Add at least 57 to the number of gun-related deaths tied to the Sandy Hook mass shooting

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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.

The California data culled from that study suggested that 59% of Californians’ additional gun purchases after Sandy Hook were made by first-time firearm buyers.

By linking increased gun exposure to heightened rates of accidental gun deaths, the authors of the new study in Science are making an early effort to weave together the disparate threads of recent research. Their findings offer evidence — indirect, though it may be — that fatal accidents are more common when first-time owners bring home a gun, as well as when gun owners haul out their guns to clean them, check them or make room for a new purchase. They also suggest that this kind of firearms “churn” takes place more often in the wake of mass shootings.

“The idea this shock to the system added to gun sales is certainly plausible and seems like the beginning of a causal story,” said Cook, who has studied the economics of guns and crime for decades.

It’s hard to link two streams of data — on the availability of guns and the behavior of gun owners — and draw firm conclusions about how and why firearms injuries occur, Cook said.

“I love the spirit of this article, which was to try to cut through that problem,” Cook said.

And there may be more to come, he added.

After 1996, when a law barred the use of some federal funds for firearms research, a once-vibrant field of study went virtually dormant, he said. Now, prompted by a surge in private funds, public concerns and academic interest, Cook predicted that “more top researchers are going to gravitate to this area of research.”

melissa.healy@latimes.com

@LATMelissaHealy

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