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Selected Data on Firearms in West Virginia: Mortality, Possession, and Use in Criminal Activity Brief No. 11
|In 1996, the West Virginia Health Statistics Center published a report entitled West Virginia and the United States: A Comparison of Firearm-Related Mortality Rates. In that report, trends in firearm mortality were examined from 1970 through 1994 and compared with national data for the same time period. This brief updates that report, extending the study period through 2000 for a full three decades of data. In addition, updated data on firearm possession and firearm-related criminal activity are provided.
Firearm Mortality: West Virginia and United States
Looking at total firearm mortality by five-year increments from 1970 through 2000, the age-adjusted rates for both the state and nation reached their lowest levels in 2000, 12.7 deaths per 100,000 population in West Virginia and 10.4 in the United States (Table 1). The same pattern was true for unintentional and homicide firearm deaths and for the United States in suicide firearm deaths as well. West Virginia’s suicide firearm rate, however, showed no distinct pattern over the time period.
Rates are deaths per 100,000 population. All rates are age and sex adjusted to the 1990 U.S. census population distribution.
As shown in Table 1, the state’s rates of mortality for total firearm deaths and for suicides have been consistently and significantly higher than the corresponding national rates in all but two instances. Homicide firearm rates, on the other hand, have been consistently lower than national rates over the decades, significantly so in each year shown except for 1980.
Not only are firearm-related suicide rates consistently higher in the state than in the nation over the 30-year study period, but there are also distinct differences in the of total suicides that are firearm related (Table 2). National percentages range from half of all suicides being firearm related in 1970 to 61% in 1990. In West Virginia, however, an average of about three-fourths of all suicides were firearm related in the study years. In 1995, eight out of every ten (81%) suicides involved the use of a firearm.
Similar percentages of total homicides that were firearm related were reported in the state and the nation as a whole in the seven study years, as shown in Table 3. Since 1990, approximately two-thirds of all homicides in both West Virginia and the United States were firearm related.
*Homicides include legal interventions.
Firearm Possession in West Virginia
Adults. Data from the 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 1 and the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) 2 were used to obtain the most recent estimates of firearm possession among the adult and youth populations in the state. In 2002, West Virginia ranked 6th among 54 participants in the percentage of adult residents who reported having firearms in or around their homes. Overall, nearly six out of every 10 (58.2%) respondents reported possessing firearms, an increase over the 47.9% reporting firearm possession in 1995. Males (65.5%) were more likely than females (51.5%) to have firearms in or around their home. There was a direct association between increasing age and a greater likelihood of having firearms among men, from a low of 54.4% among those aged 18-24 to a high of 71.2% among those aged 65 and older (Figure 1). Women were less likely than men to report having firearms in or around their homes in all age groups, but showed no consistent pattern by age.
Of those BRFSS respondents having firearms in or around their homes, 16.3% reported that these weapons were loaded, 21.4% of men and 10.5% of women. Both men and women aged 45 and older were more likely than those aged 18-44 to keep firearms loaded. When respondents with loaded firearms were asked if any of the loaded firearms they possessed were also unlocked, 57.0% of men and 61.0% of women answered yes.
Youth. The percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who carried a gun on one or more of the past 30 days as measured by the YRBSS survey declined steadily from 1993 to 1999, both nationally and in West Virginia, but then increased according to the 2001 (United States) and 2003 (United States and West Virginia) survey results (Table 4). Consistently higher rates of state students reported having carried a gun than their national peers in every year of the survey. Male students were much more likely to have carried a gun than female students both state- and nationwide. In 2003, nearly one in five (18.6%) male students in West Virginia reported having carried a gun in the past month, compared with 2.1% of female students.
The statistics presented in this section were collected by the West Virginia Division of Public Safety’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Section of the Criminal Identification Bureau. 3 Point-in-time comparisons of firearm use in selected crimes were made for 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, and 2000. Tables 5 through 8 present these data for murders, aggravated assaults, robberies, and domestic violence incidents. Rates presented are crude rates per 100,000 population.
The UCR defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought (which does not include justifiable homicide or negligent manslaughter). Both the overall murder rates and the firearm murder rates in West Virginia have decreased substantially since 1975 according to West Virginia State Police records (Table 5). A high of 113 firearm murders were reported in 1975 with a rate of 6.3 murders per 100,000 population. In 2000, there were 53 firearm murders in the state, for a rate of 2.9.
Aggravated assault with a firearm, on the other hand, has increased since 1975. Defined as the attempt or offer, with unlawful force or violence, to do serious physical injury to another, the 2000 rate of 41.6 events per 100,000 residents compares with a rate of 13.7 reported in 1975 (Table 6).
The numbers and rates of total robberies (the felonious and forcible taking of the property of another against their will by violence or putting them in fear) have remained relatively consistent over the study period (Table 7). Firearm-related robberies, however, have declined, from a rate of 35.0 robberies per 100,000 residents in 1975 to 14.8 in 1995 and 12.7 in 2000.
Domestic violence is defined as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members who reside together or who formerly resided together: (1) attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury with or without a dangerous weapon; (2) placing, by physical menace, another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; and (3) sexually abusing a person under the age of 18 years. The number and rate of total domestic violence incidents rose steadily in each of the years in the study for which data were available, from 1,316 in 1985 to 11,247 in 2000, or from 68.0 events per 100,000 population to 622.0 (Table 8). In addition, the rate of complaints involving firearm use increased from a rate of 2.6 in 1985 to 16.0 in 2000. The proportion of domestic violence incidents that were firearm-related, however, has remained approximately the same.
1 The BRFSS is a monthly telephone survey established by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) that allows states to monitor health behaviors among their adult populations (aged 18+). The BRFSS was begun in 1984 with 15 participating states, expanding to 54 states and territories in 2001. The prevalence of firearm possession was measured in West Virginia in 1995, 1996, 2001, and 2002. Return to place
2 The YRBSS was developed by the CDC to monitor health-risk behaviors among youth and young adults; it includes national, state, territorial, and local school-based surveys of 9th through 12th grade students. The YRBSS surveys have been conducted in odd-numbered years since 1991. Return to place
3 Data from 1975-95 were collected from 239 state, county, municipal, and Department of Natural Resources law enforcement agencies using the traditional summary-based UCR Program. In 1999, West Virginia adopted the FBI’s new reporting system, the National Incident Based Reporting System and developed the state-specific West Virginia Incident Based Reporting System. By 2000, 201 law enforcement agencies in the state (representing 96% of the state’s population) were participants in the new system. These data are presented for 2000, and may not be directly comparable to earlier years. Return to place
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health. West Virginia and the United States: A comparison of firearm-related mortality rates. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, Office of Epidemiology and Health Promotion, 1996.
Updated Mortality Data
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, Office of Epidemiology and Health Promotion, Health Statistics Center. Unpublished mortality data, 1995 and 2000.
National Center for Health Statistics. Report of final mortality statistics, 1995. Monthly vital statistics report; vol. 45 no11, supp.2. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 1997.
National Center for Health Statistics. Deaths: Final data for 2000. National vital statistics reports; vol. 50 no15. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2002.
Updated Firearm Possession Data
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, Office of Epidemiology and Health Promotion, Health Statistics Center. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Unpublished data, 2002.
West Virginia Department of Education, Office of Healthy Schools. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. Published and unpublished data, 2001 and 2003.
Updated Criminal Activity Data
West Virginia Division of Public Safety. Crime in West Virginia 1995. Charleston, WV: Division of Public Safety, n.d.
West Virginia Division of Public Safety. Crime in West Virginia 2000. Online. <http://www.wvstatepolice.com/ucr/ucr.htm>
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