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.
Because rifles and shotguns are used far less often to commit violent crimes, Baker said, one could argue that the purchase of those types of weapons is falsely inflating the total gun purchases in relation to total gun crime.
So Baker also examined the relationship between handgun purchases and handgun-related crime. He found a similar trend.
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.