Editor's Note: This diary is part of the Firearm Law and Policy group's ongoing Guns and Suicide series. The first installment of the series can be found here.
Firearms are very popular in America. While exact figures are lacking, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimates that there are 270 million guns among the U.S. civilian population. This makes Americans the best-armed civilian population in the world, with an estimated 89 firearms per 100 people, far surpassing the second best-armed country in the world (Yemen with an estimated 55 firearms per 100 people). And yet, Americans continue to buy yet more firearms. According to many business analysts, gun sales in America have increased dramatically in the past decade (link; link)
This national enthusiasm for firearms may come at a price. Every year, over 100,000 Americans suffer a gunshot injury, and over 30,000 of these are fatal gunshot injuries. The majority of these fatal gunshot injuries are self-inflicted (Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data). In the United States, guns are used more often in completed suicides than any other suicide method (link). A recent study by the CDC reported that among middle-aged Americans, both the overall incidence of suicide and the incidence of suicide using a gun have been increasing in the USA (link).
It is possible that rising gun sales and the increasing number of guns in America plays a role in the increasing number of gun suicides. We used a measure of gun sales in the USA to correlate yearly gun sales with yearly counts of fatal gunshot injuries, gun homicides and gun suicides. Based on previous studies of gun purchases and violent death, we hypothesized that gun sales are positively associated with gun suicides.
Yearly data on fatal gunshot injuries came from the CDC's Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System. We reviewed yearly counts of total fatal gunshot injuries, homicides by gunshot, and suicides by gunshot. For comparison purposes, we also included yearly counts of fatal bicycle injuries. Bicycles were chosen as a comparator because bicycles, like guns, are highly popular and ubiquitous in America, and unlike guns, bicycles are not design to injure and kill others.
There is no source of accurate reliable data on yearly gun sales. We used the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as a surrogate marker of gun sales. Beginning in 1998, all federally licensed firearms dealers have been required to use the FBI NICS to determine if a prospective buyer is eligible to purchase firearms or explosives. The FBI maintains a database of yearly inquiries to the NICS. The FBI NICS data only tracks transactions taking place at federally licensed firearms dealers, and not those occurring through private sales, unlicensed firearms dealers, or illicit sales. It is important to note that a FBI NICS inquiry does not indicate that a gun was actually sold. I have chosen to use this data as a surrogate for gun sales because: 1) the FBI is a non-partisan and nationally recognized organization with extensive experience collecting accurate statistics; 2) the FBI NICS data covers the nation as a whole and is available every year back to 1999; and 3) I can find no better source for good reliable data on US gun sales. Because the FBI NICS data only involves prospective purchases at federally licensed firearms dealers, and not transactions made through non-licensed dealers and private sales, the NICS data is widely acknowledged to underestimate national gun sales and therefore provides a very conservative measure of actual guns sales. Linear regression was then used to look for trends and correlations in the data.
The yearly counts of fatal gunshot injuries, homicides by gun, suicides by gun fatal bicycle injuries, and FBI-NCIS inquiries are shown in Table 1. Not surprisingly, fatal gunshot injuries are far more common than fatal bicycle injuries, and suicides by gun make up a larger portion of fatal gunshot injuries than do homicides by gun. The yearly counts of fatal gunshot injuries, suicides by gun, and FBI-NICS inquires all show a clear and fairly steady increasing trend. The yearly counts of homicides by gun show a steady increasing trend for the years 1999 through 2006, but appear to decline after 2006. The yearly counts of fatal bicycle injuries bounce around between a low of 740 in 2000, and a high of 927 in 2005: no discernible trend upwards or downward in fatal bicycle injuries is apparent..
