One little-known fact about mass shootings is that they have been very good for the gun business. Americans' anxieties are stoked both by the random violence itself and the ensuing debates over gun control. Customers, including some who've never owned a gun, race to buy weapons they fear may be denied them down the road. And gun sales soar.
But the aftermath of a mass shooting does not appear to be very good for Americans' safety. New research suggests that the increased availability of firearms after a mass shooting exacts a deadly toll of its own.
That toll falls heavily on children, according to the study, which links the spike in gun sales following a mass shooting with an increase in fatal accidents involving firearms.
To reach that conclusion, researchers zeroed in on the five-month period following the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In addition to the expected number of guns sold in a typical five-month period, the study's authors found that about 3 million additional guns were sold following the Sandy Hook shootings. And beyond the expected number of accidental gun deaths in the United States, they estimated that at least an additional 57 fatal gun accidents -- and as many as 66 -- occurred. Somewhere between 17 and 22 of those accidental deaths took the life of a child.
The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, is the latest in a crop of studies that look at the public health impact of firearms.
"This is part of this blossoming in gun research," said Duke University emeritus professor Philip J. Cook, a pioneer in the field of firearms injury research who wasn't involved in the new study.
The line between increased gun sales and accidental shootings is by no means a direct one. But the research strongly suggests that the behavior of gun owners and gun buyers in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting contributed to a rise in accidental gun deaths.
The study's authors -- health economists from Wellesley College and from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Massachusetts -- used several measures to gauge Americans' increased "gun exposure" in the wake of Sandy Hook.
They saw a spike in presumptive gun sales, gleaned from a spike in the background checks required for most sales. They also tallied increases in Google searches about gun-buying and gun-cleaning. That's evidence, they suggest, that gun owners were bringing existing guns out of storage and that both established and prospective gun owners were preparing to bring a new firearm into the home.