On Slate this morning there was a headline about how firearm deaths have surpassed motor vehicle deaths in 10 states. The article cited a report by the Violence Policy Center that showed that between 1999 and 2010 there was a decrease in motor vehicle deaths nationwide, and a slight increase in firearm related deaths. Thus, the report and article argued, we are heading towards a day when firearm deaths surpass motor vehicle deaths.
I’ve blogged before about how deceptive I think the term “firearm deaths” is (as it lumps in police action, homicides and suicides as one group), and it turns out this is the same report that annoyed me the first time. This time however, I was struck by the chart they included in the article:
Essentially, homicides by gun have not changed in the 11 year period covered here, though they did tick up in the middle. Suicides have gone up. If you’re curious what the other three categories look like when they’re not all bunched up:
So unintentional fatalities are decreasing, and the other two categories appear to be fairly constant.
As a reference point, the population was 280 million in 1999, and was 309 million in 2010.
To be honest, I don’t have a strong opinion about gun control, but I do hold data integrity at a premium. If we’re going to talk about regulating guns in order to keep people safe, you have to either include suicide prevention as one of your foremost points, or you have to start using the homicide data only. I do not believe it is intellectually honest to quote total firearm death statistics when the national conversation is clearly focusing on homicides.
If we don’t start with the right data, how will we know if any interventions actually work?