US Gun Sales Rose After Sandy Hook Massacre

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 8, 2017

A surge in gun buying in the months immediately following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, corresponded with an increase in accidental gun deaths in the United States, one-third of them in children, according to an analysis published today in Science.

Levine said that he and McKnight chose to do the study after seeing data in an article in The New York Times that showed a dramatic surge in gun purchases after Sandy Hook and again after 14 people were gunned down on 2 December 2015 at a public health department Christmas party in San Bernardino, California. They found that after Sandy Hook, accidental firearm death rates rose 27% overall, and 64% for children up to the age of 14. "This study of a single mass shooting and a single type of gun violence amounts to little more than a statistical anecdote", wrote Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, to Science. "And that is true, at most, in this unusual period that is the focus of the study". Because the authors are limited by the lack of reliable data on US gun ownership, she says, "they do something smart".

The call for gun control backfired. "They feel unnerved by what has happened".

The authors concluded that this analysis provides evidence indicating that the spike in gun exposure that followed the Sandy Hook school shooting increased the incidence of accidental firearm deaths.

Analyses have also been conducted on "right to carry" laws, which require states to issue concealed-carry permits to anyone who is allowed to own guns and can meet minimum conditions (as opposed to holding concealed carry status to stricter standards).

The authors have responses to numerous critiques.

"With these vigils, we remember Sandy Hook, and we also remember the half million gun deaths and injuries that have occurred since then", said Clai Lasher-Sommers, GunSense Vermont's acting executive director. She also argued that buyers who feared new gun control laws and raced to buy firearms may have been new owners and less apt to handle guns safely.

"What's nice about Google data is that you can see specific cause and effect like this", Levine said.

The authors say there's some evidence for the neophyte gun owner argument in data from California, a state that keeps permanent records of every gun acquisition. They launched their study after seeing a chart in a newspaper showing the sharp upturn in gun sales after Sandy Hook.

US Gun Sales Rose After Sandy Hook Massacre
US Gun Sales Rose After Sandy Hook Massacre

That means at least 60 people were killed by mistake as a result of those gun purchases: 40 adults and 20 children.

The two scrutinized weekly search data from Google, which showed that terms like "buy a gun" increased fourfold as President Barack Obama began pushing for new gun restrictions.

Levine and McKnight used the number of background checks reported to the government by federally licensed gun dealers as a proxy for gun sales.

With no federal or state databases of gun ownership to work from, for example, researchers have struggled to definitively correlate deaths to the presence of guns in homes.

But there are other serious limitations to studying gun deaths too. Congress defeated related legislation on 17 April 2013, and the spike in sales ebbed.

The researchers then looked at mortality data at both the national and state level over time, to understand how the resulting increase in exposure to guns might be related to accidental gun deaths. They divided USA states into two groups: those where more than 1000 additional guns were sold per 100,000 residents over the 5-month period, and those with fewer sales. There, rates of additional accidental deaths of children under 15 years old were about 16 times higher than in the other states.

Levine thinks his findings support developing more stringent gun storage laws nationwide, Levine says.

"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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