Handgun sales in California have risen to unprecedented levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts say first-time buyers are driving the trend.

The FBI conducted 462,000 background checks related to handgun purchases in California from March through September, an increase of 209,000, or 83%, from the same period last year. That’s more than in any other seven-month period on record.

People who study gun ownership think the increase means more people are buying guns for the first time. Handguns, as opposed to rifles and shotguns, are often the first firearm purchase made by someone looking for protection.

Background checks related to long gun or other gun sales also rose statewide, by 110,000, or 54%, from March through September compared with the same period in

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