Gun Fatalities Increase in California Despite Drop in Shooting Injuries: Study

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Over an 11-year period in California, ending in 2015, nonfatal firearm injuries decreased while fatal injuries had a relative increase of 20.7 percent, according to a study published in the JAMA Network Open medical journal by gun violence researchers at the University of California, Davis.

The study suggests two possible reasons for the numbers: medical treatment of firearm injuries didn’t improve substantially; or there has been improvement, but the injuries have gotten worse.

Since there is no evidence that injuries have become more severe, the researchers concluded that timely medical treatment of firearm injuries needs to be improved.

The study used data about people discharged from hospitals or treated in Emergency Departments from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Data about fatal firearm injuries were also collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System.

A possible solution the study looked at is Philadelphia’s “scoop and run” strategy.

Simply put, this strategy entails police officers rushing the wounded to the closest trauma center rather than waiting for an ambulance.

The study points out that, of those injured by firearms who live to reach the hospital and receive medical care, the fatality rate remained around 8 percent across the 11-year time span.

On the other hand, when looking at all people injured by firearms, whether they made it to the hospital or not, fatality rates increased from 27.6 percent (2005) to 32.2 percent (2015).

Researchers suggested that this is due to an increase in the proportion of self-inflicted firearm injuries, which are typically more deadly than other kinds of firearm injuries.

The demographics of people suffering self-inflicted injuries tend to be mostly higher-income and white. The average age was 42.

However, the average age of victims of firearm assaults is 27.

Individuals suffering firearm-inflicted injuries tend to be lower income. They mostly pay for medical care themselves or use government coverage, and are Black or Hispanic, the study said.

African Americans are four times more likely than Hispanics to be injured by shootings, the study found.

When looking at all types of firearm injuries, victims are overwhelmingly male, at about 90 percent. The mean age is 27.5 years and the injuries are more likely to occur in urban counties than in rural counties.

Northern California counties tend to be the counties with rate increases.

“We hope other states will use this as a model to evaluate the burden of nonfatal firearm injuries as a basis for improved prevention efforts,” said Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency physician and director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research.

In 2018, there were more firearm deaths than those from motor vehicle crashes.

The lead author of the report was Sarabeth Spitzer, a UC Davis research intern. Other authors were Veronica A. Pear, Christopher McCort and Garen Wintemute of the Firearm Violence Research Center and Violence Prevention Research Program at University of California, Davis.

To access the full study, please click here.

Laura Bowen is a TCR news reporting intern.

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