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August 5, 2013

"Va. gun crime drops again as firearm sales soar"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable big article recently appearing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Here are excerpts:

Gun-related violent crime continues to drop in Virginia as the sales of firearms continue to soar, a pattern that one local criminologist finds interesting “given the current rhetoric about strengthening gun laws.”

Major gun crime collectively dropped for a fourth consecutive year statewide, while firearms sales climbed to a new record in 2012 with 490,119 guns purchased in 444,844 transactions — a 16 percent rise over 2011, according to federally licensed gun dealer sales estimates obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The proliferation of guns occurred as the total number of major reported crimes committed with all types of firearms in Virginia dropped 5 percent, from 4,618 offenses in 2011 to 4,378 last year, according to Virginia State Police data.  Looking back over seven years, total firearm sales in Virginia have risen a staggering 101 percent from 2006 to 2012, while gun-related crime has dropped 28 percent during that period.

“This appears to be additional evidence that more guns don’t necessarily lead to more crime,” said Thomas R. Baker, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs who specializes in research methods and criminology theory.

“It’s a quite interesting trend given the current rhetoric about strengthening gun laws and the presumed effect it would have on violent crimes,” Baker added.  “While you can’t conclude from this that tougher laws wouldn’t reduce crime even more, it really makes you question if making it harder for law-abiding people to buy a gun would have any effect on crime.”

But Josh Horwitz, the leader of a national gun-control group, does not find the comparison of gun crime to legal gun sales particularly significant, and views any perceived correlation between the two sets of data as essentially meaningless.  “Guns sold incident to a background check are less likely to be involved in crimes than guns sold without a background check,” said Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “So the real question — which I don’t think we really know — is what’s the level of gun sales without a background check?

“In other words, if people who buy those guns and have a background check, and keep those guns and don’t sell them, then you would not expect that those guns would affect the crime rate,” Horwitz said. “The important analysis is not the total number of guns sold with a background check, but rather the number of guns sold without a background check.”...

Baker cautioned against drawing any conclusions that more guns in the hands of Virginians are causing a corresponding drop in gun crime, as some academics and gun-rights supporters have argued.  “To substantiate (that) argument, you would need to eliminate a number of other factors that could potentially explain away the relationship of more guns, less crime in Virginia,” Baker said. “Only if the relationship remained after controlling for additional factors could a researcher be more comfortable making the claim that more guns lead to less crime.  But what the data does show is that the ‘more guns, less crime argument’ is certainly possible.”...

Although overall gun-related crime dropped 5 percent last year, murders and non-negligent manslaughter deaths committed with firearms rose 6 percent from 190 in 2011 to 201 last year. But killings with handguns dropped 3 percent.  Killings involving firearms of unknown type increased 42 percent, from 62 in 2011 to 88 in 2012.

Robberies accounted for the largest drop in gun-related crime, falling 11 percent from 2,935 offenses in 2011 to 2,508 last year. Robberies involving handguns dropped 7 percent from year to year....

Although expansion of background checks is the main goal of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Horwitz said his group supports the tighter controls on firearms that were enacted into law in Colorado and New York after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut that killed 26.

He acknowledged that those measures — aside from the background checks — will not affect the gun-related crime rate. “It won’t reduce crime,” Horwitz said. “The point is that it decreases the lethality of crime.” He was referring to so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

August 5, 2013 at 05:23 PM | Permalink


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Three things that confound and really annoy liberals:

1. Prison is a breeding ground for crime, only when we have a lot more prison, we have a lot less crime.

2. Poverty rather than greed causes crime, only when we had the Great Recession, crime plummeted.

3. Making guns more available will mean more "gun violence," only when more guns become available, we get less of it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 5, 2013 6:02:48 PM

Come on Bill. Your posts are mean, repetitive, and lack original thought.

Never mind that you are right...

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Aug 5, 2013 6:34:56 PM

I love crime stats in isolation. Since I actually support gun rights, I will use these VA numbers to bolster my views. And I will ignore the fact that, in NYC, Bloomberg pushed through massive gun regulations in 2006, and homicides have dropped to their lowest point in modern history in 2012. Or, I will point to the fact that homicides in NYC were already dropping before 2006 and say that the gun law had nothing to do with it. Just as Chicago's homicide rate rose after it passed a one-year mandatory minimum for unlawful gun possession. Just tell me what your views are and I can give you crime stats to support your view.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Aug 5, 2013 7:00:16 PM

Thinkaboutit --

Do you disagree with any of my three statements? If so, on what basis?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 5, 2013 7:37:53 PM

Bill, I don't think the statements are factually wrong, they are just incomplete. They ignore the many factors that go into crime rates. For instance, take your first statement. Well, we had many fewer prisons in 1950 than we do today, and we had less crime then. (I already pointed out that gun crime stats could prove the opposite for NYC). So it just depends on the reference points you pick. The one guy in this story has it right when he said you can't prove anything unless you hold the many other factors that could affect crime rates constant. That is how good science works.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Aug 5, 2013 9:09:10 PM

The other question is whether people who already own guns are buying more, or if gun ownership is becoming more widespread. If people who already own guns are buying more (with or without a background check) then we would not expect more crime. If gun ownership is becoming more widespread, then the questions about background checks become relevant.
The nation trend has been increasing gun ownership but fewer households with guns. That is, people who own guns are buying more.

Posted by: Paul | Aug 5, 2013 9:09:51 PM

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