As NRA Meeting Opens in Nashville, Gun Deaths Surpass Vehicle Deaths in Tennessee

04/10/2015 12:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015


Another year, another NRA annual meeting, which each spring comes with its own set of questions teetering from the merely absurd to the truly grotesque.

Will the NRA reveal the findings of its "ethics investigation" into whether right-wing stalwart and NRA board member Grover Norquist is aiding "agents of influence" for the Muslim Brotherhood? And what new, emerging threat that we need to be armed against will NRA head Wayne LaPierre identify in faux podium-pounding fury to further the interests of the organization's financial supporters in the gun industry? In the ever-expanding universe of the threatening "them" that the NRA constantly cites in its gun peddling, few are left short of space invaders.

How will gunmakers continue to up the ante on the militarization that defines the industry today, and what new types of increasingly lethal military-bred firearms will be on display at the massive gun industry show of weapons that accompanies the NRA's annual meeting? What contorted rationales will be offered in defense of the AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles (among many others) that have become the weapon of choice -- along with concealed carry handguns -- of industry marketers? (Euphemistically labeled "Modern Sporting Rifles" by the industry and gun lobby, one exhibitor featured on the NRA meeting's website reaches a new height of contorted catch-all rebranding, promoting its AR-15 assault rifle as a "Defensive Sporting Rifle.")

And while the NRA blithely dismisses gun violence and those who die from it (unless such deaths can be used to sell more guns), one measure of the damage done by the industry it so shamelessly shills for can be seen in the very state where the NRA is holding its annual "weekend of fellowship and fun!" In Tennessee, the number of deaths from gunfire has surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes.

Earlier this week my organization, the Violence Policy Center, released an analysis which found gun deaths now outpace motor vehicle deaths in 17 states including Tennessee, as well as the District of Columbia.

We found that in 2013, the most recent year for which national state-by-state data is available, gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming, along with the District of Columbia. Data is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Nationwide, in 2013 there were 33,636 gun deaths and 35,612 motor vehicle deaths. And while motor vehicle deaths are on a long-term decline thanks to the implementation of public health-based injury prevention strategies over the past several decades, America's gun violence epidemic continues unabated.


The reason for this discrepancy is simple. Motor vehicles and highways have gradually become safer ever since the formation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1966. The number of deadly motor vehicle crashes began to decline with the introduction of new safety features like seat belts and airbags, new safety improvements on the highways, and a crackdown on driving under the influence of alcohol, among many other safety enhancements and regulations.

For guns, it's a very different story. Thanks to the power of the gun lobby, firearms are the only consumer product the federal government does not regulate for health and safety. This unique exemption allows the firearms industry to sell and market increasingly lethal products with virtually no regulation over firearm design and manufacture. Under federal law, if a gun is not fully automatic, uses a round that does not exceed 50 caliber, and -- for long guns -- meets certain barrel length requirements, manufacturers can make basically anything they want.

The growing trend of gun deaths outpacing motor vehicle deaths state by state is even more striking when you consider the fact that Americans' exposure to motor vehicles vastly outweighs their exposure to guns. More than 90 percent of American households own a car while fewer than a third have a gun. There are far more car owners than gun owners even in Nashville at the NRA convention, where concealed carry permit holders will be able to carry their weapons in some, but not all, of the buildings utilized for the annual meeting's events.

While some of these questions about the NRA meeting may be answered over the coming weekend, one constant query remains: What amount of gun death, injury, and trauma must we endure as a nation before the NRA says "enough" and drops its opposition to even the most minor gun regulation? Unfortunately, we already know the answer.