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What if we treated guns like motor vehicles?

Guns, like cars, are a major cause of deaths and injuries in the United States, especially for young people. Motor vehicle crashes have been a leading source of mortality and injury in people ages 15 to 24 since at least 1950. Guns are involved in the majority of homicides and suicides, which are the second and third largest causes of death in young people. Motor vehicles and guns are, together, the source of the majority of fatalities in young people in the United States.

Yet we know so much more about deaths in young people caused by motor vehicles than guns. For nearly 20 years, Congress has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from conducting research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” And in June, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment that would have permitted such gun-violence research.

While total gun fatalities have remained largely level since 2000, total deaths due to vehicles have declined. The largest drop in motor vehicle deaths, more than 25 percent, has occurred since 1980. If current trends persist, the total of motor vehicle crash deaths will soon drop below the number caused by guns.

Why have we been able to reduce the harm from motor vehicles but not from guns? First, we have worked hard to make cars safer. Seat belts, air bags and other technological changes have made car accidents less likely to result in the loss of life.

We also have increased awareness of the hazards of driving under unsafe conditions. Penalties for drunk driving have increased dramatically since 1980. Successful campaigns to reduce drinking and driving have helped to raise awareness. In addition, states have instituted new graduated driving regulations that make it harder for adolescents to obtain a license without a period of training with an adult.

In sharp contrast to our success with vehicles, FBI data show that mass shootings have increased over the past decade, school shootings continue at an alarming rate and the overall mortality rate attributable to guns shows little sign of declining since 2000.

Some argue that the problem of gun violence is lessening. Gun fatalities have in fact declined by more than 25 percent since their peak in 1993, and although mass shootings have increased in frequency, they account for only a small proportion of the gun violence problem.

Despite that, overall rates of gun injury remain higher today than they were in the 1960s, when violence rates began the climb that led to their peak in 1993. The same cannot be said about motor vehicle crashes.

Our failure to further reduce gun fatalities is surprising for several reasons. We have much better trauma care than we did in the 1960s, saving many more lives from gun injuries as well as car crashes. So, just from our sheer ability to prevent fatalities, we should have seen a reduction in gun fatalities since 1960.

We also have more police on duty today than we had earlier, and our incarceration of individuals who might perpetrate gun violence is at a far higher rate than ever before.

Finally, we have reduced rates of other major sources of mortality, such as heart disease, by encouraging behavior that reduces the risks, such as better diets and greater use of medications. Why haven’t we been able to do the same with guns?

I suggest that one factor that contributes to our failure to do more to reduce gun violence is the absence of knowledge about how to do it. We know a lot about what leads to motor vehicle crashes. Years of research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tells us about the conditions that lead to crashes, including the person using the vehicle, the road conditions when the accident occurred and the events precipitating the crash. This knowledge has led us to build better vehicles, develop better training in how to use them and pass laws against behaviors that raise the risk of fatalities.

If we examine what our law enforcement agencies tell us about gun injuries, we get a confusing picture. As a point of comparison, a recent report from the Department of Justice reviewed the state of gun injury in the U.S. It shows dramatic drops in gun deaths since 1993 across the U.S., reductions in reports of violent encounters, and overall declines in crime. All of this information is reassuring, but it doesn’t tell us why those declines occurred, why we still have the highest rates of gun injury in the developed world and why those rates are higher today than in the middle of the last century.

Buried in this same report is disturbing evidence that gun injuries, rather than fatalities, have actually risen in the last decade. This evidence is based on a survey that was started in 2000 to monitor emergency room visits for injuries in 100 hospitals across the country. These hospitals record the reason for an injury, including whether it was gun-related. In a typical year, the survey projects about 60,000 visits related to gun injury, most of which are attributable to assaults.

The Department of Justice does not make much of this inconsistency, other than to note that these visits represent a different slice of the problem. But this does not lead us to a solution. If we are to reduce gun injuries and deaths, we will need accurate and useful data about the extent of this problem, who is likely to be affected by it and the conditions that precipitated the injury, data we have had for cars for a long time. Isn’t it time we gave the Department of Justice and the CDC the mandate to figure this out?


6 Replies to “Guns, motor vehicles and the deaths of young people”

  1. Not sure if your stance here is pro or anti gun, I believe in lowering death rates and root cause analysis, but with the current president so anti, I would have fears that the info gathered on the gun death problem would be used for his own personal agenda. And we know what that is. I’m a gun owner and believe that owning a gun is a positive thing, but also know that a gun in the wrong hands can lead to bad things. I don’t want other peoples actions intruding on my rights. Basically, I don’t think that the people who are responsible and careful should be punished for the actions of others, and the bad guys are a small percentage of the owners. Having said all this I’ll repeat myself… I would be afraid that the info gathered would be used for the wrong reasons, kind of like the IRS debacle targeting people who are enemies of the party.

  2. I agree with you and there are many other things “killing our kids” as their mantra goes. But there seems to be a issue with guns simply because it is a gun.
    It seems to be acceptable that people and families are killed in numbers by cars, There is no outrage there.
    The #1 killer in the U.S. is poisons and there are no calls to sue rat poison makers after kids get under the kitchen sink.
    I personally have a conceal carry permit for my guns but believe there has to be some type of control for mental health issues or ex felons. Many things you see today are done by people who will have guns no matter what laws are put in place. That is why they are called criminals.
    We do not need to make criminals out of law abiding people by putting undo laws on them.
    But our current prez seems to think you are special if you have committed a crime, not if you are a law abider and trying to do what is right.
    Any info gathered by big brother is always used for the wrong reasons eventually because they can and no one wants to stop them especially the courts anymore..

    1. Great reply, I agree with your response in it’s entirety. I had a person in a $50,000 truck pulling a 40,000 camper tell me he just didn’t understand why I needed a gun that held more than 5 rounds of ammo. When I tried to explain that need had nothing to do with it he didn’t seem to catch on. I than stated that I didn’t see the need for his high dollar earth fornicating truck and camper he got mad and said some nasty things to me and left. He is part of the current political climate. I think the reason the the liberals win a lot is because they are relentless with their mantra, to the point of being rabid, and hypocrisy means nothing to them. My long winded reply is actually a response to the second half on the last sentence in your reply, no one seems to have the will to try and stop them anymore. I love your blog.

  3. dawg417 – I am the guy people love because I am so honest, But then they get pissy when I do the same with them.
    dawg417 says:

    Here is a little something I posted on a local newspaper blog after some loonies started in about liberals and their superiority. I just kinda rolled off my tongue they made it so easy:

    My definition of Liberals
    They are the defenders of the galaxy as long as it is the trend of the day, The champions of civil rights as long as you agree with them. Want more laws and Guvment but complain about the people enforcing those laws they insist we need. Champions of protecting the Earth until another fad distracts them. They want to allow people from all over the world to come here unabated and with no thought of the safety to their kids or country, Then complain the Guvment did not do enough to protect their kids from the diseases brought here. The current fad is to say the inoculations required by the Guvment they insist on are not safe and are willing to put everyone’s kids at risk. I am not a conservative I am centric, but if I had to pick one or the other it would not be Democrat.

    Boy were they pissed. They cannot argue facts only emotions.

    Thanks for the compliment on the blog, Keep in mind I am open to any suggestions and lately the site has been growing very nicely.

  4. Lol, I bet that gave them a headache! The only suggestion I would be able to give is to keep on keeping on! I will remain a faithful reader and will recommend you to everyone who will listen. I hope you have a great day sir!

    1. dawg417 – I am the guy people love because I am so honest, But then they get pissy when I do the same with them.
      dawg417 says:

      Thank you and to you sir…….

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