THE BLOG
10/10/2012 02:26 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2012

Gun Deaths Outpace Motor Vehicle Deaths in the DMV (DC, MD, VA)

Gun deaths now outpace motor vehicle deaths in the DMV.

That's according to a new analysis by my organization, the Violence Policy Center, of just-released federal firearm and motor vehicle deaths data for the District, Maryland, and Virginia.

The analysis, which uses the most recent complete data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, reveals that, in 2010:

  • Gun deaths in the DMV totaled 1,512 while motor vehicles deaths totaled 1,280.
  • In the District of Columbia, there were 99 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 84 of which were identified as homicides and 13 of which were identified as suicides. That same year, there were 38 motor vehicle deaths in the District.
  • In Maryland, there were 538 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 306 of which were identified as homicides and 222 of which were identified as suicides. That same year, there were 514 motor vehicle deaths in the state.
  • In Virginia, there were 875 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 271 of which were identified as homicides, 576 of which were identified as suicides, and 13 of which were identified as unintentional deaths. That same year, there were 728 motor vehicle deaths in the state.

Nationally, there were 31,672 firearm deaths reported in 2010. That same year there were 35,498 motor vehicle deaths nationwide.

The long-term decline in motor vehicle deaths is the result of a decades-long public health-based injury prevention strategy -- centered on safety-related changes to vehicles and highway design informed by comprehensive data collection and analysis -- that has been an unqualified success. Compare that to firearms, which stand as the only consumer product not regulated by the federal government for health and safety. The study states:

The statistics in the DMV offer a stark illustration of a public health emergency that often receives scant attention from policymakers. Firearms remain the only consumer product not regulated by a federal health and safety agency, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has overseen automobile safety since 1966. Nationally, firearm fatalities almost equal motor vehicle deaths despite the fact that roughly three times as many Americans own automobiles as own firearms. The tolerance for such a high level of gun death is even harder to comprehend when the relative utility of the two products is taken into account. Unlike guns, motor vehicles are essential to the functioning of the U.S. economy.

While the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is charged with enforcing our nation's limited gun laws, it has none of the health and safety regulatory powers afforded other federal agencies such as NHTSA. Health and safety regulation of firearms is left to the states and very few impose meaningful regulation designed to decrease all categories of gun-related death and injury. Moreover, the effectiveness of one jurisdiction's efforts is often undermined by weak standards in neighboring jurisdictions coupled with the lack of minimum federal standards.

The study offers a series of policy recommendations to improve data collection on firearms violence, increase regulation of the firearms industry, and reduce gun death and injury:

  • Detailed and timely data collection on gun production, sales, use in crime, as well as analysis of the types, makes and models of firearms most associated with injury, death and criminal use;
  • Implementation of minimum safety standards for firearms (i.e., specific design standards and the requirement of safety devices);
  • Ban certain types of firearms that have no sporting purpose such as "junk guns" and military-style assault weapons;
  • Limit the firepower of firearms available to the general public, e.g. restrict ammunition magazine capacity;
  • Expand the categories of persons prohibited from possessing firearms by including restrictions on categories known to present a higher risk of misuse such as possession by those convicted of a violent misdemeanor;
  • Restore restrictions on the carrying of loaded handguns in public spaces;
  • Improve enforcement of current laws restricting gun possession by persons with histories of domestic violence;
  • Improve enforcement of current laws restricting gun possession by persons with mental health disqualifiers;
  • Implement public education campaigns that communicate the extreme risks associated with exposure to firearms.

The study specifically recommends that the neighboring jurisdictions of the DMV "could cooperate to track illegally trafficked firearms and identify the sources of such weapons."

While individual states and localities can help reduce gun death and injury, history and experience teach that comprehensive federal regulation is the most effective approach to preventing product-related death and injury.