Stray-bullet shootings most often harm innocents

August 3, 2011, University of California

In the first nationwide study of stray-bullet shootings, Garen Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center, quantifies mortality and injury among victims of these unexpected events. His research is published as a letter in Wednesday's (Aug. 3) issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Stray-bullet shootings create fear and insecurity in many communities," said Wintemute. "People stay indoors, don't let their children play outside, and alter the patterns of their daily lives to avoid being struck by a bullet meant for someone else. Yet no research has been conducted at the national level to explore the epidemiology of these shootings. Such information is often important to identifying preventive measures."

For the study, Wintemute used Google and Yahoo news alerting services and the news archives of to track news stories published between March 2008 and February 2009 that contained the phrase "stray bullet." He defined stray-bullet shootings as situations where a bullet escaped an intended sociogeographic space and resulted in the injury of at least one person, either from the itself or a secondary mechanism, such as an injury from glass sent flying by a stray bullet. Typical scenarios included violence, shooting sports, celebratory gunfire and related activities. Cases also included shootings of bystanders who had no active role in a violent incident, and unintentional gunfire when the shooter and the person shot were not the same person.

Using these criteria, Wintemute and his colleagues identified 284 stray-bullet shootings events, in which 317 people were killed or injured. Most were incidental to violence. Unlike the risk pattern for violence, which most frequently affects young men, most persons struck by stray bullets were outside the 15-34 age range, and more than 40 percent were females.

In addition, most of the persons shot (81 percent) were unaware of the events leading to the gunfire that caused their injuries. Many (40.7 percent) were at home, and of these most (68.2 percent) were indoors. Of the 65 people who died, most died on the day they were shot, and many died at the shooting scene.

"Stray-bullet shootings are largely a byproduct of intentional violence, what we euphemistically call ‘collateral damage,'" Wintemute said. "Those who are shot have little or no warning; opportunities to take preventive measures once the shooting starts are limited. Unless we intend to bulletproof entire communities and their residents, we will only be able to prevent these shootings to the extent that we are able to prevent firearm violence."

One limitation of the current study is the reliance on media reports to quantify stray-bullet shootings, which may have resulted in an underestimation of their frequency. Some shootings may not have been reported in the media, and only partial information was available for others.

Explore further: Majority of young victims of unintentional shootings shot by another youth

Related Stories

Reports of sea lion shootings on rise in Calif.

January 2, 2011

(AP) -- The weak and woozy California sea lion found on a San Francisco Bay-area beach in December with buckshot embedded in its skull has become an all-too-common sight for wildlife officials.

Recommended for you

Insects took off when they evolved wings

January 23, 2018

The evolution of wings not only allowed ancient insects to become the first creatures on Earth to take to the skies, but also propelled their rise to become one of nature's great success stories, according to a new study.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (5) Aug 03, 2011
Celebratory gunshot injuries are entirely amenable to a simple physics analysis. The probability of interaction of a random particle with a random target is the ratio of target area to the spherical surface area at range. Further there is empirical and theoretical evidence that a _falling_ bullet is relatively harmless.

It is illustrative that less than half of the persons struck by stray (contra random) bullets are female, yet that bon mot was couched in just those terms (for maximum emotional impact).

Unmentioned in this review article is the victims' choice to tolerate the culture of violence ("He was my good little boy.")

Mintemute's screed is a polemic jeremiad.

Good people ought to be armed as they will, with wits and Guns and the Truth.
not rated yet Aug 03, 2011
most persons struck by stray bullets were outside the 15-34 age range, and more than 40 percent were females.

Which is to be expected since these shootings should reflect to normal demographic since they are, more or less, random/unintentional.

Some shootings may not have been reported in the media, and only partial information was available for others.

Maybe hospital/ambulance records would have been a better source?

For the study, Wintemute used Google and Yahoo

Oh man...i just read that as "For the study, WinteRmute used Google and Yahoo..." ...bad flashback to Neuromancer...
1 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2011
Biased author, biased sources ( and we get more BS "science", but why, oh why, do we have to read it here? I thought this was for real science, not for the rants of the politically biased.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.