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Legal Gun Sales In Virginia Skyrocket As Gun Related Crimes Drop

RICHMOND, VA – According to a recent study of crime in Virginia, there seems to be a direct correlation between an increase in legal handguns and the decrease of gun-related violent crimes. Such crimes have dropped steadily in Virginia over the past six years as the sale of firearms has climbed to a new record.

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

Baker, who specializes in research methods and criminology theory and has an interest in gun issues said, “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.”

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. During that same period, the total number of gun-related violent crimes fell 24 percent, 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.

At the request of The Times-Dispatch, Baker examined data compiled by Virginia State Police through the Virginia Firearms Transaction Center. The Center breaks down the number of gun transactions for every federally licensed firearm dealer in Virginia. It includes the number and types of guns they sought to sell based on requested state background checks of the purchasers.

Baker then compared the data with state crime figures for those years. The data, Baker said, show a low probability that more guns in the hands of Virginians is causing more violent crime. “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.”

Professor Baker studied under Florida State University professors Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, whose nationally recognized research on guns and homicides in the District of Columbia was cited in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2008 that overturned the district’s handgun ban. “But we’re pretty cautious in the social sciences in talking about causality. We only talk in probabilities,” he said.

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.

Baker said this general pattern remains even if all crimes reported to police where the gun type was unknown are assumed to be handguns. “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.

Van Cleave, the gun-rights advocate, said Baker’s analysis confirms what he already suspected.

“Doing what I do, I have my finger on the pulse of gun sales, and I know they’ve been soaring because I’m at gun shows and I’ve talked to dealers and all I hear is the stories about how guns are selling at a higher rate now than ever,” Van Cleave said. Simultaneously, “we’ve been hearing in the news about how violent crime has been dropping in the United States for over a decade.”

“Never before have you had so many new guns come into the market,” Van Cleave said. “That probably helped (Baker’s) analysis and dramatized more than anything that all those guns – for whatever reason – didn’t make crime go up.”

Baker said the perception that guns cause crime is pervasive because criminals use an effective tool to carry out their misdeeds. “It does an effective job for what it’s supposed to do,” he said. “And because criminals use them, I think it becomes a hot-button issue, it becomes a political issue. And people focus on the wrong component of what the problem is.”

“Instead of trying to figure out why are these people committing crimes – and using the most effective tool to commit those crimes – they focus on the tool,” he continued. “So the gun is causing the crime.”

So while the media and political narrative continues to seem to be that guns cause crime, hard statistics and common sense dictate something far different. Inanimate objects do not cause crime – people do.

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