Guns, Ammunition Sales Shoot Up in California Border Town
Guns, Ammunition Sales Shoot Up in California Border Town

By Brad Jones

Unease over rampant illegal immigration and crime are contributing to a spike in local guns and ammunition sales in border towns, according to a gun store owner in Southern California and a national firearms industry spokesman.

Cory Gautereaux, owner of Firearms Unlimited California in El Cajon—about 15 miles northwest of San Diego and 25 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border—told The Epoch Times many of his new customers are citing the border crisis as the reason they’re buying guns for self-defense.

A longtime resident of southeastern San Diego County, Mr. Gautereaux said most rural residents are already armed and are stocking up on ammunition while those who live in the city and border towns are buying guns for the first time.

Cory Gautereaux and his dog look at a recent repair done along the U.S. border wall outside of Campo, Calif., on April 12, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“They’re worried,” he said. “It’s the street drop-offs that are right down the street from my store here. They’re dropping people off with buses all day long, especially in El Cajon.”

Nearly 10 million illegal immigrants have entered the country during the Biden administration, according to the latest data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The massive influx has put an added strain on law enforcement agencies already spread thin due to low recruitment and funding, according to Mr. Gautereaux.

“It’s the people in the city who’ve relied on the government, and law enforcement their entire lives, and now they’re going, ‘Oh crap! My neighbor called the cops the other day for something, and they didn’t show up,” he said.

When the buses drop off illegal immigrants, the hands of local police are tied under sanctuary policies that prohibit law enforcement agencies from handing them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) even if they are charged with a crime, jailed, and released.

“Don’t get me wrong. I love the El Cajon PD. It’s probably one of the best departments in the nation … but the state has made it so the local police can’t even talk to ICE or Border Patrol,” he said.

Gun owners who would normally purchase 500 rounds are now buying 5,000 at a time.

“People have been buying ammo in bulk, I’d say for about the last three months,” Mr. Gautereaux said. “They’re buying as much ammo as they can right now.”

Military tension and wars overseas have also added to a sense of unease, he said.

“When they start talking about it online or on TV, people freak out and then come in and buy stuff,” he said. “There is always a worry—and this happened during COVID … People are preparing because they’ve seen it happen many times now.”

People are also worried about economic collapse and home burglaries, he said.

Illegal immigrants pass through a gap in the U.S. border wall to await processing by Border Patrol agents in Jacumba, Calif., on Dec. 7, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Unvetted illegal immigrants prepare to be transported by bus to processing facilities in Yuma, Ariz., on May 18, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“We’re already seeing it,” he said, citing an overall rise in retail thefts, smash-and-grab robberies, home break-ins, and more sophisticated burglaries by illegal immigrant gangs, including Chilean nationals, in Rancho Santa Fe, an affluent area of San Diego County.

But allowing millions of illegal immigrants “who technically can’t get jobs here,” he said, isn’t helping to ease homelessness and crime. While most will find work—legally or illegally—some won’t, and for them the only choices left are welfare or crime.

“What other option is there to survive?” Mr. Gautereaux said.

Crime is already a problem and will likely get worse with underfunded and understaffed police departments, he predicted.

As more people prepare for bad times ahead, the word “prepper”—once used to describe the paranoid few—has almost become cliché because so many people are preparing for worst-case scenarios, he said.

“It’s a weird term now because if you’re not a prepper, you’re kind of stupid. We saw what happened during COVID. People weren’t ready. Everybody bought toilet paper,” he said.

The Border Crisis

 With Texas cracking down on illegal immigration, more migrants are crossing into San Diego County because California has become the path of least resistance, according to County Supervisor Jim Desmond.

“San Diego is the new epicenter for migrants and illegal immigration,” he said in a statement last month.

Since Oct. 1, the San Diego sector has seen 214,855 apprehensions of illegal immigrants from more than 70 countries and more than 30,000 migrants released to the streets in the last two months, according to Mr. Desmond.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells told The Epoch Times residents are realizing they can’t rely on government and police to have their backs, so they’re arming themselves.

