1992 L.A. Riots Or How Californians Learned, Then Forgot, To Embrace The Gun

By Chris Hill

Korean men defending Koreatown during the 1992 LA riot
Korean men defending Koreatown during the 1992 LA riot

USA –-(Ammoland.com)- If asked to identify two recent SHTF events on our soil, many of us might probably respond with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 1992 L.A. riots.

And recently we marked twenty years since civil strife gripped the streets of Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.

Now, a lot has been written about the riots in the years since the unrest. But one thing that I’ve found interesting (and funny considering it’s “Kalifornia” that’s being talked about here) was the insatiable demand for firearms by many Los Angeles residents and other Californians that existed during and right after the riots.

Timothy Egan wrote in the New York Times back on May 14, 1992:

In the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots, Californians are buying firearms at the highest rate since the state began keeping records 20 years ago, and other states are reporting similar surges in gun sales.

In large part the rush to buy guns in California can be attributed to one of the more frightening messages to come out of the two days of arson, looting and violence in South-Central Los Angeles. That message, that fear, is that the police might not be able to defend people during an outbreak of civil unrest.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Egan shared the story of a customer waiting in line to purchase a firearm. From the article:

During lunch hour one day this week, customers at B & B Sales in North Hollywood, the biggest gun store in Los Angeles, took numbers and waited in long lines to buy pistols, shotguns, semiautomatic rifles, anything with a lethal kick.

Throughout Los Angeles, people who had never wanted a gun are now anxious to buy one. David Penso, a 20-year-old janitor at a Thrifty Drug Store, recalled watching looters pillage a discount store while the police drove by. “The cops were there,” Mr. Penso said, “but they didn’t do anything. The only way people can be protected in Los Angeles is if they protect themselves with guns.”

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

It’s not just law enforcement who might not be able to show up to the SHTF party on time. NPR’s Michel Martin recently spoke to Kee Whan Ha, a Korean-American business owner who organized members of the Koreatown community to protect their stores back during the riots. From their exchange that was published on NPR’s website on April 27:

HA: From Wednesday [April 29, 1992], I don’t see any police patrol car whatsoever. That’s a wide-open area, so it is like Wild West in old days, like there’s nothing there. We are the only one left, so we have to do our own (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Well, you just told us that the security guard at your store was killed. This must have been very traumatic for you. Do you mind telling me how this happened?

HA: The riot people took the next building, put it on fire. Then these people want to come to our store. Then we are shooting each other. Somehow, the people stationed on roof, then their line of fire got my security guard, and he really get blown off. So…

MARTIN: Oh, I’m sorry.

HA: …I was standing a few feet away, so I see that his body has fallen down on the ground, but I was so scared. I – we tried to call the fire department. Please help us. But nobody listen. Then maybe after five or six hours in the evening – it start around the afternoon, about 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. But actual – the fire truck coming about 7:00 o’clock, late evening. So five hours, of course, is sitting between us and them.

MARTIN: Five hours. And so the security guard – you were not even able to evacuate his body, I assume, for five hours.

HA: No, no.

Egan pointed out one more notable thing in his May 1992 piece:

While it may be too soon to tell how the image of Angelenos protecting their stores and homes with raised semiautomatic rifles will alter the gun-control debate in the United States, one thing seems certain: The riots have made gun owners out of people who used to shun guns.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

“The riots have made gun owners out of people who used to shun guns.” So much so that even lifelong gun “control” supporters switched teams. Jonathan Lovitt reported in the May 4, 1992, issue of USA TODAY:

The rush to weapons began almost immediately after the riot’s first vivid images went out over TV.

Shopkeepers said some gun buyers were lifelong gun-control advocates, running to buy an item they thought they’d never need – only to find themselves blocked by gun-control legislation that requires Californians to wait 15 days.

“The customers were angry about the waiting period but they bought the guns anyway,” says Barry Kahn, who owns B&B Sales, one of the region’s largest gun outlets. “These people were different from my usual customers. They were definitely first-time buyers.”

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Too funny.

The 1992 L.A. riots and the quest for firearms for self-defense.

Lest Angelenos and other Californians forget.


  • Egan, Timothy. “AFTER THE RIOTS; LOS ANGELES RIOTS SPURRING BIG RISE IN SALES OF GUNS.” New York Times. 14 May 1992. (https://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/14/us/after-the-riots-los-angeles-riots-spurring-big-rise-in-sales-of-guns.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm). 30 Apr. 2012.
  • “Korean Store Owner On Arming Himself For Riots” NPR. 27 Apr. 2012. (https://www.npr.org/2012/04/27/151526930/korean-store-owner-on-arming-himself-for-riots). 30 Apr. 2012.
  • Lovitt, Jonathan T. “Survival for the armed.” USA TODAY. 4 May 1992. (https://www.jonathanlovitt.com/usa/SurvivalForTheArmed.htm). 30 Apr. 2012.

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Survival And Prosperity, “Protecting and Growing Self and Wealth in These Uncertain Times,” is a blog that was created in November 2010 by Chicago-based researcher and veteran blogger Christopher E. Hill which focuses on personal and financial safety and growth for these tumultuous times in the United States. Visit:www.survivalandprosperity.com

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