Which Kills More: Guns or Cars?

In a classic example of using statistics like the drunkard uses a lamppost (for support rather than illumination), EJ Montini (@EJMontini) published on AZCentral a recitation of statistics from a lobbying group pretending to be a think tank, in which he and they claim that more Arizonan’s are killed in firearms-related incidents than in motor vehicle crashes.

Unlike a lot of folks who despise Montini, I don’t automatically think everything he writes is bad. But in this case, it’s clear he should have done a little more homework.

His assertion didn’t pass the sniff test with me, so I did about five minutes’ worth of research on the web (which appears to be about five minutes more than Montini).

Montini asserts that

Gun deaths in our state between 1999 and 2013 exceeded motor vehicle deaths.

My first question is, what constitutes a “gun death?” Does suicide count? If so, it would drastically skew the comparison because (among other things) many more folks intentionally kill themselves with guns than with cars. Montini implies that suicides are included in those numbers.

He goes on to add:

The numbers cited in the study for Arizona over the period for which statistics were are 941 gun deaths and 863 motor vehicle deaths.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s 2013 “Motor Vehicle Crash Facts” publication, there were 844 Arizona motor vehicle-related fatalities in 2013 alone! That seems a rather large number by comparison to the asserted 863 fatalities between 1999 and 2013 (which would be an average of about 62 fatalities per year).

Looking at Arizona statistics complied by the Centers for Disease Control, firearms-related deaths are listed as 946 for the year 2012 (2013 numbers don’t appear to be readily available). There were more than a thousand suicides in Arizona in 2012, and I have to believe that many of those utilized firearms.

So even disregarding Montini’s obvious chronological mistake and comparing my 2013 numbers to 2012, you could probably say it is likely that firearms-related deaths exceeded motor vehicle-related deaths in and around that time frame. However, you’d be far from telling the whole story.

A far more interesting picture could be drawn by highlighting the fact that Arizona is 12th in the nation for suicide rate.

But we are very low on the rankings for deaths heart disease (46th among the 50 states), cancer (42nd), stroke (46th), kidney disease and flu/pneumonia (both 48th).

Of course it also bears noting that Arizona is 11th in the nation for deaths related to Alzheimer’s.

One other really obvious fact (at least to me) is that even as much as firearms are a polarizing topic, our daily exposure to motor vehicle risk is far more pervasive. Other than on the hip of a police officer, when is the last time you even SAW a gun.

I think Montini and this so-called “policy center” have made up some news that isn’t there…and worse, they’ve done so at the expense of what IS there.

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