Gun injuries in the U.S. each day number 329—for every death, two survive

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine examine trends in fatal and nonfatal firearm injuries to inform prevention strategies.

Firearm injury is a major public health crisis in the United States. In 2017, more than 39,000 deaths were caused by firearms, but the incidence of cases in which people survive after a trip to the emergency department, known as cases of nonfatal injuries, has not been well established. Therefore, it has proven elusive to answer this simple question: “What is the total number of cases of firearm injury per year in the U.S.?”

A team of paramedics wheeling in a patient on a gurney into an ER hallway.

A new study by a team of researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health expands research on trends of fatal and nonfatal firearm injuries in the U.S.. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, show that between 2009-2017, there has been an average of 120,232 firearm injuries each year, or 329 per day, and that cases of nonfatal injury are twice as prevalent as deaths from firearms. The study signifies the importance of evaluating the impact of firearm prevention policies and strategies not just on injuries that ultimately result in death, but also the more common cases in which people survive after emergency care.

The researchers, led by Elinore J. Kaufman, an assistant professor of surgery in Traumatology, Surgical Critical Care, and Emergency Surgery, used data pulled from death certificates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that ranged from 2009 until 2017 and combined it with data on emergency room visits for nonfatal firearm injuries from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample.

Prevention strategies such as child access prevention laws and gun lock distribution have the potential to prevent many of these injuries, but their true impact will remain unknown if only deaths are counted.

“Research has shown that suicide is the most common form of firearm deaths, and suicide prevention is of preeminent importance. But looking at these numbers of nonfatal injuries can raise concern in other areas needing their own forms of prevention,” says Kaufman. “After two decades of progress, rates of firearm injuries are now increasing, and effective prevention strategies are urgently needed.”

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.