Mystery: Virginia gun violence falls as gun sales soar

posted at 1:51 pm on November 27, 2012 by Mary Katharine Ham

Freedom preserved and less crime for everyone. Nifty, huh?

Gun-related violent crime in Virginia has dropped steadily over the past six years as the sale of firearms has soared to a new record, according to an analysis of state crime data with state records of gun sales.

The total number of firearms purchased in Virginia increased 73 percent from 2006 to 2011. When state population increases are factored in, gun purchases per 100,000 Virginians rose 63 percent.

But the total number of gun-related violent crimes fell 24 percent over that period, and when adjusted for population, gun-related offenses dropped more than 27 percent, from 79 crimes per 100,000 in 2006 to 57 crimes in 2011.

The numbers appear to contradict a long-running popular narrative that more guns cause more violent crime, said Virginia Commonwealth University professor Thomas R. Baker, who compared Virginia crime data for those years with gun-dealer sales estimates obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Correlation isn’t causation, of course, but what’s interesting about this research is how thoroughly it blows out the traditional causal argument of gun-control advocates. How thoroughly?

Thomas R. Baker, the professor who did this research for the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“While there is a wealth of academic literature attempting to demonstrate the relationship between guns and crime, a very simple and intuitive demonstration of the numbers seems to point away from the premise that more guns leads to more crime, at least in Virginia,” said Baker, who specializes in research methods and criminology theory and has an interest in gun issues…

“So while it’s difficult to make a direct causal link (that more guns are resulting in less crime), the numbers certainly present that that’s a real possibility,” Baker added.
The opposite – that more guns are causing more crime – cannot be derived from the numbers, he said.

“It’s mathematically not possible, because the relationship is a negative relationship – they’re moving in the opposite direction,” Baker said. “So the only thing it could be is that more guns are causing less crime.”

So, let’s try it a different way. Just handguns!

Handgun-related offenses account for the majority of violent crimes committed in Virginia.
Because rifles and shotguns are used far less often to commit violent crimes, Baker said, one could argue that the purchase of those types of weapons is falsely inflating the total gun purchases in relation to total gun crime.

So Baker also examined the relationship between handgun purchases and handgun-related crime. He found a similar trend.

Handgun purchases in Virginia increased 112 percent from 2006 to 2011, but violent crimes committed with handguns fell by nearly 22 percent. When adjusted for population increases, handgun purchases rose a little more than 100 percent, but violent crimes committed with handguns dropped 26 percent, according to Baker’s analysis.

And, one more time, for the gun-control crowd. This time, we’ll take all crimes attributed to unknown gun types and assume they were committed with handguns. That oughtta do the trick.

“In fact, if all unknown gun types used in violent gun crimes are assumed to have been handguns, then handgun-related violent crime decreased just over 24 percent from 2006 to 2011,” he said.

And, for the finale, a gun-control lobbyist is reduced to using the talking points of gun-rights activists:

“It’s quite possible that you can sell a whole lot more guns and crime is still going down,” Goddard said. “But is the crime going down because more people are buying guns, or is the crime going down because the crime is going down?”

Goddard said he would not have expected a rise in crime from a rise in legal gun sales, because legal gun buyers are not usually criminals – otherwise they would not pass a background check to get them. “Predicting the actions of criminals by analyzing the behavior of legal gun buyers is not likely to be productive,” he said.

In 2011, Central Virginia accounted for most of the state’s gun sales, but coming in close behind was the bluest part of the state— Northern Virginia. NoVa has a much higher population than Central Virginia, so the per capita purchases would be lower, but I did not expect such a large chunk of gun sales to come in this fairly liberal bastion. Maybe we’re creating converts up here.

Virginia guns

So, who are the people buying all these guns? That’s right, ladies.

Many gun dealers point to women as the most significant demographic of new gun buyers. “We are seeing far more women now — empowering themselves I guess is the word for it,” said Marcus, of Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk.

Colonial Shooting Academy in Henrico has been selling out its eight-hour women-only basic pistol instruction classes for the past three months, said Ed Coleman, the general manager.

“The fastest-growing segment of the gun-owning population is women,” Coleman said. “The numbers of women that are buying firearms for the first time are far exceeding men.”

And, if you won’t listen to research, listen to Ice-T.


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