CDC Data Error Caused False Spike in Gun Deaths

CDC Data Error Caused False Spike in Gun Deaths
Dr. John Lott. photo from guns.comweb photo

A coding error has been discovered by the Centers for Disease Control in its numbers for the Tennessee's accidental gunshot death report for 2014. The mistake caused a dramatic spike in the observed numbers of accidental gunshot deaths and, according to the CDC, errors may not be limited to this data set.

This story from guns.com says CDC officials wouldn't have known about the mistake if they hadn't been tipped off by Dr. John Lott, economist and author of "The War on Guns."

“I’m responsible for finding that out,” Lott told guns.com. “No other place in the south, or the whole country, had this big increase in accidental deaths.”

The original data was released last month and reportedly showed Tennessee’s accidental firearm-related fatalities jump from ninth in the nation in 2013 to the top spot in one year. The data said some 105 people died in accidental shootings in 2014, compared to 19 the year before.

The story says The Safe Tennessee Project (STP) blamed the spike on lax gun laws.

“Legislation could make such effective strategies as gun-safety locks, smart guns, or gun safes as common as seat belts are in cars,” said Jonathan Metzl, research director for the STP. “This data truly should be a wake-up call for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”

"Lott said he immediately questioned the data and wondered if a change in medical examiners or re-classification of suicides and accidental deaths could be to blame. 'I just haven't seen anything of that magnitude before,' he said.

“A week later, Tennessee Deputy Commissioner for Population Health Dr. Michael Warren retracted the number, announcing instead only five people had died in 2014 from accidental shootings — a 15-year low for the state.

“While the CDC’s explanation for the error remains limited, the agency said the problem is 'not technically isolated to any particular state,' though data from Tennessee and North Carolina appears to be more affected than others.

“‘Results for 2014 unintentional firearm deaths should be interpreted with caution,’ the agency warns in an Oct. 7 message posted to its website.”

Lott founded the Crime Prevention Research CenterGun rights group for his research linking lower crime rates to concealed carry laws. He has often come under fire from gun control advocates who are critical of his results and methodology.