STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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

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

Posted: Dec 7, 2017 9:51 PM
Updated: Dec 7, 2017 9:51 PM

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."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 175121

Reported Deaths: 2460
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah34937568
Washington23491229
Marion20195299
Clackamas15386204
Lane11591144
Jackson9923127
Umatilla796883
Deschutes712972
Linn416063
Yamhill410175
Klamath349059
Polk344252
Malheur342858
Josephine306362
Douglas304765
Benton273218
Jefferson207032
Coos197531
Columbia154526
Union141624
Lincoln130220
Wasco129128
Hood River112529
Morrow107915
Clatsop8958
Crook88019
Baker85814
Curry5959
Tillamook5813
Lake4137
Grant4124
Harney3066
Wallowa1575
Sherman570
Gilliam561
Wheeler251
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3718210

Reported Deaths: 61038
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles122899723653
Riverside2972154525
San Bernardino2947794555
San Diego2749603674
Orange2689624896
Santa Clara1170812013
Kern1078591322
Sacramento1011721646
Fresno1005621646
Alameda853671477
Ventura802301000
San Joaquin714311334
Contra Costa67019782
Stanislaus603831028
Tulare49383829
Monterey43267357
San Mateo41157560
San Francisco36032523
Santa Barbara33896446
Solano31875239
Merced31196452
Sonoma29696311
Imperial27987719
Kings22774245
Placer21751283
San Luis Obispo20917256
Madera16260239
Santa Cruz15571204
Marin13861226
Yolo13580200
Shasta11677217
Butte11573196
El Dorado9719109
Napa966679
Sutter9268109
Yuba609844
San Benito598663
Lassen566924
Tehama543056
Nevada445775
Tuolumne406664
Mendocino398747
Amador362551
Humboldt358737
Lake340943
Glenn235725
Colusa219816
Calaveras205551
Siskiyou194021
Inyo141738
Del Norte12747
Mono12734
Plumas6906
Modoc4884
Mariposa4247
Trinity3985
Sierra1100
Alpine880
Unassigned610
Medford
Partly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 63°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 47°
Medford
Mostly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 63°
Medford
Partly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 63°
Klamath Falls
Mostly Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 55°
Shower chances later tonight
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events