Like clockwork, the National Rifle Association reduces gun injuries in the US for three days every year — when it holds its annual convention.
Authors of a Harvard Medical School report published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the “natural experiment” that occurs when about 80,000 NRA members hole up in a conference center. The finding: a 20 percent drop in injuries inflicted by the weapons compared to the same days of the week in the three weeks before and after the event.
In relative terms, the decline is small — accounting for one fewer injury for every 300,000 Americans. But the study’s lead author, Anupam Jena, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard, called it significant.
“The findings are quite obvious if you adopt the view that guns are inherently unsafe,” said Jena, who combed through a national database of medical claims among privately insured patients from 2007 through 2015. “If you reduce gun use even a little bit, then you should see reductions in gun injuries.”
NRA officials didn’t return phone calls and emails seeking comment.
The issue of gun safety has become ever more contentious across the U.S. amid a rise in high profile mass shootings, even though the majority of the 33,000 deaths tied to firearms each year stem from suicides. The latest shooting spree, which occurred this month at a high school in Florida and led to 17 deaths, sparked calls from President Donald Trump and others to train and arm teachers.
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Such a move could have the opposite of its intended effect, as increased gun use might boost the number of related injuries, Jena said.
The difference in his study amounts to a reduction of several hundred injuries per convention per year, Jena estimates. The implications are bigger when you consider that the lower level of injuries stem mainly from the 80,000 people who attend the NRA convention, a small segment of the privately insured patients included in the database that was used to conduct the analysis, Jena said.
“The whole population isn’t going to the convention,” he said. “The implied injury rate is a lot higher than it seems.”
Next NRA Meeting
Bolstering his argument was the fact that the steepest declines were seen in the states where the NRA convention was being held, suggesting more local supporters attended the event, Jena said. The numbers might even be higher if the researchers were able to include more gun owners, since previous studies found only one-third of unintentional firearm injuries occurred in people with private insurance.
“There is a narrative out there that if you just know how to use a firearm safely you will never get injured,” Jena said. “We are discrediting that rhetoric.”
The NRA’s 147th annual meeting is scheduled to be held early May in Dallas. The group has long argued against limiting gun use in any way, citing both the Second Amendment that gives Americans the right to keep and bear arms and the already ubiquitous presence of weapons in criminal hands. The association instead urges greater availability of guns among law-abiding citizens, who could be called on to step in to dangerous situations.
(Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, which operates Bloomberg News, serves on Everytown for Gun Safety’s advisory board and is a donor to the group. It advocates for universal background checks and other gun control measures.)
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