Sometimes when you do research, you have to chase the data. Other times, the data chases you. And a new piece of research coming out of the Johns Hopkins research group seems to be more of the second than the first. The paper covers gun homicides that occurred in the workplace from 2011 to 2015. It is drawn from data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which tracks workplace injuries, of which there were 18,327 fatal injuries over this same five-year period. How many of these deaths were due to guns discharged in a workplace? 1,553, or eight percent.
This happens to be half the percentage of gun injury deaths that are counted in all injury deaths for the same five years. Of 984,554 deaths from injuries listed by the CDC, 169,396 were caused by guns, or 17 percent. The gun mortality number includes 105,235 self-inflected injuries – suicides – which aren’t covered by the workplace data at all. Pull gun suicides out of the overall gun numbers and we have 64,161 gun deaths where someone shot someone else, and the workplace percentage of all gun deaths drops to 2 percent.
On average, there were slightly more than 300 workplace fatal shootings each year. The total daily workforce is roughly 150 million, of which some 7 million work at home. Which means that on the average workday, more than 140 million Americans are in a workplace of some kind. In other words, on average, one out of 466,666 people at work might be killed with a gun. Know what the odds are for getting shot outside of the workplace if you are between the age of 19 and 34? Try one out of 8,570, a figure which would probably be one out of 4,000 if we just counted males. What would the odds look like if we calculated the gun-homicide rate for males, ages 19 to 34 in inner-city neighborhoods where the overall gun-violence rate is four, five or ten times higher than the national rate?
What is missing from this paper is context, and what the context shows is that compared to other environments, when it comes to gun violence, the workplace environment is a pretty safe place. In a way, this paper reminds me of all the talk about arming teachers in schools, when what is overlooked again and again is that schools are much safer environments than the streets around the schools, particularly for the age-group that’s supposed to be attending school.
On the other hand, using the data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries does allow this research team to grab details about gun homicides that provide a more nuanced assessment of why some conflicts between individuals in the workplace end up with one of them pulling out a gun. The researchers found that it’s not just an argument escalating into violence which brought about the appearance and use of a gun. The shooting might have been precipitated by a long-standing conflict between co-workers rather than resulting from a specific, observable event.
If there is one data gap which I would hope can some day be filled, it is that the definition of a ‘workplace’ should include the size of the workforce and/or the number of workers in the workplace when the shooting occurred. More than half of the 250,000 firms classified as manufacturing companies have 9 employees or less, yet there are also nearly 15,000 companies that employ between 100 and 500 or more. How do you set up a program that could spot troublesome employee relationships in plants that vary so much in size? You probably don’t.
Of course the simple answer is to prohibit guns in the workplace, right? Not so simple because as this study points out, nearly half the shooters who killed co-workers first had to go to some place other than where they were working in order to get their hands on a gun.
Does access to guns in the workplace increase the risks of gun violence? Gee, what a surprise.