Table 1. Yearly counts of gunshot injuries and NICS inquiries.Measures of gunshot and bicycle injuries were regressed on the FBI-NCIS data. The data for fatal gunshot injuries, suicides by gun and FBI-NCIS inquires all showed a positive beta, that was significantly different from zero, indicative of a statistically significant increase in the yearly counts for these variables. The slope of the trend lines for fatal bicycle injuries and homicides by gun were not significantly different from zero, indicating no overall increase or decrease in these two measures. Values for r (the correlation coefficient), it's measure of significance, and r2 (amount of variance) were as follows:
- fatal gunshot injuries: r = 0.849 (p < 0.001); r2 = 0.720
- gun suicides: r = 0.917 (p < 0.001); r2 = 0.842
- gun homicides: r = -0.216 (p = 0.501); r2 = 0.042
- fatal bicycle injuries: r = 0.193 (p = 0.547); r2 = 0.037
Both total fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides are highly and positively correlated with the FBI-NICS data, while neither gun homicides nor fatal bicycle injuries are correlated with the FBI-NCIS data.
This study looked for trends and associations in measures of gun sales, fatal gunshot injuries, gun homicides and gun suicides. Gun sales as measured by the FBI-NICS data, fatal gunshot injuries, and gun suicides were all shown to be increasing over the study period. No discernible increase or decrease was found in the measures of gun homicides and fatal bicycle injuries. A very strong and statistically significant positive correlation was found between gun sales and fatal gunshot injuries, and for gun sales and gun suicides. These finding support the hypothesis that gun sales are positively tied to fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides. No such correlation was found when examining gun sales and gun homicides, nor for gun sales and bicycle injuries.
The association of gun sales with total fatal gunshot injuries and of gun sales with gun suicides were both positive: as gun sales increase, we can expect increases in both the total number of fatal gunshot injuries and the number of gun suicides. The association of gun sales with fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides were both remarkably high (r = 0.849 and 0.917, respectively) and highly statistically significant. These results adds to a growing body of scientific literature that associates access to firearms with an increased risk of suicide. There are now at least twelve peer-reviewed studies demonstrating that a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of violent death or suicide (link; link; link)
Interestingly, there was no association found for gun homicides and gun sales. This is unexpected because gun enthusiasts attribute recent FBI-documented decreases in crime to greater availability of guns in America (link). While the yearly counts of gun homicides suggest a downward trend for the years 2006 through 2010, no overall trend upwards or downwards in gun homicides was apparent over the entire study period. Moreover, there was no association positively or negatively of gun homicides with gun sales. In the case of homicides committed with a gun, there is no evidence of a reduction in crime associated with rising gun sales.
The positive correlation of gun sales with both fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides indicates that as gun sales increase, so too will fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides. Likewise, if gun sales were to decrease, then we can expect a similar decrease (at a level of 0.8-0.9 to 1) in the incidence of fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides. This positive correlation suggests that one effective way to reduce the occurrence of both fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides is to decrease gun sales.
This study suffers from the limitation of using the FBI-NCIS data as a surrogate for gun sales. Most knowledgeable observers believe the FBI-NICS data under-counts the true number of gun sales. Assuming the under-count is the same year to year, this under-count would not alter the upward trend in gun sales, nor change the positive association of gun sales with both total fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides. Sadly, there is no reliable and replicable measure of national gun sales or gun availability. At the request of the gun industry and gun advocates, the federal government is prohibited by law from keeping a database or registry of national gun ownership. The FBI-NICS data is the best measure currently available of gun sales in America.
Even with this limitation, this study is unique because it provides for the first time a direct comparison of gunshot injuries with a measure of the number of guns available to the public. Previous studies of guns and gun suicides used comparisons of suicide cases with control cases to examine the role of guns, or relied on telephone surveys to estimate the number of guns in the study sample.
Gun sales, total fatal gunshot injuries, and gun suicides have all significantly increased since 1999. Both total fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides are positively associated with increasing gun sales. While gun homicides have not increased as have total fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides since 1999, there is no clear association of increasing gun sales with decreasing gun homicides. Lastly, we can expect reductions in gun sales to be accompanied by decreases in total fatal gunshot injuries and gun suicides.
|The Daily Kos Firearms Law and Policy group studies actions for reducing firearm deaths and injuries in a manner that is consistent with the current Supreme Court interpretation of the Second Amendment. We also cover the many positive aspects of gun ownership, including hunting, shooting sports, and self-defense.
To see our list of original and republished diaries, go to the Firearms Law and Policy diary list. Click on the ♥ or the word "Follow" next to our group name to add our posts to your stream, and use the link next to the heart to send a message to the group if you have a question or would like to join.