Study: Active shooters with semiautomatic rifles harm more people

A study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association purports more people suffer when active shooters use semiautomatic rifles.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed FBI data on nearly 250 mass shootings since 2000 — excluding the Las Vegas massacre as a “major outlier” and San Bernardino because it involved two suspects. Gunmen used semiautomatic rifles in 25 percent of the incidents, but managed to strike nearly twice as many victims as compared to shooters armed with handguns, shotguns and other non-semiautomatic long guns.

Overall, 718 people died and 898 sustained injuries in these incidents, defined by the FBI as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined or populated area.” Although a similar proportion of victims tended to die no matter the firearm used — roughly 44 percent — the data suggests the number of people both killed or wounded in each incident nearly doubled when shooters used a semiautomatic rifle .

Dr. Adil Haider, a trauma surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Associated Press the study doesn’t suggest the semiautomatic rifle itself is deadlier than a handgun, but that its just more efficient.

“Active shooters are hell-bent on killing people,” he said. “The big difference — and this is not such a big surprise — is if you give them a semi-automatic, they’re able to shoot twice the number of people.”

The FBI didn’t specify what types of firearms were used in each attack, so researchers used media reports to confirm whether the shooter used a semiautomatic rifle or some other weapon. The limitation, researchers say, highlights the need for a centralized database on mass shootings “to inform the debate on an assault weapons ban.”

“Firearms in general, regardless of the type, are extraordinarily lethal weapons,” said Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, in an interview with the Associated Press. A self-described shooting sport enthusiast, Crifasi said she brings a different perspective to the research. “The main thing is that there are gun owners like me … who support common sense solutions to reducing gun violence,” she said.

Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, however, has long criticized the Journal of the American Medical Association for using “junk research” to tout gun control for decades.

“A recent press release from the president of the American Medical Association after the Orlando terrorist attack shows this bias clearly,” said Dr. Sean Brodale in his remarks at the 2016 Gun Rights Policy Conference.  “I look at this and think, these are doctors, they are highly educated and should know how to look at evidence and come to a reasonable conclusion — but they don’t.”

Dr. Robert Young, the group’s executive editor, told Thursday while the data may be accurate and the outcome obvious — “all things being equal, a rifle is capable of faster, more accurate fire than a pistol, and may accept larger magazines, so it makes sense that mass murderers choosing them would be able to kill and wound more people” — it’s not ‘noteworthy’ to say as much.

“The only conclusion should be that we should keep trying to find ways to tell in advance who might be most dangerous to possess any firearm, because all kinds are used, and still the largest number of deaths and injuries overall are committed with handguns,” he said.

In June, Dr. David O. Barbe, AMA president, told members the association “must not back down from addressing gun violence” — the same way it combated stigmatized beliefs surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, opposed the tobacco industry and promoted universal vaccinations.

The AMA recommends Congressional lawmakers ban “assault-type” rifles and high-capacity magazines, implement age restrictions on gun and ammo sales, expand domestic violence restraining orders to include dating partners, advocate for schools as gun-free zones, support gun buy-back programs, seize guns from high-risk individuals and oppose concealed carry reciprocity.

“While we will not all agree on every proposal introduced on gun violence, we can all agree that the issue must be addressed . . . and that the only responsible way forward is for women and men of good faith to continue to search for and advocate science-based solutions,” Barbe said. “That is true physician leadership.”

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