The rows of gun names read like a Hollywood movie prop list: AR-15 Commando, Street Sweeper, Uzi, AK-47 Legend and SKS Paratrooper.
All are assault weapons registered with the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms. All would be illegal if purchased today, under the state’s current assault weapons ban.
As Reveal reported last month, there were more than 145,000 guns grandfathered in prior to 2001.
California was the first state to regulate assault weapons and differentiate guns based on their appearance and functionality. The state ban was introduced after a 1989 shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, carried out with an AK-47. Since then, eight other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit, introducing similar restrictions on semi-automatic assault-style guns.
The federal assault weapons ban, meanwhile, expired in 2004. A handful of Democratic members of Congress attempted to introduce a new version of the ban after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Conversations stalled quickly, however, as gun control groups shifted their focus to other efforts.
The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a handful of closely associated variants by far are the most common guns on the California Department of Justice list, with more than four times as many of them as of the next most popular weapon.
Rifles are the most common type of registered assault weapon, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the 145,253 grandfathered guns. The rest are pistols and shotguns.
Colt was the most popular manufacturer, with nearly twice as many Colt-branded guns as the next closest competitor. Other common brands were Bushmaster – the maker of the AR-15 used in the Sandy Hook shooting – German submachine gun maker Heckler & Koch and Chinese manufacturer Norinco, known for the AK-47.
Gun rights groups continue to challenge the ban. Brandon Combs, executive director of The Calguns Foundation, told a group of about 100 gun owners at a recent Second Amendment policy event in Sacramento that the group would support rescinding it.
“AR-15s are almost never used in crime,” Combs said, referring to national FBI data that show the majority of gun deaths are caused by handguns. “So why are we going after them so hard?”
The breakdown of grandfathered weapons was released by the California Bureau of Firearms in response to a public records request. The state withheld the names, locations and other personal information of those who registered the guns. It’s unknown how many of the guns remain in California; it’s a felony to transfer ownership of one.
Many of the grandfathered guns are in the hands of people prohibited from owning a gun because of mental health issues, restraining orders or criminal convictions that happened after the gun was legally registered, according to DOJ. California is the only state with a database that cross-references changes in the ability to possess a gun with gun ownership records.
Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office has struggled to confiscate these guns in recent months.
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.