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

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  • RE: A PEACES plan for societal peace
    • Debomoy K. Lahiri, Professor, Departments of Psychiatry, and Medical & Mol Genetics, IADC, SNRI, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN
    • Other Contributors:
      • Bryan Maloney, Research Analyst, Department of Psychiatry, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN

    A PEACES plan for societal peace

    The effects of a mass murder go beyond the event, some specifics of which have been recently proposed (and disputed) in the pages of Science (1). The means are certainly worth addressing, but addressing causative factors must also be on our agenda. Causation is not a priority of leaders. Proposing political (means-only) “solutions” (2) would make such events more inconvenient to perpetrate, but they would still not address causes. Our society has been quick to raise the fear of “mental illness” for Florida (3). While mental or neurological conditions may impair thought processes, the Florida gunman’s association with a race supremacist organization cannot be attributed to a specific psychiatric condition, indeed, the mentally ill pose a lesser threat to public safety than does the population at large (4). Public education that stresses connections between mental illness and violence leads to demands for social avoidance and institutional segregation (5), which will have no effect on public violence. It is also simplistic to conclude that genetic effects predict deliberate, premeditated violence.

    Our society insists upon simplistic solutions because a “school” is supposed to be inherently safe, so a single “big answer” is demanded. It ignores influence of early-life trauma, an atomized society, and other environmental factors on behavior, as well as interaction between latent effects and current conditions. A balance between d...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE:

    Hello Science Magazine

    I appreciate that some of your contributors are trying to apply research into the gun safety topic, but I think your contributors are doing a huge disservice to both science and reasoning by the way they approach the topic.

    If the claim is that more guns (as a result of a spike in gun sales) lead to more accidental deaths, the claim is flawed if the premise is based on seasonal gun sales alone. The claim needs to keep in mind that in America, there are already 300-400 million guns. One also can review the paper to see that the authors are applying complicated formulas, regressions, and models that go over the head of most laymen.

    It's really much, much simpler, and would solidify the case better if they used the following claim: more guns per capita means a higher accidental death rate. That's a much easier claim to digest, and the numbers would be far more persuasive if the numbers match the claim.

    And actually, there is research into that already conducted by the National Safety Council. Quite contrary to the author's claims, such research shows a declining trend of accidental gun deaths (or even accidental gun injuries). The accidental gun injury/death rate is actually at record lows (National Safety Council, Mar 2017 ).

    How can we have one study...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE:

    The premise of this paper is that newly bought guns, or guns removed from storage, by those motivated to buy firearms after Sandy Hook, were responsible for an increase of 60 people killed in firearms accidents. This conclusion depends entirely on whether web searches for "clean gun" and "buy gun" are adequate surrogates for new firearms purchases or seldom used guns removed from storage. The authors state: "We hypothesized that individuals whose searches included “buy gun” may be more likely to purchase a new firearm, and individuals whose searches included “clean gun” may be more likely to remove a previously owned gun from storage." While the first assumption may seem to have some merit at first glance, the second is likely untrue. Gun owners (hunters, target shooters, people owning guns for personal protection) know that guns require regular lubrication and cleaning with use, as gunpowder residues accumulate with use. Removing a gun from storage is not a primary drive to conduct a web search for gun cleaning. Unless you know little about guns, like a new gun owner perhaps?

    Other research (Harvard/Northeastern) tells us that that 14% of gun owners are "super owners", owning an average of 17 guns (8-140) and that some 22-40% of gun transactions are conducted without NICS background checks. It hardly makes sense that, with most new guns obtained by or from experienced gun owners, that only those guns bought Dec 2012 - Apr 20...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Unidentified suicides may account for the data

    The number of accidental deaths due to firearms is small compared to that of firearm suicides, which comprise roughly two-thirds of gun deaths. For multiple reasons, such suicides are often deliberately reported as "accidental" or, in case of doubt, "accidental" is the default. Examples of rationales for such misreporting include sparing relatives, life insurance exclusions and "double-indemnity" provisions, religious considerations, and so forth.

    Suicides have a contagious component, being propagated by media reporting. For this reason, it was long newspaper practice not to report them on the front page.

    Similarly, there is a significant Herostratic component to mass homicides, which characteristically are committed by disturbered young males seeking fame as they commit suicide. Named after Herostratus, who burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephisos so his name would live forever.

    That is, what appears to be a slight excess of accidental gun deaths may really primarily-represent a slightly-increased number of unrecognized firearms suicides committed as a consequence of all the "gun talk" subsequent to the Sandy Hook episode and also to the de facto suicide of the shooter himself.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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