Gun Control: Watch and Learn from the Motor Vehicle Industry

My father introduced me to firearms and, as a child, taught me the basics of gun safety. As an adult, I am a now a proud member of the gun owner collective in the United States. I embody the responsible gun owner- keeping them unloaded, locked, and out of the reach of children. With over 300 million firearms in the U.S., about one per person, they now outnumber vehicles owned by Americans. We have made the safety regulations of the more than 250 million motor vehicles a top priority. However, Americans seem to be less eager to impose regulations on gun ownership and manufacturing.  Changes must be made to the laws governing firearms in the United States if we are to continue to strive for safe gun ownership.

33,000 to 35,000 motor vehicle deaths occur every year in the United States. But before “systematic motor- vehicle safety efforts began in the 1960s”, there were over 93,000 deaths annually.  The federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, spurred by the unacceptably the high death rate, decided to improve the laws governing the motor vehicle industry .  “…New safety features, including head rests, energy-absorbing steering wheels, shatter-resistant windshields, and safety belts. Roads (environment) were improved by better delineation of curves (edge and center line stripes and reflectors), use of breakaway sign and utility poles, improved illumination, addition of barriers separating oncoming traffic lanes, and guardrails.”

Efforts were made to hold drivers accountable for their own as well as passenger safety. Drivers were required, by law, to wear those new safety belts and had to put their children in special safety seats too.  States imposed age restrictions, in a permit format, to improve young American’s driving abilities.  Those restrictions extended to limit the number of passengers new drivers could have and rstrict driving hours to daytime only for many.

The federal and state governments and the motor vehicle industry have continued to keep up with 21st century problems as well.  49 states have some restriction on texting while driving and 14 states ban all cell phone use while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the executive agency responsible for vehicle standards, has published its most recent “Priority Plan” which details top safety issues for both the industry and operators with milestones they hope to reach through 2017.

The number of people in the United States killed by firearms is virtually the same as the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents. In 2013, 33,804 people were killed in vehicle accidents while 33,636 were killed by firearms. The difference is just 168 people.

Attempts to reduce firearms deaths through research and safety regulations have historically been minimal. The first major landmark for gun safety was in 1934 when the National Firearms Act (NFA) was passed, which attempted “to curtail, if not prohibit, transactions in NFA firearms” which are short barrel shotguns and rifles, machine guns and weapons with silencers.  Laws on a federal and state level prohibit felons from buying and owning firearms, limit the power of ammunition and establish the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).Only 18 states require background checks on some or all private sale of firearms.  While federal and/or state laws mandate gun storage devices and locks, this does not extend to private sales. There are no laws banning those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a weapon. And the 1994 law banning many “…assault weapons, including Ak-47s and Uzis” expired in 2004.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), which regulates the possession, sale and movement of firearms, does not regulate the manufacturing safety standards of firearms. While the motor vehicle industry, whose manufacturing is regulated by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, manufacturing of firearm and ammunition are set by a private group.  The 31 voting member companies of The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAMMI) are ALL firearm or ammunition manufacturers setting standards regulating safety in their own industry.

Finally, continued research into gun laws and regulation in the name of safety in the 21st century has been quelled for most of the last 20 years.  “…In 1996, the NRA, with the help of Congressional leaders, moved to suppress such information and to block future federal research into gun violence.” It was only in 2013, and through executive orders by President Barak Obama that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was legally allowed to continue research on gun violence in the United States.

The motor vehicle industry and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have both facilitated the expansion of safety standards for vehicles. Everyone, it seems, recognizes the inherent danger of driving and are continuous working towards improving the safety of vehicles, operators and passengers. And while the Second Amendment to the constitution gives citizens the right to “bear arms”, it does not set a precedent for ensuring safety among users. There have been minimal attempts to keep guns out of the hands of unworthy owners.  With the number of deaths associated with firearms and motor vehicle accidents almost equal, Americans need to ask why the gun industry and the ATF are not doing more to improve safety and reduce deaths associated with firearms, just like motor vehicles.

This article was written by Erin Benton, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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