During National Rifle Association annual conventions, when about 80,000 gun owners spend a few days focused on seminars, events and meetings, America seems to be safer, new research suggests.
More specifically, the rate of firearm-related injuries when NRA members gather en masse falls by 20% nationwide, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
When a state hosted a convention, and presumably a higher percentage of local gun enthusiasts attended, gun-related injuries in that state fell 50%, said Dr. Anupam Jena, the study's senior author and an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.
The Harvard-led researchers looked at the number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits tied to firearm injuries during convention dates and the three weeks before and after conventions. To reach their conclusions, they combed through nearly 76 million medical insurance claims filed by privately insured patients between 2007 and 2015.
Injury reductions were most significant among men from the South and the West, where gun ownership -- and likely NRA membership -- is greater.
"Fewer people using guns means fewer gun injuries, which in some ways is not surprising," said Jena, who is also a practicing physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "But the drop in gun injuries during these large meetings attended by thousands of well-trained gun owners seems to refute the idea that gun injuries stem solely from lack of experience and training in gun use."
The NRA is not impressed by the findings. "This study is another example of when data and numbers fly in the face of logic and common sense," said Jennifer Baker, the NRA's director of public affairs, in a statement.
"A quick glance at the numbers says it all: There are 100 million gun owners in America, with about 80,000 of them attending the NRA Annual Meeting each year -- that's less than one-tenth of 1 percent of American gun owners," Baker wrote. "This study claims that firearms-related injury plummets 20 percent nationwide when less than one-tenth of 1 percent of gun owners attend this event? That's absurd. You don't have to be a Harvard researcher to see those numbers simply don't add up."
The research was not intended to explain exact causes and effects or pin down how the numbers add up. But Jena, who says he has no strong political views on the NRA, tossed out some theories.
Maybe it has to do with the "intensity of gun use" among those who attend NRA conventions, he wrote in an email. Maybe convention-goers are the most active gun users.
"I don't know of statistics on the distribution of gun use among gun owners but I would guess that it is very skewed," he said. "There are probably many people who own guns who don't use them at all or do very infrequently."
And if the average gun owner is less inclined to fire a gun -- and less inclined to attend an NRA convention -- perhaps that might explain some of the findings, he said.
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