17 April, 2013

A car by any other name...

Ok, so I'm tired of seeing stuff like this. It's downright rare that I post anything "political" on my blog. I'm a liberal, and a former gun owner. I grew up shooting and I don't think we need to take guns away from civilians. However, I think ridiculous memes like this propagate harmful comparisons which are entirely inappropriate.

According to the Department of Transportation as of 2010 there were 203 million licensed drivers in the US owning about 240 million cars.

According to a 2010, an estimated 70-80 million adults in the US own one or more guns, with total civilian gun numbers of approximately 250 million in 2010 according to the NRA.

According to the CDC, there were 32,163 gun deaths in 2011.

According to the CDC, there were 33,687 motor vehicle deaths in 2011.

According to the CDC, automobile deaths per capita in the US have declined sharply in the past 30 years while firearms deaths inclined sharply for 20 years, leveling out in the past decade.

So if you are willing to bear with me for a moment, let's call it 75 million gun owning adults killed 32,163 people in 2011 while 203 million drivers caused 33,687 deaths in 2011.

Unless my math is wrong (which it may be), that means a gun owner is about 2.7 times more likely to kill another person than a licensed driver, in spite of the fact that automobiles are used with much greater frequency and duration than guns.

Neither guns nor cars kill people. However, both are instruments of death used by intention or by accident.

So how do we get gun owners to be as safe as drivers? Or - how about - SAFER than drivers?

I propose a similar safety model to the one uses for drivers as a starting point.

1) Youth education. Educate kids about gun safety from a young age. Just like we teach children never to cross the street without an adult and without looking both ways, never to stand behind a car, what backup lights look like, what the horn means, never to start or drive the car, never to touch the gear shift, always wear a seat belt, etc. Teach children how to safely either avoid or handle guns.

2) Young user education. Educate kids who own guns about proper safety. Plenty of kids drive the truck and tractor on the farm from a young age. There are many talented youth markspeople as well. When I was 9 I could lay a coke bottle on its side on the top of a fencepost and shoot the bottom out of the bottle through the neck from 20 yards or so. We had access to firearms without adult supervision.

Just like we have drivers safety, we should have gun safety. Proper maintenance, assembly and disassembly, target recognition, decision making and safe choices such as never mixing drugs and alcohol or anger with weapons should be taught.

3) Licensing. In order to operate a motor vehicle legally, potential drivers must pass a written safety test, vision test and a practical driving exam, demonstrating basic proficiency before earning a license. This license must be renewed on a set schedule.

Require licensing for gun operation. Vehicle operation licenses are divided into categories such as commercial, lenses required, motorcycle, etc. Allow for different use categories if desired. Charge for this licensing and put the money toward education and health care.

4) Background checks. This is not required for operating an automobile but I think it should be. History of DUI? No license. History of violent crime? No license. I support universal background checks for all gun operators. Minor operators should have their parents receive a background check as well.

5) Taxation. Yes, I said it. To own and operate a vehicle, the vehicle must be registered and annual taxes paid in the form of license tabs. Further, the fuel needed to operate that vehicle is subject to an ever increasing fuel tax. Require annual licensing of firearms. Make the fee small. At even $5/weapon, that's $1.25 billion dollars a year in revenue. Say it takes 35% of that revenue to pay the overhead for running the taxation system. That's still $875 million in revenue. I think education and health care could use that money. Tax ammunition at a higher rate (like alcohol, tobacco and fuel) and use that to fund education and health care, too.

In addition, licensing weapons is a good way to legitimize gun ownership and remove the stigma sometimes associated with it.

Registering weapons is also a way to track responsibility. If gun operators are required to know where their weapons are at all times and responsible for reporting stolen weapons immediately, there could me some culpability for accidental firearm deaths.

Will more regulations on guns stop criminals from breaking the law? No. It doesn't stop criminals from driving without a license, driving drunk or driving recklessly either. But it may help the 70-80 million gun owners keep their firearms safely stored and safely and sanely used. It certainly has helped the 203 million drivers become safer over the past several decades.

So if we are going to compare two ridiculously disparate objects like guns and cars, let's stop doing it to further a political agenda using scare tactics and start doing it to learn how to make them equally safe instead of claiming erroneously that they are equally deadly.