Guns Deadlier Than Cars in 10 States
The execution of four people in a Seattle coffee shop last week, plus a fifth victim killed by the same gunman in a carjacking as he attempted to flee, brought the city’s homicide total to 21 though the first five months of the year– matching the number of people killed in the city for all of 2011. With gun deaths on the rise nationally, including high-profile shootings like that of Trayvon Martin in Florida, gun rights activists are nevertheless calling for — and achieving — ever-looser gun laws in states across the country.
- Ten states now see more gun deaths than car deaths.
- Vehicle deaths have dropped over the years thanks to federal regulations
- Guns are the only unregulated consumer product
Unregulated Killing Machines
Getting in a car and driving down the street has statistically been one of the most dangerous things an American can do. However, decades of federal safety regulations have led to a steady decline in highway deaths. On the other hand, firearms, which aren’t subject to any federal safety regulations, are involved in an increasing number of deaths each year. In fact, in 2009, 10 states saw more deaths due to guns than cars, according to research by the Violence Policy Center. Nationally, gun deaths tick ever-upward, to 31,236 in 2009, and could someday soon surpass total vehicle deaths nationwide, which were at a low of 36,361 the same year.
“We think firearms need to be treated like motor vehicles. There needs to be a federal agency to regulate firearms,” says VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “It’s worked for every other consumer product.”
Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington had the dubious distinction of more gun than car deaths. The VPC study notes that cars have to meet strict standards like mandated seat belts and other safety equipment, and also benefit from federal highway safety regulations and campaigns against drunk driving. Firearms? None of the above.
It Gets Better?
“Our main point is we’re seeing a significant decline in motor vehicle deaths, largely due to the fact that they have been regulated from a health and safety perspective since 60’s, combined with public education campaigns,” says Rand. “Firearms are the only consumer product not regulated by the federal government. We think this comparison demonstrates the price we pay for that.”
VPC lists a number of potential common-sense reforms and regulations of the firearm industry that could benefit public safety:
- 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 and involvement in injury and death
- public education about the extreme risks associated with exposure to firearms
The VPC is hoping legislation addressing some of the issues could be introduced in the next few years. “These statistics show it’s time to reignite this debate,” Rand says.
Toy Guns and Teddy Bears
Despite the apparent safety value in gun regulation, legislation and momentum have been headed in the opposite direction. In the past decade, we’ve seen a Supreme Court decision throwing out a handgun ban in Washington D.C., a proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws that give shooters license to kill without any obligation to retreat, and what appears to be a coming fight over “Constitutional Carry” status, or the freedom to carry a concealed weapon with no license or permit.
“There’s a big push by the gun lobby to expand the ability of private citizens to carry guns in public,” Rand says. “Toy guns and teddy bears are more stringently regulated than real guns. When people stop and think about it, most of the time they’re shocked by that fact.”
All the data for 2010 is not yet available, but all signs point to highway deaths continuing to fall while gun deaths continue to rise, meaning the 10 named states could soon have a lot more company. “It’s certainly not going to get any better,” says Rand. “Maybe more states will join them.”
Do you think firearms should be subject to regulation like every other consumer product? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.