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

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

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.

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.

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.)

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/25/2014 - 09:59 am.

    Ok …

    Of the ways that “health and safety regulations could be used to reduce deaths and injuries associated with guns,” which of those listed are not now in force?

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/25/2014 - 10:25 am.

      Not in force

      All of the bullet points she listed right below the statement you are quoting. At the very bottom of the article.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/25/2014 - 11:46 am.

    The ratios here are so important to note, and are what pro-gun advocates don’t want us to see or take seriously: with so many fewer guns out there than motor vehicles, almost the same number of deaths occur. Regulation does seem to be a major factor in making cars so much less lethal than guns.

    We need to declare gun violence a public health crisis.

  3. Submitted by Jim Peterson on 07/25/2014 - 11:53 am.

    Simple Math

    Guns and more guns…
    More and more shootings…
    More and more deaths.

    It ain’t rocket science, folks.

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 07/25/2014 - 12:14 pm.

    Why not set a mimimum age for hand gun or automatic g ownership?

    How about setting an age of 25 for any thing but a single shot “put them out of their misery” hunting gun. An exception being made if you can show an honorable discharge or active duty ID from any branch of the military or an active law enforcement officer. Make possession a serious offense.

  5. Submitted by Andrew Rothman on 07/25/2014 - 12:42 pm.

    An uncritical parroting of a gun control press release

    There was very little honesty in this piece.

    It is true that safety standards have played a part in lowering automobile deaths. As older cars are junked, more and more newer cars with air bags are being driven. Medical advances, too, save more and more injured victims.

    VPC’s comparing this to “gun deaths,” however, is completely ingenuous, and uncritically, unquestioningly echoed by this article.

    According to the CDC (http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html), people killed with firearms are rarely shot by accident — less than 2% of the time. Around 62% of the time, they die of suicide.

    Only 34% of firearm deaths are homicides, and around 70-80% of those are criminals being shot by other criminals.

    Thus, the report’s recommendations are nothing but a rights-grabbing wish list from gun controllers, unrelated to actual solutions.

    It should be noted that in 2013, Minnesota gun control advocates OPPOSED legislation that would have locked up violent offenders for longer.

  6. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/25/2014 - 01:14 pm.

    Japan had 13 gun murders or attempted murders in all of 2013

    The US has about 2x as many gun murders in one day.

    The overall murder rate in the US is 6x that of Japan.

    If one argues that guns are needed as deterrence because they are more effective (read: lethal) in defense actions, then it’s illogical to assert that absence of weapons with greater lethality won’t lower death rates.

    Guns are functionally banned in Japan as are long knives. That saves countless lives.

    Also, falling back on paranoia or Constitutional arguments show a lack of defensible ideas. As rational, self-governing people, it is our responsibility to govern ourselves, in our time, appropriately.

    Considerably more US residents have been killed with guns since 1981 than every single US soldier killed in every single war since the pilgrims first landed on the continent. It’s unconscionable to any decent human being.

    • Submitted by Andrew Rothman on 07/25/2014 - 02:31 pm.

      Let’s look at Japan…

      …which has, as you say, no guns, and roughly TWICE the suicide rate of the United States.


      Only about half of American suicides use a gun.

      Hey, maybe tools are, well, just tools.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/26/2014 - 10:42 am.


        have productive uses.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/30/2014 - 04:53 pm.


        What would Japan’s suicide rate be if they had easy access to guns? Would it be higher, the same, or lower?

        Another question: wouldn’t it be good to stop those half of American suicides that use guns? Granted, some of the people who currently kill themselves with guns, but I expect a good portion of them would not make the attempt if a gun wasn’t so readily available. Isn’t that worth pursuing?

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 07/25/2014 - 01:48 pm.

    More regulations would make people safer

    We should be required to wear bullet proof vests at all times (air bags), not engage in criminal activities (speeding), put bulletproof glass in cars, buildings, anywhere there are people (median guards), legislate just what kind of people can go out in public (junk cars). By making ourselves more “crash proof” we can indeed save more lives.

    Please notice the number of vehicle deaths caused by cars not controlled by people.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/25/2014 - 02:47 pm.

      These comparisons are pretty vapid. All the ‘points’ you make here in relation to motor vehicles are regulations designed to make vehicles safer in relation to other vehicles in the designated places they operate, namely, public roads. Do you have anything to offer other than false comparisons here?

  8. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/25/2014 - 05:52 pm.

    Lethality of different tools

    Again, if the tool doesn’t matter, why are guns so important to possess? Why not a nerf ball? The tool doesn’t matter, right?

    Here are some actual data on the lethality differential of guns v knives for the US from 2001-2010.

    For assaults and legal intervention, use of a firearm results in death 20.3% of the time. Knives? 1.6%. So guns will kill 13x the people as knives given constant human intent to harm another.

    For self-harm, the numbers differ much more widely. In suicide attempts, the use of a firearm results in fatality 83.1% of the time. Knives? Just 0.8%. Meaning, given constant intent for self-harm, guns kill 106x the people as knives do.

    For situations without intent (ie, accidents), the numbers differ even more widely than for self-harm. In 3.9% of firearm accidents, death results. Knives? 0.0048%. So given the random nature of life and that thus accidents do happen, guns are 819x more deadly than knives.

    The total lethality difference for both intentional and unintentional circumstances is 28-to-1. Meaning, all other things in life constant, guns as a tool are likely to result in death at 28x the rate of a knife as a tool.

    To save anyone from making an uninformed assertion about poisoning oneself with drugs etc, guns used in self-harm are 33x more likely than self-poisoning to result in a death per attempt.

    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/25/2014 - 07:03 pm.


      That second-to-last figure of 28x is for intentional situations only – assault, legal intervention, and self-harm. It does not include unintentional situations (ie, accidents). Including unintentional situations would raise the ratio to 274:1.

  9. Submitted by Jeff Alerex on 07/28/2014 - 07:35 pm.


    We should outlaw driving, since it is clearly dangerous.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/30/2014 - 04:55 pm.


      My inclination would be to make driving safer, not outlaw it entirely. That’s what we’ve been doing with cars and highways for many decades. Can we do the same thing with guns?

  10. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 07/29/2014 - 07:16 pm.

    The photograph….

    The photograph of the gun pointed directly at the photographer is my first clue that this is irresponsible journalism. Any firearm owner knows that this violates basic rules of gun safety.

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