Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why Not Regulate Guns Like Cars?

Why Not Regulate Guns Like Cars?

One of the common questions asked by gun control people is "how is it that guns are less regulated than cars" or "why is it that it's easier to buy a gun than a car" or word to that effect -- cars are regulated (you need a license to drive them on public roads) and registered (the government maintains a list of who owns which car) and insured (you need car insurance to drive them on public roads).  Why not guns?

Answer One: Constitutionality

The first common answer from People Of The Gun (POTG) is "because cars aren't in the Constitution and guns are".  Which is factually wrong, of course.    Cars are in the Constitution!  Oh wait, no they aren't.  Wait!  Cars aren't in the Constitution, but neither are guns.  Guns are, in fact, in the Bill of Rights!

OK, enough silliness.  Cars aren't in the Bill of Rights and guns are.  Answer one.  My response would be that free travel is considered a constitutional right and that should penumbrally cover modes of transportation.  This answer, BTW, is why I prefer to discuss the intersection of regulations on guns and regulations on voting.

Answer Two: Bring It On

The second (increasingly) common answer from POTG is "sure, bring it on!", because the comparison about purchase and operation and insurance isn't as favorable to the gun control side as you might think.  For instance, there is no legal requirement (at least in most states) to have a driver's license (for which you need to pass a test) to own a car.  Just to operate it on public roads.  A comparable statute for guns would be no test or other barrier to buy a gun, just to carry it in public.  Likewise, cars are generally registered as part of making it legal to drive them in public.  If (like some farm vehicles) they are used exclusively on private property, registration is not required.  Insurance is a bit dicier but I believe it works the same way -- you do not need to insure a vehicle which is not being operated on the public roads.  All of these comparisons work in the direction that POTG (even the most extreme) like.

And then there's the big one: reciprocity.  If you have a driver's license from any state (and some countries), it's good everywhere in the US, and there is substantial uniformity in driving laws.  POTG presume that "Regulating Guns Like Cars" would include this reciprocity for concealed carry and uniformity of carry and transport and ownership laws, which means a significant win for POTG and the cause of gun rights.

My response?  I actually like the idea of uniform regulations for ownership, carry, and transport.  I'm not terribly afraid of confiscation via registration, but I understand that I may not be representative of gun owners in that regard.  Then again, I might.

Answer Three: Danger Level

Now let's get to what I want to talk about: the relative risk of Cars and Guns in America.  Some basic facts (all figures rounded for convenience):

On initial look, cars kill about the same number of people annually as guns do.  It's arguable that suicides are different from homicides, but CDC does not track intentional vehicular homicide versus accidental vehicular homicide, nor does it apparently track suicide by vehicle.

On second look, the old saw "guns don't kill people, people kill people" has a lot of meaning in it.  Fewer than 2% of deaths by gun are accidental*.  Essentially 100% of deaths caused by cars are -- or at least are assumed to be.  The vast majority of gun deaths are with intent -- directed outward or inward.  That's why lots of effort is put into making cars safer and almost no effort is put into making guns safer -- because guns do not kill a substantial number of people by accident.

* Some of the victims of homicide are undoubtedly unintentional victims -- they are "accidental" in the sense that the shooter intended to shoot someone else.  However, the shooter intended to shoot someone, so a bystander shot to death is still, in this context, an intentional death.  That is inherent in the numbers as gathered.  I don't know what percentage of homicide victims are unintended victims, but their deaths are still with intent and not actually accidental.

Time In Proximity

A more valid argument is that people spend more time interacting with cars than they do with guns ("time in proximity").  Considering that gun control advocates speak of guns as if they were sentient and had volition, I'm not impressed with their use of this argument.  As a seeker of reality, however, I think it has some merit because it doesn't matter how many guns there are in the US if they are all locked up or unloaded, and it doesn't matter how many cars there are if they are all garaged and out of gas.  Even a gun owner (who doesn't carry a gun routinely, which is most of us) probably doesn't spend as much time touching a gun daily as they do touching a car.  Or being in close proximity (defined as a few feet).

But when you consider that, in military parlance, a gun exercises control over a space from 50 yards (a handgun) to 1000 yards (a deer or sniper rifle) in radius, a whole lot of people are within the area of control of each gun.  Especially guns owned in urban areas.  You may be sitting in effective range of 100 guns right now and have no idea.  I know that I'm sitting within effective range of any guns I own even though they are safely safed.

Aside from storage, nearly half a million Washingtonians (the state, not DC) have Concealed Pistol Licenses (CPLs -- what the state of Washington calls a concealed carry permit).  That's about 6.5% of the total population and about 8.3% of the over-18 population (Washington limits CPLs to those over 21).  So about 1 in 12 adult Washingtonians has the legal right to concealed carry.  I don't know what percentage of those who may carry do, but it's not zero because I know at least one.  Each of those carriers is within range of anybody within about 50 yards.  And almost none of those people know they are "in proximity" to a firearm.

Realistically, people are simply unaware of their proximity to guns.  Public delicacy, if not legality, convinces most gun owners to keep their guns out of sight when not actively in use.  Consequently, the question of time spent in proximity -- whether you are more exposed to cars or to guns -- is currently unanswerable with any certainty.

The Major Difference (Deaths)

So cars and guns kill about the same number of people annually, but there is a qualitative difference in the perpetrators of the violence.  Broadly speaking, perpetrators of gun violence have intent and perpetrators of car violence lack intent.


Where there is a huge quantitative difference, however, is in injuries.  Guns injure fewer than 100K people in America annually.  Cars injure over 2 million.  End of comparison.

Not enough?  Some percentage of those injuries are intentional.  Not everyone who tries to commit suicide succeeds, not everyone who tries to kill an assailant succeeds, not everyone who attempts to murder a rival succeeds.  So not all of those fewer than 100K gun injuries are accidents.  Some are failures.  If you assume survival rates like Iraq, a lot of them are failures.  OTOH, 100% (or very close to it) of the 2.2M car injuries are accidental.

Once again, we get to the difference between intention and accident.

What's It All Mean?

No one is going to be convinced by this argument.  The lines are already too clearly drawn.  But the reality (leaving the time in proximity issue aside for now) is that cars are far more dangerous to the average law abiding non-suicidal American than guns are.  Gun violence is concentrated in socioeconomic classes -- notably criminals, although spouses of violent individuals (often criminals) are also common victims.  Even "random gun violence" is not terribly random with respect to socioeconomic class.  Car violence is very random and widespread.  There may be higher accident rates associated with vehicular failure in lower economic classes but even poor people drive near richer people.

Car violence is also different from gun violence because car violence is usually accidental.  Efforts to reduce car violence must go toward more reliable vehicular systems and improved training for operators.

Gun violence is largely (98% of deaths) deliberate.  "Making guns safer" is not a primary issue because the only way to make a gun safe against deliberate use is to make it inoperative.  The low number of accidental gun deaths makes it clear that, while operator training* may move people from the injured category to the dead category, it will likely not reduce the total number of gun deaths and injuries.

*I'm a fan of training.  Aside from the expense, I love it.  All the training I've had has been well recommended and I think beneficial.  Not all training is worth doing.  Regardless, training with guns has two distinct branches: safety and effectiveness.  When gun control advocates think "training", they think "safety training".  When POTG think training, they think "effectiveness".  All effectiveness training I have taken included safety training, and some of the RSOs are draconian about it.  I like that.