Virginia: More Guns, Less Crime. Proven. Kinda.

 

I liked living in Virginia. Well, except for the cost of living, the lack of good ranges (that are actually open) and the general proximity to DC. But even though I could see the National Cathedral from my office window and have fond memories of carrying a concealed weapon while looking across the river at the Washington Monument, the politics of the district seemed to stop at the Potomac. Virginia is one of the most firearms friendly states in the United States, being a “shall issue” permit state as well as an open carry state and with CLEOs ready and willing sign off on the paperwork. According to a new study, all those guns may have contributed to a drop in crime in the state . . .

From the Times Dispatch out of Richmond:

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.

Even though those numbers appear to support my own views on the matter, I’m still skeptical at this point. Then again, we’re on paragraph #4 of the article. As much as I want to jump all over statistics that support my beliefs, what separates us from “gun control advocates” is that we actually care about facts and proper statistics and stuff. You know, the truth.

So, details then?

At the request of The Times-Dispatch, Baker examined six years of data compiled by Virginia State Police through the Virginia Firearms Transaction Center that 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.

“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.

Ah, a man after my own heart. Even when his study indicates a positive link, he doesn’t outright claim that that’s the case. But even when the hypothesis can’t be proven, can we disprove the null hypotheses of gun control, that more guns = more death and destruction?

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.”

In other words, the “blood in the streets” claim is complete and total bullshit. Once again, the actual statistics based on real world data have proven that more guns don’t inherently cause more crime.

This next bit here is really interesting:

The multiple years of data for gun purchases and gun-related crime help strengthen the premise that more gun sales are not leading to an increase in crime. Using what Baker calls the “lag model,” the data show that an increase in gun purchases for one year usually is followed by a decrease in crime the next year.

Did you catch that? While I’d love to see what his “model” consists of, the idea that there’s a significant drop in crime following a large purchase of guns by the population seems to indicate a deterrent effect. If everyone owns a gun, then criminals figure it out and stop.

Baker doesn’t stop there, though. He goes into full-on common sense mode and lays some smack-down on stats abusers:

Baker said a more detailed analysis may find pockets of the state where increased guns sales have been followed by an increase in gun-related violent crime.

“But I’m not interested in that small, nuanced component,” he said. “As a scientist, you don’t want to focus on individual instance. That’s what gets people into making these overgeneralizations about things like some of the tragedies that have been gun-related in the United States.”

At some point, the sample size you’re looking at is too small to be statistically relevant to the population as a whole. Isaac Asimov developed a similar idea as “psychohistory” in the Foundation series, but the general concept is the same — you can predict the behavior of large groups of people through statistics, but the individual or small group is invisible to mathematics and generally irrelevant. Unless they’re a mutant that starts taking over planets.

Anyway, you can always find an event that bucks the trend and the tendency for people to focus on those events is what fuels the fear that leads to gun control.

Something not fully addressed is the note that aggravated assault with a firearm increased as firearms ownership increased. Whether aggravated assaults overall increased was not discussed but I wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of aggravated assaults, like suicides, was independent of gun ownership and that percentage only reflected the availability of the tools at hand.

In response to the numbers, the head honcho of gun control in the state completely side-stepped the actual situation (the BS status of the blood in the streets claim):

“I’m not surprised that it would appear that more guns is going along with less crime, because there’s been a downward trend in violent crime anyway,” said Andrew Goddard, president of the Virginia Center for Public Safety.

[...]

“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?”

“If you look at the numbers of people who are dying from guns every year, including suicides and accidents, then you’re not going to see a difference,” he said. “Gun sales are going up, and the annual death rate in Virginia is staying pretty much constant.”

I don’t think he quite understands the difference between a raw number and an adjusted rate. Either way, it certainly doesn’t support his assertion that more gun control would lead to fewer deaths. He even says so himself:

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.

Now that’s some common sense right there — legal gun owners not being criminals. So why is he fighting so hard to stop something that he himself admits isn’t causing crime and isn’t hurting people? Oh, right.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

22 Responses to Virginia: More Guns, Less Crime. Proven. Kinda.

  1. avatarKelly in GA says:

    So he [Goddard] admits that legal gun sales have no effect on criminals? That means he keeps getting closer…

    I think one or two more articles and we’ll have a new gun rights activist!

  2. avatarughh says:

    I’m originally from Delaware (yes, people live there) and now reside in Alexandria, Virginia. It is much worse throughout Delaware now than it seems to be here in Northern Virginia. Home invasions, homicides, violent crime in general seems to have jumped since I relocated. It’s not like Chicago, but I think when you factor in population, you’re much more likely to be a victim there now.

    There’s no OC in the City of Dover, I cannot recall if Wilmington is off limits too, but I wouldn’t even give the corupt Delaware State Police the oppurtunity to try and twist constitutional carry into something more around that way. There aren’t much gun rights advocates there/pro gun people in general.. Which leads to my point; having; represenatives that ‘respect’ your right to own firearms, groups like the VCDL, and a chunk of the population NOT fearful of guns, greatly contributes to rights of gun owners.

    I haven’t ventured too far south in VA, aside from travelling through, but I’m willing to bet most of the violent gun crime is taking place in Richmond, Newport News and Hampton areas. Hell, Arlington’s supposed “first homicide in over 2 years” just occured back in July. Idk if they ever released the cause of death.

    Bottom line; VA’s doing something right, more states need to catch on.

