VPC – Firearm Deaths vs. Motor Vehicle Deaths

Some of the data presented here is a re-hash of data presented in two other posts: On Licensing and Training and On Nonfatal Firearm Injuries but is presented again here in support of the argument against the VPC’s report.

The Violence Policy Center recently released a report in which they compare firearm related deaths to motor vehicle related deaths. The VPC’s conclusion – based on the higher number of firearms related deaths compared to motor vehicle related deaths – is that firearms need to be regulated like cars are.

To support their conclusion the VPC managed to find just ten out of the fifty-one states (yes, I know DC isn’t technically a state. I’m just lumping it in for ease of discussion.) where firearm related deaths outnumbered motor vehicle related deaths in 2009.

Firearm vs. Motor Vehicle Deaths – VPC States 2009

STATE GUN DEATHS MV DEATHS
Alaska 104.00 84.00
Arizona 856.00 809.00
Colorado 583.00 565.00
Indiana 735.00 715.00
Michigan 1,095.00 977.00
Nevada 406.00 255.00
Oregon 417.00 394.00
Utah 260.00 256.00
Virginia 836.00 827.00
Washington 623.00 580.00

My query returned the same results that the VPC published in their report. So the VPC’s initial assertion that firearms related deaths outnumbered motor vehicle related in the ten states that they looked at is correct.

The Problems with the VPC Report

First, the difference between the number of firearms related deaths and motor vehicle related deaths isn’t as great as the VPC report leads one to believe. In the ten states there were only 453 more firearms related deaths in 2009 than there were motor vehicle related deaths (~ an 8% difference). But the VPC’s assertion that there were more firearm related deaths in 2009 than there were motor vehicle related deaths is, at face value, correct.

Second, there are fifty-one states, why does the VPC report only look at ten of them? Turns out that’s an easy question to answer. The ten states included in the VPC report are the only states (with the exception of DC) where firearm related deaths outnumber motor vehicle related deaths. In fact, when you look at the average number of deaths in all 51 states there were nearly 100 more motor vehicle related deaths in 2009 than there were firearm related deaths.

Firearm vs. Motor Vehicle Deaths – All States 2009

STATE GUN DEATHS STATE MV DEATHS
Alabama 830.00 Alabama 935.00
Alaska 104.00 Alaska 84.00
Arizona 856.00 Arizona 809.00
Arkansas 465.00 Arkansas 645.00
California 3,094.00 California 3,328.00
Colorado 583.00 Colorado 565.00
Connecticut 173.00 Connecticut 263.00
Delaware 76.00 Delaware 107.00
District of Columbia 111.00 District of Columbia 38.00
Florida 2,324.00 Florida 2,618.00
Georgia 1,247.00 Georgia 1,357.00
Hawaii 47.00 Hawaii 121.00
Idaho 196.00 Idaho 243.00
Illinois 1,058.00 Illinois 1,083.00
Indiana 735.00 Indiana 715.00
Iowa 193.00 Iowa 388.00
Kansas 303.00 Kansas 418.00
Kentucky 560.00 Kentucky 825.00
Louisiana 810.00 Louisiana 856.00
Maine 122.00 Maine 167.00
Maryland 586.00 Maryland 617.00
Massachusetts 207.00 Massachusetts 398.00
Michigan 1,095.00 Michigan 977.00
Minnesota 336.00 Minnesota 494.00
Mississippi 487.00 Mississippi 747.00
Missouri 822.00 Missouri 942.00
Montana 166.00 Montana 232.00
Nebraska 132.00 Nebraska 257.00
Nevada 406.00 Nevada 255.00
New Hampshire 89.00 New Hampshire 114.00
New Jersey 411.00 New Jersey 566.00
New Mexico 299.00 New Mexico 357.00
New York 958.00 New York 1,273.00
North Carolina 1,112.00 North Carolina 1,405.00
North Dakota 59.00 North Dakota 131.00
Ohio 991.00 Ohio 1,025.00
Oklahoma 533.00 Oklahoma 738.00
Oregon 417.00 Oregon 394.00
Pennsylvania 1,349.00 Pennsylvania 1,382.00
Rhode Island 56.00 Rhode Island 84.00
South Carolina 634.00 South Carolina 913.00
South Dakota 75.00 South Dakota 135.00
Tennessee 966.00 Tennessee 1,058.00
Texas 2,691.00 Texas 3,520.00
Utah 260.00 Utah 256.00
Vermont 60.00 Vermont 79.00
Virginia 836.00 Virginia 827.00
Washington 623.00 Washington 580.00
West Virginia 251.00 West Virginia 374.00
Wisconsin 457.00 Wisconsin 596.00
Wyoming 96.00 Wyoming 108.00
TOTAL 31,347.00 TOTAL 36,399.00
AVERAGE 614.65 AVERAGE 713.71

