In the days after the 2012 massacre at Newtown, Ct.’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun enthusiasts rushed to buy millions of firearms, driven by fears that the episode would spark new gun legislation. Those restrictions never became a reality, but a new study concludes that all the additional guns caused a significant jump in accidental firearm deaths, the Washington Post reports. The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, estimates that the 3 million guns sold in the several months after Sandy Hook caused about 60 more accidental gun deaths than would have occurred otherwise. Children were killed in a third of them — some 20 youngsters, the same number as died at Sandy Hook.
The work by two Wellesley College economists tackles one of the biggest questions in gun research: how to measure the relationship between gun prevalence and gun deaths. Hamstrung by lack of funding and the politically charged landscape surrounding gun control, researchers have lacked data to try to answer that question. With no federal or state databases of gun ownership to work from, researchers have struggled to correlate deaths to the presence of guns in homes. They have grappled with what conditions would best determine the factors — gun sales, different state laws, the type of guns available — that might affect gun violence and death. By seizing on the surge of firearm purchases after Newtown, the Wellesley team set up an experimental model to study what happens after such a sudden increase in gun sales. Using the number of background checks as their proxy, they found an increase in gun sales in the four months afterward. They then compared that number to two databases of deaths nationwide, which showed a 27 percent increase in accidental gun deaths for all ages and a 64 percent increase among children during that period.