Guns play role in only a fraction of local violent crimes

Use of firearms in assaults, robberies is up, but numbers small

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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Attention on guns — their use in crimes and their regulation — has intensified since last month's shootings at Clackamas Town Center in the Portland area and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Guns, however, don't figure that prominently in local crimes day to day. Although Vancouver police and Clark County sheriff's deputies are responding to more crimes involving guns over the past few years, the numbers remain a small fraction of violent crimes.

For instance, use of guns in robberies went up 108 percent between 2006 and 2011 in Vancouver, but that was an increase from 13 to 27 cases. Unincorporated Clark County saw a 400 percent increase in use of firearms in assaults, but that was an increase from two to 10 cases.

"You don't want to look at percentages when the numbers are so small," said county crime analyst Brian Salsig, who compiled the statistics at The Columbian's request.

The Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff's Office track use of guns in committing assaults and robberies. The agencies do not track the use of weapons in rapes. Homicides, of which there are relatively few each year, are tracked separately.

Overall, robberies and assaults went up 7.5 percent in Vancouver and 1.8 percent in unincorporated Clark County between 2006 and 2011, the most recent year statistics were available.