What Kills More People in Washington State: Cars or Guns?

by on December 18, 2012
AR-15 rifle with a Stag lower receiver California legal (only with fixed 10-round magazine) (Photo: Wikipedia)

AR-15 rifle with a Stag lower receiver California legal (only with fixed 10-round magazine) (Photo: Wikipedia)

In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting the internet has been abuzz with the usual misinformation that, handily, happens to correspond with the poster’s viewpoint. Even fake Morgan Freeman got in on it. But sorting out falsehood from fact sometimes results in surprising revelations.

“Cars kill thousands more people than guns do,” goes one pro-gun argument, “why don’t we ban those?” Now, it’s supposed to be an absurd argument, but depending on where you live, that first proposition may not be true. (Also I assume it’s unintentional that this comparison invites a rejoinder about written and in-person driving tests, regular re-licensing, and mandatory insurance requirements.)

Pop quiz: What kills more people in Washington State: cars or guns? As Slate’s Josh Voorhees discovered in a related story, in 2009, ten U.S. states had firearm deaths outnumber motor vehicle deaths. Washington edged into the top ten with 623 gun deaths, compared to 580 caused by cars. (That study using 2009 data is from the Violence Policy Center.)

There’s a secondary surprise embedded in the first, which is that while firearm deaths have been rising slightly, nationally, over the past decade, motor vehicle deaths have dropped significantly since 2006.

(One contributing factor is the recession, as well as a general tendency toward driving less. It’s also suggested that cars have gotten safer, but the change is so abrupt, I find that hard to credit as a primary factor. It may be that drivers are safer — given that a chunk of the under-30 demographic is not bothering with cars, and that under-30 drivers are the least experienced.)

I wanted to confirm the VPC data, so I checked with Washington’s Department of Health death statistics. For 2009, they list 597 firearm deaths, compared to 538 motor vehicle deaths. In 2010, 592 to 510. Oho! you may protest. Those firearm deaths include suicides: 462 suicides, in fact, to 113 homicides in 2010. It’s true. But everyone killed by a gun is still a dead person. Besides, as a therapist once told Keira Knightley, suicide is a shy person’s homicide.

That’s instructive, I think, when you’re discussing access to guns, and the possibility of keeping them out of the hands of the deranged and homicidal as a class. Very few gun sellers would sell to someone who said something about planning to kill themselves — even someone who is obviously depressed, but gives no suicidal signs. Yet look how often people are able to use guns to kill themselves.

The lesson is that “suicidal” and “homicidal” are largely transient states for most people, and chronic for a very unhappy few. But since we have failed to bring that much larger number down, then it is unlikely that we’ll have much impact on the smaller without changing methods substantially.

There is a secondary realization embedded here, too. It seems a shame, but maybe shame is the problem. It’s a decades-long trend that more people commit suicide with guns than homicides. “Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for ‘protection’ or ‘self defense,’” says the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.”

By the numbers, gun control discussion should revolve around the death count from suicides alone. Is it possible there’s a link between this unspoken massacre and the denial (and forgetfulness) of more well-publicized ones? In this context, talk about prying guns from someone’s cold, dead hands isn’t a boast; it’s an actuarial statement.

6 thoughts on “What Kills More People in Washington State: Cars or Guns?

  1. Now that Nancy Pelosi and Diane Fienstein has come out with their supposed Assault Rifle Ban #II on steroids it seems the antigun crowd are running up the flagpole the same old useless gun laws while ignoring the real problems again. In WA state you can not have assault weapons/rifles which can be fired automatically or semiautomatically depending on a switch. We can only have single shot or semiautomatic Pistols, Rifles, and Shotguns that can only be fired as fast as you can pull the trigger for each bullet/round fired. As we so explicitly saw, A NO GUN ZONE is not a safe place at all either in schools, malls, or theaters when wannabe gangbangers or the mental ill show up with any kind of weapon. Mental Health laws need to amended so the mental ill or temporarily insane can be locked up out of harms way for themselves and others. Too many of the mentally ill are running around loose just because they have not hurt anyone YET! Then we are shocked when they do. In most cases parents and friends knew a person was about to go bezerk but could not get any professional help by the law or health professionals. Thanks to the ACLU and state regulations it is almost impossible to get anyone committed even if they are a danger to themselves much less to others. Criminals and the mentally ill are both singularly focussed on breaking the law much less any gun law we could put in place to supposedly stop them. There seems to be a revolving door policy in place both for the criminals and the mentally ill. As any Seattleite knows there are certain places you do not go walking around at night due to the crime and mentally ill hanging about. The intended gun restrictions will not do anything to stop a criminal or the mentally ill from getting a gun. They will either get something on the black market or burglarize a place to get one. All the new regulatory smoke and mirrors are doing is adding more cost and hassle to law abiding gun owners. One already has to fill out multiple federal government forms that take about an hour, get a federal release that you are not on any ban list, then wait up to a week to pick up the gun you bought. The supposed gun show loophole isn’t true either, you can’t buy gun at a show here unless you are a WSPA or NRA member usually. Plus how are you going to regulate all the private gun sales? That “scary looking” assault rifle can easily be made to look like any wood stock deer rifle and visa versa. Limiting clip size or magazine loads will not stop any murders either. One can shoot almost as many 7-10 round clips as one 30 round clip in the same amount of time. The only person you are hurting is the safe target shooter at the shooting range, an over cautious hunter, or the home proctector. It always makes me laugh that the people who want to limit my gun rights are usually fully protected by a police detail or the secret service but they scoff at putting any armed security guards or off duty police in schools or malls, but they do have them at any sporting event. I guess if you can’t vote you are on your own. Once again the antigun crowd are running on emotions and fear hoping to ban any guns whatsoever in the end.

