How many of your Fresno County neighbors have assault weapons? The number may surprise you

Police confiscate assault weapon in southeast Fresno

Sgt. James Rossetti speaks about the AR-15 assault weapon found by Fresno police after responding to a fight between two neighbors at a southeast Fresno apartment complex in February 2018.
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Sgt. James Rossetti speaks about the AR-15 assault weapon found by Fresno police after responding to a fight between two neighbors at a southeast Fresno apartment complex in February 2018.

Rural California, including chunks of the central San Joaquin Valley, enjoys its guns.

But while Fresno County is among the counties with the highest number of residents with permits to carry concealed weapons, it’s got nothing on some of its more rural counterparts that not only have higher rates of gun sales in proportion to their population, but also greater numbers of assault-style weapons required to be registered by the state.

Figures from the state Department of Justice show that as of February 2019, Fresno County ranked 50th of California’s 58 counties in the rate of assault weapons compared to its population. The state’s 10th most populous county had about 290 registered assault-style weapons for every 100,000 residents.

Assault weapons, under California law, include a range of semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns that have their roots in military armaments, including the popular AK-47 and AR-15 series rifles, the UZI and other pistols, and “streetsweeper” shotguns.

Other characteristics that can land a rifle or pistol on the list of restricted weapons under state law include guns with a forward pistol grip, a folding or telescoping stock, a flash suppressor, and other military-style features.

All told, there are 2,933 such weapons registered to gun owners in Fresno County. Among neighboring Valley counties, the numbers are:

  • Kings County: 289 assault weapons, 188 per 100,000 population.
  • Madera County: 601 assault weapons, 380 per 100,000.
  • Merced County: 662 assault weapons, 236 per 100,000.
  • Tulare County, 1340 assault weapons, 281 per 100,000.

By comparison, the state reports that sparsely populated Mono County on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range northeast of Fresno has only 159 registered assault weapons – but that’s enough to add up to a rate of 1,145 for every 100,000 residents.

The five California counties with the largest numbers of legally registered assault weapons are:

  • Los Angeles County, 52,800 total, 514 per 100,000 population.
  • Orange County, 21,142 total, 657 per 100,000.
  • San Diego County, 16,078 total, 481 per 100,000.
  • Santa Clara County, 11778, 602 per 100,000.
  • Riverside County, 10,255 total, 423 per 100,000.

As of 2018, Fresno County ranked ninth out of the state’s 58 counties in terms of gun dealers, manufacturers, importers and others who are federally licensed in California. According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Fresno had a total of 109 licensees.

Apart from assault weapons, the state Department of Justice last reported on gun sales by county in 2017, when it released figures on total gun sales and sales per 100,000 residents for the 15-year period 2001 through 2015. During that time, Fresno County experienced growth in gun sales of more than 144 percent. Total gun sales during that span in Fresno County amounted to more than 137,000, or about 1,944 transactions for every 100,000 residents.

Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.