Where have all the gun deaths gone?
Background. The low number of firearm assaults and overall assault-related deaths in Statistics South Africa’s death notification reports is incongruous with other recently released data, including police crime statistics.
Methods. We conducted a review of all gunshot injuries recorded in death notifications from 1997 to 2013, including all cases in which the underlying cause of death was ascribed to cause-specific codes in the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) that referred to a gunshot injury.
Results. We identified 105 694 gunshot-related injury deaths over the 17-year period, an average of 6 217 per annum. The total annual number of gunshot injuries increased from 1997 to 2000, at which point firearm-related deaths peaked at 9 540 recorded cases. Thereafter there was a steadily decreasing trend (interrupted only in 2006 and 2008) until 2011, when 3 793 deaths were attributed to gunshot-related injuries as the underlying cause – a decrease of >60% from the peak in 2000.
Conclusion. The cause-specific profile for gunshot injury deaths in this study indicated extensive misclassification, which explained the near-absence of these injuries among assault cases. However, the trend in gunshot-related injury deaths irrespective of intent provides further support for the hypothesis that stricter gun control, coinciding with the implementation of the Firearms Control Act of 2000, accounts for this decrease.
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