Third, it’s curious that the VPC didn’t include DC in their list of states with higher firearm related deaths than motor vehicle related deaths. Perhaps it’s because DC has some of the most restrictive gun laws of any state and the fact that in 2009 DC saw higher number of gun related deaths than car related deaths does not support the VPC’s conclusion that stricter gun laws would prevent gun related deaths.

The fourth, final, and most important issue with the VPC’s report is that it makes a erroneous comparison. The VPC report compares motor vehicle related deaths, which are largely unintentional, to firearms deaths which are comprised of a large number of intentional deaths. Most of the firearms related deaths in 2009 were suicides (59%), followed by homicides (36%). As much as I’m sure the VPC likes their comparison it makes no sense – it’s an apples to oranges comparison – and beyond face value it’s worthless.

A Fair Comparison

I don’t think that comparing motor vehicle deaths to firearms deaths is apt; but here we are. So if we are going to make the comparison, then we need to parse the data from each category so that we can make as fair a comparison as possible. Because motor vehicle deaths are mostly unintentional the most straightforward way to do this is to look at unintentional deaths from firearms and motor vehicles and compare those.

Unintentional Motor Vehicle Deaths – All States 2009

DEATHS POPULATION RATE
36,216.00 307,006,550.00 11.62

Unintentional Firearm Deaths – All States 2009

DEATHS POPULATION RATE
554.00 307,006,550.00 0.18

As you can see there were far more, 65 times as many, unintentional motor vehicle related deaths as there were unintentional firearm related deaths in 2009. But let’s go back to the ten states that the VPC highlighted in their report.

Unintentional Firearm vs. Motor Vehicle Deaths – VPC States 2009

STATE GUN DEATHS STATE MV DEATHS
Alaska 0.00 Alaska 84.00
Arizona 0.00 Arizona 807.00
Colorado 0.00 Colorado 557.00
Indiana 22.00 Indiana 714.00
Michigan 12.00 Michigan 962.00
Nevada 0.00 Nevada 254.00
Oregon 0.00 Oregon 391.00
Utah 0.00 Utah 256.00
Virginia 13.00 Virginia 826.00
Washington 0.00 Washington 574.00
TOTAL 47.00 TOTAL 5,425.00

When you remove noise from the data and make a fair comparison you find that there were 115 times more unintentional motor vehicle related deaths in the ten sates then there were unintentional firearms related deaths in 2009.

Even when you compare unintentional firearm deaths and motor vehicle deaths over time you find that unintentional motor vehicle deaths far out rank unintentional firearms deaths (click on graph to make it bigger).

Conclusion

Even if you don’t remove the noise you’ll find that overall motor vehicle deaths significantly outnumber firearm deaths (click on graph to make it bigger). The fact also remains that cars and firearms are two different things – one is a privilege, one is a fundamental Constitutionally protected right.

Organizations such as the VPC who are dedicated to the infringement and eventual eradication of our basic rights will twist and misrepresent the data to fit their position without blinking an eye.

As easy as they are to refute, reports like the VPC’s have a way of leaking into and spoiling the conversation. I have no doubt that this report will be cited by other anti-rights cultists in support of further infringements on Second Amendment rights. As with any right, protecting it requires eternal vigilance.