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The Journal Gazette

April 10, 2015 1:01 AM

Pistol-whipped

Gun deaths now outpace traffic fatalities

Hilario Segura, a father of four, became the city’s first homicide victim this year when a stray bullet ripped through a wall of his home as he put his children to bed on Jan.â 21. 

His death will be recorded as a firearms-related death, in a category that has now surpassed automobile fatalities as cause of death. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 857 Indiana gun deaths in 2013. There were 840 Hoosiers killed in auto accidents.

Indiana, Ohio and Michigan are among the 17 states where gun deaths outnumbered motor-vehicle deaths, according to a new analysis by the Violence Policy Center. The same results hold for the District of Columbia. This is the fourth year for the center’s report, which counts gun suicides, homicides and fatal unintentional shootings. Motor-vehicle deaths include both occupant and pedestrian fatalities.

The number of states where the statistical switch has occurred is growing. The number of firearms deaths is expected to overtake the number of car deaths nationwide when new figures become available later this year. 

Data from the Indiana State Department of Health show the same effect for Allen County: There were 31 motor-vehicle fatalities in the county in 2013 and 36 deaths “by discharge of firearms.” Those are homicides, not suicides. Additionally, 19 of the county’s 42 suicides involved a gun.

An increase in gun deaths is not necessarily the reason they now outnumber motor-vehicle fatalities. Cars are safer today and fewer young people drive, so the number of motor-vehicle fatalities has been decreasing for years. But while a Pew Research Center study shows the gun-death rate is down from its 1993 peak, most of the decrease came early.

“Nearly all the decline in the firearm homicide rate took place in the 1990s; the downward trend stopped in 2001 and resumed slowly in 2007,” according to the report. “The victimization rate for other gun crimes plunged in the 1990s, then declined more slowly from 2000 to 2008.” 

The gun deaths report notes that fewer than a third of U.S. households have a gun, but 90 percent have a car. 

“Yet nationwide, there were 33,636 gun deaths and 35,612 motor vehicle deaths in 2013,” according to the report.

The figures don’t appear to bother policymakers, who continue to push to deregulate firearms. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, chairman of the Second Amendment Caucus, filed the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow anyone with a permit to carry concealed handguns in their home states to carry them in all other states that allow concealed carry. 

At the Statehouse, Republican lawmakers passed a bill to repeal Indiana’s prohibition against manufacturing, importing, selling or possessing a sawed-off shotgun but were unsuccessful in attempts to eliminate the requirement for a handgun license and to prohibit a physician from disclosing whether a patient owned a gun. There was also another unsuccessful push to prohibit state universities from banning guns on their campuses.

Their efforts surely please the powerful gun lobby, but we have to wonder when Hoosiers will begin to question how many gun-related deaths are acceptable.