Research Highlight: Firearm Injuries

  • Date:
  • December 9th, 2020

By: Jacob Charles

A new study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine, “Epidemiologic Trends in Fatal and Nonfatal Firearm Injuries in the US, 2009-2017,” adds significant new depth to the empirical understanding of gun violence. As the authors note, we have pretty good statistics on the number of people killed each year with guns, but for nonfatal gun injuries, the data has been less reliable. In this study, the researchers look to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Healthcare Cost and Utilization Program’s Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) for broader information. NEDS samples about 10 times as many emergency departments as the CDC does for its nonfatal injury data, so this represents a more expansive set of information.

The paper reports that, from 2009 to 2017, approximately 86,000 people are nonfatally injured with guns each year on average. Gun fatalities averaged about 35,000 a year. For all gun injuries (fatal and nonfatal), the most common causes were assault (~40%), followed by unintentional injuries (~37%), self-harm (~20%), law enforcement (~2%), and undetermined (~3%). They found that the Case Fatality Rate (CFR)—the percentage of injuries that turned fatal—was highest for self-harm incidents. Those had nearly a 90% CFR, consistent with other studies showing that means matter in assessing suicide risk. Assaults had about a 26% CFR, slightly higher than the law enforcement CFR of 23% and much higher than the 1.2% CFR from unintentional injuries. Almost 20% of the patients each year underwent major operations for firearm injury.

This new data will help researchers and other scholars in assessing the extent of gun harms and the ways public policy can be arranged to decrease these risks.