Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters do agree on one thing: the value of data. Statistics have always played a role in the debate over the future of firearm ownership in America and now the nation turns to Virginia, a state where more people have guns, yet less crime is committed.
According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, the state hit a new record high when 490,119 guns were purchased in 2012, constituting a 16 percent increase over the previous year. This surge in firearm ownership is similar to the high demand seen elsewhere in the country. More people are buying guns, and more of those customers are new gun owners. At the same time, the Virginia State Police reported a five percent decrease in crimes committed with a firearm, including a 11 percent fall in robberies committed with a gun.
“Criminals don’t want to get shot by law-abiding citizens that they don’t know has a gun when they try to attack them,” said Phillip Van Cleave, gun rights activist and president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “It’s a very tricky situation for a criminal, because if you attack somebody with a gun, that’s a very personal thing you’ve done to them. So the criminal not knowing how the person is going to react actually works in our favor.”
The dip in crime rates is yet another good sign in five consecutive years of decreasing crime figures. In the last seven years, Virginia has seen a drop of 28 percent in firearm crime, while gun sales have soared 101 percent from 2006 to 2012. It is a trend that is making some researchers question whether fewer guns will equate to fewer crimes committed. However, gun control supporters are quick to warn that the two lines of statistics may not necessarily be connected. Researchers admit there are a number of factors that could play into the decrease of crime in the state.
Overall, gun crime in Virginia has decreased by five percent from 4,618 offenses in 2011 to 4,378 in 2012. Crimes committed with a handgun saw an especially noticeable decrease, but murders and manslaughter killings with all firearms rose six percent last year. Researchers are currently looking for other factors that play into the connection between crime and firearm purchases.
“To substantiate [this] 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,” said Thomas Baker, assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “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.”
John R. Lott, Jr., the author of More Guns, Less Crime, previously said that concealed handguns reduce crime by making criminals unsure of which of their victims could defend themselves. He also stated that areas with an increasing amount of concealed handgun owners will see less murders, rapes and robberies.
“States with the largest increases in gun ownership also have the largest drops in violent crimes,” said Lott in a previous interview with the University of Chicago.
“The ultimate question that concerns us all,” Lott continued, “is will allowing law-abiding citizens to own guns save lives? While there are many anecdotal stories illustrating both good and bad uses of guns, this question can only be answered by looking at data to find out what the net effect is.”