An alternative way to consider the risk difference between gun-related and traffic-related fatalities is presented. To permit the grossly disproportionate rate of gunfire deaths in US children to continue is indefensible. It is time that politicians are made to publicly defend their voting record in obstructing availability of information about the health risks of guns while expanding public exposure to firearms.
In recent weeks I was in discussion with two individuals where traffic-related fatalities were used to deflect from gun-related deaths in the US. In one case it was a business leader who relayed that his association was not going to formally oppose ‘guns in bars’ legislation, referring at one point to ‘all those cars in the parking lots’. The other was a gun owner who asked how I could be concerned about gun-related deaths with the ‘slaughter’ of our youth on the highways of this country; the total number of deaths seemed to be the issue.
It was clear from these discussions that a simple, easily understood, alternative situation would be helpful in demonstrating the risk difference between the two; and that is provided below. But first, a brief review would be useful. The automobile vs gun fatalities argument was considered in a previous article (ref). Some of those points will be summarized here and supplemented with new information.
* With traffic-related fatalities continuing to decline, gun-related (ref) and traffic-related deaths (ref) in the US are now largely similar, each claiming in the vicinity of 31,000 – 32,000 American lives per year.
* Gun-related deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 10 states in 2009, the most recent year for which state level data is available (ref).
* Whereas the total number of gun-related and traffic-related fatalities are similar, gun ownership exists in less than a third of US households (ref) while it has been cited that 90% (ref) to 95% (ref) of US households own one or more cars – many being used on a daily basis.
* Traffic-related fatalities have fallen to their lowest levels in more than 60 years, helped by effective regulatory initiatives (e.g., more people wearing seat belts, efforts to curb drunken driving, etc) and better safety equipment in cars (ref). No similar initiatives exist for firearms; in fact such initiatives are resisted by the gun lobby even following tragedies like Columbine – ref. And guns have been cited as being the only consumer product not regulated by the federal government for health and safety (ref) (ref).
* Traffic-related fatalities are accidental and occur within the intended use of the product (transportation). Homicide and suicide (the two leading causes of death by gunfire) involve the intentional use of a product to take one’s own life or the life of another.
* The United States experiences a grossly disproportionate loss of life from firearms than do other wealthy, industrialized countries as is reflected in its firearm-related homicide rate (ref).
* The US places 8th on a list of countries regarding firearm-homicide rates. The US rate is only exceeded by those of South Africa, Colombia, Thailand, Guatemala, Paraguay, Zimbabwe, and Mexico (ref).
* PolitiFact conducted an independent analysis of gunfire-related homicides and found, using the most recent data (2009) and confining the analysis to western nations (the other countries in NATO), that gunfire-related homicide was 10 times higher in the US than those other countries (ref). That result mirrored other research that showed in 2000 the US reported 10,801 gun-related homicides compared to 1,260 in the EU (that had a larger population than the US) (ref).
* By contrast, the rate of traffic-related fatalities in the US was found to be only about twice that observed in other wealthy countries (ref), e.g., Germany (1.78X), Spain (2.78X), Australia (2.14X), and Canada (1.34X) – the difference most likely related to the widespread ownership and use of cars in America due to suburban development.
* What is observed for gun-related deaths in the general population is mirrored in children (ref). Data published by the CDC showed that US children under the age of 15 were 12 times more likely to die from gunfire than children in 25 other industrialized countries combined. And 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun.
* Gun-related deaths occurring at younger ages has been shown to account for at least 25% of the decreased life-expectancy gap between America and other wealthy industrialized countries (ref).
* The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized the health risks guns pose to children and adolescents, and issued the following in their position statement on the matter (ref): “Because firearm-related injury to children is associated with death and severe morbidity and is a significant public health problem, child health care professionals can and should provide effective leadership in efforts to stem this epidemic”.
* It was argued during one of my recent discussions that in countries where guns are not readily available that a substitution effect exists, i.e., that individuals would find other ways to kill each other. Although a substitution effect may exist for suicides, “in the case of homicides, several international comparisons demonstrate that the substitution effect is minimal or nonexistent” (ref). Guns, very simply, provide a highly effective and efficient means to end life (which is what they are designed to do).
The data are compelling, and irrefutable, that US citizens (including children and adolescents) are at many times the risk of dying from gunfire than those in other peer nations.
With that background, consider the following.
Would You Send Your Child There
Consider the case of a child who requires an operation to address a medical problem. The parents wanted to find the best institution to perform the procedure and did their homework. The various institutions were found to be largely similar regarding the incidence of untoward events/complications that could potentially claim the life of the child. However, in one institution the risk of the child dying from a particular untoward event/complication was found to be at least 10 times greater than that of the other institutions. Would they send their child there (or even go there themselves)?
