent) companies in blue states from California to Massachusetts decide the political environment has become too untenable for them to continue on, even if their roots in those states stretch back for generations. For instance, Smith & Wesson recently relocated its headquarters from Massachusetts to Tennessee, while Beretta moved its manufacturing operations out of Maryland almost a decade ago.

None of the California gun companies have as large an imprint as those manufacturers, and I doubt that Newsom is losing any sleep over the prospect of smaller companies like Rifle Supply going out of business or being forced to move to greener pastures in a redder state. If he believes that exercising your Second Amendment is a sin, then I’m sure he’s happy to cosplay as the state’s Ayatollah; enforcing his faith in gun control at the expense of our civil rights and liberties. Like John Koukios, I’m hoping that the federal courts will strike down Newsom’s jihad against gunmakers, but I don’t blame him or any other manufacturer if they decide that the burdens and barriers erected by anti-gunners in Sacramento have made the state too dangerous for their businesses to call home.



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