Violence Policy Center Brings Back Gun Deaths vs Car Deaths Narrative

The Violence Policy Center recently published a study that found gun death rates to exceed motor vehicle-related death rates in ten U.S. states in 2009.

Using this fact, the VPC goes on to argue that if current trends continue in the firearms and ammunition industry, the number of states where gun deaths outnumber motor vehicle deaths will only increase.

By ‘current trends,’ the VPC is referring to the ‘lack of regulatory control’ the government has on gun manufacturers.

“Americans are reaping the benefits of smart safety regulation of motor vehicles. The idea that gun deaths exceed motor vehicle deaths in 10 states is stunning when one considers that 90 percent of American households own a car while fewer than a third own firearms. It is also important to consider that motor vehicles–unlike guns–are essential to the functioning of the entire U.S. economy. It is time to end firearms’ status as the last unregulated consumer product,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand.

firearm deaths vs motor vehicle death stats chart

The solution to this problem, according to the VPC, is to institute widespread ‘smart safety’ regulations on the gun industry.   The report proposes the following measures:

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, involvement in injury and death; and, public education about the extreme risks associated with exposure to firearms.

firearm and motor vehicle deaths chart

Now, the NRA-ILA already did a good job of poking holes in the VPC’s argument for tighter gun regulation.

Among the key points the NRA-ILA discussed; the following seemed to really underscore the problem with the VPC’s agenda:

Nationally, firearm-related deaths remained fairly steady, at 31,224 in 2007 and 31,347 in 2009, with decreases in homicides and accidents. But firearm and non-firearm suicides, each of which accounts for half of suicides, both increased from 2007 to 2009. Suicides account for nearly 60 percent of firearm-related deaths, and between 2007 and 2009 firearm suicides increased in nine of the 10 states on VPC’s list.

To put it another way, the main reason why gun-related deaths outpaced motor vehicle-related deaths in ten states is due to a spike in the number of suicides.  To give one a specific example, in 2009, 260 Utah residents died from gunshots.  Of those 260, 80 percent were suicides (217).

Therefore, despite what the VPC contends, the problem isn’t with law-abiding gun owners or a lack of regulations on the industry; the problem is with troubled people, those who are depressed, those struggling with mental illness, those fighting substance abuse and addiction.

If the VPC really wanted to bring down gun-related deaths in this country, they would focus on creating initiatives that would help troubled individuals – instead of proposing solutions that infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners.

In an earlier article, I used the following graph to illustrate how regulating guns does not help troubled people.

suicides by method pie chart

I then went on to say the following:

What’s apparent by this juxtaposition, and as the authors of Political Calculations pointed out, is that “the number of suicides a nation will experience in any given year is effectively independent of the use of firearms and any restrictions it has for firearms.”

In other words, the availability of firearms does not have any impact on the number of suicides in a given year.   People will find a way to kill themselves if they really want to (unless, they receive the care and help they really need).

Lastly, firearm homicides (including self-defense, but excluding lawful shootings by police) declined in 2008.  And more recent data reported by the FBI, indicates that criminal homicides declined in 2008, in 2009, and again in 2010, to a 47-year low.

It would appear that crime is at its lowest point in the modern era as are accidental gun deaths, and in most states it’s easier to get a CCW permit than ever before.  Moreover, there are more guns in this country than in any other nation (approximately 270 million or more, amounting to 88 guns per 100 residents).

All this leads one to the conclusion that we currently have a suicide problem and not a gun problem.  I wish the VPC would address this instead of attacking the gun industry, but that might asking too much from a “national educational foundation working to enhance gun control in America.”  The truth is, regardless of what the facts suggest, the VPC had already made up its mind long before it published this report.

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