"Even among experienced gun owners -- who might be more likely to attend NRA annual conventions -- the rate of firearm injury directly relates to the amount of firearm use," Jena and Olenski wrote.
The people and places that experienced the most pronounced downturns were not entirely random, either.
Reductions in firearm injuries were highest among men, and across the nation's South and West in states that rank among the highest in gun ownership. And over the nine annual meetings studied, the declines in ER visits for gun injuries were sharpest in the state that hosted the convention in a given year.
Those findings lend further credence to the idea that the NRA convention effect is real. Of the roughly 80,000 NRA members who attend any given yearly meeting, close to 85 percent are men. And attendance is typically highest among members who live in the state where the convention is being held.
To detect that small but significant trend, Jena and Olenski sifted through more than 75 million private health insurance claims for ER visits due to firearms injuries. They scoured those records first to establish the rate of such visits during the exact dates of the annual NRA meetings between 2007 and 2015. Then, they compared that rate with the rate seen in emergency departments during two other three-day periods -- exactly three weeks before the convention and three weeks after the meetings. (That way, all of the periods had the same number of weekdays and weekends.)
None of this is to say that NRA members leave their weapons at home. A notice on the NRA's annual meeting web site says that, in accordance with Texas law, "lawfully carried firearms will be permitted" in Dallas' Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and the Omni Dallas Hotel, where the 2018 annual meeting and exhibits are to be held May 3 through 6.
"When carrying your firearm remember to follow all federal, state and local laws," the NRA web site cautions attendees.
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Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency department physician and firearms injury researcher at the University of California, Davis, said the new study should have examined whether the population studied -- people with private health insurance -- really reflects those most likely to attend NRA annual meetings, and whether other events that occurred during the time periods studied might account for the differences seen.
For instance, Wintemute said that crime rates tend to drop during major sporting events -- evidence that a range of activities might temporarily drive down gun injuries.
Wintemute mused that future studies should explore whether ER visits for firearms injuries change during NASCAR events, which are attended by many gun owners, or during annual meetings of AARP, an organization whose aims are entirely unrelated to guns.
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