I’m always amused when conservatives defend guns by citing the fact that people die in the operation of motor vehicles. The argument goes along these lines: Cars kill and no one is suggesting that cars be banned! Therefore, no one should argue that guns be banned, either.
Why, just the other day our friend Amazona made that very argument:
I do understand that guns are loud, and scary, and that they are very very intimidating. But so are cars and trucks. More people are killed by drunk drivers than by guns, yet there is no demand to take cars off the road, or make them harder to buy or own. In this case, it is understood that the culprit is the driver, not the car. Even when cars are purposely used to inflict harm or death, being driven into crowds or at police officers, there is no cry to restrict car ownership. But we KNOW cars. We are familiar with them, we grew up around them, we handle them on a daily basis, and we know how to handle them. Most people don’t know guns, so they are alien and outside their frames of reference, and all these people think they know is that guns are dangerous. And they are, if used improperly.
Let’s unpack this a bit.
First, her claim that “more people are killed by drunk drivers than by guns” is simply not true, regardless of the certainty in which she states it. It is telling that she rattles off such statistics without bothering to provide a source–telling only in the sense that she would not have found a source. She simply believes it to be so because it fits her narrative.
The facts, according to the Center For Disease Control, are that in 2013, 10,076 people were killed in “alcohol-impaired driving crashes.” In the same year the CDC reported that 33,636 people were killed by guns. It is true that, as of 2013, about the same number of people were killed by motor vehicles—33,804—as were killed by firearms—33,636. But it may well be the case that once the 2015 statistics are available, more people in America are killed by guns than by automobiles. (I wonder if tired will work up the nerve to gently correct her, since no one else is allowed. Be a man, tired! You can do it!)
But aside from telling fibs, the comparison of guns to automobiles comes up short in a few ways. First, automobile manufacturers are subject to regulations that increase the safety of automobiles. Seat belts, airbags and other safety features have evolved and become required features, all in response to injuries and deaths caused by automobile accidents. Cars have become increasingly safe as the years go by. In fact, the number of motor vehicle deaths per mile driven have decreased almost in a straight line ever since records began being kept in 1921. (The number of deaths per mile driven is less than half what it was in 1988.)
Conversely, the gun lobby—namely the NRA—stridently opposes any modifications to firearms that could make them safer. The classic example is what happened to Smith and Wesson a decade or so ago. They proposed a number of new safety measures for their weapons but were nearly put out of business by an NRA boycott. If the gun manufacturers (and owners) were as serious about gun safety as the automobile industry, we would see such safety features evolve and be embraced, if not demanded, by gun owners. Instead, we see an absolute refusal to adopt any such measures.
Second, conservatives who liken cars to guns gloss over the fact that in order to operate an automobile, one must become licensed. One must be trained and must demonstrate that he or she is capable of safely operating a vehicle, and must continuous renew their license over the course of their life. Unsafe drivers lose their ability to drive and can wind up in prison. Guns, on the other hand, can be legally purchased in many cases with no background checks or vetting of any kind, let alone proof that the purchaser is capable of safely handling the gun. As for automobiles themselves, many states require that they be inspected on an annual basis to insure that they are safe to operate.
Third, while the statement that automobiles are familiar to Americans–whereas guns are not–is true (only about 37% of Americans own guns), it ignores the most important point of all, which is that the intrinsic purpose of an automobile is transportation, whereas the sole intrinsic purpose of a handgun or assault rifle is to kill other human beings as efficiently as possible. The statement that guns are dangerous “if used improperly” is true, but it leaves unsaid the case in which they are used properly. The fact is that killing or maiming other human beings is using these weapons exactly as they were intended to be used.