“People shouldn’t have to be in a position where they have to protect themselves. The police should do it,” he said. “But, I can understand being a family man myself if you want to protect your family, and the government won’t do it, you’ve got to take steps to do that.”

Mayor of El Cajon Bill Wells stands near the city’s transit station in El Cajon, Calif., on March 1, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Chinese migrants settle at Willow Camp before being processed by Border Patrol agents in Jacumba, Calif., on Dec. 6, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Most illegal immigrants who’ve been released on the streets of El Cajon recently—mainly from China, Haiti, and Somalia—don’t stay in town for long before departing to destinations in other parts of the country where they have family or friends, Mr. Wells said.

Non-governmental agencies, or government-funded NGOs, provide them with plane tickets to wherever they want to go in the country, but some are sleeping in the terminals at San Diego International Airport, Mr. Wells said.

Others hang around Home Depot trying to make extra money on top of their government benefits, he said.

“I can’t blame them for that, but they shouldn’t be here,” he said.

Illegal immigrants board a bus to the airport in San Diego on Oct. 6, 2023. (Gregory Bull/AP Photo)

California’s homeless situation, he said, is already “out of control” with more homeless people than any other state, “and now we’re becoming the No. 1 drop-off point for illegal aliens.”

So far, there hasn’t been a significant amount of crime or any terrorism tied to illegal immigration in El Cajon but many residents, including Mr. Wells, fear “it’s only a matter of time” before disaster strikes.

“There’s an edginess. California has basically legalized crime. Police departments are basically not allowed to arrest most people for crimes that they commit. So, that’s a big problem,” he said.

A National Perspective

Gun store owners continually hear from their customers that they’re buying firearms for personal protection citing slow police response times and concern about the rise in crime, including criminals crossing the southern border, said Mark Oliva, spokesman for the Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation.

“The criminal element that’s coming across the border is absolutely driving firearm sales,” Mr. Oliva said.

Americans, especially those in rural areas near the border and border towns, are apprehensive about such lawlessness so they’re taking responsibility for their own safety into their own hands by buying guns and learning how to use them for self-defense, he said.

“People became concerned,” Mr. Oliva said, “and they’ve exercised their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. We’ve seen, obviously, the reports from the U.S. Border Patrol, that it’s not just a criminal element, but we have known terrorists that are crossing this border.”

Illegal immigrants line up at a remote U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, in Lukeville, Ariz., on Dec. 7, 2023. (John Moore/Getty Images)

As a retired Marine, he said the current situation is “shockingly concerning to me that the national security I spent 25 years to help provide is being withered away for a political ideology.”

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, crime began to spike and police departments warned they may not be able to respond as quickly to 911 calls because officers were sick.

Police departments nationwide also lost senior officers who retired early due to forced vaccine mandates and anti-police sentiment which also drove recruitment levels down during the pandemic.

“We’re seeing the same thing happening with those towns that are dealing with illegal border crossings, and it’s not just border cities,” he said.

A massive crowd gathered in front of the Massachusetts state house to protest both state and federal open border polices on May 4, 2024. (Alice Giordano/The Epoch Times)

People who live in other areas affected by the border crisis don’t trust law enforcement to deport criminal illegal aliens, even those who commit violent crimes.

But the issue is not isolated to the southern states, Mr. Oliva said.

“You’ve heard governors say it across the board: Every state now is a border state because you’re seeing that these illegal immigrants are being pushed all the way up to Montana, New Hampshire, Maine, and North Dakota,” he said.

Gun Sales

The increase in gun sales in border towns bucks the national trend which has seen gun and ammunition sales gradually taper off since the record spike in 2020, Mr. Oliva said.

That year, firearms background checks in the United States shot up by more than 7 million from 13.2 million in 2019 to 21.5 million, “by far the most we’ve ever had in any single given year,” he said.

