Comparing Cars and Guns (Using Facts), Part 1 of 2

 by Troy M. Olson

For life saving technology with your help - Ralph Nader
For life saving technology with your help – Ralph Nader

The following was originally written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and President Obama’s subsequent modest proposals to curb mass killings and violence in America in late 2012 (Note: the gun is the chief weapon of choice for violent crime in America period, and we’ll get to that. I don’t care about guns, but I’ve likely carried a gun for more hours in my life than most people reading this due to my time in the service. This article is about violence and unnecessary death and what we can do to stop it. What we can do to stop Americans from killing other Americans).

When we launched this website I considered making this one of the first posts, but decided to wait. The reason I waited is because there was no doubt in my mind, given the regularity of these violent, mass killings going on in our country, that the purpose for which it was written would have the opportunity to be timely again. I admit this freely, and with much regret, because that is itself an admission of defeat. Another sign of our collective failure to have a national conversation about public issues. 

This article, published in two parts operates under the premise that car accidents used to cause many, many deaths in this country.  And while they still do, regulation of their usage over the years despite more individuals driving cars has led to far fewer deaths while operating motor vehicles. Currently, we are facing record mass killings and violence in an era where overall crime and violent crime has been going down for decades. I thought the comparison was valid. Hopefully with sensible public policy, someday we can save some lives just like we did with the seat belt. 


As of 2010, the United States has the largest fleet of motor vehicles in the world, totaling 239.8 million.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports an ownership rate of 828 vehicles per 1,000.

In other words, we have a vehicle to person ratio of 1:1.3. For every one car in this country, we have a person and a third of a person. There is far more car ownership than gun ownership, as this analysis will later show.


Since the 1960s, consumer advocates like Ralph Nader (“Unsafe At Any Speed”) have led the movement to make cars safer and traveling in cars safer. Since then, the US Federal and State Governments have regulated automobiles far more heavily than they had before.

Deaths from car accidents peaked at over 50,000 decades ago. In 2011, they were down to 32,367.

Year                                                Car Deaths

2011                                                32,367

2010                                                32,885

2009                                                33,808

2008                                                37,261

2007                                                41,059

Considering that the ownership of just one car compared to one gun and the number of instances of usage it would appear as if firearms are far more dangerous than cars, which are much more heavily regulated, and the deaths associated with them, whether intentional, negligent, or accidental, are more frequent.


As of 2009, the United States has a population of 307 million people. Based on production data from firearm manufacturers, there are roughly 300 million firearms owned by civilians in the United States as of 2010. Of these, about 100 million are handguns.

The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that having a gun in your home makes you three times more likely to be the victim of a homicide and five times more likely to kill yourself. This study conclusively shows that gun owners are in far more danger than non-gun owners. A 300 percent increase in the risk of death by homicide illustrates the likelihood that someone in the house will “snap” and kill you. Whether it be a father, a mother, or a child; if you own a gun you are more likely to be the victim of a homicide within the confines of your own home.

The following are estimates of private firearm ownership in the U.S. as of 2010.

                                    Households with a Gun            Adults Owning a Gun           

Percentage                        40-45%                                    30-34%

Raw Number                    47-53 million                       70-80 million

A 2005 nationwide Gallup poll of 1,012 adults found the following levels of firearm ownership:

Category                        Percentage Owning a Firearm

Households                       42%

Individuals                        30%

Female                                13%

Male                                    47%

White                                  33%

Nonwhite                           18%

Republican                        41%

Independent                      27%

Democrat                           23%

In the same poll, gun owners stated they own firearms for the following reasons:

Protection Against Crime                        67%

Target Shooting                                         66%

Hunting                                                       41%


All homicides

Number of Deaths: 16,259

Deaths per 100,000 population: 5.3

Firearm homicides

Number of Deaths: 11,078

Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.6

In the United States, annual deaths resulting from firearms total (whether intentional homicide, negligent homicide, or accidental deaths):

2011: 32,163

2010: 31,672

2009: 31,347

Rate of ALL Gun Deaths per 100,000 People

2011: 10.3

2010: 10.26

2009: 10.22


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