We can learn a lot by comparing guns to cars

A common rebuttal to any discussion about of gun control is motor vehicle accident deaths. We don’t blame the car, we blame the driver. Regardless of the object’s intent (the car is for transportation and the gun is shoot people, targets, game, and skeet), neither a car nor a gun can kill or maim without human touch.

And I agree. Comparing guns and cars is fair, after all they kill about the same number of Americans every year: 33,687 motor vehicle deaths and 31,672 firearm deaths in 2010 (the latest year for which complete data is available). The death rates per 100,000 are almost identical: 10.9 for motor vehicles and 10.3 for firearms.

So let’s legislate guns just like we legislate motor vehicles:

  • Learners permit at age 15 and a formal test required for a license at 16. This kind of law would prevent deaths of young children who are taken by their parents to firing ranges to “try out” weapons. Or parents letting their kids shoot a gun in any situation. Just as a nine-year old isn’t allowed to drive a car, so they shouldn’t be allowed to fire a 9 mm Micro Uzi. It is doubtful children firing automatic weapons was the intention of our founding fathers when they crafted the second amendment. Hunting is no exception. Kids can’t drive a car or truck for any purpose and nor should they be shooting a firearm.
  • Require renewal of the license every 2-3 years. I have to renew my driver’s license, why not renew a license to fire a gun?
  • Require a different license for different classes of weapons. A driver of an 18 wheeler requires a different license. Handling a vehicle of that size with air brakes is very different from driving an automatic, 6 cylinder car. If you want to purchase a semi-automatic weapon, it should require a different license*
  • Registration. Cars have to be registered, so all guns should be too. Remember, we’re saying guns are no more lethal than cars, so if it’s good for a car it’s good for a gun. Registering a weapon doesn’t infringe on the right to own. Gun licensing and registration will create government jobs!
  • Require gun insurance. If I ever intend on driving my car, I need insurance, so that same standard should apply to firearms. Safe gun owners (gun not stolen and used in a crime, no accidents around the house, trigger locks etc.) will get breaks, and the insurance money can be used to pay hospital bills (just like car insurance) if you inadvertently injure someone with your weapon.*
  • Safety testing. I have to get my car smog tested every 2-3 years, so why not bring the gun in for inspection? Failure to present the gun without proof of legal sale would imply illegal sale or theft and impart significant penalties. Gas stations do smog testing, so firing ranges could easily step up to the plate as I am sure they are advocates of gun safety and maintenance.
  • Tax ammunition. Heavily. Gasoline is taxed. Heavily. However, ammunition is relatively cheap. For example, a 40 round magazine for an AK-47 can be purchased online for $29.99, which is less than a dollar a bullet and far less than a tank of gas. I propose a steep tax on ammunition that exponentially increases with the size of the magazine. The tax money can go for education about gun safety or to pay medical expenses for victims injured in gun crimes.
  • Prevent online sales of ammunition. Since you can’t buy gasoline online for home delivery, you shouldn’t be able to buy ammunition online. Alaska; California; Cook County, IL; Hawaii; Massachusetts; New York City; and Washington, D.C. already restrict shipping ammunition from online sales, so why not the rest of the country? If it’s illegal in several states and D.C. the laws preventing online sales must have survived legal challenges, so it’s time to go national.
  • Require trigger locks. Cars have locks to prevent theft and protect children from climbing in and starting the car. No one argues, “Cars shouldn’t have a key for the ignition in case you are being chased so you can make a quick getaway.” If you can take time to start your car, you can take time to start your gun. The news is rife with stories of teenagers or young children either accidentally or intentionally killing with a gun from the home. A lock could prevent this. Obviously, people can choose to leave their guns unlocked, but… (see below).
  • Require more of gun manufacturers. If 15 people a year were killed by a Prius in a freak accident Toyota would be all over it, yet somehow gun manufacturers get away with no press after gun deaths. I’m not talking about homicides, but accidental ones. Like the five people shot by accident at gun shows on gun appreciation day. Not quite 100 people a year were killed by vehicles backing up, but car manufacturers responded with rear-end camera and alarms. Couldn’t gun manufacturers find a way to make guns safer? To make trigger locks difficult to bypass? Car manufacturers want to keep their drivers and occupants safe, shouldn’t gun manufacturers do the same?

We can learn a lot by comparing guns to cars. None of the above says it isn’t your right to have a gun, just that we all have a stake in safe gun ownership.