  2. Buzzsaw is correct. We have to get a handle on the mentally ill in our society. First making it illegal for those with mental problems to not be around or have access to any firearms, an yes if they are unstable lock them up.
    Guns don’t kill people! Killer’s will kill with or without them. Look at Timothy McVeigh, he did not use a gun. IF any one of those teachers in Colorado had been caring a gun, the disaster that occurred would have been minimized. It is surprising how stupid people can be. Banning guns will stop deaths caused by them. BS. You can ban all the guns you like, then the killers them selfs will find a way to get those guns. I will not be unprotected from those that will obtain them illegally. If you want to look at a chart on deaths in America and what caused what, you will find tobacco is the number one killer, medical errors are number 2, Alcohol Abuse is number 3, Motor Vehicle Accidents are number 4, Unintentional Poisonings number 5, Drug Abuse number 6, Unintentional Falls number 7, Non-Firewarm Homicides number 8, bottom on the list Firearms number 9.*
    Get your facts straight people! Stop getting emotional on something without thinking. A gun could save your life! I will fight to the death to protect the 2nd Amendment and my right to own and carry guns. BTW I was born and raised in Seattle. While growing up a fireman had his home broken into about 1 block from where I lived in West Seattle, it happened at 2:00 AM his two children 4 and 6 were fast asleep, a man broke into the house, the fireman became aware and grabbed is handgun. As he started downstairs a man wearing a stocking cap was starting up the stairs, he the, fireman, drew his pistol and yelled stop, the man on the stairs raised his gun, the fireman shot and killed the man. Later he found out the man he shot was wanted for multiple rapes and burglaries.
    No one, or no government will tell me I cannot protect myself. Period.

    *Sources: Center for Disease Control, FBI, U.S. Federal Government.

    • How about you read the article: “Oho! you may protest. Those firearm deaths include suicides: 462 suicides, in fact, to 113 homicides in 2010. It’s true.”

  3. Mr. van Baker, you do raise an interesting, if politically biased, point regarding suicide. And if there are 400+ suicides per year by firearm, there are the other suicides committed by ‘auto-accident’, hanging, overdose, and slowly with cigarettes. An ‘unspoken massacre’ it is, though I’m not convinced any restrictions on firearms will put a big dent in it. Add to this those who want to take someone with them.
    Instead, can a focus be made on mental health, on helping someone finding more reasons to live than giving in to a temporary reason to die, on fighting despair, and making sure that those who are a mental risk to society in fact show up on background checks. How about finding out whether drugs for depression (or withdrawal from such) are contributing to shootings (and stabbings, etc.).
    But if you insist on placing gun-control measures into bills, people like me will oppose them. I’d rather work on preventing violence than having to defend freedom.

    • Hi John, thanks for commenting. Yes, suicide prevention doesn’t need to be considered simply as a subset of gun regulation, and probably shouldn’t be. The responses you mention would do a world of good. I should say I don’t personally have a gun control strategy, other than a gut sense that the problem here is *not* hunters with rifles. It’s difficult on the internet to try to balance one argument with another — people assume that there are sides to be taken. Suicide by gun is too often simply accepted as fate, when it is not. Like many gun-related deaths, it’s the combination of access to a firearm and momentary unreason. I’m not sure what the safety measure to be taken is, but the number of deaths calls out for one.