The National Rifle Association offers a simple solution to America’s gun violence problem: Increase the number of responsible gun owners.
In this view, most gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. are caused by shooters who are either inexperienced or wantonly criminal. Thus, the former must be encouraged to join gun clubs that can provide them the education and training they require (like the NRA), while the latter need to be deterred from their evil acts by morally upright marksmen (like those who belong to the NRA).
There have always been some pretty big flaws in this theory. To name just a few: The biggest driver of gun deaths in the United States is firearm suicides — a type of fatality that neither “a good guy with a gun,” nor an NRA firearm-safety seminar is well suited to prevent. More fundamentally, the notion that increasing gun ownership among law-abiding people benefits public safety is belied by the fact that America has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the developed world and its highest rate of firearm homicides; or that within our nation’s borders, states with more guns suffer more gun homicides, and within those states, regions with more guns suffer more gun homicides, and within those regions, households with more guns suffer more gun homicides.
But the most devastating rebuttal of the NRA’s prescription for public safety may be this new finding from the New England Journal of Medicine: Whenever roughly 80,000 of America’s model gun owners abandon their communities to assemble for the NRA’s annual convention, our nation’s gun injury rate (briefly) plummets by nearly 20 percent.
As Vox’s Julia Belluz explains:
[R]esearchers from Harvard Medical School and Columbia University used an insurance database of nearly 76 million claims to tally emergency department visits and hospitalizations related to firearm injuries on NRA convention dates, and during identical control days in the three weeks before and three weeks after the meeting, from 2007 through 2015.
… The gun injury rate actually fell by nearly 20 percent nationwide during NRA conventions. More precisely, on convention dates, the national gun injury rate was 1.2 per 100,000 — compared to 1.5 per 100,000 during the control dates. In the states hosting the conventions, the drop was even more dramatic — from 1.9 to 0.7 per 100,000.
… The lead author of the study, Harvard Medical School professor Anupam Jena, told Vox in an email that the tumbling gun injury rate during the NRA convention is the result of “a brief period of abstinence in gun use.” Gun owners are away at the convention, and venues where guns are commonly used — like ranges or hunting grounds — are also temporarily closed while staff are at the convention.
So: When the “good guys with guns” skip town — thereby increasing the number of “gun-free zones” in the U.S. — the country as whole becomes dramatically safer.
In light of this finding, the NRA is sure to reexamine its entire worldview, and not at all likely to redouble its efforts to suppress research into the consequences that a loosely regulated gun market has for public health.