Gun injuries go down by 20% during NRA conventions

Here's a fascinating finding: When the NRA holds its annual convention, the national rate of gun injuries goes down temporarily by 20% — seemingly because the 80,000-odd attendees are hanging out and listening to talks, instead of handling their guns.

That's the finding by two researchers — Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School and Andrew Olenski of Columbia University — who crunched the numbers. They looked at the rates of hospital ER visits and hospitalizations for firearm injuries, during the actual days of NRA convention dates and in periods three weeks before and after. Sure enough, the accident rate dropped significantly during the convention dates.

One would expect, if you took the NRA's own arguments at face value, for its members to be among the best-trained folks around guns, with a relatively low accident rate. But as Scientific American writes …

If guns were perfectly safe in the hands of trained NRA members, Jena and Olenski reasoned, they should have found no differences between gun injury rates on convention days versus other days. Yet injury rates were, on average, 20 percent lower on meeting days. "We believe this is due to brief reductions in gun use during the dates of these meetings," Jena says. "The main implication is that guns carry inherent risk even among individuals who we might consider to be skilled and experienced in the use of firearms." Importantly, they did not find any corresponding drop in firearm crime rates on convention days, which suggests NRA meeting attendees are not responsible for a large proportion of U.S. gun crimes—just gun injuries, many of which may be accidental. In 2015 the U.S. logged nearly 85,000 firearm injuries, of which 17,000 were unintentional.

"I'm not surprised by the findings," says Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research who was not involved in the study. They are "consistent with a variety of studies that show where there are more guns, more people get shot in unintentional shootings, suicides, domestic homicides and criminal assaults with guns, after controlling for other factors." It makes sense, he adds, "those with the greatest exposure to firearms take a break from handling loaded firearms in their homes and in other contexts, and fewer people are shot."

As the writer here notes, this is only correlation, not causation; there are other reasons NRA conventions might decrease the rates of firearm accidents that have nothing to do with the actual safety performance of NRA members themselves. For example, "hunting and shooting ranges around the country may close on convention days so that employees can go, and group outings may be postponed during the confab even if only one group member plans to attend" — so it could also be that NRA conventions reduce the gun-use opportunities of non-NRA-convention-attendees.

Suggestive findings! (The full paper is here.) But what they really illustrate is how valuable it'd be to have far, far more data on how and why firearm injuries and deaths take places in the US. Which is why it's time to repeal the Dickey Amendment, which took effect in 1996 and forbid the CDC from funding research into gun violence. As the Washington Post wrote last year …

Gun-control research in the United States essentially came to a standstill in 1996.

After 21 years, the science is stale.

"In the area of what works to prevent shootings, we know almost nothing," Mark Rosenberg, who, in the mid-1990s, led the CDC's gun-violence research efforts, said shortly after the San Bernardino shooting in 2015.

In 1996, the Republican-majority Congress threatened to strip funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unless it stopped funding research into firearm injuries and deaths. The National Rifle Association accused the CDC of promoting gun control. As a result, the CDC stopped funding gun-control research — which had a chilling effect far beyond the agency, drying up money for almost all public health studies of the issue nationwide.

The National Institute of Justice, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, funded 32 gun-related studies from 1993 to 1999, but none from 2009 to 2012, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

(CC-licensed image via Pixabay)