There are a great many alarming statistics about shootings in America which illustrate the dangers that guns and their lax regulation pose to our safety. These statistics come from scholarly, peer-reviewed articles in distinguished science and crime journals, or from careful governmental studies at the state or federal levels. The pro-gun side practically never has statistics to counter these.
And yet, when I and other advocates of sensible gun regulation have rolled out these statistics, and the gun guys have nowhere to turn in their attempt to discredit them, they inevitably turn to a red herring argument which basically boils down to this: "Yes, those gun death stats are awful, but vehicular deaths are worse, so we should ignore the gun stats unless you want to ban all cars," or some such false argument meant to derail the debate.
Consider the following, from a February 2011 Oregon Public Broadcasting radio show, with a debate between Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, and Kevin Starrett, executive director of the extremist organization, Oregon Firearms Federation, which I blogged on previously:
[host] Emily Harris then goes on to mention one comment on their blog comparing gun deaths to deaths by cars, suggesting "car" and "gun" could be used interchangeably in conversation.Starrett once again sees little difference: "I think there is an important parallel here. Cars kill far more people than guns do, and yet if on the many occasions, daily occasions, when we hear of people being killed in car accidents, many of which were caused by gross negligence by people or teenagers drinking or that kind of thing -- in the wake of a story like that, you would never invite a representative from AAA to come on and defend car ownership." Later adding, "You wouldn't see me coming and demanding that Penny give up her driver's license."Okamoto responded, "It's a parallel that is pulled out only when it's useful. Guns are made to kill people. Cars are not. Cars are basically for transportation. Sometimes people do die in car accidents. One of the reasons that the number of people dying in car accidents has decreased is because so many people have worked on making cars safer and making people safer drivers. The gun lobby doesn't work on making guns safer. ... There's no license, no registration, no requirement for training [for guns]. Anyone can buy a gun from anyone in Oregon. You don't have to be a licensed firearms dealer." Then, as a further analogy, she adds, "And there's an interesting parallel that wishes to be made. If we put children in car seats when they're in cars, then why can't we have some type of law that prevents children from gaining access to weapons, or more preferably, makes gun owners more responsible. If you have a gun, you own it, and some child accesses it, you're responsible. You have to be a responsible gun owner."
I would also add that the overwhelming majority of deaths in cars is due to accidents, not homicides or suicides, whereas the reverse is true for guns.
On my long list of topics to pursue, I have long wanted to do a deep dive into the statistics. What little I've done haven't looked good for the gun lobby. Add to this that the number of fatal shootings are rising, ever so slightly, despite reducing numbers of gun owners, while fatal driving accidents are decreasing, despite increases in the number of drivers.
Today the ViolencePolicy Center announced a new report, which illustrates my point quite nicely. Gun-related deaths now outpace car-related deaths in 10 states. From a press release:
A new Violence Policy Center (VPC) state-by-state analysis of government data comparing firearm deaths and motor vehicle deaths shows that gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 10 states in 2009, the most recent year for which state level data is available. The 10 states which experienced more firearm deaths than motor vehicle deaths in 2009 are: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington (see alphabetical listing of states with mortality figures below). Nationally, there were 31,236 firearm deaths in 2009 and 36,361 motor vehicle deaths according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Here is a link to that report: http://www.vpc.org/studies/gunsvscars.pdf
Here is a breakdown of the numbers, from that report:
Here is an informative graph which shows nationwide numbers of car-related deaths is falling in recent years, almost down to the number of gun-related deaths, which is rising slightly:
Excerpts from the report:
In 2010, the number of fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes continued their steady decline for a total of 35,080.b This drop took place despite a significant increase in the number of miles Americans drove.c
More than 90 percent of American households own a cari while fewer than a third of American households contain a gun.j And yet, if charted out year-by-year as seen in the graph on the prior page, deaths nationwide from these two consumer products are on a trajectory to intersect.
The report goes on to comment on the large number of safety improvements and regulations of cars (such as seat belts and seat belt laws, shatter-resistant windshields, speed restrictions, child seats, etc.) which have greatly reduced deaths by car, yet there has been no such safety regulation of guns and ammo, and regulation of guns remains very lax.
I urge you to visit the link and read the report for yourself, but here I will post, verbatim, the conclusion from the report:
Ten states already experience gun death rates that exceed their motor vehicle-related death rates. If current trends continue, the number of states where gun deaths outpace motor vehicles deaths will only increase.
The historic drop in motor vehicle deaths illustrates how health and safety regulation can reduce deaths and injuries that were at one time thought to be unavoidable.
Such an approach to injury prevention has been applied to every product Americans come into contact with every day—except for guns. And as is the case with motor vehicles, health and safety regulation could reduce deaths and injuries associated with firearms.
Comprehensive regulation of the firearms industry and its products could include: minimum safety standards (i.e., specific design standards and the requirement of safety devices); bans on certain types of firearms such as “junk guns” and military-style assault weapons; limits on firepower; restrictions on gun possession by those convicted of a violent misdemeanor; heightened restrictions on the carrying of loaded guns in public; improved enforcement of current laws restricting gun possession by persons with histories of domestic violence; more detailed and timely data collection on gun production, sales, use in crime, involvement in injury and death; and, public education about the extreme risks associated with exposure to firearms.
America is reaping the benefits of decades of successful injury prevention strategies on its highways, but continues to pay an unacceptable, yet equally preventable, price in lives lost every year to gun violence.
Here is a related article on this study, published by the Tucson Sentinal. VPC executive director, Kristen Rand, is quoted in the article:
"Americans are reaping the benefits of smart safety regulation of motor vehicles. The idea that gun deaths exceed motor vehicle deaths in 10 states is stunning when one considers that 90 percent of American households own a car while fewer than a third own firearms," said the group's legislative director, Kristen Rand.
"It is also important to consider that motor vehicles—unlike guns—are essential to the functioning of the entire U.S. economy. It is time to end firearms’ status as the last unregulated consumer product," she said.
UPDATE (6/12/12): A good related article, with excellent statistics, by "Art on Issues": http://www.artonissues.com/2012/06/guns-vs-cars-would-you-send-your-child-there/.
UPDATE (10/10/12): Gun Deaths have now surpassed death by automobile in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (= "DMV"): http://www.vpc.org/press/1210dmv.htm . From that link:
The analysis, which uses the most recent complete data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, reveals that in 2010--
- Gun deaths in the DMV totaled 1,512 while motor vehicles deaths totaled 1,280.
- In the District of Columbia there were 99 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 84 of which were identified as homicides and 13 of which were identified as suicides. That same year, there were 38 motor vehicle deaths in the District.
- In Maryland, there were 538 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 306 of which were identified as homicides and 222 of which were identified as suicides. That same year, there were 514 motor vehicle deaths in the state.
Nationally, there were 31,672 firearm deaths reported in 2010. That same year there were 35,498 motor vehicle deaths nationwide.
- In Virginia, there were 875 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 271 of which were identified as homicides, 576 of which were identified as suicides, and 13 of which were identified as unintentional deaths. That same year, there were 728 motor vehicle deaths in the state.
UPDATE (5/13/13): A related article about Washington State's gun death statistics topping those from cars.