  3. avatarAnonymousPoster says:

    The Freakonomics theory about crime rates does make a lot of sense.

    http://www.freakonomics.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/

  4. avatarMD Matt says:

    I would give this more credibility if some effort had been given to the retention of firearms rather than the raw sales figures. If you sell a gun three times in a year, that does not mean that three households have three new guns or that overall gun ownership rates have increased. Comparison with CC permit holders is perhaps a more valid figure. We would also need to look at reporting methods for crime and firearm figures from year to year as such methods change.
    I am the most skeptical of numbers that seem to agree with me since I want to be able to rebut challenges to same. One can’t just hold one’s opponents to a greater standard.

    • avatartdiinva says:

      I don’t understand your point. Only sales from FFLs are recorded in Virginia. I don’t see many guns being returned and resold on the FFL level. If someone unloads a gun it is usually in a private, unregulated sale in the secondary market. Those sales aren’t reported. So the only sales measured are those in primary market from an FFL.

      • avatarMD Matt says:

        Point taken. Hadn’t even thought of that. Here in Maryland, such options aren’t available to us citizens. I was simply stating that I’d consider trends in individual gun ownership a better indicator than gun sales. Fifty guns in one household means something different than one gun in fifty households re-the distribution of firearms throughout a given population.

  5. avatarjwm says:

    Gun control is not and never has been about crime control. Even before gunpowder there were people controlling weapons. None of these laws have ever been about protecting the individual. They are about protecting the people in power.

    A private person, not a government mouthpiece, who espouses gun control has proven to me one thing. They are too weak minded and gullible to be trusted.

  6. avatarSD3 says:

    True or not, the “more guns=less crime” argument is a spurious defense of 2nd ammendment rights. My right bear arms is not contingent upon its impact, positive or negative, upon crime stats. They exist specifically to facilitate the overthrow of a tyrannical state.

    • avatarTTACer says:

      +infinity

    • avatarIng says:

      Negatory, good buddy. We don’t have the right to keep and bear arms specifically to overthrow a tyrannical government. If that were so, then a benevolent government could rightly assume that individuals no longer need to be armed, and that guns are superfluous in a civilized society — which is exactly what gun controllers are thinking.

      The right to keep and bear arms is independent of anything the state might do. It’s part of the pre-existing human right to self-defense and individual liberty. Guns may be useful in overthrowing tyranny, but that’s not what they’re *for.*

  7. avatarAverage_Casey says:

    I’d like to see the guy’s math behind the numbers to see the approach he used. He should be able to show whether or not there is correlation and you could apply the study to other states.

    As for the gun control linking guns and crime, I can believe that the gun grabbers believe that guns cause crime. How many people believed that the world was flat and for how long? Once there are studies commissioned that prove gun ownership reduces crime, you will not see as much resistance. But it will take a lot of proof and that will take time.

  8. avatarLance says:

    Another good post by Nick.

    Overall logic and fact are with our side on this gun debate. Its more sinister ideas and stupid emotions the other rely on. Overall Im glad Virgina see’s the light and wants more guns.

  9. avatarScott says:

    Another reason for me to move to Virginia. I live in the People’s Republic of Maryland where we fight every year to keep the status quo of the meager firearms freedom we still have whereas Virginia keeps allowing common sense and the Constitution to hold precedent like it should.

  10. avatartdiinva says:

    Demographics is the driver for crime and violence. Contrary to the anti-self defense lobby violent crime is not uniformly spread throughout the population. It is concentrated in the subset of ten percent of the population that is responsible for 50% of the nation’s murders. The rest of the country has a murder rate comparable to the the UK without the level of other violent crimes found in the mother country. For most of our population we are among the most safe countries in the world.

    Virginia’s low violent crime rate can be accounted for by the small percentage of the subcultural that lives in the social anarchy that leads to third world levels of violence. Does respect for the Second Amendment reduce violent crime? To answer my own question, it probably plays some part in it. It is much riskier for gangsta set to take it outsider their communities than in Maryland or DC. Criminal activity is not random. Criminals go to areas of lower risk. Virginia is a pretty risky place for violent criminals. We also lock them up for along a time when we catch them.

    • avatarAccur81 says:

      Life is easier for a criminal in places like LA, NYC, and Chicago. John Q. dirtbag is unlikely to get shot in a gun control haven. Were I a savvy criminal, that is where I would relocate. Why risk getting shot by a CCW holder?

      The conclusion that can be made is that more guns does not necessarily mean more crime.

      • avatarBob says:

        CLOSE, but not exactly the correct conclusion…

        The writer said,
        “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.”

        The conclusion by the writer should have been:
        Attempting to change the actions of criminals by making laws that control the behavior of legal gun buyers is not likely to be productive.

      • avatartdiinva says:

        Well, he is unlikely to get shot mugging John Q Public. Now ripping off some other dirt bag is another story. I hear that happens a lot in places like LA, NYC and Chicago.

  11. avatarBob says:

    The writer and Mr. Goddard came so close to making the most important conclusion. He said,
    “Predicting the actions of criminals by analyzing the behavior of legal gun buyers is not likely to be productive.”

    What he should have concluded is:
    Attempting to change the actions of criminals by making laws that control the behavior of legal gun buyers is not likely to be productive.

    In other words, gun control laws don’t work, because they only disarm the law-abiding victims, not the criminals committing the crimes.

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