Tuesday, October 29, 2013

MoveOn.Org's Shoddy Comparison Between Firearm and Automobile Fatalities

I already know that MoveOn.org is a Left-leaning organization with an axe to grind. Being an interest group comes with more objectivity issues than a think-tank does. So when I read a recently published article from MoveOn.org entitled "Guns Will Be More Dangerous Than Cars By 2015," I was not at all surprised at the argumentum ad metum, as well as playing fast and loose with statistics while using a false analogy.

I like how the author didn't bother to ask the reason behind the trends. Although laws regarding seat belts, drinking and driving, and texting while driving played a role, a lot of the automobile fatality decrease has to do with such technological developments as seat belts, air bags, and crumple zones. Technology improves over time (see the promising development of the self-driving car), which ultimately means fewer fatalities. Unless people choose to intentionally cause death with cars, we will most likely not see a notable increase in automobile fatalities. As I point out below, most firearm deaths are intentional, and not so easily preventable.

It doesn't matter if the automobile fatality rate is comparable to the firearm fatality rate. This apples-to-oranges comparison between firearm and automobile fatalities does not make sense. With few exceptions, auto fatalities are accidental. There are not a whole of intentional automobile deaths (The CDC only reported 38 motor vehicle homicides for 2010 [Table 18]). Look at the CDC data, and you'll see that the vast majority of firearm deaths are intentional. If MoveOn.org wanted an apples-to-apples comparison, it should look at accidental firearm fatalities versus accidental automobile fatalities. Unlike automobile fatalities, most of firearm fatalities are not accidental. Using the same CDC data, most firearm deaths are either suicides (19,392) or homicides (11,078). The number of unintentional firearm deaths? 606. Compare that number to the thirty-thousand-plus unintentional automobile deaths, and we see that automobile accidents cause way many more deaths than firearm accidents.

Even if for whatever reason, you think that looking at accidental deaths is invalid (don't know why, but let's assume), how many guns are there in comparison to automobiles? Although guns are inanimate objects, for argument's sake, let's buy into the notion that "guns kill people." Going with that thought, raw data only tells us so much. For a better comparison between gun and automobile fatalities, the comparison needs to be done per capita. Why? If we are going to say that one car is equivalent to one firearm, thereby making it an "apples-to-apples comparison," then we need to have a comparison of deaths with a 1:1 ratio so we can figure out how many deaths each automobile or firearm causes. There are an estimated 310 million firearms in the country. Compare that to the 254 million automobiles in this country. 310:254 is not a 1:1 ratio, which is why we need the adjustment. If we weigh the automobile deaths so that the comparison is per capita (i.e., [310/254]*33,000 automobile deaths), as opposed to with raw data, what we find is that with adjusting the numbers based on a 1:1 ratio, automobiles kill at a higher rate than firearms do.

Another issue with using raw data like this, especially with a twenty-plus year time span, is that the population has increased. The author failed to adjust for population growth, which is why it is preferable to use fatality rates, much like I did in the previous paragraph. Using rates is important because it makes this adjustment. As I pointed out during the Aurora shooting about a year and a half ago, the firearm homicide rate has been declining for quite some time.

Between the MoveOn author's misuse of statistics, usage of the recent school shooting in Nevada to scare people, and a usage of an irrelevant comparison between firearms and automobiles, the author's recommendation is that there "should be at least as many safety regulations for owning and operating a gun as there are for doing the same with a car." I wish the author used the same 1:1 ratio when actually looking at the fatality statistics, but I guess it's easier to mislead people who a priori believe that gun violence is on the rise. How the author compares an accidental cause of death to an intentional one and then attempts to justify further regulation of the latter on the same grounds is beyond me. I am all for having an intellectual debate on the merits of gun control, but please, let's put everything into perspective first so we can determine the extent of the problem.

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