Tennessee health officials reported a large data error Thursday that dramatically reduces the number of unintentional gun deaths in the state in 2014.
After discovering the miscount, the state now says that five Tennesseans died from accidental shootings that year, and not the widely reported number of 105.
“It certainly seemed abnormal, if you looked at the trend,” said Michael Warren, a Department of Health deputy commissioner. “Certainly, this is a number we’d like to continue moving downward.”
Warren said the error was discovered in part because of the amount of attention on the perceived spike in deaths.
Previously, the department had double-checked its data in response to an inquiry from the Safe Tennessee Project. But after the figure got so much national attention, analysts went back to hard copies of the death certificates.
Most of the 105 cases involved firearms, but most ended up being deemed suicides or homicides.
Warren said his staff is still investigating where the statistical problem occurred, as health data travels from physicians to medical examiners to the state and then to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The count of five accidental shootings in Tennessee in 2014 would be the lowest in at least 15 years
“Overall, this is good news, that there are not 105 unintentional firearm fatalities,” said Beth Joslin Roth, with the Safe Tennessee Project. “And if these are the correct numbers, it actually represents a dramatic decrease.”
The general trend of such deaths has been downward, although the Safe Tennessee Project has already counted 13 such fatalities in 2015 and 12 so far this year, which would represent an increase after 2014.
Original post from September 13:
By a wide margin, Tennessee led the nation in fatal unintentional shootings in 2014, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC counted 105 deaths from accidental gunshots in 2014. The year before that, there were 19 such deaths in the state, when Tennessee had ranked ninth.
“The rise was so dramatic that at first we didn’t believe it,” said Jonathan Metzl, research director with the Safe Tennessee Project and director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University.
The Safe Tennessee Project was first to report the data, noting that it first asked state and federal officials to check the numbers for accuracy.
After getting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control, Metzl went about gathering specifics.
“We asked ourselves: Really, what is going in Tennessee? Is it that people aren’t following safe storage practices?” He said.
The group’s initial analysis found injuries were most common when gun owners failed to clear the chamber before cleaning firearms or when loaded guns were dropped. The increase in deaths was reflected across all age ranges, including children who grabbed loaded weapons.
Metzl said he like to prevent such killings, but says a congressional ban on gun violence research is a hindrance.
“There are studies that we could be doing,” he said. “Would trigger locks help? Would gun safes help? Would smart guns that only fire when the user is handling the gun — would that help?”
He says such insights could reduce accidental shootings without fully entering the fray on gun control.
“It’s well past time to really look at this question,” he said. “I’m just saying that gun death and gun injury happen within predictable patterns.”