Reader Ian in Transit writes:
Much has been made over the years by both sides about the similarities and differences between cars and guns. More specifically the deaths attributed to each. The antis continue to plod along, employing their SOP of lies supported by half-truths to validate their emotions while we de-bunk the lies time and again. Since the antis continue to use feelings to assault freedoms with an energy that rivals a kid trying to bust a candy-packed piñata, the People of the Gun must continue our efforts . . .
First, there’s the tired “guns are only designed to kill” argument. This is as ignorant an assertion as claiming “cars are only designed to race.” While you probably could use your Barrett M107A1 to mug an old lady and competitive tractor/semi racing does exist, both the rifle-wielding mugger and the racer make huge compromises by selecting tools that are far from ideal to achieve their goals. The simple fact is that guns (like cars) are purposefully manufactured for a wide variety of uses the same way cars are.
There are a great many firearms whose very design make them less than ideal for killing. Sure they can be lethal, but they have features that are specifically optimized for sporting, competition (anything from 3-gun to biathlon) or education/plinking (chipmunk .22 rifle or a full-sized .22 pistol). Once we move past firearms expressly designed for uses other than killing, we get to the intent of their manufacture.
Many (most?) firearms are intended for defensive use. While these may include design features that can effectively cause death, they’re manufactured to be used at close quarters to defend yourself or others. It’s the lethality that makes them formidable, but again they are, by design, less than ideal for offense. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “You use your pistol to get to you rifle.” In this role they prove effective in preventing crime (frequently without killing or even firing a shot) thousands of times a day. So no, the hysterical claim that guns are only good for killing is false both when considering their design and intended use.
Cars are very similar in this regard because they’re manufactured with both physical features and intended uses to accommodate a wide variety of activities. Small commuter cars, muscle cars, pickups, motorcycles and tractor trailers are all designed to be capable of exceeding the speed limit, but virtually none of them are manufactured with that intent or designed to be best suited for illegal use. So to strip out the emotion and correct the original assertion, all guns are designed to be capable of killing, just like all cars are designed to be capable of killing. Both can be dangerous and must be used with great care but just how dangerous are they?
Using the Shooter’s Calculator and my Shooter’s Bible Guide to Cartridges I calculated the destructive energy of some common rounds. These numbers represent the muzzle energy of a couple of common pistol cartridges, one high power large game round and last one is the big, scary, anti-tank, can-shoot-down-a-jetliner-with-a-single-shot from-the-flippy-up-shoulder-thingy .50BMG.
200gr 1000fps = 444
160gr 1200fps = 512
250gr 3000fps = 4996
750gr 3000fps = 14,987
Using the same equation we get the following ballistic numbers for your average car . . .
4000 pound car (28,000,000gr) traveling at 60mph (88fps) 481,426 foot pounds
4000 pound car (28,000,000gr) traveling at 120mph (176fps) 1,925,705 foot pounds
What all that means is that a mid-size sedan traveling at highway speed is more than 1000 times more deadly than my .45ACP and 32 times more deadly than a single round of .50BMG Which of these devices was designed to be more deadly? So what can be done to these machines to keep them from being used illegally? What safety measures can be installed to restrain these highly efficient killing machines?
Obviously, the purpose of cars and guns are different and don’t lend themselves to identical safety principles. We must also acknowledge that the safety features of either can’t interfere with the operation of either when they are needed. So let’s start with storage since safely storing dangerous things is of paramount importance. While there are exceptions that lead to accidents, pretty much all gun owners agree that safes are a good idea and locking away firearms when not in use is a good idea. These guns are locked away, frequently unloaded, often away from ammunition, inside a locked house. Cars are usually locked, but left full of gasoline, parked outside (especially when being used in public) completely accessible to everyone.
When being used in public, guns are generally secured by and in the direct physical control of their operator. Their destructive power is contained and it’s rare for it to be released outside of a purpose-built location where their maximum potential can be safely unleashed. Cars generate their destructive power the entire time their operator is in direct physical control of them while driving. When not driven, a car’s left out in public unattended in the hope it won’t be stolen. In short, the storage of, use of and expectation of safely controlling firearms at home and in public far exceeds that of cars. So what physical features and developments are there that make sure they function as safely as the operator is capable?
For a gun to operate it must go bang every time the trigger is pulled. Period. Ideally, it shouldn’t fire when the trigger isn’t pulled. It’s this simplicity that makes them so functional and limits the potential types of safety devices that can (or need to) be applied. Anything that prevents the gun from firing when the trigger is pulled is a potential cause of malfunction. To that end various forms of manual safeties engaged by thumb, index finger and/or establishing a firm grip have been invented. The idea is to ensure that any accidental trigger contact doesn’t result in a negligent discharge. These are widely accepted because by establishing muscle memory through training, these manual safeties can be disengaged in fractions of a second with near 100% reliability making the gun functional.
While simple in their execution, even these simple switches have been forgotten or malfunctioned causing the injury or death of the person who was depending on that gun to save their life. Modern trigger designs virtually eliminate inadvertent full automatic and drop-fire problems. Those that do happen result in almost immediate and public pressure from the buying public. This is why “smart guns” aren’t wanted in much demand. They introduce a new point of potential failure that can cause guns to fail. And when guns fail to work as they should, people die.
The operation of cars is much more complex because there are many more systems and moving parts, all designed to do very different and sometimes contradictory things depending on the input from the driver. Unlike a gun where pulling the trigger moves a few small parts, each of the basic operations depends on a large number of parts and systems in motion to help control the roughly 500,000 foot-pounds of destructive force.
Because there are so many parts and systems at play, more variable and physical safety devices have been introduced. Different tire compounds, brake pads, ABS, traction control, air bags, seatbelts and stability systems give the driver better control over the vehicle. More recently, “safety” has come in the form of systems that allow the driver to pay less attention to how they control their vehicle. Systems like lane recognition, blind spot monitors and automatic parallel parking relieve drivers of having to maintain awareness and skill and somehow this is considered enhanced safety.
In the end, guns have been around for roughly 900 years. They’re relatively simple machines and most of the possible or necessary safety features were invented over 100 years ago. All that’s left is potential fine tuning…or making them more complex and thus prone to failure. Cars on the other hand are roughly 100 years old. They’re highly complex and still rapidly evolving to better suit users’ various needs. By comparison the development of cars is still in its infancy, relatively speaking.
The major difference is seen in the results of malfunction. If your car fails you, in most situations you are, at worst, stuck on the side of the road or in a parking lot. You’re late for work or your kid’s soccer game. When you need your gun and it fails, you or your family’s lives are in danger. That’s why adding more complex safety features to a car can be considered acceptable and that’s not the case with guns.