Gun law change hasn’t affected West Virginia crime rates

Concealed Carry


The claim: Crime rates dropped nearly 90% since West Virginia legalized open carry for firearms

An image shared on Facebook last year claims a change in gun laws has led to a drop in the West Virginia crime rate.


“Now that there’s an open carry law in the state of West Virginia, it’s kinda like the old wild wild west,” claims text in the May 22, 2020, image. “Since they’ve gone to open carry the crime rate in West Virginia has gone down almost 90%.”

The post has recently seen significant traffic on the platform. Several Facebook accounts reposted the image in early July.

But nothing like this happened. West Virginia has seen no such drop in the crime rate, and open carry has actually been legal in the state for several decades.

USA TODAY reached out to several accounts that posted the image for comment.

Open carry has been legal in West Virginia for decades

There are no laws in West Virginia requiring licenses for or prohibiting open carry, which allows owners to visibly carry a gun. 

Capt. Levi Livingston of the Huntington, West Virginia, Police Department told USA TODAY the state has allowed open carry for more than 25 years and that the only gun regulation that has recently changed involves concealed carry. 

Concealed carry allows owners to carry a concealed weapon and is legal in West Virginia. 

In 2016, West Virginia passed a law that allows people over the age of 21 to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. There are some exceptions, such as those who have served more than a year in prison or been declared mentally incompetent. This “permitless carry” policy went into effect in May 2016.

No ‘precipitous drop’

Even if we assume the post meant to reference the concealed carry change rather than open carry, it’s wrong.

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, told USA TODAY crime rates in West Virginia haven’t dropped 90% since permitless carry was implemented in 2016.

According to Webster, available data from the FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while somewhat limited, show no major changes in the crime rate in recent years.

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The FBI tracks crime rates across the country through its Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The U.S. CDC also collects data on homicide rates.

Both datasets show violent crime, murder and homicide rates in West Virginia were nearly the same in 2014, two years before permitless carry was enacted, and in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

“The 2019 crime rate, the most complete data available now, is identical to the violent crime rate the year before West Virginia went to permitless carry with plenty of years in between with higher rates of violent crime and homicide,” Webster said.

Webster cautioned that the FBI data isn’t always complete because it relies on jurisdictions to voluntarily and promptly share crime rates. He also said that the FBI updates its data each successive year as more agencies provide late data. 

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For that reason, the FBI’s data from 2019 will likely increase with the 2020 report. This would potentially make the reported crime rates higher than two years before permitless carry was enacted.  

A local official from one of the state’s largest cities agreed changes in crime rates were unrelated to West Virginia’s adoption of permitless carry.

Huntington City Attorney Scott Damron said in an email to USA TODAY there was “absolutely no link between a decrease in crime in the City of Huntington and any change in the concealed carry laws in the state.”

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According to Damron, the city’s recent crime decrease has more to do with improved policing and response to the opioid epidemic. 

“There is no private policing of criminal activity in this city,” he wrote.

Our rating: False

The claim that crime rates in West Virginia dropped nearly 90% since the state legalized open carry for gun owners is FALSE, based on our research. The state has allowed open carry for several decades. It did, however, adopt a permitless carry policy for concealed weapons in 2016. But data shows, and experts agree, the state has not seen a substantial drop in crime since the state Legislature passed that firearm policy. 

Our fact check rating:

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