"Grab your gun and get a drink and go drink in Virginia" does not sound like wise advice but that's how Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade is interpreting the latest news about Virginia's law allowing concealed guns to be brought into bars.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch recently collected data showing that crime at bars and restaurants is down slightly in the last 12 months. They reported this decline in relation to a recently passed Virginia law allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring guns into alcohol-serving businesses.
The simplistic view that Kilmeade is apparently endorsing is a highly flawed approach to understanding the dangers of guns in bars. Reached for comment David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Youth Violence Prevention Center, explained that simply counting crimes doesn't get at the issue:
Guns don't cause violence, but they make it much more likely for violence--for fights, assaults, or robberies--to turn lethal. Few crimes are committed with guns, but guns can quickly escalate the problem
Further, it's impossible to determine if a trend exists or find correlation to a change in policy by looking at only one data point, in this case the number of crimes committed in bars and restaurants during one year.
Stanford Law Professor and economist John Donohue has written a series of research papers on right to carry laws and he told Media Matters that it's too early to jump to conclusions:
It is very hard to tease out the effect of a law from the many factors that influence crime, but it is impossible with just one year of incomplete data.
There are many other factors that could, and likely do, influence the level of crime in restaurants and bars. Mirroring national trends,overall violent crime in Virginia has been in decline during the last decade, falling 19% from 2000-2009. Overall aggravated assaults in Virginia also fell 5.8% from 2008-2009 and continued to fall from 2009-2010. Small yearly decreases in violent crime have been the norm.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch did not show the numbers for individual types of crime, only "major crimes." Donohue's research has indicated a possible correlation between right to carry laws and an increase in aggravated assaults. Without disaggregated data it is impossible to look for these types of correlations. The Richmond Times-Dispatch linked two cases of aggravated assault to concealed carry permit holders. The Virginia State Police failed to respond to our request to see the data for individual types of crime.
Not included in the major crimes data was a Lynchburg concealed carry permit holder who shot himself in the leg as he went to pay for a beer.
Kilmeade's advice to mix shots with guns was an easy target for Jon Stewart's Moment of Zen on The Daily Show last night.
Professor Hemenway wrote in to further note that the gun industry trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation counsels that, "Alcohol, Drugs and Guns Don't Mix".