Why using media reports to classify accidental shootings is very misleading

Dec 13, 2016 | Featured

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While the CDC has made some big mistakes exaggerating the number of accidental gun deaths, it is a common refrain that the CDC is missing out on accidental gun deaths for those under age 18.  A new Associated Press report claims that the true number of accidental gun deaths for those under age 18 is 141, not 77.

But the media often makes mistakes in terms of the motivation for the death.  Sometimes when 17 year old kills another 17 year old it is intentional, an thus should be classified as murder, even though the media reports might not properly identify this intent.

[Adele Lewis, Tennessee’s deputy chief medical examiner] said media outlets often misreport the circumstances around supposed-accidental shootings — which often turn out to be murders — while medical examiners use a specific set of standards to classify a death as truly an accident, versus a suicide or homicide.

Personal relationships can also impact a final determination of cause of death, too, she said. . . .

The Associated Press article does have this point:

CDC officials have acknowledged that their statistics are low because they rely on how coroners classify the fatalities on death certificates. Some coroners rule deaths in which one child unintentionally shoots another as a homicide – rather than an accidental discharge – because they fit the definition of being killed by another. They also can classify them as undetermined if the intent is unclear – for example, if it’s not certain whether a minor committed suicide or accidentally shot himself. . . .

If the media wants to adopt their own standards for classifying accidents and murder, possibly they should rewrite the laws.  In those relatively rare “undetermined” cases, the Associated Press is simply asserting that its judgment is better than those who regularly evaluate these cases.

Our previous discussions on the accidental gun death data are available here and here.