So please, yes, let’s start comparing guns to cars.

Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of The Preemie Primer. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Jen Gunter.

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  • http://twitter.com/DarrellWhite Darrell White

    Pretty good concept and very good action plan. The only criticism is a small one about kids: there is an exception to the operators license laws that allows children under 16 to drive trucks/tractors as part of the work done on and around farms. A similar exception could be contemplated for hunting, a legitimate use of firearms and a legitimate reason for parents to teach children under 16 to fire a gun.

    Reading the piece again I find I like it even more. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=891415436 Trishul Tunga Reddy

    Fantastic Article!! Makes sense!!

  • JPedersenB

    Bravo, indeed why not?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mallorydelarosa Mallory de la Rosa

    I like your ideas here, but let’s keep in mind that car rules are regulated mostly by states and not the federal government with a few exceptions. In keeping with that idea, we should let states decide the gun laws of their states, which is exactly what we’ve been doing. In a lot of states, many of these rules you mention do apply in some form or another, particularly about the age of people getting gun permits. I think the federal government should keep their nose out of it.

    Gun companies should really investigate the whole locking idea. That would be a really good way to gain customers who are invested in being responsible gun owners. I think instead of requiring it, it would make a lot of business sense for the manufacturers to go this way. No gun manufacturer wants their products used in a crime, so this safeuard could actually be really marketable. Why do we need regulations to make someone choose actions which makes sense?

  • Dan

    Your idea of taxing ammo doesn’t make sense. You can buy a magazine for an AK-47 for $29.99? Is that the ammunition of the magazine itself? And how could you tax ammo where the price of the ammo relates to the magazine size? Do you have to bring all of your magazines to the store when you buy the ammo so the cashier can tax you based on how large of magazines you have?

    Also, how is taxing ammo going to help? Even if ammo was 5 dollars a bullet, gangbangers or mass murderers would be ok with the price. I mean, 5 dollars to kill a rival gangbanger is a small price to pay. Considering most mass murderers commit suicide, what are they going to need money for in the future? They aren’t going to say, “Oh, dammit it’s 5 dollars a bullet I guess I won’t go on my shooting spree”. Taxing ammo would only hurt target shooters, which likely aren’t the ones who are going to be killing people anyway.

    • ninguem

      New York went straight to banning the high-capacity clips.

      The mistake is thinking people like Cuomo want common-sense reform. They want a weapons ban, period.

      And I don’t own firearms.

      • NormRx

        Don’t worry ninguem, if you ever need one, I own enough for both of us.

        • ninguem

          I don’t own firearms, and don’t care to. Simply personal choice, I’m more worried I’d do something stupid with the weapon and hurt myself, or someone else, by mistake.

          All that being said, I am a firm supporter of the Second Amendment.

    • Marc

      Cost is a proven way to effect public health measures, eg in tobacco and alcohol control.

  • Bryan Leipper

    If vehicles have all these regulations, why are vehicular related deaths so high? The comparison here tends to support the view that regulation is not effective towards health or risk goals but rather serves other ends. Those ends need to be clarified in order to obtain an honest debate, I think.

    • Marc

      Car deaths were much higher. Go look up the stats before seat belts, for example.

  • ninguem

    I can buy 99% alcohol for antiseptic use in my office. I can buy it online, for delivery to my office. The medical supply houses and all that.

    Problem is a hazmat shipping cost for that alcohol. It’s so expensive, it’s far easier to buy my supplies at the local pharmacy.

    Can you not buy gasoline online? I suspect you can. My father did that for his garage when he had an auto sales and repair business. We had a storage tank, and we could gas up our vehicles for the usual business use.

    We were not selling to the public, and the gas was taxed accordingly.

    Effectively we were buying the gasoline online, we put in the order to the fuel jobber, they delivered.

    Could a private individual do it for home delivery? I suspect yes, but the problem is paying the taxes and the zoning for a gas tank in a residential area.

    I wonder if there’s actually a law saying I can’t get gasoline delivered to my house? I don’t know. I doubt there’s a business doing that, but if I wanted to pay enough money, would a gas truck show up at my house to fill up my car?

    I suspect it’s like the 99% alcohol for my office, I could pay a big hazmat delivery fee for one bottle, or go to the pharmacy and pick it up along with toilet paper and whatever other items I need for my private office.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Cheryl.A.Handy Cheryl Handy

    Okay. I am a second amendment proponent. Interesting ideas (for law abiding gun owners) but you lost me at taxing ammunition.

