Firearms and accidental deaths: Evidence from the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting

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Science  08 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6368, pp. 1324-1328
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8179

One cause of accidental deaths

The number of accidental deaths involving a firearm might be expected to correlate with the number of firearms, but claims that a causal relationship exists have not been persuasive (see the Policy Forum by Cook and Donohue). The 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in the eastern United States resulted in the deaths of 20 children. Levine and McKnight used the random timing of this event and the subsequent increase in gun purchases (as recorded by an increased number of background checks) to show that the increased exposure to guns resulted in ∼60 accidental deaths.

Science, this issue p. 1324 see also p. 1259


Exposure to firearms increased substantially after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and 6 adults were killed. Gun sales spiked by 3 million, on the basis of the increase in the number of background checks for firearm purchases. Google searches for buying and cleaning guns increased. We used Vital Statistics mortality data to examine whether a spike in accidental firearm deaths occurred at the same time as the greater exposure to firearms. We also assessed whether the increase in these deaths was larger in those states where the spike in gun sales per capita was larger. We find that an additional 60 deaths overall, including 20 children, resulted from unintentional shootings in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook.

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