In 2022, there were 16.4 million background checks, which dropped to 15.8 million last year, Mr. Oliva said.

While they are currently down nationwide, gun and ammunition sales usually rise during presidential election years because of “all the talk about gun control,” he said.

“We can track this back to 2008. We see it again in 2012, 2016, and again in 2020,” he said. “Of course, 2020 was a little bit of a different year because you had not just the presidential election year, but you also had COVID lockdowns, and you had the spike in crime happening.”

This combination of pictures created on October 22, 2020 shows President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The increase is directly related to debate over gun rights as presidential candidates push their own brand of gun control, he said.

“We’ve seen it happen every four years,” he said.

In 2016, for example, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned on an assault weapons ban, which drove sales of those weapons to record levels.

“People were going out and buying AR-15s as fast as they could,” he said.

After the election there was a lull in gun sales because of a “huge glut in the market,” known as the “Trump slump,” Mr. Oliva said.

Ms. Clinton also talked about repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a law that essentially says you can’t sue a gun-maker for someone “criminally misusing” a firearm, he said.

“That would be like going back and suing Ford and Anheuser Busch because someone hurt somebody when they were driving drunk,” Mr. Oliva said.

Gun Control

President Joe Biden has not only taken “drastic actions” on gun control calling for the repeal of the act, but also bans on assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns, and wants expanded background checks, a buyback program for assault rifles, and biometric readers on handguns, he said.

During the Democratic primary debates in 2019, then-candidate Mr. Biden said on stage that gunmakers are “the enemy” not the National Rifle Association, Mr. Oliva stressed.

“We should have smart guns,” Mr. Biden said at the time. “No gun should be able to be sold unless your biometric measure could pull that trigger. It’s within our right to do that. We can do that. Our enemy is the gun manufacturers—not the NRA, the gun manufacturers.”

Mr. Oliva said he found the statement shameful.

“That’s a shocking statement coming from somebody who had previously served as a vice president for eight years, and who is now serving as president,” he said, considering the gun manufacturers provide small arms to law enforcement agencies, the military, and American citizens who choose to buy them.

A man fires a pistol during a Defensive Pistol Class at Burro Canyon Shooting Park in Azusa, Calif., on Feb. 12, 2023. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Since then, Mr. Biden has pushed executive orders to force almost anyone who wants to sell a firearm privately to get a license to do so. He has also pushed for the reinstatement of the 1994 assault weapons bans which included nine categories of semi-automatic weapons such as AK-47s and AR-15s.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) rulemaking has also gone too far, Mr. Oliva said.

“The ATF is now, essentially, writing criminal law, which is not their purview,” he said. “That’s the responsibility of Congress, not an executive agency.”

And in late April, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security issued an interim rule that would essentially stop exports of all U.S.-made firearms by revoking export licenses July 1. After that date, gun manufacturers must reapply for one-year licenses that used to be good for four years, Mr. Oliva said.

While the Biden administration claims it’s doing this for national security, the firearms bureau’s tracing of firearms recovered at crime scenes in foreign nations indicates less than one percent of American-made guns are diverted to criminals, he said.

“So, this is not a national security concern,” Mr. Oliva said. “This is a whole-of-government approach by the Biden administration to hull the firearms industry.”

The president, he said, is “coming after the firearms industry so he can take away your ability to exercise your Second Amendment rights.”

Presidential Elections

Normally firearms sales slightly dip in the spring and summer because people are on vacation but pick up in the early fall as hunting season approaches and people get back into shooting sports, he said.

And, as voters tune into the presidential election and hear more talk about gun control issues, guns sales will rise again, especially as gun buyers contrast what President Biden has done in four years compared to former President Donald Trump who stood up for the Second Amendment, Mr. Oliva said.

“Then, I think people are going to be able to draw a conclusion of where to put their trust,” he said.

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