We’re Handling Firearms More Safely Now

In an earlier post, I showed that fatalities from accidental firearm injuries have dramatically declined. brought up the point that the result could be due to increased quality of medical treatment. That critique could be addressed by examining long run trends in national non-fatal injury rates. Unfortunately, national data only extends back to 2000. Another approach would be to examine fatality rates for other injuries. If fatality rates from firearm injuries declined more rapidly than the rates from other injuries, increased safety may be the reason. I didn’t find the results all that compelling.

I’m back now with another attempt. While national non-fatal injury rates aren’t available, California non-fatal injury rates are available here going back to 1991. Plotting California non-fatal and fatal injury rates for accidental firearm discharges against national mortality rates, we see that the decline in California fatal injury rates matches the national decline. It is therefore very likely that the sharp decline in California non-fatal injury rate matches an unseen decline in the national rate. That is especially so because of California’s size.

We therefore have good evidence that there has been a long-run decline in national accidental firearm injuries, both fatal and non-fatal. I don’t believe that existing gun owners suddenly became safety nuts. I can think of three possible candidates. First, the decline in rifle ownership during that time period. I don’t really believe that. Second, gun control efforts have been especially effective in denying guns to careless potential owners. This could occur if potential owners who are put off by small impediments to ownership are also the ones who have little interest in learning about safety. Third, a composition effect caused by the overall decline in crime. This could occur if criminals are not interested following rules and are not particularly safety conscious. This seems like the most likely scenario.


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2 Responses to We’re Handling Firearms More Safely Now

  1. davidyamane says:

    Another smart post. I think it clearly shows that people are both injuring themselves accidentally with firearms less and dying from those injuries less.

    To my initial point, in the end, I am not sure it is possible to directly assess whether improved medical treatment helps to explain the decline in firearms related fatalities. We would need to know how many of the people who ended up as non-fatal firearms injuries would have been fatalities at an earlier time.

    There is definitely something that started happening that manifested itself clearly in the 1990s leading to a decline in firearms-related injuries. I found on the CDC website some data from the 1990s (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5002a1.htm). Figure 10 shows that both fatal and non-fatal firearms injuries are going down from 1993 to 1998 – with non-fatal injuries declining faster than fatal ones (corresponding to the sharp decline seen in the California data you share).

    Although there could be some compositional effects going on here, I don’t want to exclude a more direct interpretation that gun owners started getting the message that they needed to handle their guns more safely. I keep thinking of the Eddie Eagle program in 1992. Not that Eddie Eagle himself made a huge difference, but that program itself could be seen to reflect a broader movement for gun safety within the gun community itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnsmith223 says:

      Well thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think that the sharp decline in firearm-related hospitalizations has to play a large part in the decline in fatalities: there are fewer fatalities at least because there are fewer people entering the hospital with gunshot injuries. If non-fatal injuries shows a sharper rate of decline than fatal injuries, it looks like emergency services are actually getting worse, not better (although I really don’t believe that).

      And you’re right that there could be an effect caused by a national safety campaign, as exemplified by Eddie the Eagle. I guess I’m exposing my predisposition to believe in demographic effects and my skepticism that interventions, laws or incentives do much of anything. If the dramatic decline really is being caused by an organization’s safety drive, well that is extremely important information. A public health school interested in reducing firearm-related injuries might well want to coordinate with the NRA on establishing safety courses. I doubt that will ever happen, though, no matter how many injuries might be avoided.


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