Sandy Hook shooting aftermath: Increased gun sales, more accidental deaths by firearms

Mass shootings trigger waves of accidental deaths, study finds

Sandy Hook shooting aftermath: Increased gun sales, more accidental deaths by firearms

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Accidental deaths related to firearms increased 27 percent in the months following Sandy Hook, including a 64 percent increase in gun-related deaths of children, said senior researcher Robin McKnight.

Now, five years later, Wellesley College professors Phillip Levine and Robin McKnight have published a study on the spike in gun sales after that shooting. They found that this estimated increase in gun exposure corresponded to an increase of 60 accidental firearm deaths during this period, including 20 children.

Organizers include citizen activists, faith leaders, and others who want to raise awareness of the impact of gun violence affecting America. After seeing a New York Times graphic showing a massive increase in gun sales after the Sandy Hook shooting, Levine says, "We thought to ourselves, gee I wonder what impact that had?" "That is really what allows them to make causal claims about firearm exposure and accidental gun deaths".

"They find a pretty dramatic increase in accidental gun deaths in the five months following Sandy Hook", says Christopher Poliquin, a graduate student at Harvard Business School who studies the patterns underlying gun violence.

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There are limitations to conducting a study like this, the authors wrote, since the CDC Vital Statistics data they used to calculate gun deaths is known to understate accidental firearm deaths, especially when an accidental injury later results in death.

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.

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That means there's no national database of gun purchases, so it's hard to tell how many guns are sold. McKnight estimates that 3 million additional guns were sold in the four months following Sandy Hook, above the sales that normally would have taken place during that timeframe.

NRA lobbying also led congress to cut the CDC budget by $2.6 million - the same amount as the budget of the the centers' gun violence research program, as Philip Cook and John Donohue noted in a public policy analysis published alongside the new study in Science.

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"The good news, often lost in the well-justified complaints about the lack of federal funding, deserves greater recognition", they wrote.

For example, researchers have learned that gun robbery rates have gone down when states enact longer sentences for assault or robbery with a gun. 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%. "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.

Many people have argued that right-to-carry laws deter crime, since there are more armed people around to stop a criminal. But it's a thorough analysis, Poliquin says. That could be because confrontations are more likely to escalate to a shooting, because there are more guns around that can get stolen, or some other factor.

In a related article, public policy researchers Philip Cook and John Donohue argue robust gun research is on the rise in the United States, despite underfunding that traces back to the 1996 Dickey amendment, which limited federal funding of injury prevention research that promoted gun control.

In the wake of mass shooting like Sandy Hook and more recently Las Vegas, it's imperative to figure out what policy changes can help save lives.

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