Polls and election results show that Virginia is gradually becoming more moderate politically — except perhaps when it comes to firearms.

Last year, the state registered a record 479,253 gun transactions. That’s a 10.8 percent increase over the previous year and a whopping hike from 2010, which saw just 276,765 sales, according to State Police records.

Crime in the state is not on the rise, according to reporting in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. So why do so many Virginians feel compelled to stock up on Glocks, Sig Sauers, Winchesters and Remingtons?

The answer could be psychological.

One year ago, after the Sandy Hook slayings at a Connecticut school, word spread throughout among gun enthusiasts and in some news media that President Obama planned a massive crackdown of privately owned firearms.

I remember the hysteria as I checked at gun shops and found that popular rounds, including .22 caliber bullets, were sold out as frenzied gun owners stocked up in anticipation of government action that never came. The ammunition in short supply did not tend to be the types used by deer, duck or turkey hunters.

It’s a bad sign, given what can happen when guns find their ways into the hands of mentally disturbed individuals. In November, for example, Gus Deeds shot himself to death after stabbing his father, State Sen. Creigh Deeds. The younger Deeds was at home because a bed could not be found for him at a psychiatric center. 

This raises another troubling issue about how much Virginia needs to do to improve its mental health care. And as the Deeds case and the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre by a disturbed student show, untreated mental illness and easy access to firearms and ammunition don’t mix. Both need to be addressed.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.