In a new report released in July by the Violence Policy Center, the gun death rate outpaced deaths from cars in 14 states, including 10th place Ohio and the District of Columbia, with Alaska leading with the highest gun death rate state and the State of Washington with the lowest.
In 2011, the most recent year for which state-level data is available for both products from the federal Centers for Disease Control Prevention, VPC reports there were 32,351 gun deaths nationwide for a rate of 10.38 per 100,000 and 35,543 motor vehicle deaths (both occupant and pedestrian) nationwide for a rate of 11.41 per 100,000. Deaths by gun include gun suicide, homicide, and fatal unintentional shootings.
One reason motor vehicle-related deaths are declining is due to a successful decades-long public health-based injury prevention strategy, better cars, better roads, advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the establishment in 1966 of the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But unlike NHTSA, which has substantial regulatory powers, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, charged with enforcing limited gun laws, has none of the health and safety regulatory powers afforded an agency like NHTSA.
But firearm deaths continue unabated, VPC said, attributing the reversal of deaths from cars versus guns to the failure of policymakers to acknowledge and act on this widespread and too often ignored public health problem. Firearms remain the last consumer product manufactured in the United States not subject to federal health and safety regulation, a situation the National Rifle Association has lobbied long and hard to maintain. The NRA won a major battle in 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a Second Amendment case called District of Columbia v. Heller, ruled that the right to bear arms vests in individuals, not merely collective militias. The major decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia also said the Second Amendment is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of either firearms or similar devices.
In his 2004 book Private Guns, Public Health, Dr. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said the time Americans spend using their cars is orders of magnitudes greater than the time spent using their guns. He concluded that per hour of exposure, guns are far more dangerous than cars. He notes the existence of ample safety regulations concerning the manufacture of motor vehicles, but says there are virtually no safety regulations for domestic firearms manufacture.
With more than 90 percent of American households owning a car while little more than a third of American households containing a gun, the convergence of deaths by gun versus cars is clearly happening, and in the 14 states identified in the report, guns kill more than cars. In Alaska, the GDR is 17.41 deaths per 100,000, while Ohio has a GDR of 10.63.
Information dated May of 2014 from the Ohio Attorney General shows 16,205 regular concealed carry licenses were issued. The number of concealed carry licenses renewed is 15,832. Ohio’s concealed carry statute went into effect in April 2004.
VPC says that if current trends continue, the number of states where gun deaths outpace motor vehicles deaths will increase. Health and safety regulations can reduce deaths and injuries that, in the world of cars, were at one time thought to be unavoidable. “Such an approach to injury prevention has been applied to every product Americans come into contact with every day except for one: guns,” the report concludes. But with proper health and safety regulations, VPC argues that deaths and injuries associated with firearms could also be reduced.
And what would new package of gun death prevention policies look like? VPC offers these suggestions: Minimum safety standards, 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.
Funding for the report came from The Herb Block Foundation, David Bohnett Foundation, and The Joyce Foundation. The report relies on database information from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.