By Peter Galuszka
Virginians have been buying more firearms than ever even though crime has been steadily falling. Why?
Last year, 420,829 firearms were bought through licensed gun dealers in Virginia. That’s a 73 percent increase from the sales in 2006. Leading the list were pistols (175,717) sold last year, followed by rifles (135,495). Central Virginians packed more heat than anyone else, followed closely by Northern Virginians, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Now comes the hard. As more firearms are sold, the crime rate continues to fall. From 2006 to 2011, violent crime committed with handguns dropped from 4,040 to 3,154, about 25 percent, the newspaper reports.
Is there a correlation between heightened gun sales and decreasing crime?
Indeed, some believe that hardened criminals are less likely to threaten victims if they know there’s a chance they could be looking down the barrel of a 9 mm. Glock or something that fits more easily into a lady’s handbag, such as a Ruger LCP 380 Ultra Compact Pistol. By some accounts, women, as well as men, are flocking to training courses and firing ranges operated by gun stores.
At first glance, “the data is pretty overwhelming,” Thomas R. Baker, a criminologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the Richmond newspaper.
When you take a longer view, however, the thinking tends to fall apart. According to FBI reports, violent crime has been on a fairly steady downward trend since the early 1990s – much earlier than 2006 when Virginians started buying guns like crazy. The Economist magazine says the violent crime rate is at its lowest in 40 years and the murder rate is less than it was a half a century ago.
It’s anyone’s guess why crime has continually dropped. Theories include demographic shifts in which younger, inner city men who tend to be involved in violent crime have become steadily fewer in number. Better community-based police work could be a cause. The cold-hearted even say more low-income babies are being aborted.
Gun proponents suggest that one reason for the gun fad among the law-abiding was a fear that President Barack Obama would force a severe crackdown on gun sales when he was elected in 2008. If so, it hasn’t happened yet. Some worry that the recession would bring about more crime but history shows that there was more violence in the Roaring 1920s than the Depression-racked 1930s. They also want to be ready if caught in rare yet highly publicized mass-shootings such as those at Virginia Tech and at a movie theater in Colorado.
In my view, Virginians are packing heat with gusto for the wrong reasons. They and their gun sellers are riding a wave of irrational fear that has been vigorously promoted by social conservative politicians in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Besides this, linking the desire for personal and deadly firepower to the country’s first African-American president raises some rather ugly questions.