Don't tell anybody, but accidental shooting deaths are way down

We already knew that violent crime was down across most of the nation (with the awful exception of some cities like Baltimore). But there’s another factor in the federal statistics which hasn’t received nearly as much attention. Accidental shooting deaths are down. And I mean… way down. While the cause for this is being debated along ideological lines, the LA Times reports that the numbers are nothing but good news, not that you’re hearing about it on the major news networks.

Gun violence has received no shortage of attention. But one bright spot has gotten much less: the number of accidental shooting deaths has steadily declined.

There were 489 people killed in unintentional shootings in the U.S. in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. That was down from 824 deaths in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Taking into account population growth over that time, the rate fell 48%.

Experts attribute the decline to a mix of gun safety education programs, state laws regulating gun storage in homes and a drop in the number of households that have guns. While the improvement occurred in every state, those with the most guns and the fewest laws continue to have the most accidental shooting deaths.

We’re talking about the period between 1999 and 2015. So basically, in a roughly fifteen-year span, the number of accidental shooting deaths has been cut in half. Do we really need to bother with arguing over why when you see that sort of a headline? Well… yes, for two reasons. One is so that we can replicate the success across the board using the same methods. Sadly, the other is to make sure that people aren’t incorrectly claiming victory as an excuse to push their agenda. But what was the real cause here?

Gun control advocates will want to take the same tone as that LA Times article and attribute the drop to stricter gun storage laws and fewer guns in homes (at least in some states). Second Amendment advocates will cite increased education on gun safety. There are some dire suggestions in the article about the NRA, saying that they “didn’t want to comment” on the story, but that’s a rather questionable angle to take. The NRA sponsors some of the most wide-reaching gun safety programs in the country and focuses public attention on such educational objectives constantly.

Of course, the real answer may be a little bit of both. Greater awareness and improved education are vital and certainly played a role here. But it’s also possible that some people just can’t take a hint and needed a new law forcing them to store their weapons safely when children are around. Unfortunately, such laws do little or nothing for homes without children and frequently render a firearm purchased for home protection purposes effectively useless in an emergency. That’s why common sense should play more of a role in such decisions, though that’s a commodity in short supply all too often.

It’s also worth noting, as the LA Time article manages to admit, that accidental shootings account for only the smallest fraction of deaths involving firearms, at 1.3%. That’s probably not much lower than instances of law-abiding gun owners who follow all of the applicable rules going out and shooting someone. If we really want to make an impact on the total number of firearms related deaths in the country, progress must be made on the mental health front to cut back on the number of suicides, which account for the vast majority. Also, getting violent criminal offenders off the streets would reduce the second largest cause of shootings.