Increase in accidental deaths follows spike in gun sales, study finds

After 26 children and educators were gunned down at ...

Posted: Dec 8, 2017 12:51 AM
Updated: Dec 8, 2017 12:51 AM

After 26 children and educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and President Barack Obama talked about increasing gun control, Americans bought more guns. But instead of offering protection, at least in some cases, the sales increased the chances that people would be accidentally shot and killed, according to a study published Thursday in Science magazine.

An additional 20 children and 40 adults, beyond what would be expected, died in accidental gun violence in the five-month period after Sandy Hook, the study found. This is considered a statistically significant increase during a time in which, the authors estimate, 3 million additional guns were sold beyond the general rate at which people typically buy guns.

After Sandy Hook, gun sales spiked, and so did the number of accidental gun deaths

The study is one of the first to quantify accidental deaths in relation to gun sales

No other spike in accidental deaths "of that magnitude" matches what happened after Sandy Hook, the authors wrote, and the states that had the biggest increase in sales saw the biggest increase in accidental gun deaths. The states with the smallest increase in gun sales saw the smallest number of additional accidental deaths.

The authors suggest that these numbers again confirm the theory that increasing access to guns increases the risk of accidents.

Phillip Levine, a professor in the Department of Economics at Wellesley College, and Robin McKnight of the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at data from Google searches, information from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used when people buy guns, and National Vital Statistics System mortality data.

Licensed gun dealers check with the background check system when someone buys a gun, but the database does not account for people who buy guns at shows or from private dealers. The number of people run through the system increased beyond the standard number after Sandy Hook, they found.

Google searches using the terms "buy gun" -- including phrases like "where can I buy a gun?" -- and "clean gun," meaning "how often should I clean my gun?" also spiked after Sandy Hook, and that was especially true on the days Obama talked about gun control.

"What's nice about Google data is that you can see specific cause and effect like this," Levine said. "Right after President Obama made his gun speech, search terms like 'buy a gun' immediately went up."

Dr. Jonathan Fielding of the University of California, Los Angeles' Fielding School of Public Health agreed that the numbers confirm the theory about increased access to guns. He complimented the strength of the study and its approach.

"It is so interesting to me, this phenomenon that happens that our initial reaction to hearing about mass shootings like Sandy Hook is to protect ourselves. It would make common sense to some people to think 'what I need to do to protect myself is to have a gun,' but the unfortunate truth is that this normal reaction is wrong," said Fielding, who was not involved in the new study.

Fielding pointed out that studies have shown that having a gun increases your risk of being killed by firearms, when it comes to homicide and suicide. Other studies have found that is true even regardless of storage practice. The new study did not find that more sales equated to more suicides or homicides, only that gun accidents increased.

"If you have an estimated 3 million more guns in homes, in all likelihood, not all of those guns will be safely stored and may be loaded and accessible, and that results in unintended harm. Humans are imperfect, despite their best intentions," said Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a professor and chairman in the Department of Emergency Medicine and director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "We don't even know the whole story, though, because this doesn't get at the whole scope of the gun violence, since presumably there are a lot of nonfatal gun events that happen, too."

David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, agreed that the study is solid and that it will be helpful in public health discussions. "It is nice to say 'yes, this is actually the case; here are the numbers,' " he said. "Again, keep in mind, it is only one study."

There are limitations spelled out in the study: Vital Statistics typically undercounts the actual number of people who die from gun violence, and this study counts only deaths. The data do not capture the number of people injured in gun accidents, and it's unclear what impact these sales have on long-term trends toward gun violence.

"Personally, I think it's pretty convincing data overall, and I hope others will as well," Levine said. "We see a causal effect here is pretty strong one, and when it happens at the same time like this, it's probably not an accident."

West Lafayette
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 84°
Kokomo
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 80°
Rensselaer
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 80°
Fowler
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 80°
Williamsport
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 83°
Crawfordsville
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 79°
Frankfort
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 79°
Delphi
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Monticello
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Logansport
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 81°
Hotter & turning much more humid for the weekend.
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 72254

Reported Deaths: 3023
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15503725
Lake7447274
Elkhart476082
Allen3789161
St. Joseph337381
Hamilton2668105
Vanderburgh188813
Hendricks1833106
Cass17749
Johnson1719118
Porter126639
Clark117846
Tippecanoe117711
Madison91565
LaPorte88330
Howard87265
Kosciusko84012
Marshall77122
Bartholomew76647
Floyd76045
Monroe72230
Delaware70152
Dubois67612
Boone66246
Noble65929
Hancock64138
Vigo58610
Jackson5725
Warrick57030
LaGrange55610
Shelby54227
Grant52130
Dearborn49328
Morgan45934
Clinton4093
Henry37320
Wayne35410
White35410
Montgomery34821
Lawrence33627
Decatur33232
Harrison32123
Putnam2868
Miami2672
Daviess26320
Scott26310
Greene24634
Franklin23813
Jasper2272
DeKalb2264
Jennings22012
Gibson2144
Steuben2063
Ripley1977
Fayette1837
Perry18112
Carroll1772
Starke1767
Posey1670
Orange16624
Wabash1633
Wells1622
Fulton1612
Jefferson1552
Whitley1506
Knox1490
Tipton1336
Spencer1313
Washington1311
Huntington1213
Newton11510
Randolph1154
Clay1095
Sullivan1031
Adams952
Jay860
Owen841
Pulaski761
Rush744
Brown731
Fountain682
Blackford622
Ohio624
Benton600
Pike520
Parke511
Vermillion500
Switzerland450
Crawford440
Martin430
Union370
Warren221
Unassigned0202

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events