    Reasonable car drivers (1) take classes, (2) practice defensive driving, (3) never drink/drive, (4) don’t allow unlicensed drivers to operate the car and (5) certainly have insurance, even under & uninsured provisions.

    The real dangerous people won’t get insurance, won’t take safety classes, won’t use a trigger locks. The dangerous people won’t even register their gun or get a gun permit.

    Real dangerous gun owners don’t comply with the laws.

    • JonSanders

      The last numbers I saw from from one of these equivalentistas was $5 per round. The equivalent tax on gasoline would be $5 per pint.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Cheryl.A.Handy Cheryl Handy

        wow. thanks for stat

  • NormRx

    Sir: You mention that firearms ownership should be put to
    the same set of laws that driving a car should be put to.

    As a CCW holder and
    lifelong shooter, I would say that I Conditionally agree with you.

    At age 16 (or 14, if
    your state allows it), I should be able to pass a simple written test
    in which the answers are given in a government published pamphlet. I
    should be able to have a certain amount of range time to demonstrate
    my ability to correctly identify which end of a gun the bullet comes
    out of and be able to pass a childishly simple series of handling
    exercises. Following that I would receive a license to own and carry
    guns.

    This license would
    be valid in any of the fifty states- just like a driver’s license. If
    I wanted to carry a gun in Washington DC, I could do so despite DC’s
    much stricter gun laws than say, my home state of Ohio, because my
    Ohio driver’s license is recognized as valid anywhere in the US. I
    would be allowed to carry those guns openly or concealed or any way
    in which I desire. It would allow me to carry my gun anywhere I so
    desired and in any way I wanted- just like I could drive my car
    anywhere. I could take it to amusement parks, bars, police stations,
    schools, or any private property that allowed me to enter.

    I would be able to
    own as many guns as I wanted, of whatever type or size that I wanted,
    as small or large as I could imagine. They could be fully automatic
    machine guns, concealable miniature pistols, short barreled shotguns,
    pistols with an extra grip under the barrel, guns shaped like Oscar
    Mayer wieners, quad-barreled 20mm cannon, and anything in between. I
    could trick my guns out with any size barrel or handles I wanted,
    including combinations that today would be considered illegal
    according to ATF because they have no “sporting” purpose.

    In fact, the whole
    idea of “sporting” use would vanish, since automobiles can
    be built in any style or shape or color the owner desires. If I
    wanted to add an extended capacity fuel tank, collapsible trunk
    spoiler, headlight shrouds, tactical push bar, trailer hitch that
    protrudes conspicuously below the chassis, detachable rear seats, or
    a shoulder thing that goes up to a car- well, only my wallet size is
    be an issue- so why would it not also apply to my guns equally?

    I would be able to
    buy or sell those guns with nothing more than a cash exchange and a
    handshake to anyone in the United States anywhere with no background
    checks, no worrying about “Parking Lot Loopholes” or
    large-capacity fuel tank restrictions. I could advertise them in any
    venue I wanted. I could open a dealership in firearms anywhere in any
    state without anything more than the most basic zoning for commercial
    businesses.

    I would not be
    answerable to a federal bureau (ATF) for my existence and continued
    ability to stay in business. I wouldn’t need to call in transactions
    to an instant background check. I wouldn’t have to worry about
    government inspectors checking my paperwork and possibly revoking my
    business license for the dastardly deed of allowing a customer to use
    the abbreviation “ST.” instead of spelling out “STREET”
    when they wrote their address on the purchase order.

    Furthermore- as has
    been clearly and repeatedly demonstrated in the cases of geriatric
    Americans plowing through buildings, flea markets, street fairs,
    etc.- the ‘privilege’ of having such a license would be something
    that is fought for tooth and nail and renewals would be nearly
    automatic- meaning that my right to keep and bear arms would be
    virtually impossible to legislate away.

    Most importantly- if
    we continue the “treat guns like cars,’ if I desired to never
    operate my gun in public, I would never need to have a license, pay
    registration fees, carry insurance, or use taxed “ammunition”
    (fuel)- just like vehicles which never use public highways; farm
    vehicles, for example.

    So yes, treating gun
    ownership like car ownership would actually be a great advantage!

