In an earlier post, I showed that fatalities from accidental firearm injuries have dramatically declined. David Yamane 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.