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Statistical anomalies were found between rural states such as Louisiana and Vermont. The former state has lax gun laws and has high gun-crime rates on all three measures. Although Vermont also is a rural state with a strong tradition of gun ownership — the Brady Campaign ranks it 26th in terms of strength of gun laws — it has low gun-crime rates. For further head-scratching, Vermont ranks among the nation’s worst in turning over mental health records to the background check system.

State law details

John Lott, who has conducted extensive research on the link between gun laws and crime rates, said he has examined 13 kinds of gun-control laws, but one that stands out as reducing crime is concealed-carry.

“What you see is the states that issue the most [concealed-carry] permits have the most drops in violent crime,” he said. “When states pass carry laws, some criminals stop committing crimes, some criminals switch to other types of crimes and some criminals move out of the area.”

He said that a deep dive into data is essential to understanding why different regions of the country see different results. Mr. Lott pointed to Texas and Pennsylvania, both of which are right-to-carry states, but he explained that the permitting process is much more expensive in Texas.

“If I have a $140 fee versus a $20 fee, I’m more likely to get suburban white males,” he said. However, he noted, “poor blacks in high-crime areas benefit the most from carrying a gun.”

“Those differences make a huge difference in how many people go through the process to get the permit,” he concluded.

Still, the two large states had mixed results in crime rates in 2011. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Pennsylvania had higher rates of robberies and homicides committed with firearms than Texas, while the Lone Star State had nearly half again as many gun assaults per 100,000 population.

Changing patterns

The Brady Campaign declined a request for comment, but David Chipman, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who now works with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said that linking gun laws and background check compliance with crime rates is risky — particularly since 40 percent of gun transactions are private sales that don’t require background checks.

“Requiring a criminal background check for every gun in every circumstance is something not yet tried,” he said. “How do you measure prevention? It’s tough to do a double-blind test.”

Mr. Chipman also pointed to Virginia’s first-of-its-kind 1989 law creating an instant check system — the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program — as an example of a law that had a tangible effect on criminal behavior and the gun market.

“When Virginia passed that law, all of the New Yorkers who used to come down — they never came back and tried to buy the guns themselves in the store,” he said. “They were forced to use straw purchasers, and many of them went to other states.

“Did it immediately prevent all gun trafficking? Of course not. But it sure changed it,” he said.

In 1991, the ATF reported that 40 percent of more than 1,200 guns recovered at crime scenes in New York were traced to Virginia, though gun rights advocates dispute the data. In 2011, 407 guns out of almost 9,000 guns recovered and traced in New York came from Virginia, according to the agency — about 5 percent.

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