In 1950, there were 33,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. This was the first year traffic deaths were counted nationally. These numbers increased into the 1980s and have been steadily declining since then.
Here are some facts: 1950, car deaths: 33,000; per 100,000 population, 45; 1968, car deaths: 53,000; per 100,000 population: 26; 1978, car deaths: 50,000; per 100,000 population: 23; 1988, car deaths: 47,000; per 100,000 population: 19; 1998, car deaths: 41,000; per 100,000 population: 15; 2016, car deaths 37,000; per 100,000 population: 12.
Since 1970, the number of motor vehicle deaths and both deaths per mile of vehicle use and per number of people in the U.S. have gone down. It is much safer on America’s highways today than it was before 1975. How has this happened? We have safer vehicles. Eighty-five percent of Americans use seat belts. Enforcement of drunken driving laws is tougher. All drivers must have and renew periodically a license and pass a driving test. Speed limits are enforced. Cars must display a license. Drivers must be insured. Cars must be registered with government jurisdictions. Car taxes are paid to governments. Only certain vehicles can be driven on public byways (e.g. no golf carts on highways, no Formula 1 racers on public roads). Iowa state highways in the 1950s had curbs, which caromed vehicles into head-on collisions; these were removed to protect us.
Guns, like vehicles, have long been a socially acceptable and necessary feature of our nation. Guns are used for hunting, law enforcement, personal protection and recreational shooting. Guns and cars can both be used irresponsibly and illegally and cause death and injuries. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of deaths caused by firearms.
Here’s some facts: 1999, deaths due to firearms: 26,000; per 100,000 population: 11; 2008, deaths due to firearms: 30,000; per 100,000 population: 10; 2013, deaths due to firearms: 34,000; per 100,000 population: 11; 2016, deaths due to firearms: 39,000; per 100,000 population: 12.
Legislators at the federal, state, and local levels have attempted to address gun violence through a variety of methods, including restricting firearms purchases by youths and other “at-risk” populations, setting waiting periods for firearm purchases, establishing gun buyback programs, law enforcement and policing strategies, stiff sentencing of gun law violators, education programs for parents and children, and community outreach programs. These have not reduced the number of deaths and injuries caused by firearms.
There are no limits on long guns and handguns. Educational programs are voluntary. There are few or no age, physical or mental limits on gun ownership. Only some firearms are licensed. Gun owners are not required to have any insurance regarding their guns. Gun laws and enforcement of gun laws are mixed. Compare this situation with the use of education, licensing, law and enforcement and taxation which all helped to reduce the number of fatalities due to automotive vehicles.
A March Ipsos/NPR poll found a majority of Americans support policies aimed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Seventy-five percent of Americans said gun laws should be more strict; 94 percent say background checks need to be required of all gun buyers; 72 percent want a ban on all assault weapons. Seventy-eight percent of Americans say Congress needs to do more to address gun violence. Congress has done nothing, nor has the Iowa Legislature.
Quite to the contrary, legislators have made access to firearms and where and how they can be carried ever easier. The body of law and regulation concerning cars was created with the support and help of the American Automobile Association, legislators, the Center for Communicable Diseases, law enforcement officials, automobile manufacturers and insurers. It is time for the National Rifle Association and legislators to join the rest of America to establish laws and regulations to reduce fatalities from firearms in our great nation, just as we have done with road fatalities.
We can do this.