By Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 28, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- With the debate over U.S. gun policy heating up, a new study uncovers an interesting connection: Fewer Americans fall victim to firearm injuries during the annual meetings hosted by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Researchers found that between 2007 and 2015, U.S. firearm injuries declined by 20 percent during NRA conventions, compared to the weeks before and after the meeting.
The reasons for the association are not clear, but the researchers said it is likely simple: During the meetings, fewer gun enthusiasts are using their firearms -- which translates into fewer chances for injury.
The study comes amid a reignited debate over national gun control policy.
On Feb. 14, a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., left 17 people dead and many others injured. It has spurred renewed calls for stricter gun control. But some, including President Donald Trump, have argued that arming teachers is the answer.
Researcher Dr. Anupam Jena said he's not sure whether or how his findings might influence the debate.
But they do suggest, he added, that even among the most experienced gun owners, less firearm use means fewer injuries.
"This study basically asks the question, 'What happens when a lot of experienced gun owners leave town and are not using their guns?'" said Jena, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.
NRA conventions typically draw about 80,000 people, Jena noted.
That might seem small in comparison to the millions of Americans who own guns. "But that is actually a large number of people convening in one place. And they would be some of the heaviest gun users," Jena said.
Plus, some convention attendees would be owners of shooting ranges and other venues where people use guns: If any of those places shut down during the meeting, Jena said, that could further limit firearm use.
Daniel Webster directs the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, in Baltimore. It's plausible, he agreed, that NRA meetings spur a decline in gun injuries.
"I'm not surprised by the findings," said Webster, who was not involved in the study.
"[When] those with the greatest exposure to firearms take a break from handling loaded firearms in their homes, and in other contexts, fewer people are shot," Webster said.
The findings are based on records from a national insurance claims database. Jena's team looked for emergency room visits and hospitalizations for firearm injuries during NRA convention dates, and on the same days of the week during the three weeks before and after the meeting.
Overall, the study found, there were almost 1.2 firearm injuries for every 100,000 people during NRA meetings. In contrast, there were almost 1.5 injuries per 100,000 during comparison weeks.
There were additional findings, Jena said, that support the cause-and-effect argument.
For one, the injury decline was mainly among men, who make up a disproportionate share of NRA meeting attendees.
Most significantly, Jena said, the reduction was clearest in the state hosting the convention. That makes sense, he added, because the meeting would likely draw a large number of members living in that state.
The study was published March 1 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
To Jena, the findings highlight the fact that there is always an injury risk when people own firearms -- no matter how well-trained they are.
"There is a rhetoric," he said, "that gun injuries stem from a lack of training and experience."
But that's simply not the case, according to Dr. Frederick Rivara, of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, in Seattle.
"I think this is an important study, in light of the debate going on about arming teachers," said Rivara, who was not involved in the research.
"It punches holes in the argument that arming more people is the answer," he said.
The NRA did not respond to HealthDay's request for comment on the study.