Sustained Outrage

W.Va. and guns: Is a statewide policy a good idea?

During yesterday’s House debate, Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, held up his Cabela’s credit card and said gun buyers would be inconvenienced by a three-day waiting period.

One of the refrains yesterday from supporters of a House bill that would override local handgun purchasing restrictions like the one in place in Charleston for more than 20 years was that it’s better for West Virginia to have a common, statewide policy on such matters.

Is that really true? Not necessarily, at least according to a study of gun availability and gun crime performed a few years ago by the state’s Division of Justice and Community Services.   The study, Gun Availability and Crime in West Virginia: An Examination of NIBRS Data (subscription required), was published in 2007 in the peer-reviewed journal Justice Research and Policy. Among other things, it concludes:

The results indicate that counties with high concentrations of both legal and illegal guns are associated with violent crime, gun crime, and knife crime. These findings partially substantiate results from previous studies.

In its coverage of yesterday’s House debate, the Daily Mail included some figures on gun deaths (similar numbers to what we published on this blog in a previous post):

In 2010, West Virginians were killed by guns at a higher rate than people living in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, New York and many other states with large urban centers.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14.1 West Virginians per 100,000 were killed by a gun in 2010. The rate is adjusted to take all ages into account and includes all gun-related deaths. The CDC recommends it for comparison purposes.

Michiganders died at a rate of 11 people per 100,000. Rates for deaths caused by guns in Ohio, Illinois, California and New York were all below 10.

West Virginia’s rate was 13th in the nation for 2010, the latest data available. States with higher rates included Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming.

The Daily Mail story also noted:

Neither supporters nor opponents mentioned any statistics or data to prove the Charleston law is or is not working. Only anecdotal evidence was provided.

If lawmakers had asked the authors of this state report for their conclusions, they might have been told this:

… The findings do appear to support the notion that guns are related to elevations in violent crime and that guns do not lead to lower crime rates. Both the legal and illegal gun measures were positively and significantly related to each of the three offenses examined in this study—violent crimes, gun crimes, and knife crimes. The significant relationships held even after controlling for various other community structural factors.

Lawmakers might also have learned:

In summary, these analyses have identified significant “hot spots” and “cold spots” of illegal gun availability across West Virginia through the use of spatial analysis tools. These graphs also depict co-occurring and notable pockets of both criminal incidents and presence of guns (both legal and illegal) rather than a more uniform distribution of crime and guns across the state.


… The geographic analyses revealed that gun crimes are not uniformly distributed across the state. Rather, these crimes are significantly clustered in only a few counties. This suggests that any policies, programs, or practices designed to target such criminal incidents are likely to be best launched in and around these counties rather than applied statewide. Such analyses are likely to be of particular importance to states with small population centers such as West Virginia, where counties rather than cities are often the units targeted for crime reduction initiatives.

Of course, this is just one study — and if you read the whole thing, the authors outline a variety of caveats and weaknesses in available data. But it is also one more study than lawmakers relied on when the House passed its gun bill yesterday …