Comparing Car and Gun Fatalities is Misleading and Irrelevant

Is it that time of year again already? Time for the antis to trot out some ginned up stats about which to hyperventilate and ‘view with alarm’? Our pal Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center has provided the “study”, one he hopes people will gloss over without really looking too closely. Unfortunately for Josh, debunking the panty-soiling hysteria of antis is pretty much what we do . . .

Here’s Josh’s set-up:

Each day, how many motor vehicles do you see or actually use?

You probably couldn’t keep track.

Now, how about guns. How many do you see or actually use during the same period?

For most people, not that many. If any at all.

And yet, in 10 states gun deaths actually outpace motor vehicle deaths.

Mr. Sugarmann then provides the list, breaking it down by gun deaths [sic] and car deaths [sic] (note: no cars or guns were killed in the performance of this study). So laying it out in a table we see . . . not much.

State Gun Deaths MV Deaths
Alaska 104 84
Arizona 856 809
Colorado 583 565
Indiana 735 715
Michigan 1095 977
Nevada 406 255
Oregon 417 394
Utah 260 256
Virginia 836 827
Washington 623 580

The data seem kind of sparse; what were the causes of death? Were they suicides, homicides, accidents? We know that suicide rates are independent of method (that is, restricting access to firearms may reduce the suicide rate with firearms, but it does not affect the overall suicide rate) so let’s and remove suicides from the totals.

State Gun Accident and Homicide MV Accident and Homicide
Alaska 17 84
Arizona 228 807
Colorado 108 557
Indiana 267 714
Michigan 507 962
Nevada 97 254
Oregon 55 391
Utah 30 256
Virginia 285 826
Washington 118 574

Now, I know that there are some out there who would argue that I should remove homicides from the total, but as you can see, just pulling the suicides completely debunks Josh’s numbers. But let’s see what else he has to say:

While motor vehicle-related deaths are on a steady decline as the result of a successful decades-long public health-based injury prevention strategy, gun deaths continue unabated.

Wow, gun deaths continue unabated, eh Josh? Not so much. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, you are a big fat liar! You can easily go here and do your own table; I used violent crime rates for the entire U.S. from 1960 to 2010 and extracted the Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate to make this graph (free graphing available here).

Josh seems to have difficulty with words and numbers, so let’s draw it out with pretty pictures and colors, shall we? From, here’s what right-to-carry looked like in 1990 (right up there at the third highest peak above):


And here is what it looked like in 2010 (at the very tail end of the graph, one of the lowest points):

Josh is like any good good gun grabber. If you wait long enough, they always reveal their true agenda:

And while the health and safety regulation of motor vehicles stands as a public health success story, firearms remain literally the last consumer product manufactured in the United States not subject to federal health and safety regulation.

The [ATF] is charged with enforcing our nation’s limited gun laws, yet it has none of the health and safety regulatory powers afforded other federal agencies such as NHTSA (or the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency).

That was done deliberately, Josh, to keep antis like you from using consumer safety as an excuse to regulate guns out of existence. And if you think I’m being paranoid, look at California, which used state “safety regulations” to implement their microstamping requirements, loaded chamber indicator and magazine disconnect regulations.

Oops! Josh really lets the cat out of the bag when he quotes Dr. David Hemenway:

“[T]he time Americans spend using their cars is orders of magnitudes greater than the time spent using their guns. It is probable that per hour of exposure, guns are far more dangerous. Moreover, we have lots of safety regulations concerning the manufacture of motor vehicles; there are virtually no safety regulations for domestic firearms manufacture.”

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.

Aha! So what Josh really has in mind is to use safety regulations to “reduce the carnage.” But “safety regulations” would have no effect on suicide or homicide rates. So Josh must want to “reduce the carnage” from firearm accidents. A noble and worthy goal, I’m sure. What exactly are the accidental death and injury rates for firearms, as compared to cars?

As Josh so helpfully points out at the beginning, there are a lot more licensed drivers than there are permit-holders (although I think there may be more people “packing heat on your street” than he realizes), so we obviously need to do some number-crunching to be able to properly compare these rates.

I’m going to assume that permit-holders are responsible for all accidental shootings (which is ludicrous on its face, but as my faithful readers know, I like to be conservative in my calculations).

According to figures from the Census, in 2009 there were 211 million licensed drivers in the United States, and according to MSNBC, there are about 6 million gun permit holders in the U.S. That gives us 1 permit-holder for every 35.2 licensed drivers. So correcting the above table for the relative numbers of carriers and drivers gives us this:

Let’s sum up, shall we? Setting aside the fact that the freedom to own and carry a firearm is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility, ignoring the fact that defensive gun uses save twice as many lives as criminal gun uses take, guns are still safer than cars and gun owners are still safer than car owners.

Thus endeth the lesson.