Would they rationalize that because there were potentially more lives being lost to another complication they wouldn’t be concerned about the higher level of risk with this other event? Would they use ideological considerations to justify sending their child there; say, for example, that the institution with this markedly higher risk was religious-based and in line with their beliefs?
The answer is, of course, that most reasoning individuals would not place their child at a higher risk of death. They would choose another institution. Yet, that is the very situation we face with guns in our country. The data are clear that US children and adolescents are at many times the risk of losing their lives to gunfire than those in peer countries. And to use death from another cause, such as automobiles, or to defend that loss of life in the name of a constitutional right, is both obscene and morally-corrupt.
Should some think that this analogy is ill-founded, there are indeed differences between medical institutions regarding preventable events, and those differences are being addressed. Part of the healthcare reform law involves imposing penalties on the 25% of hospitals whose rates of ‘hospital acquired conditions’ like bed sores, nosocomial infections, complications from extended use of catheters, and injuries caused by falls are the highest; an initiative that will ultimately reduce cost and improve the overall quality of care in hospitals (ref).
To permit the loss of life in US children by gunfire to continue is indefensible. The rhetoric about the ‘right’ to carry guns to protect oneself is irrelevant as it does not apply to children. Children are not legally allowed, nor developmentally capable, to carry a gun for protection. And gun-carrying parents can not be around their children all day to protect them. Yet every year thousands of children and adolescents in this country fall victim to a product that is not federally regulated for safety and health. Enacting laws that increase public exposure to guns in our parks, restaurants, campuses, etc., can only increase the risk of firearm discharge (accidental or otherwise) in public places and thus can only contribute to the problem. Although individuals might feel safer by carrying a gun, statistics are quite clear that children, as a whole, are not.
One of the great tragedies in life is a child preceding the parents. And that happens all to often by gunfire. There are a couple of factors that keep parents from understanding the increased risk of children dying from gunfire in the US.
First, a study showed the vast majority of adults (around 87%), regardless of gun ownership, geography, race, gender, education level, income, or child age, believed that their children would not touch guns they found, 52% reasoning that their children were “too smart” or “knew better” (ref). This unrealistic expectation for children was demonstrated in another study (ref). Twenty-nine (29) groups of boys aged 8-12 years were observed in a room where a gun was hidden. Many of the children found and handled the gun, and half of the children actually pulled the trigger (more than 90% of these boys reported having had some sort of gun safety training). Although the NRA offers its Eddie Eagle training program, a study in 6 and 7 year olds compared the effectiveness of that program to a behavioral skills training program (ref): “…children who received behavioral skills training were significantly more likely to demonstrate the desired safety skills in role-playing assessments and in situ assessments than were children who received Eddie Eagle program training”.
The second factor is the obstructionist tactics of the gun lobby to hide these risks; and our politicians are complicit here as well. NRA-backed legislation was successful in federally defunding the research of both the CDC and NIH on the public health risks of guns, informing their membership that the research amounted to “junk science” (ref). The NRA also uses fear and paranoia tactics to convince their membership that the Left is involved in a massive conspiracy to undermine the Second Amendment and their constitutional rights (reviewed here under Tactics section); attempts to regulate the product for safety face the headwinds of this deception. And the NRA has also backed legislation that was passed into law in Florida that, despite the role physicians have played in counseling families and patients on risks to children (preventative medicine), threatened physicians with disciplinary action, including loss of license, for “unnecessarily harassing [undefined] a patient about firearm ownership during an examination” (ref). Similar legislation is pending in North Carolina (ref).
A reasonable question would be how many of the NRA’s own membership have lost children, who otherwise may have done things differently, had the organization they financially supported been proactive rather than obstructive regarding the public health risks of firearms? Or how many families have lost military veterans, a group known to be at risk of suicide, because the gun lobby was successful in amending the National Defense Authorization Act to restrict the freedom of base commanders to talk to service members about the risks of guns in the home (ref)?
Regulatory intervention has contributed to a significant decline in traffic-related fatalities, and yet the gun lobby resists regulating firearms for health and safety. The NRA serves as a conduit for the gun industry to place special interest money into the pockets of our politicians (see section on NRA Ties to the Firearms Industry – ref). For those politicians to be accepting special-interest monies and enacting legislation that obstructs availability of information regarding the health risks of firearms while at the same time expanding public exposure to these products, without taking steps to address the well-documented and disproportionate loss of life guns cause in the US, very simply advocates against the well-being and safety of our citizens, our children, and our veterans.
It is time these politicians are made to publicly defend their voting record. And there’s no better time than an election year to make that happen.