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Guns vs Cars: What Kills More?

By Aaron Crowe

For something that wasn’t designed to kill, a car is more likely to kill you than a gun.

Motor vehicle traffic deaths killed 33,687 in 2010, more than the 31,672 firearm deaths that year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers are close, equating to 10.9 deaths from car accidents and 10.3 from guns per 100,000 people.

That’s a lot of non-medical deaths that get both sides of the gun debate talking about if guns should be licensed and users tested as much as cars are. There are a lot more controls on who can drive a car and what condition the car is in — from driver’s licenses to insurance and safety requirements — than there are for firearms.

But because guns are less deadly than cars, there’s no need to have mandatory training for guns, the pro-gun argument goes.

Firearm fatalities are projected to exceed traffic fatalities for the first time in 2015, according to a Bloomberg analysis. Based on the 10-year average trend, Bloomberg projected that firearm deaths would rise to 32,929 and motor vehicle deaths would drop to 32,036, marking the first time gun deaths would exceed autos.

Ten states had more guns deaths than automobile deaths in 2009, possibly showing a trend that Bloomberg projected.

But Bloomberg’s statistics include suicides by guns, which the CDC reports as 65% of gun deaths, and suicides should be removed from the equation because they’re not accidents or the killing of someone else, says Mike Arman, a long-time gun owner who lives in Florida.

“Can you really control that?” Arman says of suicides. “Because if someone wants to kill themselves and they can’t get a gun, they’ll get something else.”

Like many pro-gun arguments, that’s misleading, says Margot Bennett, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence. Suicide rates escalate with a gun in the house, and without one people are more likely to reconsider killing themselves, Bennett says.

While auto deaths have dropped from more regulation, education and safety features, gun regulations have become more relaxed, she says.

“Cars were not designed to kill people,” Bennett says, adding that because guns are meant to kill, they should be regulated more.

“When somebody dies in a car accident, it really is an accident,” while when a gun is used, it’s fulfilling its purpose of killing, she says.

Gun owners should take a basic firearms course — but it shouldn’t be mandated by the government, as some states do, Arman says. It’s a slippery slope, he says, that could lead to records that officials could one day use to track down and confiscate guns.

That slippery slope argument is fear mongering among gun supporters, Bennett says.

“Is anybody coming to take away our cars?” she asks. “Because cars have been legislated and regulated to death but no one is taking away our cars.”

There are only so many safety devices that can be put on a gun, says Jason Hanson, who teaches how to get a concealed firearms permit online. Picking up a gun and flipping off the safety makes it easy to fire, Hanson says.

“There’s a lot more margin for error with a car and with a gun there’s a lot less,” he says.

More people may die from cars than guns simply because cars are used daily, Hanson says. “People are doing a lot more driving than gun handling,” he says.

A list compiled by Bennett’s group, Women Against Gun Violence, points out that cars are much more heavily regulated than guns are. Here are some it cites:

User training/probationary period: To drive, a learner’s permit from age 15 to 16 recognizes the inexperience and differences in biological capacity for judgment inherent to youth, but there is no probabtionary or youth level gun permits.

User age requirement: Drivers must be 15 to get a learner’s permit and 16 to hold a license. To own a long gun federal law requires owners to be 18, and 21 to buy a handgun. The age requirement only applies if buying from a licensed seller. The 40% sold privately require no age or background check.

License renewal: Driver licenses are renewed periodically, with the driver’s eyesight and knowledge of rules of the road checked. Unless you’re a felon or another prohibited user, your guns are yours for life.

Prohibitions during operation: Alcohol use and distractions such as texting while driving are illegal. No such regulations exist for gun use. A firing range in George obtained an alcohol permit last year.

Safety inspection: Smog checks for cars can include mandatory checks for working brake lights and headlights. No initial or follow-up inspections are required to check if a gun or its safety mechanism are functioning properly.

Insurance: Auto insurance is mandatory, along with financial incentives to drive safely and have safety features on cars. No such insurance is required of gun owners, including liability insurance.

Safety equipment: Air bags, seatbelts and ignition safeties are required safety equipment for cars. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that trigger locks for guns are unconstitutional.

Hanson, the concealed-carry permit instructor, says that while he doesn’t want gun training to be mandated, voluntary training is a smart move for any gun owner.

“Don’t ever carry a gun if you’re not willing to use it and you’re not trained,” he says.


Aaron Crowe is a writer for

2 Comments to Guns vs Cars: What Kills More?

  1. Tom Harvey's GravatarTom Harvey February 2, 2013

    Cars and Guns work a little differently for a number of reasons. Using the car or liability model leaves several questions but, questions that do have answers. It would be good to see insurance adopted that would provide for victims, encourage safe practices, discourage guns from transferring into illegal hands and not overburden legal gun owners. Ordinary liability insurance only does a small part of this job; but it is possible to have insurance that would accomplish these goals. A good model is the no-fault car insurance in several states that protects hit and run victims with varying limits from about $10,000 in Florida up to unlimited lifetime care, if needed, in Michigan with others such as New York State in-between. I am attempting to get into the public discussion a specific system for insurance to compensate victims and have insurance companies discourage passage of guns out of legal hands by loss, theft or diversion. Manufacturers would be mandated to have insurance that would cover persons hurt in a manner similar to automotive no-fault insurance. The insurers would only be able to relinquish responsibility if a new insurer took over when the weapon is sold. This would continue and insure that some insurer was on the hook no matter how the gun changed hands. It would eliminate the need for the government to track owners or enforce the buying of insurance below the manufacturer level. I think it would be more politically feasible than a universal registration system. Of course, insurers would put in conditions to limit losses. This and provision of benefits to victims are the point of the system. The cost would be low because the total number of persons injured by guns is much smaller than by cars and injuries not deaths are the major cost to insurers. Tracing the guns involved in incidents is a problem and would require a database needing to have only the name of insurers and gun identifiers, with a great preference to having scans of test fired cartridges or bullets as an additional identifier. Uninsured guns could have a pool similar to uninsured motor vehicles. You can see more details at my blog Thank You –Tom Harvey

  2. Banning guns would be comparable to banning alcohol, mortality-wise.

    Let me clarify on a point above: While guns deaths can be accidental or intentional (homicides), they are almost identical to accidental car deaths, and car deaths by drunk driving (a type of homicide in a court of law).

    If you were to try to apply gun ban logic to drunk driving, you would simply ban alcohol, would you not?

    Guns were used in 11,078 homicides in the U.S. in 2010, comprising almost 35% of all gun deaths, and over 68% of all homicides” – WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010, supra note 1.

    CARS: “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 32,885 people died in traffic crashes in 2010 in the United States (latest figures available), including an estimated 10,228 people who died in drunk driving crashes, accounting for 31% of all traffic deaths last year.”

    While shooting someone is caused by certain types of emotions, drunkeness / drunk driving is often caused by other related unstable emotions, but the end result is often the same; so why is alcohol far more tolerated? Simple, because prohibition failed because society demanded it. It is not intrinsically better/worse than other issues, but just less regulateable by those in power. If those in power were to carry weapons regularly, it would not be a debate. On the other had, if they were highly opposed to alcohol, we would probably see tougher alcohol laws, not that the current laws do much.

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