-- Gun makers have boosted production in recent years, focusing on more high-caliber pistols and rifles designed for self-defense and shifting away from recreational firearms used for hunting and target shooting, the authors of a new study said.
Gun violence kills more than 36,000 Americans each year, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Authors of the study, published Thursday in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, said research has focused on victims of gun violence and government policies, while their study is one of the first to focus on gun industry practices.
Looking at data compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the researchers noted a significant increase in gun manufacturing overall from 2005 to 2013, in contrast to a slight downward trend before 2005.
They also found that driving this growth was higher production of pistols and rifles, and the pistols tended to be higher-caliber models, or ones that fire larger bullets. The authors said that five major gun manufacturers control nearly 60 percent of the market, so changes in production of one manufacturer could significantly affect the others'.
"It seems clear to us that the trend is for self-defense," lead study author Dr. Michael Siegel told ABC News.
"[Manufacturers] have reinvented guns not as a recreational sport or tool but as a symbol of freedom and security," he said.
The study authors further suggested that the issue of gun violence should shift from the criminal justice perspective to the public health arena — a point that has been opposed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a major industry organization for gun manufacturers.
"Guns are not a disease," Lawrence G. Keane, the foundation's senior vice president and general counsel, told ABC News in a statement. "There is no vaccine or health intervention for the criminal misuse of firearms."
Siegel, however, said the study is important because it points to the industry's responsibility in preventing gun violence.
He added that the goal of the research was not to deprive gun owners of their weapons.
"They are not the enemy in public health," he said. "There are ways to reduce gun violence while valuing gun owners' values … It has been painted too long as mutually exclusive."
Siegel said that the group's next research steps are to identify the most effective methods and policies for isolating the small number of people who are most likely to commit acts of violence using guns.
"The solution lies in not taking guns away from people who are law-abiding but by being more effective at keeping guns out of the hands of the people who are at highest risk of gun violence."
Hong-An Nguyen, M.D., is a third-year resident physician in pediatrics at New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.