The statistics presented in this discussion were collected by the West Virginia Division of Public Safety from 239 state, county, municipal, and Department of Natural Resources law enforcement agencies within the state and tabulated by the Uniform Crime Reporting Section of the Division's Criminal Identification Bureau (12). All data are based on occurrence, as opposed to residence. Point-in-time comparisons of firearm use in selected crimes (i.e., murder, felonious assault, robbery, and domestic violence) were made for the years 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, and 1994 (the latest year for which data were available), with additional comparisons with national data from 1990 through 1994 (13).

Murder. According to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought (which does not include justifiable homicide or negligent manslaughter). In 1994, state rates were lower than U.S. rates for total murders (5.4 murders per 100,000 population in West Virginia vs. 9.0 murders per 100,000 population nationwide), firearm murders (4.2 vs. 5.9), and handgun murders (3.1 vs. 4.9).

Table 14 presents the numbers and rates of total murders, murders in which any firearm was used, and handgun murders in West Virginia for 1975-94. The number of murders in which a firearm was used ranged from highs of 113 and 104 in 1975 and 1980, respectively, to a low of 47 in 1985. Since then, the number has increased, with 77 recorded in 1994. The firearm-related murder rate has followed the same pattern, ranging from 6.3 in 1975 to 2.4 in 1985, with 4.2 firearm-related murders per 100,000 population in 1994. The handgun murder rate has also increased in the state since 1985, from 1.3 in 1985 to 3.1 in 1994.

State and national percentages of firearm use in murder differed little from 1990 through 1993 (Figure 20); in 1994, however, 78.6% of all murders in West Virginia were committed with a firearm, compared to 70.0% in the U.S. as a whole. Consistent differences exist over the same time period in state and national percentages of handgun use in firearm murders (Figure 21), with a handgun the firearm of choice more often in the nation than in the state.

Felonious Assault. Felonious assault (or aggravated assault) is defined as an attempt or offer, with unlawful force or violence, to do serious physical injury to another. (The use or attempted use of a dangerous weapon in an assault, or a serious injury inflicted by hands, fists, or feet, separates this offense from simple assault.) The 1994 national rate of felonious assault was much higher than the comparable state rate (430.2 assaults per 100,000 population vs. 147.5 assaults); the U.S. rate of firearm-related assault in 1994 was 103.2, compared to 23.2 in West Virginia.

The numbers and rates of total and firearm-related felonious assaults reported in West Virginia during the study years are presented in Table 15 (no data were available for 1980). The rate of firearm-related felonious assaults in the state increased over the time period, from 13.7 assaults per 100,000 population in 1975 and 11.3 in 1985 to 23.2 assaults per 100,000 population reported in 1994. The percentage of felonious assaults that involved a firearm ranged from 13.8% in 1975 to 18.3% in 1994. In 1994, 24.0% of all felonious assaults nationally involved firearm use.

Robbery. Under the UCR, robbery is defined as the felonious and forcible taking of the property of another against their will by violence or by putting them in fear. The 1994 U.S. rate of total robberies far exceeded the West Virginia rate (237.7 robberies per 100,000 population vs. 42.4), as did the national rate for firearm-related robberies (98.9 vs. 14.2).

Over the study period, a high of 817 robberies was reported in West Virginia in 1975, 77.2% (631) of which involved firearms (Table 16). Since then, the numbers and rates of reported robberies and firearm-related robberies have remained relatively stable. Approximately one-third (33.6%) of the robberies reported in the state in 1994 involved firearms, compared to 41.6% of robberies nationwide.

Domestic Violence. 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. National domestic violence statistics were not available for comparison purposes; state data were not available for the first two of our study years (1975 and 1980).

The number and rate of total domestic violence incidents reported in West Virginia rose steadily from 1985 to 1994, from 1,316 to 8,989 (Table 17), or 2.6 incidents per 100,000 in 1985 to 493.4 reported in 1994. In addition, the rate of complaints involving a firearm increased, from 2.6 in 1985 to 9.4 in 1994. The percentage of complaints involving firearm use declined between 1985 and 1994 from 4.9% to 2.5% of total incidents.



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Health Statistics Center
Office of Epidemiology and Health Promotion
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health

Last updated 02/07/06