Last week I turned a blind eye to Nick Kristof's head-scratching comparison of automobile regulation with gun regulation. But now the Times editors are goading me with supportive letters highlighting a ludicrous statistic:
To the Editor:
Re “Our Blind Spot About Guns,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, July 31):
Regulating motor vehicles, drivers and roads has saved countless lives. The same must be done for a product intended not to provide transportation but to kill people.
If we continue with business as usual, guns will kill more Americans than cars by 2015. They already do in 14 states and the District of Columbia. New York is not one of these states thanks to strong laws that keep guns out of the wrong hands.
There are roughly 30,000 gun deaths per year, of which about 20,000 are suicides and 10,000 are homicides or accidents. Auto deaths are around 30,000 but the suicide-by-car crash rate does not seem to be reported separately (this possibly credible estimate cites a 1.7% rate). I am not alone in thinking that including 20,000 suicides is a misleading use of numbers.
So, are these gun control advocates ignorant of the real stats, or simply liars? Per Slate, we can't rule out ignorance. On the other hand, the NY Times is all about homicides-only when it suits their agenda, such as advocating for the rights of the mentally ill.
AND BACK TO AUTOMOBILE REGULATION...
From the original Kristof column:
That question is a reflection of our national blind spot about guns. The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities. Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns. So guns and cars now each kill more than 30,000 in America every year.
One constraint, the argument goes, is the Second Amendment. Yet the paradox is that a bit more than a century ago, there was no universally recognized individual right to bear arms in the United States, but there was widely believed to be a “right to travel” that allowed people to drive cars without regulation.
A court struck down an early attempt to require driver’s licenses, and initial attempts to set speed limits or register vehicles were met with resistance and ridicule. When authorities in New York City sought in 1899 to ban horseless carriages in the parks, the idea was lambasted in The New York Times as “devoid of merit” and “impossible to maintain.”
Yet, over time, it became increasingly obvious that cars were killing and maiming people, as well as scaring horses and causing accidents. As a distinguished former congressman, Robert Cousins, put it in 1910: “Pedestrians are menaced every minute of the days and nights by a wanton recklessness of speed, crippling and killing people at a rate that is appalling.”
Courts and editorial writers alike saw the carnage and agreed that something must be done. By the 1920s, courts routinely accepted driver’s license requirements, car registration and other safety measures.
That is an interesting bit of history, although a famous car guy observed that "history is bunk". Well. As a practical, the concept of "rules of the road" surely preceded the invention and popularization of the automobile. In any urban setting it is hard to imagine how vehicles, whether horse-drawn carriages or automobiles, could co-operate without agreed conventions on right-of-way, traffic signs, and so on.
But even today, it would be entirely legal for a New Yorker who lacked a driver's license to own an uninsured car that lacked seat belts and air bags. Shocking? Hardly - leaving the car in a private garage would be fine; taking it on the street would violate several laws.
So how does that analogize to guns? Beats me. If an gun enthusiast tried to possess a scary unregistered "assault weapon" in his own home he could be violating NY State law, even though he would get a pass on an unregistered non "Street Legal" car left in his or her garage.
And of course, if I drive down the street I am denying the space I occupy to other drivers; if I walk down the sidewalk with a concealed handgun, the additional space I occupy should not impede another's progress. Mostly.