Unintentional gun-related injuries on upswing

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It was a stupid mistake with horrific consequences.

One evening in May 2012, Karl Johnson took apart his newly purchased .45-caliber Springfield pistol, intending to clean it.

Johnson, 24, had recently moved back home to Kennewick and was sitting on a bed in his basement next to his roommate, Bradly Slater, 22, playing a video game.

The men had met two years earlier as Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. They became best friends and, after surviving convoy ambushes and roadside bombs, left war with plans to attend college together at Washington State University.

But that evening, Johnson forgot to remove the semi-automatic’s magazine before disassembling it. So when he pulled back the weapon’s slide, a bullet entered the chamber. Taking off the part required him to squeeze the trigger. And when he did, the bullet thundered out.

It ripped through Slater’s right side, striking both kidneys, the spleen and spine before resting near his left ribs.

A minute later, he realized he could not feel his legs.

In 2012, more people were seriously hurt by accidental gunshots in Washington state than in any previous year in nearly a generation.

Hospitals here admitted 122 people with “unintentional firearm” injuries that year, the latest for which data is available. Hundreds more were treated in emergency rooms but not admitted.

More still were wounded in accidents that were not classified as such.

It was the highest injury tally since 1995 and 30 percent higher than the average over that period, according to a Seattle Times analysis of state Health Department records. The state’s population grew about half that much over that time.

State officials and local law-enforcement authorities say the surge may correspond to a soaring rise in gun ownership.

In 2012, licensed firearm dealers in Washington conducted 519,209 background checks for gun sales — three times the number a decade earlier, according to a federal database.

Some recent national studies have found that higher gun ownership leads to more gun-related injuries.

The 2012 numbers show that the year’s carnage stretched far beyond the three incidents that captured widespread attention in three weeks that winter.

On Feb. 22, an 8-year-old girl was critically wounded in a Bremerton classroom when a gun went off inside the backpack of a 9-year-old boy as he put it on a desk.

On March 10, a Marysville police officer’s 3-year-old son came upon a gun in the family van and fatally shot his 7-year-old sister.

And four days later, a 3-year-old boy grabbed a gun from under the driver’s seat of a car and shot and killed himself while his mother bought cookies inside a Tacoma gas station and her boyfriend pumped gas.

There also was a fourth, largely unreported incident that week in mid-March: a 17-year-old Yakima County boy was taking apart a handgun he had just received as a birthday gift when it went off, sending a bullet through a wall and into his parents’ bedroom, where it killed his mother.

But despite a public outcry and pledges by some officials to take action, no gun-safety laws have changed since 2012.

This year, as voters consider the first gun-related ballot measures here since 1997, The Times analysis provides some first-time findings about accidental shootings in Washington state:

• Despite the media focus, children are rarely victims. Of the 2,022 people seriously hurt in gun accidents between 1993 and 2012, just 72 — 3.6 percent — were younger than 13. The age that came up most often was 22.

• Many victims are quite familiar with firearms. The casualty list includes cops, soldiers and veterans.

• The incidents rarely end in death. While unintentional shootings accounted for 30.7 percent of Washington’s 6,588 nonfatal gun injuries between 1993 and 2012, they made up just 1.6 percent of the 11,894 gun deaths — 192 in all.

• The official totals of accidental shootings undercount the problem.

In 2012, for example, seven gun-related fatalities were classified as “unintentional.” But public-health officials classified the killing of the Marysville cop’s daughter — and the Yakima County tragedy — as assaults.

The most direct response to 2012’s accidental-shooting surge was House Bill 1676.

Proposed by Seattle Democrat Ruth Kagi, the measure essentially would have required firearm dealers to offer trigger locks when selling guns, as 11 states already require, according to the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

It would also have created a crime of reckless endangerment for adults who allow an unsupervised child to gain access to a gun that results in a shooting. That crime exists in 28 states.

But the National Rifle Association labeled Kagi’s effort an “anti-gun bill ... about nothing more than demonizing firearms.” Other opponents argued the bill would make self-protection harder and noted that more children die from strangulation than shootings.

The bill got a public hearing last year but didn’t make it out of committee. This year, it didn’t even get a hearing.

“I don’t know why it was controversial, but I guess it was,” Kagi said. “Anytime you mention the word ‘gun,’ it’s really hard to do much of anything.”

The failure illustrates a larger trend: The state has barely touched gun-safety laws in years.

In 1997, voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative to require that gun owners obtain a safety license and handguns be sold with a trigger-locking device.

Since then, gun laws have remained largely unchanged until this year, when lawmakers passed a bill to make some subjects of restraining orders give up their firearms while the order is in effect. Lawmakers also legalized possession of short-barreled rifles.

There has been a big change since that initiative, however: The state now collects less data about gunshot injuries.

