September 13, 2016 – Media release by SafeTennesseeProject.org
(NASHVILLE) – Tennessee now ranks first in the nation for fatal unintentional shootings according to the most recent data from The Centers for Disease Control. Previously, Tennessee ranked 9th based on statistics from 2013, when 19 Tennesseans died in accidental shootings. In 2014, the number jumped to 105. Unintentional shootings involving adults most often occur when gun owners fail to clear the chamber before cleaning or handling firearms or when loaded guns are dropped. Unintentional shootings involving children most often occur when children gain access to unsecured, loaded guns that have not been safely stored. Indeed, just over a week ago, a 3-year-old Nashville toddler shot himself in the hand with a gun he found in his father’s backpack and, a mother in Blount County unintentionally and tragically shot her 9-year-old child in the head. There were two adult accidental shootings in Clarksville over the past weekend.
Tennessee’s jump is even more remarkable because the number of unintentional shootings surpassed those in states with far higher populations.
“We’ve actually been aware of the new numbers for several months, but the increase was so dramatic that we wanted to confirm the numbers before reporting them,” said Beth Joslin Roth, Policy Director for The Safe Tennessee Project. “We reached out to the CDC who explained that the numbers in their national database were uploaded directly from the state health departments. We then reached out to the Tennessee Department of Health who checked their records and verified that the numbers were in fact correct.”
Tennessee is not only first in the nation for fatal unintentional shootings, the Volunteer state leads by a wide margin.
Data on unintentional shooting deaths is sourced from the National Vital Statistics System and is accessible through the fatal injury reports from the CDC’s WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) online database. The CDC numbers reflect state-specific data on fatalities provided directly from each state’s Department of Health. Unintentional shooting injuries, even serious ones, are not reflected in the number and are not factored into the rankings.
“Nationally, unintended shooting rates tend to rise most dramatically in states that allow the easiest access to firearms and in instances where safe-storage practices are not observed,” said Jonathan M. Metzl, Research Director of the Safe Tennessee Project. “But beyond that our understanding of the best ways to prevent these tragic deaths is severely hindered by the Congressional ban on funding gun-violence prevention research.”
Tennessee’s jump in unintended shooting deaths impacted persons in all age ranges, with the highest numbers seen in the age ranges of 20-24-year-olds (19 deaths), 40-44-year-olds (12 deaths), and 25-29-year-olds 11 deaths). The vast majority of unintentional shooting fatalities were men (93 deaths) compared to only 12 women. And 79 of the unintentional shooting death victims were listed as white, while 25 were African-American. The race of the one remaining death was not specified.
The Safe Tennessee Project, a nonpartisan gun-violence prevention organizaton, also tracks media reports of accidental shootings in Tennessee in an online searchable database that lists the circumstances of the incidents, the type of firearm involved, where the shooting took place, whether or not the gun owner was a permit holder, and whether charges were filed as a result of the shooting.
“However, the incidents we track are based on media reports only, and are likely an undercount,” according to Roth. “Many accidental shootings don’t make the news.”
“The dramatic jump in unintentional shootings deaths in our state is a cause for alarm and a call to action,” said Metzl. “Legislation could make such effective strategies as gun-safety locks, smart guns, or gun safes as common as seat belts are in cars. This data truly should be a wake-up call for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
Information about the WISQARS database appears on the CDC website, and more detailed analysis of trends in Tennessee can be found on the Safe Tennessee Project website.
A summary of Tennessee’s 2016 unintentional shootings can be found here.