Funding Restrictions Have Made Gun Violence Researchers Get Creative : Shots

Researchers SEARCH FOR Gun Violence Clues Found in Google Searches And CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS

Enlarge this photograph toggle caption Julie Dermansky/Corbis via Getty Images Julie Dermansky/Corbis via Getty Images

Following the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., persons across the nation went and bought guns.

A report published Thursday concludes that a subsequent increase in gun exposure resulted in more accidental firearm deaths than otherwise would have occurred in the months after the school shooting.

“It had been the spike [in sales] itself that sort of drove us to initiate this task,” says Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley School and author of the analysis that appears in the journal Technology. “It only led us to talk to the question, ‘Given that many new guns being added to society, what effect does that have?’ ”

The answer may seem to be obvious. But limitations on funding have gone gaping holes in U.S. gun safety analysis. “Although the data that firearm ownership and access to firearms is associated with health risks is fairly strong, the estimates extremely extensively,” says David Studdert, a professor at Stanford University who research trends in gun violence and who wasn’t mixed up in new study.

“There’s clearly a strong relationship with firearm-related suicide,” he offers. “Some studies show a relationship with firearm-related homicide. But we need better evidence.”

The brand new analysis, which only considers accidental firearm deaths, required cobbling together multiple sources of information. American data on gun violence is certainly notoriously incomplete – not absolutely all states reliably article crime info to the federal government and there is absolutely no national gun ownership database. The Wellesley group used data on criminal background checks to estimate gun sales and Google trends data about gun-related queries to approximate contact with firearms.

It’s an imperfect way, Levine acknowledges. “Criminal background checks don’t perfectly capture gun sales,” he says, pointing out that guns bought at gun shows do not require a history check. Also, persons buying multiple guns simultaneously only undergo an individual background check.

“In reality it doesn’t 100 percent matter that people have the precise right quantity of guns,” he says, for the reason that increase in criminal background checks reflects the overall increase in exposure to firearms.

In Google search data, the team saw spikes in searches like the terms “tidy gun” and “buy gun” rigtht after the Newtown shooting. The word “clean gun” is certainly, they argue, an indicator that persons may be eliminating guns they currently own from storage so as to clean them.

In all, the analysis concludes that increased gun publicity after Newtown resulted in yet another 66 accidental capturing deaths in the U.S., a third of whom were kids.

“It’s very complicated to estimate empirically,” says Studdert. “If we really wished to understand the health effects of firearm ownership, we would randomize the ownership of weapons in several households and observe their effects over time. Of course, we can not do that.”

He thinks the way, by using a surge in the supply of firearms to ask a dilemma about accidental deaths, is a great one. But, he says, the analysis leaves larger issues unanswered.

“Accidental deaths are very a little part of firearm mortality. Around 2-3 3 percent of all firearm related deaths will be accidental deaths. The lion’s share will be homicides and suicides,” Studdert highlights. “The much bigger dilemma is, ‘What result does firearm publicity have on firearm-related suicide and homicide?’ The design of this study didn’t allow them to answer that.”

The brand new study also found smaller increases in gun exposure after main gun policy events, including a speech by President Obama in which he called for tighter gun purchase laws, and the announcement of an activity force to review such legislation. That getting makes explicit a dilemma policymakers deal with after mass shootings, Levine says: “Introducing unsuccessful gun control legislation isn’t necessarily helping. It could be hurting.”

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