Between 1994 and 1998, a federal grant enabled officials to collect and analyze detailed information such as type of gun for all firearm injuries, including those caused by accidental shootings and those that resulted in a trip to the ER but no hospital admission.

“The intent was to get a better picture of how many firearm injuries there were, and the circumstances surrounding these injuries to be able to provide more specific prevention strategies,” state epidemiologist Jennifer Sabel said.

When similar federal grants ended in some other states, local officials stepped up to fund the effort. But not here.

Now, because officials only have less-detailed hospital-admission data, they are hampered in recommending strategies, Sabel said.

Nevertheless, gun-safety advocates in recent months have focused on public-health campaigns.

In terms of policy, attention is now centered on Initiative 594. That measure would extend background-check requirements to Internet sales and most other private gun transfers.

It is on the November ballot.

Despite what happened to him, Slater strongly opposes more restrictions on guns, which he considers essential for citizens to protect themselves.

He doesn’t blame guns for what happened to him. He doesn’t blame Johnson, either.

He blames one thing: “Bad luck.”

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Comments

PeggyJoy says...

When are people, including gun owners planning to wake up and realize, that we have too many people in this country, that shouldn't have access to any kind of weapons. That includes people, that the public wants to have access to guns, such as teachers, business owners, etc. When it comes to common sense, it seems like alot of the citizens of this counry are lacking it.

Posted 17 March 2014, 4:30 p.m. Suggest removal

chicoli says...

Peggyjoy, did you hear Wayne Lapiere at the CPAC convention? Like always he keeps pushing gun sales, a deed for the gun industry, by his fear-monguering rant. His paranoid posture presents an America where there are criminals everywhere you can imagine, therein the need to purchase as many guns as possible.

In effect there are guns everywhere, gun related accidental, unnesesary deaths everywhere, suicide with guns everywhere, unnecesary stand-your-ground related death everywhere! Just ask any Emergency Doctor about the increased in gun related injuries and fatalities seen in the last few years. All of us have to pay for the enormous cost in CAT scans, ICU treatment, etc.

We certainly need a better way to background-check those purchasing weapons. We need to approach this epidemic of gun violence from the Public Health Environmental point of view.

Posted 17 March 2014, 7:50 p.m. Suggest removal

Igor says...

While I can certainly agree that we can and should do a better job of keeping firearms out of the hands of the lunatics (the Toomey-Manchin bill would have required background checks for private sales with the same prohibition on retaining private ownership information just as the Brady law does now with dealer sales), I cannot understand why you think the issue is related to the environment or why you consider it a public health issue. What am I missing?

Posted 17 March 2014, 10:15 p.m. Suggest removal

chicoli says...

I fundamentaly agree with the Tommey-Manchine proposal. What you're missing is that the branch of Medicine studying all kind of injuries and fatalities related to accidental or intentional bahaviors in the community are approached from the Environmental Medicine and Public Health point of view. We have an epidemidic of gun related injuries and fatalities in this country. We need to study this unique USA phenomenae in the world utilizing statistical, empirical methods to be able to prevent and minimize the devastating physical and mental consequences in our population.

We have 35,000 gun related fatalities a year, unheard off in the history of the civilized world. The NRA has opposed all the Deparment of Health and Human services efforts to scientifically study this horrendous problem.

In Florida, as a physician I'm not allowed to discuss medically related gun risk factors with patients. As a psychiatrist I will be violating the law if I ask about gun ownership to a potentially suicidal patient.

Florida, ( and America) we have a problem!

Posted 18 March 2014, 8:16 a.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

Paco, in Florida you ARE allowed to ask a patient about guns IF it affects the patient's safety or that of others. You are just not allowed to harass the patient about gun ownership or discriminate against him/her if he/she owns a gun or declines to answer.

35,000 gun-related fatalities in a year is "unheard off (sic) in the history of the civilized world"? (It's down to 31,000 lately.) Why does it trouble you so much that a fatality is gun-related? Most gun-related fatalities - almost two-thirds - are suicides. Would you prefer it if Americans killed themselves like they do in Japan (where the suicide rate is more than double ours) - hanging or throwing themselves in front of trains? How would this make those deaths better?

Posted 18 March 2014, 4:47 p.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

Not one of the incidents described in the above article would have been prevented by different background checks. One gun was owned by a law-abiding combat veteran, one by a police officer and both the others, if I remember the stories correctly, were purchased after background checks.

It's ironic that two of those stories involve people who were VERY familiar with firearms - a combat vet and a police officer. In fact, most unintentional injuries probably do involve such people, because it is human nature to become more casual with the tools one uses in daily life. I can't imagine cleaning my firearms without removing the magazines - I even remove them and all ammunition from the work area - but maybe if they were handled every day it would be easy to become complacent.

