Gun Deaths Are Becoming More Common Than Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 18 2012 3:01 PM

Just How Common Are Gun Deaths in America? Probably More Than You Think.

A man shot and killed three people in a home in Colorado this morning before turning his handgun on himself. The murder-suicide is generating a fair amount of headlines today, no doubt largely because of its timing (only days after the tragedy in Newtown) and location (Longmont, 40 miles or so from Aurora). But the kicker of Reuters' quick recap of the incident serves as a reminder that the very broad outlines of the case—that is: four gun deaths—make for a sad story but not necessarily a unique one:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

According to a May report by the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center, Colorado was one of 10 states where gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 2009.

The VPC released its analysis back in May of this year, but the numbers are sure to still catch a lot of people by surprise. Here's the breakdown straight from the report: (Motor vehicle deaths are defined to include both occupants and pedestrians)

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The pro-gun control group based its analysis on federal data, finding a total of 31,236 firearm-related deaths nationwide (good for a rate of 10.19 per 100,000 people) and 36,361 motor vehicle-related deaths (for a rate of 11.87 per 100,000). For the moment at least, car deaths are still more common nationwide than those caused by firearms, although they may not be for long, as the following VPC chart illustrates nicely:

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It's worth pointing out that while gun deaths have largely been on the rise in recent years, the climb has been a gradual one, as the chart shows. The national gun-death rate would not be approaching that of motor vehicles if it weren't for the fact that the latter has dropped fairly drastically in the past half decade or so thanks to an increased effort to make the nation's roads and vehicles safer. Gun-rights advocates will point to the relatively subtle rise of the gun-death's purple line to argue that we don't need to pass more gun restrictions. Gun-control advocates will point to the more severe drop of the yellow line to make the case for what might happen if we were to.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

This post was updated at 5:15 p.m. for clarity.

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