Why Comparing Gun Deaths To Car Deaths Is Wrong

by Annie Reneau
Originally Published: 
boonchai wedmakawand / Getty

Every time we have a mass shooting, we engage in endless debates about guns and gun control legislation. I’ve personally been around this block so many times I swear I can recognize every blade of grass. Yet here we are again.

The arguments against sensible gun control measures have become painfully predictable:

Gun legislation doesn’t work. (Obviously, that’s why so many mass shooters use machine guns that became highly regulated decades ago. Oh, wait . . .)

Criminals don’t follow laws. (Which is why we don’t bother making any laws to keep our citizens safe. Oh, wait . . .)

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. (That’s why nobody ever opens fire in places with armed security guards, or places where there are lots of “good guys” trained to shoot like a military base. Oh, wait . . .)

Cars kill just as many people as guns, but nobody’s suggesting banning cars.

Okay. I’ve been wanting to dive deep into this last one for a while. The statement is actually factually true. A similar number of Americans are killed by firarms as are killed by automobile each year. And yes, I’ve never heard anyone suggest we ban cars.

Also no one is suggesting that we ban all guns either.

But the underlying argument that guns and cars are equivalent in any way is also faulty logic. Here’s why:

1. Their Intended Purpose

Cars have never been designed to kill people or animals or any other living thing. And no one uses them for that purpose on a regular basis. A car’s purpose is to transport people and things from place to place. That’s it. Yes, a person can use a car as a lethal weapon, but that’s not what they were invented for.

Guns, on the other hand, were invented to kill and/or maim animals or people. Yes, guns can be used for target practice and marksmanship has become a sport, but that’s not what guns were invented for. Target practice was and is designed to help people get better at killing animals and people with guns. Yes, a person can enjoy target practice with no desire or intention to kill, but there’s no question that is the express purpose for which guns were created.

It seems silly to compare two things with such vastly different intended purposes.

2. The Percentage of the Population Using Them

There are no hard and fast stats on how many Americans own firearms, because we have no national registry—or even a computerized database—that tracks guns and gun ownership. (That could and should be a whole WTF article in itself, by the way.) However, the best estimate from national surveys is that approximately 32% of American households own guns.

On the other hand, around 90% of American households own cars. So even though the numbers of fatalities are similar, a much smaller percentage of Americans are affected by car regulations than by gun regulations. That means car death rates are spread out among a much greater percent of the population.

3. How Often They Are Used

The average American driver spends 101 minutes per day driving. Some of us spend much more or much less than that, but that’s the average.

Do gun owners spend an average of an hour and a half per day actively using their guns for their intended purpose? Uh, no. Imagine how many more accidental and “friendly fire” shootings we would have if that were the case. We’d be looking at an unprecedented amount of carnage.

The fact that people spend so much more time driving their cars than using their firearms makes the death rates from each totally different beasts.

4. The Nature Of The Casualties

The vast majority of car deaths are accidents. There are occasionally people who crash their cars intentionally, and there are some vehicular homicides. But most automobile deaths are unintentional.

Most gun deaths, however, are intentional. Almost two-thirds are suicides. Almost a third are homicides. The rest are accidental gun deaths.

Tens of thousands of car deaths are unfortunate, but less disturbing because there’s no deadly intent behind them. And because of the amount of time we spend in cars, and because we continually strive to make cars safer and driving safer, it’s easier to accept those accidental deaths. Tens of thousands of suicides and homicides by gun are harder for me to swallow.

Would some of those people kill themselves or others without guns? Sure. Are half of suicides and more than 2/3 of homicides committed with guns instead of other means for a reason? Definitely.

I’m not going to go into car regulation versus gun regulation because there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the gun control debate on that front. And considering the fact that the two are not comparable for the reasons stated above, arguing for or against comparable regulations is pointless.

Stop comparing guns to cars. They are not the same thing.

This article was originally published on