Latest Violence Policy Center press release debunked: Comparing motor vehicle and firearm deaths is ridiculous

by Ken Hanson, Esq.

The Violence Policy Center, an anti-gun group funded almost exclusively by the anti-gun Joyce Foundation, issued a May 22, 2012 press release entitled "Gun Deaths Outpace Motor Vehicle Deaths in 10 States in 2009 New Analysis Shows."

This press release attempts to make the argument that consumer safety regulations have reduced motor vehicle deaths, and the lack of firearm consumer safety regulations are the reason that firearms now outpace motor vehicles as killers. As always, VPC's claims do not withstand any degree of scrutiny.

The press release cherry-picks 2009 Center for Disease Control statistics on the grounds they are "the most recent year for which state data is available." VPC also chooses only "deaths" versus any subset of "deaths." Even this stacking of the deck does not make the claims anywhere near accurate.

Inherent in any VPC claim is including, and excluding, deaths that are convenient/inconvenient to their narrative. Also included in inherent bias is the fact that they use CDC statistics and not FBI/UCR statistics. Finally, VPC is comparing apples to oranges, as almost 100% of firearm deaths are deliberate versus almost 100% of motor vehicle deaths being accidental.

VPC claims that in 2009 there were 31,236 firearm deaths and 36,361 motor vehicle deaths in the United States. Visiting http://webappa.cdc.gov/cgi-bin/broker.exe, we cannot come up with any permutation that matches their claims. Selecting all motor vehicle related deaths, the CDC reports there were 36,399 motor vehicle deaths nationwide, and, selecting all firearm deaths, the CDC reports there were 31,347 firearm deaths nationwide. But let us not quibble over a difference of less than 200 deaths between the CDC data and the VPC press release.

When we search and sort the nationwide data, we find that 18,735 of the firearm deaths are classified as suicides. Clicking on another radio button, we find that 11,826 of the firearm deaths are classified as homicides/legal intervention. Only 554 firearm of these deaths are classified as unintentional and 232 as undetermined.

In contrast, 104 of the nationwide motor vehicle accidents were classified as suicides, 36,216 were classified as unintentional, 60 as homicide and 19 as undetermined. We can likely agree that suicides and homicides are intentional acts beyond the control of third parties. Within that framework, the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control establish that 97.9% more people die as a victim of unintentional/undetermined motor vehicle accidents than from unintentional/undetermined firearm accidents.

Stated another way, 2.5% of firearm deaths were accidental and more than 99.6% of motor vehicle deaths were accidental. (Counting undetermined deaths in both categories as accidental.) VPC is advancing this as an argument that consumer safety regulations have reduced accidental motor vehicle deaths so the same laws should apply to firearms, in order to reduce accidental firearm deaths.

In what universe can someone claim, with credibility, that deaths that are almost exclusively accidental should be compared and contrasted to deaths that are almost exclusively deliberate? Two statistics that have almost 100% mutually exclusive variables should be compared and used as a basis for public policy? Firearm deaths are deliberate, motor vehicle deaths are accidents. Consumer safety regulations prevent accidents, not deliberate misuse. Quod erat demonstrandum.

This is almost like saying that the space shuttle only blew up twice but dozens of recreational hikers die each year from accidents, so hiking should be as tightly regulated as space launches. See also, non sequitur. See also, VPC's Press Release.

Lest we perhaps cheat VPC of their glory, let's look at the 10 states they took to task (admittedly with a nice excel chart embedded) and mentioned in the press release:

  • Alaska: 104 gun deaths, 84 motor vehicle deaths
  • Arizona: 856 gun deaths, 809 motor vehicle deaths
  • Colorado: 583 gun deaths, 565 motor vehicle deaths
  • Indiana: 735 gun deaths, 715 motor vehicle deaths
  • Michigan: 1,095 gun deaths, 977 motor vehicle deaths
  • Nevada: 406 gun deaths, 255 motor vehicle deaths
  • Oregon: 417 gun deaths, 394 motor vehicle deaths
  • Utah: 260 gun deaths, 256 motor vehicle deaths
  • Virginia: 836 gun deaths, 827 motor vehicle deaths
  • Washington: 623 gun deaths, 580 motor vehicle deaths

Real world translation… Total (Suicides Deliberate Accident/Unintentional) *no CDC entry

Alaska: 104 gun (79 19 *)
Alaska: 84 MV (* * 84)

Arizona: 856 gun (605 235 *)
Arizona: 809 MV (* * 807)

Colorado: 583 gun (454 116 *)
Colorado: 565 MV (* * 557)

Indiana: 735 gun (458 249 22)
Indiana: 715 MV (* * 714)

You get the idea. I'm not going to sacrifice more family time to go through the remaining states in the VPC press release. The remaining states will be the same, I am sure of it. Motor vehicle deaths are accidental. Gun deaths are suicides and other deliberate (homicide/legal intervention) acts. How you can compare one, accidental cause of death to the other, deliberate cause of death and justify an argument to regulate the two on the same grounds is beyond logic.

Ken Hanson is a gun rights attorney in Ohio. He serves as the Legislative Chair for Buckeye Firearms Association, and is the attorney of record for Buckeye Firearms Foundation, which filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court cases. The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) has awarded him with its 2008 Defender of Justice Award and 2009 Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award. He is the author of The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws, a certified firearms instructor and holds a Type 01 Federal Firearms License.

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