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After a man was shot several times last fall during an alleged murder attempt in Novato, investigators obtained a search warrant for the suspect’s property.
The search turned up a weapons supply that included two pistols, five rifles, five shotguns and more than two dozen full or partial boxes of ammunition, according to court documents.
The suspect was no gang member or drug dealer. He was William Bradley, 79, founder of the self-named contracting company with nearly $100 million in annual revenues. The alleged target was his son-in-law.
As Marin residents and students join the national debate on gun control — including a countywide campus walkout on Wednesday in response to the recent school massacre in Parkland, Florida — a review of available statistics creates a fuller picture of gun ownership and gun crimes in Marin County.
If the county is not exactly awash in guns, there appears to be no shortage of them, either.
According to the state Department of Justice, 46,300 firearms were purchased in Marin from 2001 to 2015, the most recent year available. The figure includes 22,755 long guns and 23,545 handguns.
The sales figures put Marin at 29th out of 55 counties charted by the Department of Justice. Although those guns were purchased in Marin, the owners are not necessarily Marin residents.
Los Angeles County led the field with nearly 1.2 million gun sales over the 15-year span, while Sonoma County ranked 20th, with 113,135.
In terms of average annual gun sales over that period, Marin, with a population of about 260,000, had 1,226 per 100,000 residents. The figure puts Marin at 46th out of the 55 counties on the DOJ’s chart.
Sonoma County, with a population of about 500,000, had an average of 1,551 guns sales a year per 100,000 residents. It ranked 36th among the counties.
Statewide, about 65 percent of handgun sales and 80 percent of long gun sales are through dealers, the Department of Justice says. The others involve private transfers, out-of-state registrations and “curio/relic” purchases.
Few Marin residents have permits to carry concealed weapons. According to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, which handles many if not most permit applications in the county, 53 people applied for permits or renewals between 1996 and 2017. Most applicants were private investigators or retired law enforcement officials seeking self-protection, while others were private security guards or mental health specialists.
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The sheriff’s department denied 12 of the applications. Sheriff Robert Doyle said applicants need to show good cause for having a gun, and a mere Second Amendment assertion doesn’t cut it.
“We always evaluate the reasons people give,” Doyle said.
The number of illegal guns in Marin County is impossible to quantify, but crime statistics offer some picture of their use.
In 2016, the latest full year available in DOJ crime data, the county reported 168 robberies, a 10-year high. Twenty-five of those robberies involved a firearm.
Also in 2016, the county logged 252 aggravated assaults, a 10-year low. Eight of those assaults involved a firearm.
All three homicides in the county that year involved guns.
From 2007 to 2016, the county reported 297 robberies involving guns and 193 aggravated assaults involving guns.
Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian organized gun buyback programs in 2013, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre in Connecticut, and in 2016, after the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida. The buybacks yielded more than 1,500 guns combined.
Berberian said no additional gun buybacks are in the works. He said he was pleased with the response, but said the events were mostly symbolic and that gun violence needs to be addressed with national regulations.
Berberian said the AR-15 category of guns — the kind used by the Parkland shooter — should not be available for sale, background checks should be mandatory for all gun purchases and kits that turn semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic ones should be banned.
“Florida should be the last straw for our national leaders to finally take meaningful actions,” he said. “It is time to tell the NRA to be responsible and not to incite and frankly enable others to be able to engage in further ‘killing fields.’”
Bradley, the suspect in the Novato attempted murder case, has pleaded not guilty. He allegedly used a shotgun and a handgun in the shooting, which occurred in his home.
His case is among several high-profile gun cases recently involving not street criminals, but wealthy Marin residents with household supplies of guns. The others include Corte Madera resident James Simon, a physician who defeated criminal charges after a traffic-related shooting in which he claimed self-defense; and Tiburon resident Mark Dickinson, who was arrested after fatally shooting two deer encroaching on his yard plants.
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“When the Second Amendment was originally drafted the possession of firearms for the purpose of sustenance and self-defense was regarded as an inherent right,” said Charles Dresow, the lawyer for both Simon and Dickinson. “Having said that, a reasonable interpretation of the Second Amendment leaves room for common sense gun policy which would regulate the possession of firearms to those necessary for sustenance, self-defense and the defense of the home.”
The student walkout planned in Marin on Wednesday is part of a nationwide event. The students plan to leave school at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 victims of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
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A second set of demonstrations, the “March for Our Lives,” will be held throughout the United States and parts of the world on March 24.
“I feel encouraged by what is happening with the students standing up and taking action,” said Fairfax resident Helen Rosen of Marin Moms Demand Action, the local branch of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “I think the students are really going to make difference.”
BAY AREA GUN SALES
Gun sales in Bay Area counties, 2001-2015.
Santa Clara: 363,725
Contra Costa: 186,702
San Mateo: 149,148
San Francisco: 18,232
Source: California Department of Justice