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

08 December 2017

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.

For more on gun violence, visit the U.S. So a 60-death bump in a 5-month period is a considerable one.

Under this economic model, then, it makes sense that gun sales and stocks would rise after horrific mass shootings.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a disturbed 20-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and shot to death 20 children and six adults.

"The fact that we see a spike in accidental firearm deaths precisely at this moment, it's hard to imagine that's a coincidence", Levine says. "It suggests that in pursuing stronger restrictions, we have to consider the likelihood of actual legislation getting passed". The majority of all firearm deaths are suicides, and approximately 93 Americans are killed every day by guns.

Levine and McKnight sought to better understand how this tragedy and the resulting debate affected people's behavior surrounding guns. In the aftermath, President Barack Obama spoke passionately about the need to prevent future tragedies through gun control.

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But the paper is drawing criticism from some researchers.

Essentially, the United States faces a conundrum in dealing with gun violence.

The findings were published December 8 in the journal Science. In particular, Kleck finds the statistical associations implausible. The states with the smallest increase in gun sales saw the smallest number of additional accidental deaths.

Decades of US national data show a steady downward trend in accidental firearm deaths-from 1.55 per 100,000 people in 1948 to 0.18 per 100,000 in 2014. "The difference between 0 and 1 is enormous". "The talking point is going to be: If you have X more exposure to guns, you have Y more accidents", he says. "But it is certainly not true in general".

Yes, but: There are a lot of factors at play during these watershed events, so it's hard to put the blame exclusively on discussions of gun control, says Hemenway. 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. "Again, keep in mind, it is only one study".

The researchers wrote that their analysis "provides evidence indicating that the spike in gun exposure that followed the Sandy Hook school shooting increased the incidence of accidental firearm deaths". "How do they think it's acting in this case?" Although it's also possible that it could have been people who were just curious.

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The authors have responses to numerous critiques. They tell gun owners that liberals are about to vote on a new law to take away their guns, driving those owners into buying yet more guns. The policy was challenged in certain states, but data shows the states that did ban domestic abusers from gun ownership reduced gun murders by 17%. They launched their study after seeing a chart in a newspaper showing the sharp upturn in gun sales after Sandy Hook.

For their research, the two professors analyzed Google data between 2010 and 2014 and found that the amount of searches that included the phrases "buy gun" and "clean gun" jumped up significantly in the four months after Sandy Hook.

GunSense Vermont is a coalition of concerned citizens - gun owners, non-gun owners, Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, Independents, and more - working to take steps to reduce gun violence.

Levine and McKnight show that gun sales themselves spiked as a result.

But there are other serious limitations to studying gun deaths too.

"It also shows the unintended consequences of public policy", said Levine, noting that it wasn't the shooting itself that caused an increase in gun sales and deaths but the political debate over potential legislation. From it, they estimate that 3 million additional guns were sold in the months following the shooting. Thirty-one states, including a northern band from Washington through Minnesota, as well as Oklahoma, Missouri, and Tennessee, fit into the first category.

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That stark finding, says Levine, "just strengthens support for our hypothesis".

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