Federal data showing annual accidental gun deaths in Tennessee soared to 105 from just 19 propelled a fierce firearms control campaign, but it turned out the stats were about as accurate as a two-dollar pistol.
The numbers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seemed to show the Volunteer State led the nation in accidental shooting deaths due to a more than five-fold increase in 2014. But an eagle-eyed Second Amendment advocate's suspicions turned out to be right: The number of accidental deaths had actually dropped, from 19 to just five.
“It was a big mistake,” said John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime," and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.
The errant number even skewed national statistics in a major way, he noted.
“It raised total accidental deaths to 586 when they should have been 486, the lowest number on record despite the explosion in gun sales and concealed carry permits,” Lott said.
Lott first pointed the error out to the CDC at the beginning of 2016 but the governmental agency did nothing to correct the report until recently.
“There was a coding error in the 2014 file that increases the number of unintentional firearm deaths (W32-W34: Accidental discharge of firearms) substantially in some states,” reads a caveat recently posted by the CDC. “The error was not technically isolated to any particular state, but because of the nature of the error, data from some states (TN, NC) were affected more than others in 2014.
“Results for 2014 unintentional firearm deaths should be interpreted with caution.”
As recently as last month, the Safe Tennessee Project cited the 2014 data in its campaign.
"The dramatic jump in unintentional shootings deaths in our state is a cause for alarm and a call to action," Jonathan Metzl, research director of the Safe Tennessee Project, told the news service last month. "This data truly should be a wake-up call for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle."
Even after Lott pointed out the error, it took months for the CDC to acknowledge the mistake. As of the publication of this article, the federal agency still posted the erroneous data on its website.
The Safe Tennessee Project removed all postings on its website once the error was acknowledged by the CDC.