Health & Medicine

Cities with more gun purchases also see more gun-related injuries, UC Davis study finds

‘Firearms are part of a health problem.’ UC Davis ER doctor on role of physicians in gun discussion

Noted gun violence expert Dr. Garen Wintemute talks about why gun ownership is a medical issue that doctors need to discuss with patients on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. The UC Davis emergency room doctor also has good news for Californians on the issue.
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Noted gun violence expert Dr. Garen Wintemute talks about why gun ownership is a medical issue that doctors need to discuss with patients on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. The UC Davis emergency room doctor also has good news for Californians on the issue.

A new UC Davis study has found that cities that experience increases in gun purchases also experience more gun-related injuries.

The study, published Sunday in the journal Injury Epidemiology by researchers with the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, looks at 499 California cities following a period in 2012 that saw a spike in gun purchases.

Aside from the city-level finding, the study also found that statewide, gun-related injuries increased by 4 percent after the spike in gun purchases, which meant approximately 290 more injuries.

“A lot of people have tried to answer the question of whether more guns is associated with more or fewer crimes or more or less harm,” said Rose Kagawa, co-author of the study. Their finding shows that more purchases do seem to create more harm: “290 is a significant number.”

Hannah Laquer, another co-author of the study, said that while previous studies have shown associations between increased gun purchases and increased gun-related deaths, their study is the first to make the link to injuries.

The other co-authors of the study are Christopher McCort, Rocco Pallin and Garen Wintemute.

The researchers faced the difficulty of ensuring they eliminated the possibility that underlying factors — such as high crime — could be causing an increase in gun-related injuries as well as an increase in gun purchases. The presence of these underlying factors would make the direct link between gun purchases and injuries hard to prove.

To address this difficulty, the researchers chose to look at the time period following two high profile events in 2012 that other academics have found to correlate with increases in gun purchases: President Barack Obama’s re-election and the Sandy Hook mass shooting that occurred five weeks later.

By picking this time period, the researchers could be certain that the increase in gun purchases they focused on were caused by the high profile events and not by underlying causes that could have also been causing an increase in gun-related injuries.

Academics have hypothesized that Obama’s elections led to increases in gun purchases because people expected the president to pass strict gun control laws and so quickly bought up guns. Academics have also hypothesized that mass shootings have led to more purchases because the fear instilled by mass shootings prompt people to buy guns for self-defense.

The study’s researchers found that in the six weeks following the two high-profile events, gun purchases across California increased by 55 percent, which meant 36,142 more purchases. A year after the spike in gun purchases, cities with greater increases saw more injuries, with person-on-person injuries being the most common type of injury.

The release of the study comes at the heels of three mass shootings across the country that occurred in less than two weeks: the shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival and in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in late July and early August.

Kagawa said the timing of the study’s publication is coincidental, but “in some ways, these mass shootings are occurring so frequently that it almost feels like [the study] would be relevant to a mass shooting whenever it was published.”

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Elaine Chen, from the University of Chicago, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in the Bay Area and later in Beijing, China.
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