On the other hand, this story fails to tell us if the RATE of unintentional shooting injuries is higher or lower. If Washington is conducting three times the number of background checks as a decade ago, but injuries have only increased by 30%, it may be that the rate of injury is actually going down.

Posted 18 March 2014, 8:35 a.m. Suggest removal

chicoli says...

Two observations from what you just said:

1. Weapons are inherently dangerous, even in the homes of gun experts!
2. Once England and Australia passed strict gun regulations accidents and fatalities from guns decreased to a total of 10% from before the law was passed.
3. Benghazi is a city in...Oops..sorry, this is namvet territory!

Posted 18 March 2014, 2:54 p.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

No one denies that guns are inherently dangerous, Paco. So are generators, cars, kitchen knives, ladders, bathtubs, pools, ground beef, chickens, aspirin, and numerous other objects in daily use. And if we banned all those things, we'd have a much safer environment.

It's been estimated there are 100,000 hospitalizations and more than 16,000 deaths annually from accidental complications of NSAID use. Those figures vastly exceed the hospitalizations and deaths from firearm accidents. Yet people can buy huge bottles of aspirin at Costco without any background checks, training, or other protections. Wouldn't it be safer to ban NSAIDs? We don't because most people recognize they have compensating value, and there's no multi-million dollar campaign to demonize them and their users like there is for guns, which also have compensating value.

Posted 18 March 2014, 3:45 p.m. Suggest removal

chicoli says...

You are obviously a smart lady...but your arguments are silly, and I almost belive you know it. Please compare apples to apples, e.g. gun fatalities on civilized countries, before and after sensible gun management by proper background checks, there is no doubt that England, Australia and the Scandinavian countries (just to mention a few) are winners by far.

You forgot to mentioned Viagra. Inspite of the TV add alert and disclaimer, guys who develop and erection lasting more than 4 hrs.
just don't call 911. Oh, my God...terrible mistake, my friend!

Posted 18 March 2014, 4:17 p.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

Paco, the changes implemented in England, Australia and the Scandinavian countries are not "proper background checks" but near total bans with confiscation. If that's what you want, say so and stop droning about background checks, which would have no appreciable effect on gun-related fatalities.

Posted 18 March 2014, 5:03 p.m. Suggest removal

chicoli says...

You still can apply for gun ownership in those countries. You must wait a period of time until your BACKGROUND is checked the hell out. In Israel it takes about 6 months. Anyone who is caught cheating is severely punished to what for us would be unreasonable proportions!

Anyway you conveniently ignore my central point. It is a fact the the incidence of gun related fatalities on those countries is infinitesimal when compared to the gargantuan one in our country.

Let me say something about "confiscation" of arms which is a fear mongering code word frequently casted by Lapierre and company. In the countries mentioned above, those who obtained weapons by illegal means, such weapons were summarily confiscated indeed, and their asses put in jail...plus a hefty fine. If it beautifully worked there, it could as well work here!

So, please stop droning all your silly fear mongering habitual rants!

Posted 19 March 2014, 9:09 a.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

Paco, you should do a little more reading on requirements in the countries you cite. It's far more than background checks, no matter how thorough. In Australia, for instance, you must prove a need, and personal protection is NOT considered a need; very few people qualify, and hundreds of thousands of guns had to be turned in. Stand by your beliefs, Paco - if you want what they have, at least be honest about what that is.

Posted 20 March 2014, 10:35 a.m. Suggest removal

chicoli says...

What I want is a safer America with less gun related fatalities, which they have...and we don't!

What kind of need you must prove to obtain a gun permit in Australia...shoot kangaroos? I wonder if they consider personal protection a no brainer, after all there are not that many gun-toting outlaws over there!

Posted 20 March 2014, 9:41 p.m. Suggest removal

namvet60 says...

There wasn't too much concern over background checks when Attorney General Holder was running weapons to the Mexican cartels? Who is going to regulate the background checks on the criminals obtaining weapons? There is not much concern that the pot/drug vehicular accidents have risen 300% in Colorado since inception of legalized pot?

If the original percentage was at 3% with the population growing by half and skyrocketed by 30% it would still be lower that normal household accidents. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Posted 18 March 2014, 9:12 a.m. Suggest removal

BluMtn says...

You forgot to mention Vince Foster and Benghazi

Posted 18 March 2014, 10:27 a.m. Suggest removal

namvet60 says...

Right nice of you to include those two in the mix. Apparently you must think that 'Ole Hillary had a hand in the demise of Vince Foster? Keep up the realistic thinking process.

Posted 18 March 2014, 1:49 p.m. Suggest removal

barracuda says...

Anybody else see a parallel between this story and a story here lately about Heroin incidents on the rise?

Heroin is already illegal and yet it can be bought, found, and in an alarming rate! The law banning this drug is mostly a tool for prosecution. If someone wants to use heroin they can find it!

