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Research shows that handgun sales spiked in California after two mass shootings

A new study has yielded what might come as a surprise to some: There was a spike in the number of Californians who bought handguns for the first time after the 2012 mass shooting of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and then again after a deadly attack in San Bernardino in 2015.

According to the research, which was led by Stanford Health Policy’s David Studdert, ScD, in the six weeks after the Newtown shootings — when a young man killed 20 children and six adults — handgun acquisitions in California rose by 53 percent among first-time purchases over expected levels. And when a couple armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted a San Bernardino County public health event and killed 14 people, handgun purchase rates were 85 percent higher than expected among residents of the city of San Bernardino and adjacent neighborhoods, compared with 35 percent higher elsewhere in California.

“For some, a gruesome mass shooting may induce repulsion at the idea of owning a weapon,” Studdert, a professor of medicine and professor of law at Stanford Law School, and his collaborators wrote. “For others, it may motivate acquisition. Mass shootings are likely to boost sales if they heighten concerns over personal security, because self-protection is the most commonly cited reason for owning a firearm.”

Studdert and his co-authors explained in their paper why this information is valuable. As he told me, “There is strong evidence linking gun ownership to risks of gunshot injuries, so any sudden boost in firearm ownership could have public health implications."

On their own, Studdert said, these two mass shootings are unlikely to have caused enough of a change in ownership patterns to have significant public health effects. “But over time, purchasing responses to a succession of unnerving events like this — from mass shootings to terrorist attacks, to elections — could change levels of gun ownership enough to increase overall rates of gun injury and death.”

Previously: Gunshot injuries slam hefty price tag on initial hospitalizations, Disconnect: The gap between gun violence and research in numbers and Study: ER statistics could be used to help reduce gun violence
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