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• A post claiming that violent crime “dropped like a rock” after West Virginia passed a permitless carry law offers a selective representation of the data.
• After an initial decline in 2017 and 2018, violent crime in West Virginia rose again in 2019 and 2020 and is now back around its level prior to the law being passed.
• Meanwhile, the homicide rate, which experts suggest as a better indicator, did not see the big drop in 2017 and 2018 that was found for violent crime. And like the violent crime rate in West Virginia, the homicide rate has also gone up in 2019 and 2020.
Did West Virginia’s passage of a permitless open carry law for guns produce a precipitous drop in violent crime in the state? That’s what an image on Facebook said.
In 2016, West Virginia lawmakers passed a law that allowed most individuals over the age of 21 to carry a firearm without a permit or safety training. When the law was passed, some critics warned that it would lead to an increase in violent crime.
"Violent crime rate dropped like a rock following West Virginia’s adoption of permitless carry," said the Sept. 20 post, which was attributed to a group called Clergy in Support of the Second Amendment. An accompanying chart shows violent crime rates for the United States and West Virginia, with a drop for the U.S. but a bigger decline for West Virginia after the law was passed.
"Every time a state has expanded the right to carry firearms for self defense, gun control groups have predicted a massive increase in violent crime and murder as a result," the post goes on to say. "Not once has this happened."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
When we looked at the crime rate in West Virginia after the law was passed, we found a more complicated story. (We reached out to Clergy in Support of the Second Amendment but did not hear back.)
The chart in question used statistics for the violent crime rate, which are collected annually by the FBI from local law enforcement offices. Four types of crime are included: homicide, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
Between 2017, the first full year after the law was in effect, and 2018, the number of violent crimes did decrease by about 60 per 100,000 people.
However, the chart in the post stops at 2018, and that means it is cherry-picked to leave out a subsequent increase in violent crime, with data that was available at the time the post was published.
In both 2019 and 2020, violent crime went up, and the rate now stands around the same level as it was before the decrease.
Meanwhile, criminologists cautioned that the violent crime rate is a blunt statistic for measuring gun crimes.
"The vast majority of violent crime are aggravated assaults," said James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist. "Many of these are domestic or involve acquaintances. This would not be impacted" by a permitless carry law.
Jay Corzine, a sociology professor at University of Central Florida whose research focuses on homicide and violent crime, agreed. He said most aggravated assaults do not get reported, and that rape statistics are unreliable.
He said that homicide rates may be a better statistic, although not a perfect one. "For homicide, you’ve got a body," said Corzine. "That calls for an investigation."
So how did the homicide rate change in West Virginia after passage of the law? The statewide homicide rate decreased slightly in 2018, before increasing during the next two years. (The national homicide rate also increased over the same period.)
Looking at the data this way, Corzine said, "I don’t see any reason to believe the law had an impact."
The post said that "violent crime rate dropped like a rock following West Virginia’s adoption of permitless carry."
This is a selective representation of the data. After an initial decline in 2017 and 2018, violent crime rose again in 2019 and 2020 and is now back around its level prior to the law being passed.
In addition, experts say that the violent crime rate is an imperfect statistic to use for tracking gun crimes. Another statistic, the homicide rate, may be a better indicator, and it did not see the big drop in 2017 and 2018 that was found for violent crime. And like the violent crime rate in West Virginia, the homicide rate has also gone up in 2019 and 2020.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
West Virginia Legislature, House Bill 4145, 2016
Huntington Herald-Dispatch, Permitless carry now law in WV, May 29, 2016
West Virginia Public Broadcasting, W.Va. House OKs Bill to Not Require Concealed Carry Permit, Feb. 8, 2016
FBI, Uniform Crime Report data, accessed Oct. 28, 2021
Phone interview with Jay Corzine, professor of sociology at University of Central Florida, Oct. 12, 2021
Email interview with James Alan Fox, professor of criminology at Northeastern University, Oct. 8, 2021
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