Unintentional and undetermined firearm related deaths: A preventable death analysis for three safety devices

Jon S. Vernick, M. O'Brien, L. M. Hepburn, S. B. Johnson, D. W. Webster, S. W. Hargarten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine the proportion of unintentional and undetermined firearm related deaths preventable by three safety devices: personalization devices, loaded chamber indicators (LCIs), and magazine safeties. A personalized gun will operate only for an authorized user, a LCI indicates when the gun contains ammunition, and a magazine safety prevents the gun from firing when the ammunition magazine is removed. Design: Information about all unintentional and undetermined firearm deaths from 1991-98 was obtained from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Maryland, and from the Wisconsin Firearm Injury Reporting System for Milwaukee. Data regarding the victim, shooter, weapon, and circumstances were abstracted. Coding rules to classify each death as preventable, possibly preventable, or not preventable by each of the three safety devices were also applied. Results: There were a total of 117 firearm related deaths in our sample, 95 (81%) involving handguns. Forty three deaths (37%) were classified as preventable by a personalized gun, 23 (20%) by a LCI, and five (4%) by a magazine safety. Overall, 52 deaths (44%) were preventable by at least one safety device. Deaths involving children 0-17 (relative risk (RR) 3.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.1 to 5.1) and handguns (RR 8.1, 95% CI 1.2 to 53.5) were more likely to be preventable. Projecting the findings to the entire United States, an estimated 442 deaths might have been prevented in 2000 had all guns been equipped with these safety devices. Conclusion: Incorporating safety devices into firearms is an important injury intervention, with the potential to save hundreds of lives each year.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-311
Number of pages5
JournalInjury Prevention
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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