Monday, December 11, 2017

Study says accidental gun deaths surged after the post-Sandy Hook spike in gun sales

A study published last week in the journal Science found that a surge in gun purchases after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 caused about 60 more deaths than otherwise would have happened, and that 20 of those killed were children -- the same number of children who died in the school shooting. Most of the deaths were caused by improper or inadequate gun storage, not suicide or homicide, researchers Phillip Levine and Robin McKnight found. Some 3 million guns were sold in the months after the shooting, a spike driven by fears that it would cause new restrictions or bans on guns.

The black line is monthly firearm sales. The blue bars are accidental firearm deaths per 100,000 children between December and April of each year. (Wellesley College graph; click on the image to enlarge it)

"The work by two Wellesley College economists tackles one of the biggest questions in gun research: how to measure the relationship between gun prevalence and gun deaths," William Wan reports for The Washington Post. "For decades, hamstrung by lack of funding and the politically charged landscape surrounding gun control, researchers have lacked data to try to answer that question."

Researchers struggle to find meaningful data on whether gun sales, ownership, laws, type of guns, or other factors that influence gun violence since gun ownership data is hidden from the public on a state and federal level. The Sandy Hook shooting offered an opportunity for the researchers to create what is effectively an experimental model to study what happens after a known spike in gun sales. The researchers measured Google searches for terms like "buy a gun," which has correlated with increased gun sales in the past. They also looked at the number of gun purchase background checks. Those numbers correlated with a spike in gun-related deaths, according to databases of nationwide deaths. 

Levine emphasized that it wasn't the Sandy Hook shooting itself that caused that increase in gun sales and deaths, but the fear of potential legislation being passed. It shows "the unintended consequences of public policy," Levine told Wan.

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