  • NormRx

    You can buy gasoline, fuel oil and propane online or with a phone call. All you need is the required storage system. Comparing gun deaths with car deaths is redicullous since over half of gun death are suicide. Yes people do commit suicide with cars but it is insignifican compared to guns. Even if all of the guns were conficated it would not effect the number of people committing suicide, they would merely change methods. You would then be back talking about the need to license rope.

    • Marc

      Not true – there is clear evidence that the suicide rate among young men especially is raised thanks to gun access.

      • NormRx

        The suicide rate has decreased from the 1950-1980 rate of 13.2 to the present rate of about 11.

        The suicide rate for ages 5-24 (youth suicide) increased from 1950 to the early to mid 1990s but then began to
        decrease thereafter.

        The suicide rate for ages 45-85+ decreased significantly from 1950 to present.

        Suicide rates and murder rates are going down despite more people acquiring guns.
        Data Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CD

  • JonSanders

    “just like” Oh, really? You are being far too clever, Jennifer.

  • JonSanders

    The plan, from DailyKos:

    The only way we can truly be safe and prevent further gun violence is to ban civilian ownership of all guns. That means everything. No pistols, no revolvers, no semiautomatic or automatic rifles. No bolt action. No breaking actions or falling blocks. Nothing. This is the only thing that we can possibly do to keep our children safe from both mass murder and common street violence.

    Unfortunately, right now we can’t. The political will is there, but the institutions are not. Honestly, this is a good thing. If we passed a law tomorrow banning all firearms, we would have massive noncompliance. What we need to do is establish the regulatory and informational institutions first. This is how we do it. The very first thing we need is national registry. We need to know where the guns are, and who has them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mlazar19 Mark Lazar

      A bit of over reacting? Have you heard of the bill of rights? Instead of your knee jerk reaction, lets find out who is truly responsible for violence and the availability and how they got their gun. The individuals who wrote the original bill of rights were a lot smarter than you or I.( please google Thomas Jefferson and his career). I don’t own a gun, but I’m willing to bet that those who follow the rules and regulations for obtaining them are not the ones responsible for psychopathic terrorist acts.

      • JonSanders

        I am just reporting what the gun grabbers are writing in unguarded moments among themselves. Something to keep in mind when you hear “common sense” and “reasonable” from these people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mlazar19 Mark Lazar

    The comparison of transportation regulation and the bill of rights is ludicrous. But to address your points. Firstly, each state sets its restrictions, regulations, etc so there is no standard. Secondly, strict gun regulation has failed miserably in Chicago with the nations strictest gun law. NY will have a similar outcome. As a physician, I practice evidenced based medicine and the same should be applied to this issue. Data, not knee jerk reaction, should be the foundation when considering any change, let alone to the constitution. So, honestly, the whole premise for this article is incendiary and faulted

  • http://twitter.com/Jessicalowens Jessica Robinson

    I actually really agree that guns should be compared to other durable goods like vehicles. I also agree with many of the points you make but not all of them (prevention of buying ammo online, pros and cons of teaching children and young adults the appropriate way to handle a gun.. etc..) Thanks for sharing your perspective, though. It’s sad to see the extreme black and white views of this issue that are so not practical.

  • T-Man

    Dr. Jen Gunter,

    Let us start comparing abortions to cars and guns. How many abortions did you perform last year? How many abortions were performed in the United States last year? In 2012, there were more than 300,000 U.S. deaths due to abortion. People are providing emotional arguments of “think of the children” for restricting guns from our society. These are the same people that are for “whole sale” death that would be called genocide if the children were born.
    I read some of your blogs and it seems like you are a proponent of taking life through abortion. It is a good thing that it is legal for you and your colleagues to take life and profit from it. Maybe they should put a tax on abortion. Tax the Doctor and the patient for abortions. If your argument that taking a life through abortion serves a public good, then make people have a licence to get pregnant to avoid having abortions. Tax people who have children. Death is death regardless if it is from a car, a gun, or government sanctioned death via abortion.
    So, let’s start comparing abortion to cars.

  • Wayne

    Nice piece. Except you conveniently leave out that owning guns is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom. I don’t remember an amendment guaranteeing automobile ownership. I have an even better idea, we should require people to get tested and licensed to write blogs. And make them renew every 3 years. And, we can tax the computer you write it on heavily. And you can’t write a blog unless you have a college degree with an major in communications, journalism, or English. I wonder if the 1st Amendment would be allowed to be usurped the way the 2nd Amendment is constantly attempted to be?