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Gun deaths top motor-vehicle deaths in a rising number of states

The narrowing gap is even more startling given that more than 90 percent of American households own a car while little more than a third have a gun.

Nationwide, motor-vehicle deaths outnumbered gun deaths in 2011, but the gap is narrowing.
REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

Gun deaths exceeded motor-vehicle deaths in 14 states and the District of Columbia in 2011, the latest year for which such data is available, according to a report published last week by the Violence Policy Center.

That’s up from 12 states in 2010 and 10 states in 2009.

The 2011 states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

In Illinois, for example, there were 1,114 gun deaths and 1,080 motor-vehicle deaths in 2011, while in Vermont there were 78 gun deaths and 62 motor-vehicle deaths.

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Although Minnesota is not mentioned in the report, it had 396 gun-related deaths and 467 motor vehicle-related deaths in 2011, according to information provided MinnPost by the Violence Policy Center.

That’s a gun-death rate of 7.41 per 100,000 population and a motor vehicle-death rate of 8.73 per 100,000 population.

Nationwide, motor-vehicle deaths outnumbered gun deaths in 2011, but the gap is narrowing. In 2009, when the Violence Policy Center published its first report on this topic, 36,361 people died in motor vehicle crashes and 31,236 people died of gunshot wounds.

In 2011, the numbers were 35,543 and 32,351.

As the report points out, that narrow gap is even more startling given the fact that more than 90 percent of American households own a car while little more than a third have a gun.

“If charted out year by year,” the report notes, “… deaths nationwide from these two consumer products are on a trajectory to intersect.”

A tale of two regulatory approaches

One side of the closing gap — the falling number of automobile-related deaths — can be explained by increases in health and safety regulations. For example, motor vehicles must now contain such safety features as seat belts, headrests and shatter-resistant windshields, and laws have been tightened to increase the punishments for not wearing seat belts and for driving while under the influence of alcohol. States have also been strengthening graduated driver licensing systems aimed at restricting when and under what circumstances teens can drive.

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“Between 1966 and 2000, the combined efforts of government and advocacy organizations reduced the rate of death per 100,000 population by 43 percent, which represents a 72 percent decrease in deaths per vehicle miles traveled,” says the report.

And those efforts continue, as demonstrated by the recent successful campaign to require back-up cameras in automobiles.

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Guns, on the other hand, “remain the last consumer product manufactured in the United States not subject to federal health and safety regulation,” the report states.

“While the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is charged with enforcing our nation’s limited gun law, it has none of the health and safety regulatory powers afforded other federal agencies,” it adds.

Violence Policy Center

Lowering gun-related deaths

The report suggests several ways that health and safety regulations could be used to reduce deaths and injuries associated with guns. These 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, as well as 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, cost in lives lost every year to gun violence,” the report concludes.

You can read the report on the Violence Policy Center website. The center is a nonprofit, pro-gun-control organization founded in 1988. (Full disclosure: One of its funders is the Joyce Foundation, from which MinnPost has a grant.)