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Harvard study finds gun injuries drop nationwide — during NRA conventions

Attendees at the April 2014 NRA convention in Indianapolis checked out a pistol display.
Attendees at the April 2014 NRA convention in Indianapolis checked out a pistol display.(AJ Mast/Associated Press/File)

A new study from Harvard has found a 20 percent decline in gun injuries nationwide during the dates of the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, which gathers tens of thousands of gun-owning attendees.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School said the decline is probably because of a brief period during which gun owners aren’t firing their guns.

“Fewer people using guns means fewer gun injuries, which in some ways is not surprising,” said Anupam Jena, senior author of the study and the Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. “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.”

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The results are being published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“No matter how one feels about guns,” Jena said in a statement released by the medical school, “one thing that we should all recognize is that owning and operating a firearm entails risk.”

The researchers noted that their findings were based on an “observational analysis,” and the study was not designed to determine cause and effect.

The researchers examined nearly 76 million medical insurance claims for emergency department visits and hospitalizations related to gun injuries between 2007 and 2015. Then the team compared the number of gun injuries during NRA conventions with the number of such injuries on identical days in surrounding weeks.

On nonconvention days, gun injuries occurred at a rate of 1.5 per 100,000 people. On convention days, that number dropped 20 percent to 1.25 per 100,000 people, the medical school said.

The researchers also found the biggest drop in injuries was among men in Southern and Western states, where there is a high rate of gun ownership, and in the states hosting the convention.

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Jena has looked before into the unintended effect of large gatherings on public health. In one study, Jena looked at what happens to heart patients when cardiologists attend scientific meetings, the medical school said.

In another study, he looked at how marathons, including the Boston Marathon, affected the health of neighbors, rather than the runners.