Thursday, July 17, 2014

Violence Policy Center’s 2014 report: “Gun Deaths Outpace Motor Vehicle Deaths... in 2011”

            The Violence Policy Center’s 2014 reported titled “Gun Deaths Outpace Motor Vehicle Deaths in 14 States and the District of Columbia in 2011”[1] is on its face a disingenuous study. First, it compares mainly motor vehicle accidents to mainly intentional acts with firearms (murders and suicides). Secondly, firearms are intended by their very nature to kill, while autos are intended for transportation. As firearms are intended for self-defense and hunting, not murder and suicide, and cars meant for safe operation from origin to destination, not reckless operation, these two types of death cannot be compared. In mathematics, there is a symbol for this kind of comparison: ≠. The purpose of this study is to promulgate gun control, through training and registration akin to motor vehicle laws.
            And ultimately, the premise behind gun control, whether it is explicitly stated or acknowledged, is to remove firearms from the hands of the citizenry.
            Per the report, Nevada had 376 gun deaths and 281 motor vehicle deaths. Let’s break this down.[2] In 2011, only 75 murders in Nevada were committed with firearms. Out of 129 murders, 54 were committed with non-firearms.[3] 301 of the cited gun deaths would be either suicide or accidental gun deaths, with the majority (by anecdotal evidence) being suicide. Actual numbers of gun suicides in Nevada during 2011 were unavailable.
            In 2011, there were 516 suicides (by any method) in Nevada.[4] Nevada “has long has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation,’ ‘nearly double the national average.”[5] More Nevadans die by suicide than by homicide or car accidents.[6] Never mind that the all-time high for traffic deaths in Nevada was 432 in 2006 [7].
            So if gun deaths and motor vehicle deaths correlate, let’s look at 2006: In 2006, 480 Nevadans took their own lives, 52.7 percent using a firearm [8], compared with a murder rate of 224 (by any method) [9]. Again, 253 gun suicides exceed 224 all murders totaled up. Traffic deaths rise and fall, just as murder rates do. So in 2006, driving a car was more likely to kill a Nevadan than a gun.
            Suicide is a choice that a desperate person will make whether they have access to firearm or not. Firearms merely make the suicide easier. While guns were used in most deaths, the individual made the choice to end their lives; it was not taken by accident or by malice. Almost half of suicides were done by other means. Suicides should be removed from these gun death statistics because the studies imply violence to others and suicide takes one life. While suicide is heartbreakingly tragic, if one method is removed, persons will choose another. Nevada does have a high rate of suicides, but it is mental health that is to blame, not firearms—any more than ropes, medication, and knives are to blame. And how would someone who legally possesses a firearm under any law—proposed or existing—be prevented from using it to kill themself?
            Several of the states on the list have strict gun control regimes: the District of Columbia, Illinois, and Maryland. Illinois comes in #11 with 377 gun murders in 2011, Maryland #16 with 272, and Washington DC #31 with 77. Nevada was #32 with 75.[10] The Census Bureau reports a population of 601,723 for Washington DC in 2010, while Nevada had a population of 2,700,551. Nevada’s population is 4.5 times the size of DC and yet has roughly the same number of gun murders; Nevada allows open carry of firearms and is a shall-issue state for concealed weapon permits, while DC (in practical terms) allows neither and strictly regulates firearms. California also has very strict firearms laws, yet rates 13th for gun murders.[11]
            The study includes a graph, showing firearm and motor vehicle deaths from 1999 to 2011. It shows firearms deaths remaining at a fairly steady level, while motor vehicle deaths drop by 10,000 over the near decade. No reason is given for this drop, but it is clear from their own studies and others readily available that motor vehicle deaths have been on a steady decline. Look at the innovations that have been made in that decade; the proliferation of cell phone ownership and coverage, GPS, and more safety features like backup sensors and cameras, side curtain airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, etc.
            The report posits that the decline in traffic deaths since 1966 is due in part to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), improved automotive and roadway safety technology, mandatory seat belt laws, and graduated licensing. In short, improved technology, uniform standards, and increased regulation. This is an unspoken comparison to what they come to in their conclusion. The report states that Americans spend more time driving than they do shooting, as well as greater existing regulations on auto manufacture than firearms. By inference, Americans are dangerous and untrained with firearms since they aren't used several times daily.
           And so we reach the conclusion of the study:
“Comprehensive regulation of the firearms industry and its products could include: 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, as well as involvement in injury and death; and, public education about the extreme risks associated with exposure to firearms.”
            In other words, gun control.
            First off, there are minimum safety standards present in many states [12] (though the rest of California's gun control scheme is absurd) and manufactures must provide a safe product. A firearm which is unsafe to use due to lax manufacturing standards or poor material is a liability and if it doesn’t work properly, would be disastrous to sales. Unsafe guns are bad for business.
            Background checks? Where are the reports of a felon failing a background check for his gun purchase being arrested for trying to buy a gun? Sure, we arrest unlicensed drivers and impound their cars; however does this deter unlicensed driving and reduce traffic deaths?  Probably not, but though there is probably a dearth of statistics to prove either side of that argument. Let’s look at DUIs. “The risk of a driver who has one or more DWI convictions becoming involved in a fatal crash is about 1.4 times the risk of a driver with no DWI conviction.”[13] It’s against the law, they’ve been arrested before, yet they still choose to drive drunk.
            “Military-style assault weapons” is a misnomer; many of the features of an “assault weapon” are cosmetic only and do not affect the function of the weapon. A true assault weapon, an assault rifle, must feature automatic fire, already highly restricted by federal and some state laws.
            Restrictions on carrying guns in public are non-sense; guns carried in public generally cause a drop in crime[14]. Prohibiting such carrying is an unconstitutional infringement of the 2nd Amendment and the natural right of self-defense. Is a drop in gun deaths, but a rise in violent crime, acceptable to save lives from gun murder and suicide? When has a law ever deterred someone who was intent on committing a crime or who, in a fit of passion, had no regard for the criminality of their actions?
            Motor vehicle deaths cannot be compared to firearms deaths because the two are entirely different subjects. Only murder and drunk driving have a correlation in their malignancy and neither can be reliably prevented. Suicides should not be counted in the total because they are choices that cannot be prevented by law or regulation; just as drunk driving cannot be prevented, only deterred and detected. Broken human minds cannot be regulated like cars.
            Returning to the central theme of the report, it is not about traffic deaths or motor vehicle deaths. Its unspoken premise is to suggest that since we highly regulate cars and driving, that more regulation on firearms would lead to less deaths. As was pointed out above, their suggestions are invasive and ineffective, just as intending to limit traffic deaths by lowering the speed limit or mandating helmets in cars would be. One cannot regulate away death.      

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