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A new proxy measure for state-level gun ownership in studies of firearm injury prevention


Since many states are considering gun control laws, researchers need reliable data on rates of gun ownership at the state level. Survey measures of gun ownership in all 50 states, however, are only available for 3 years, and no state-level data have been collected since 2004. Consequently, the National Research Council has declared the development of a valid proxy that can be constructed from accessible, annual, state-level data to be a priority. While such a proxy does exist (the proportion of suicides in a state committed using a gun (FS/S), its correlation with state estimates of gun ownership in recent years is only 0.80. Using state-level data for the years 2001, 2002 and 2004, we developed an improved proxy for state-level gun ownership that uses FS/S (firearm suicides divided by all suicides) and also the per capita number of hunting licenses. We validated this measure using data from surveys of gun ownership conducted in 48 states during 1996 and 1999, and in 21 states during 1995–1998. Adding per capita hunting licenses to the proxy increased its correlation with survey-measured gun ownership from 0.80 to 0.95. The correlations of the new proxy with gun ownership in the two validation studies were 0.95 and 0.97. We conclude that the combination of FS/S and per capita hunting licenses improves substantially upon FS/S alone. This new proxy is easily computed from data that are available annually by state and may be useful for investigating the effect of gun prevalence on firearm-related morbidity and mortality.

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