I heard a sad report today on the radio about the victim of a New Year’s Day shooting – one of the first people this year killed by a firearm. Perhaps it’s my own heightened awareness, but I have noticed an increase in media reports on shootings and gun violence in the months since Sandy Hook. Public outrage over such senseless and horrific massacres is justified. However, I regularly feel frustrated at our propensity to focus on fantastic, headline grabbing violence rather than a more mundane and more pervasive killer.
This recent talk of gun violence is often accompanied with statistics about homicide rates, gun ownership, etc. so here’s a statistic from the FBI (via The Atlantic): 8,583 people were murdered at the hands of a gunman last year. In fact, there were a total of 12,664 homicides of all types in the US last year.
Compare this with 2010 US DOT figures for road fatalities: 32,885 people died on US roadways. Of these 5,080 were non-motorized users (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.) and another 6,414 were passengers in vehicles. In other words, even if one eliminates drivers from the fatality rate (drivers do often have at least some control over the situation, after all), far more people are needlessly killed by drivers than by guns.
Furthermore (and I don’t think there are really any statistics on this), I would argue that traffic fatalities are more randomly distributed across the entire population than gun violence. In other words, one can likely apply common sense precautions to avoid much of the risk of gun violence: don’t wander the streets late at night, don’t hang around with drug dealers, etc. But as a pedestrian or cyclist, there’s much less that can be done on the part of an individual to mitigate that risk. In fact, roadway design often increases the risk to the most vulnerable of road users.
And none of this discussion involves the many thousands of others who are seriously injured and maimed as a result of traffic violence.
It is encouraging to see how our society has elevated the debate on gun violence in the wake of so many recent horrific crimes. But by any measure, we would be far better served by making investments in safer transportation networks than tackling the complicated mess that are guns in the US. Not only could we save more lives, but everyone benefits from a safer, more equitable transportation system.