Handgun purchasing significantly increased after two high-profile mass shootings in the United States; however, these surges were short-lived and accounted for less than 10% of annual handgun acquisitions statewide, according to recent data.
“Mass shooting are likely to boost [weapon] sales if they heighten concerns over personal security, because self-protection is the more commonly cited reason for owning a firearm...[however], evidence regarding the effects of mass shootings on firearm purchasing behavior is limited,” David M. Studdert, LLB, ScD, MPH, professor of law and medicine at Stanford University, and colleagues wrote.
Predicting that personal security concerns would motivate an increase in firearm purchases, researchers assessed the changes in handgun acquisition patterns after two well-known mass shootings that took place in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and San Bernardino, California, in 2015. Studdert and colleagues designed a time-series analysis using seasonal autoregressive integrated moving-average (SARIMA) models to examine adults who acquired handguns in California between 2007 and 2016. They measured excess handgun acquisition, overall and within subgroups of acquirers, in the 6-week and 12-week periods after each shooting.
The results showed that in the 6 weeks following the Newtown and San Bernardino shootings, acquisitions increased 53% (95% CI, 30-80) and 41% (95% CI, 19-68) over expected volume, respectively. Overall, the handgun acquisition rate among whites was four to five times higher than the rate among Hispanics and two to three times the rate among blacks. They also found that acquisition rates among whites were 62% and 47% higher, and among Hispanics, the rates were 43% and 50% higher than expected, after the Newtown and San Bernardino shootings, respectively.
Significant increases also occurred among those with no record of having previously acquired a handgun. The number of first-time acquirers was 72% higher than expected 6 weeks after the Newtown shootings, and 52% higher after the San Bernardino shootings. Among residents of San Bernardino, acquisition rates increased by 85% after the shootings, compared with 35% elsewhere in California. Although handgun purchases rose sharply immediately after the mass shootings, the acquisition rates reverted to expected levels at 7 to 8 weeks afterwards.
“Federal elections, new firearm safety laws and terrorist attacks ... may drive nontrivial increases in overall firearm prevalence, which may in turn increase the risk for firearm-related morbidity and mortality in the long run,” Studdert and colleagues wrote. “Further research is needed to explore both cumulative effects and nontransient shifts in acquisition patterns; their causes; and their implications for public health, crime and social cohesion.”
In a related commentary, Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote that there is no easy fix that will communicate the most effective way to counter gun-related violence and the fear of being a victim of mass shooting.
“Keys to a productive path forward will be tracking and publicizing the tragic shootings that occur when persons who legally possess firearms in public places are the shooters, juxtaposing the frequency of these events vs. the number of times civilians use guns effectively to thwart attempts at mass shooting, and gaining the trust of gun owners through cultural competence,” he wrote. – by Savannah Demko
Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.