Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gun deaths, Automobile deaths and Josh Sugarmann's attempt to manipulate you.

Once again Josh Sugarmann has jumped into the gun debate in the U.S. feet first with a Huffington Post essay entitled: Guns Kill More People Than Motor Vehicles in 12 States & DC.

Once again Josh says: "The road to reducing gun death and injury is clear and well marked, if only we would choose to take it."  By that he means a short list of things.  Ban semi-automatic guns. Ban almost all handguns. Enact universal registration so that later, the bans can be enforced against pre-existing guns. This pattern is well known, and well understood and is the path that has been followed in the U.K. and in Australia. He, and his ilk, contend that by leaving you single shot long guns and double-barreled long guns, they would respect the 2nd amendment, since they're letting you keep some arms.  Many of us would beg to disagree.

There are, of course, several problems, the first with his statistics. Josh gives us a list of thirteen jurisdictions where the number of gun deaths exceeds the number of auto deaths:
  • Alaska: 144 gun deaths, 71 motor vehicle deaths
  • Arizona: 931 gun deaths, 795 motor vehicle deaths
  • Colorado: 555 gun deaths, 487 motor vehicle deaths
  • District of Columbia: 99 gun deaths, 38 motor vehicle deaths
  • Illinois: 1,064 gun deaths, 1,042 motor vehicle deaths
  • Louisiana: 864 gun deaths, 722 motor vehicle deaths
  • Maryland: 538 gun deaths, 514 motor vehicle deaths
  • Michigan: 1,076 gun deaths, 1,063 motor vehicle deaths
  • Nevada: 395 gun deaths, 289 motor vehicle deaths
  • Oregon: 458 gun deaths, 324 motor vehicle deaths
  • Utah: 314 gun deaths, 274 motor vehicle deaths
  • Virginia: 875 gun deaths, 728 motor vehicle deaths
  • Washington: 609 gun deaths, 554 motor vehicle deaths
Which looks horrible, except you need to remember something we've discussed before. Two-thirds of firearms related deaths are suicides. Massively restricting firearms as in the UK or Australia, or even for all practical purposes eliminating firearms does nothing to reduce the suicide rate.  The UK's suicide rate increased after the handgun ban. Australia's suicide rate stayed stable and then increased after the semi-auto and handgun ban, and Japan, which for all-practical-purposes has a total firearms ban for civilians, has a much higher suicide rate than the U.S. 

The thing is, it's very rare for someone to kill themselves using a car.  It does happen, but it's uncommon. Guns are more efficient, neater and less likely to harm a bystander. After guns strangulation, drowning, and medication overdoses are common. 

Take out the 2/3 of the gun deaths that are suicides and you get a very different picture... 
  • AK  48 / 71
  • AR  310 / 795
  • CO  185 / 487
  • DC  33 / 38
  • IL  355 / 1042
  • LA  288 / 722
  • MD  179 / 514
  • MI  359 / 1063
  • NV  132 / 289
  • OR  153 / 324
  • UT  105 / 274
  • VA  292 / 728
  • WA  203 / 544
DC appears to be an outlier in this set, but there's an explanation even for that, a really simple explanation.

Two thirds of automobile fatalities occur in rural settings.  No one really knows why, but according to the 2001 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) traffic safety statistics, 61% of traffic fatalities occurred in rural areas even though rural areas account for only 40% of the vehicle miles traveled and 21% of the population. This is even true in other countries.  

DC doesn't have any rural.  

To go further, we would need to compare the percentage of population that is urban vs rural in the state along with the ratio to population of gun ownership in order to know if we can make any further conclusions on that front, but DC being an outlier makes perfect sense in this regard. 

Additionally, non-suicide gun deaths tend profoundly urban.  Overall gun death rates are similar in rural and urban environments, but how they occur are different. Homicides by gun are much more prevalent in urban areas per 100,000 people but suicide by gun is much more prevalent in rural areas per 100,000 people, so when you take out the suicides, the gun death's tend urban. (Reference Link)

So, were are we on Josh Sugarmann's  "oh the horror, oh the humanity" that gun deaths exceed car deaths in 13 jurisdictions?  

Uhmmmm, it doesn't hold. 

Josh also makes a big deal about the fact that auto-deaths have fallen over the last decade, and how gun deaths have not. Let's remember a few points we've gone over before. Most gun deaths are suicides. After you take out suicides, you are left with gun crime and accidental death. None of the proposals (background checks, registration, etc.) short of confiscation will reduce gun crime, and the Australian experience suggests that even confiscation doesn't help. So, let's look at accidental gun deaths:  Each year in the last decade, the number of guns in the US has increased between five and ten million per year.  Despite that the number of accidental handgun deaths in the U.S. has fallen from 130 in 1999 to 91 in 2010, a 30% decrease. (Reference) During that same time, according to Josh's graph, automobile deaths fell 17%. 

Here's the executive summary: 
  • Other car deaths are related mostly to rural driving. Other than suicide, gun deaths are related to Urban areas. 
  • None of Josh Sugarmann's or the Violence Policy Center's proposals for gun control would do anything to improve the ratio above.
  • The rate of accidental gun deaths is falling faster than the rate of accidental automobile deaths.
And that's about enough for tonight. 

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