Guns are controlled in a somewhat similar way! If one wants to use a gun and he is prohibited from buying on at a dealer, he can go to a local thug and get one. How can a law protect us from thugs? Most of the crimes committed with guns are done so by thugs that cannot lawfully buy them, so they buy them on the black market, or steal them! And before you tell me that banning all gun sales is a way to stop it.... Think about how many thousands and thousands of guns are already out there in America, Canada and in Mexico and are in circulation in lawful hands and unlawful hands..... How many of these are we going to be able to collect?

Fixing the problems with guns can be fixed with education, not laws. Laws can and are regularly bypassed

Posted 18 March 2014, 8:09 p.m. Suggest removal

dogman12 says...

A great many human inventions (maybe most of them?) pose the risk of injury or death when the user makes a mistake. Tractors, ladders, vehicles, and chemicals all come to mind.

There is little consistency in how society regulates use of its inventions, and, there probably will never be. To me, it boils down to which user groups are organized enough to get the regulation they prefer, whether that makes concerned citizens happy or not. It may sound cold, but fatal mistakes for a user clean up the gene pool. Fatal mistakes that take out an innocent bystander are sad, tragic, but they are one cost of our hard-wired obsession with improving the human role in the world around us.

As for my guns, I prefer not to be regulated and to be responsible for any mistakes I might make.

Posted 19 March 2014, 7:43 a.m. Suggest removal

MyFamNews says...

Namvet, your contention that pot/drug related vehicle accidents has increased by 300% in Colorado since it legalized pot use, is a flat out falsehood. I'm assuming your source is brietbart.com, and if so you missed some vital information. Over the past decade, comes to mind. The article clearly states which areas of the country were studied and Colorado isn't even on the list. Whether the study is correct or not could be discussed, but stating emphatically that drug related vehicle accidents have risen 300% since Colorado legalized marijuana is not only total untrue, it is a false flag to incite people. Check your sources, and relay the facts.

Posted 19 March 2014, 7:50 a.m. Suggest removal

namvet60 says...

If your allowed to post on the opinion page you should know what assuming gets you.

The article was actually in TheDailyCaller and to express some facts here is an article from the Governor of Colorado:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/t...

If and when I need you doggin me I'll let you know!

Posted 19 March 2014, 9:46 a.m. Suggest removal

downhillracer says...

The "vet" using a reference to the editorial/commentary pages of a well-known partisan site. Hilarious.

I'm guessing you never once sat on a high school debate team.

The "vet" doing what he/she/it does best: generating false flags to incite people with hysteria, fear and unsubstantiated data.

Posted 19 March 2014, 10:05 a.m. Suggest removal

MyFamNews says...

The fact remains that what you stated is not true. Vehicle accidents related to anything haven't gone up 300% in Colorado. I don't think I need to be schooled by you either, namvet, thanks anyway.

Posted 19 March 2014, 12:58 p.m. Suggest removal

namvet60 says...

I really don't know what your basing your comment on but in various articles indicating a high percentage of accidents have occurred relating to the inception of the pot law? Now if you would like to present some facts to rebut the numbers before stating the percentage is untrue have at!

This article is one of multiples stating increased accidents:

http://www.drugfree.org/join-together...

Have a great day

Posted 19 March 2014, 1:32 p.m. Suggest removal

bodysurfer1 says...

I'm writing because this story has been picked up in some blogs and being misinterpreted or blown out of proportion. Having an honest discussion about a serious public health issue requires using complete and accurate data. An apparent trend in one locality, based on anecdotal evidence, doesn't tell us anything.

I know this is a regional news source, but I feel compelled to point out that the suggestion that there is an upward trend in unintentional firearm-related injuries is not borne out in nationwide statistics. In fact the rates per unit population of unintentional gunshot injuries, both fatal and non-fatal, have been on a slow downward trend for as long as reliable data have been available.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collect this information, and it is available in summary from on their WISQARS Web site. For example, here are annual rates for non-fatal injuries from 2001 - 2012. I'll attempt to format the data for readability here:

Year Rate Per 100,000

2001 6.21
2002 6.11
2003 6.53
2004 5.65
2005 5.21
2006 4.92
2007 5.21
2008 5.66
2009 6.07
2010 4.59
2011 4.71
2012 5.53

Here is the URL for WISQARS. I encourage people to create their own queries to answer specific questions about the data: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/

Posted 21 March 2014, 2:57 p.m. Suggest removal

VampireNinja says...

Most anti-2nd Amendment pieces like this can pretty much be deconstructed into maybe 1/3 of the easiest-to-deploy [logical fallacies][1] Gotta love that exactly 82.768% of the above "news story" is just a bunch of appeals to emotion.

[1]: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/

Posted 22 March 2014, 5:18 a.m. Suggest removal

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