Spike in gun sales may not mean more crime

New analysis shows 73% increase in gun purchases, 24% decrease in violent crimes between 2006 and 2011


A recent analysis by Virginia Commonwealth University Prof. Thomas R. Baker shows that selling more guns does not necessarily equal more crime.

At the request of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Baker studied Virginia state crime data and gun-dealer sales estimates from 2006 to 2011. Whereas gun purchases rose by 73 percent during the six-year period, the number of gun-related violent crimes fell by 24 percent.

The falling crime rate has little to do with more people buying guns, Charlottesville Police Lt. Ronnie Roberts said. “Police departments across the country are taking a more proactive approach [to crime] and are [undergoing] more collaborative efforts on the state and local level,” Roberts said. “More than anything else, this is impacting the crime rate. If you look across the country, crime rates are down in big cities too, not just Virginia.”

Local gun store owner Greg Armstrong, however, said he saw the rise in firearm sales as a major factor in deterring crime. “More criminals and predators are realizing that people have the ability to defend themselves with lethal force,” Armstrong said. “They are looking for victims, not people who have decided they are not going to be a victim.”

Armstrong said he has noticed a steady increase in gun sales since 2005.

Property crime and violent crime in the Albemarle region fell from 2,208 to 1,736 cases between 2005 and 2011, a 21.4 percent drop, according to Albemarle County Police.

The numbers reflect a wider trend statewide. Between 2006 and 2011 violent crime dropped from 23,431 cases to 18,196 cases.

State police estimate there were 420,829 gun purchases in 2011, a marked increase from 243,251 purchases in 2006.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights organization, described what he calls the “perfect storm” for increased gun purchases. Black Friday this year, for example, set a new record for retail gun sales, as 154,873 federal background checks — a common indicator of retail gun sales — were conducted that day.

Van Cleave said one possible reason for the recent rise in gun purchases was the election and recent reelection of President Barack Obama,

“Our president as a senator in Illinois had a very bad record as far as promoting gun rights,” Van Cleave said. “When he was elected, people decided some things might be coming our way … it’s no longer just the sporting and hunting people that are buying guns. More people are buying it for self-defense.”

Delegate David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, stood by his stance on gun control.

“Decreasing crime rates are a function of a lot of things,” Toscano said. “All the studies indicate that the rise and fall of the crime rate has very little to do with gun purchases.”

The recent findings will not affect the state’s future gun policy, Toscano said. “There is a difference between what people call correlation and causation,” he noted. “There may be a correlation, but that does not mean that one causes the other. People need to remember this.”

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