I like to visit gun shops when I travel around the country. My preference is for older well established shops that tend to have stuff tucked away but I will visit them all because you never know what you will find. Whether it’s the pile of Ljungman mags for $5 each in Alabama, French MAS sniper scopes for $200 in Oregon or a Wilcox laser aiming module for the HK Mk 23 for $10 in Arkansas it always seems like there is a deal to be found. Sometimes it’s even worth having a rifle shipped home to an FFL, like a minty MAS-44 for $300 from a gun shop in Texas. It’s always an entertaining treasure hunt. But even if I don’t find anything worth buying I like to see the gun culture in other parts of the United States
I recently had opportunity to spend a few weeks in Orange County and spent some spare time visiting a variety of gun shops around Southern California. From Newport Beach to Palmdale to San Diego I hit a few dozen gun shops and even made it to a gun show out in Victorville and was surprised at what I found. Going in I was assuming that there would be a good number of C&R type firearms whether they be bolt actions or lower capacity early semi auto rifles/pistols which would be less restricted by California’s infringements on the Second Amendment. Additionally I was expecting that most places would be older long established shops, after all who would be trying to open a gun shop in the difficult business environment. Boy was I wrong.
There were a few older gun shops that I ran across in my travels but they were the exception rather than the rule and I will only mention the two most notable here. I was a bit trepidatious about Saddleback Valley Gun Center in Laguna Niguel given the very negative Yelp reviews however it was the best of the bunch with a pleasant array of Garands, M1 Carbines along with an array of military surplus and some modern black guns. I didn’t dig into the prices beyond noting a few reasonably priced items as there wasn’t anything I wanted enough to drag back home a thousand miles. The proprietary was an entertaining cigar chomping character that chatted for a while. On the other end of the spectrum Chula Vista Gun Store was a well established shop in an older strip mall which had a number of tempting HK parts along with an interesting surplus Zeiss night vision scopes. After ten minutes of being ignored in an empty shop waiting to discover prices, never a good sign, a surly man eventually ambled out from the back and gave me numbers that were not only sufficiently high to make the most ardent HK fanboy balk but seemed to indicate that they would prefer I just fuck off. So I left.
The majority of gun shops were seemingly newer operations which were mostly unremarkable in their selections of handguns and rifles. Were you to miss the “fin” attachments on the grips of the black rifles or fail to notice all the normal looking Pmags were reduced to ten round capacity you could almost be in a gun shop anywhere from Arizona to Pennsylvania. Though California marches on towards banning everything the shops, for now, are packed with AR-15 variants and many of the other popular modern rifles. If anything they seemed to carry more inventory than I would normally expect to see which I’m guessing is due hurdles faced for online buyers. What did stand out as unique were the numbers of 80% lowers and finishing accessories for sale at these FFLs. In free states most gun shops don’t seem as interested in selling 80% lowers however in California it apparently matters.
The one gun shop which truly stood out above all the rest was Ammo Brothers just north of Miramar MCAS in San Diego. Though they are in one of the most restrictive firearms environments in the country they still offered an amazing selection of high end black rifles that had all been tweaked to comply with the law. An even more amazing find in any gun shop these days was that their ammo prices were quite reasonable. I briefly considered buying out their stock of surplus 7.5 Swiss however they didn’t have quite enough to make it worth the effort of shipping it back home. For those of us in free states their price of just north of $8k for an FN M249S may seem a bit on the high side however considering that it’s available at all is remarkable. When the price for gas is 40% higher than most of the rest of the country a 25% premium for a belt fed doesn’t seem so bad. You just can’t make a belt more than 10 rounds.
Though Victorville has a reputation as a somewhat blighted town on the edge of the California high desert I ventured out to the weekend gun show at the San Bernardino Fairgrounds. Although private party sales are banned, and there are many signs posted, the gun show scene seemed to be thriving. There were massive numbers of AR parts of all varieties, much greater selection that I would normally see in at a gun show in a similarly sized town in a free state. Prices were better than I would be used to seeing for basic things like uppers, presumably due to the competition from so many vendors. Magazines were also displayed in much larger number than I’m used to seeing which, I assume, is driven by the lack of online dealers willing to ship to CA. Most any variety you desire is available although they are somehow blocked down to 10 round capacity.
The most striking aspect of the gun show however were the huge numbers of 80% kits being sold. I am used to seeing them at gun shows for a few years now but it’s never appeared to be a significant portion of the show. For Californians it’s apparently a bit different as they are staring down the barrel of increasingly invasive registration requirements and restrictions on what they are allowed to own. This apparently includes providing exacting details of how even decades old firearms may have been acquired and include pictures of the weapon’s current configuration.
As an outsider from a free state I didn’t feel it considerate to inquire too deeply however I got the strong impression that a lot of people have just stopped caring. They have had enough of trying to comply with the ever increasing infringements and re-definitions of what was allowed. As their Senetor Feinstein once said “turn them all in” and after a fashion they just might have turned them in to avoid the hassles. And the next weekend they bought a 80% lower and got to work building a rifle that the state will never know about.