California has millions more guns than it did 10 years ago. It also has thousands fewer gun injuries and deaths each year.
Those are two facts that, depending on whom you ask, have everything or nothing to do with each other.
Last month's school shootings in Newtown, Conn., reignited the debate over gun control in California, a state with some of the nation's strictest gun laws. State legislators probably will take up more gun-law proposals later this year, such as further limits on ammunition purchases and requiring regular background checks for gun owners.
If recent trends hold, that debate will take place as gun sales boom and gun injuries fall.
From one perspective, those figures suggest that more guns mean less violence a view embraced by many gun-rights advocates. They say criminals are less inclined to draw their weapons out of fear their targets will also be armed.
"Criminals don't know who has a gun," said Sam Paredes, executive director of Folsom, Calif.-based Gun Owners of California.
Others who study crime in the U.S. say the trends are more nuanced. Most gun-related hospitalizations and deaths are due to assaults. And the drop in firearm-related injuries in California coincides with a well-documented, nationwide drop in violent crime that began in the early 1990s.
Researchers said that drop has little to do with gun sales, which peaked in California around 1993 as gun crime also hit a high point. For much of the 1990s, guns sales fell while gun injuries also declined.
They say changing demographics, improved law enforcement techniques, stronger laws dictating who can legally buy guns, increasing incarceration rates, and falling gang violence, among other factors, have driven down gun injuries.
"People who are passionate about guns see things through a single-subject lens," said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of "The Great American Crime Decline," a book on nationwide crime trends.
Not in dispute is the fact that guns are flying off California shelves.
Dealers sold 600,000 guns in California during 2011, up from 350,000 in 2002, according to records of sales tallied by the California attorney general's office.
Those figures track sales, not ownership, and don't include guns taken across state lines.
At the same time, the number of hospitalizations in the state due to gun injuries dropped from about 4,000 in 2002 to 2,900 in 2011, according to records newly collected by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
Gun-related deaths in California fell 13 percent over roughly the same period, from about 3,200 to about 2,800, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Even with the declines, California has a higher rate of gun-related homicides than almost any industrialized country, United Nations figures show.
The decade-long surge in gun sales is driven partially by a widespread fear of more gun control, several gun dealers said.
Ten years ago, roughly 5 million Californians, or 20 percent of the state's adults, had at least one gun in their homes, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
Since then, California gun dealers have sold 4 million more guns.
The uptick in sales started in 2004, but exploded around 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president.
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