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National database needed for injured mass shooting survivors

August 11, 2023 | Heather Shannon
blond woman in gray sweater with her arm around person in black sweater in comfort; injured gun violence survivors are prevalent and some need treatment for years
The study led by Dr. Mark I. Langdorf found that 37% of mass shooting injuries didn't involve a bullet wound. Those survivors fell, were trampled, had a cardiac event or struggle with their mental health.

Mass shooting deaths are carefully tracked, but the people who survive such tragedies with serious injuries get far less attention.

UCI Health emergency medicine expert Dr. Mark I. Langdorf, is on a mission to change that. He is calling for creation of a U.S. database to track the many effects that mass shootings have on injured survivors and a “national reckoning” to understand the full impact of gun violence.

“I had the idea to bring another level of understanding about mass shootings and how horrible they are,” says Langdorf, former chair of UCI’s Department of Emergency Medicine and editor-in-chief of the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine (WestJEM).

He is the senior author of “Nonfatal Injuries Sustained in Mass Shootings in the U.S., 2012-2019,” which appeared recently in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal.

Database would track long-, short-term outcomes

With the collaboration of emergency medicine physicians and trauma surgeons at 31 U.S. hospitals, Langdorf and his co-authors gathered data on 403 injured patients from 13 mass shootings occurring between 2012 and 2019. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter.

Not all hospitals were able to participate in the study for several reasons: lack of hospital research infrastructure, lack of staff, unwillingness to participate and the age of some of the records.

A national database tracking long- and short-term outcomes for survivors could resolve some of these issues, Langdorf says.

“Longitudinally, the care we provide for these patients goes on for years. We should therefore have a national accounting and reckoning of injuries from mass shootings and a record of required hospital reporting.”

Many injuries don't involve bullet wounds

The study found that 37% of mass shooting injuries didn’t involve a bullet wound. Instead, people fell, were trampled, had a cardiac event, anxiety or other mental health issues.

In most incidents, nonfatal mass shooting injuries outnumber deaths.

“The point we make is that mass shootings have a huge impact on the patient, on healthcare resources, on public health,” he says. “The families of the survivors have their whole lives changed.”

Langdorf described one patient who was treated at UCI Medical Center for injuries suffered in the Route 91 Harvest music festival mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.

“We were able to follow the medical records through five surgeries," he says. That patient ran up $450,000 in medical bills and, 2½ years later, was still on disability and unable to return to work.

Langdorf and his co-authors call for further research on the “human toll” of mass shootings, including “additional study of the psychology of the perpetrators, the forensics of their weapons … and the long-term physical and emotional impact on survivors.”

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