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Violence Policy Center's Cars Theory Not Hitting on All Cylinders

Friday, September 5, 2014

The anti-gun Violence Policy Center (VPC) thinks it has finally come up with a way to get handguns, and maybe some other guns, banned. Compare ‘em to cars!

Obviously, some background is in order.

VPC was formed, and is still led, by Josh Sugarmann, a former staffer for the National Coalition to Ban Handguns and the author of the book, Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.

In 1988, in its first policy paper, VPC (then known as the New Right Watch), complained that “handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public.”  Therefore, it said, a “new topic” was needed to “strengthen the handgun restriction lobby.”

At the time, it said that the “new topic” should be “assault weapons.”  But in 2000, with the federal “assault weapon” ban temporarily in place, VPC changed its tune.  In Unsafe in Any Hands: Why America Needs to Ban Handguns, the group said that “Congress should vest the Department of the Treasury with strong authority to regulate the design, manufacture, and distribution of firearms.”  That authority would include “the ability to remove from the market firearms that pose a serious threat to public health and safety.”

VPC reasoned that “by making a simple comparison between the costs of civilian handgun ownership versus the benefits these weapons are purported to deliver, the case for banning handguns becomes self-evident.”  Last year, however, VPC expanded the list of things that it would like consumer products regulation of firearms to achieve.  It said the regulations could also impose “assault weapon” and magazine bans, and restrictions on carrying guns, and include a propaganda campaign “about the extreme risks” of “exposure to firearms.”

Congress has thus far refused to give either the Consumer Products Safety Commission or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives the authority to arbitrarily dictate what kinds of firearms may be manufactured.  But VPC now thinks that it has the argument that will change Congress’ mind.

In a recent policy paper, VPC said that giving the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to set federal motor vehicle safety standards reduced motor-vehicle-related deaths, so the same approach would work where firearms are concerned.

As you might imagine, there are some problems with VPC’s theory, however.

First, motor vehicle accident deaths have declined for a number of reasons, some of which do not originate with a government dictate over the design of automobiles.  The NHTSA says that crash fatalities have been reduced not only by mandatory installation of seat belts, air bags and child restraints, but also by roadway improvements, automobile manufacturers’ voluntary installation of electronic stability control technology, and economic recessions and unemployment, which reduce the number of miles that people drive.  Strict enforcement of DUI/DWI laws has also contributed to the decrease in fatal automobile accidents.

Second, even without banning some guns and mandatorily redesigning those that remain, firearm accident deaths have decreased more than motor vehicle accident deaths over the last several decades.  As the chart below shows, from 1981 (the earliest year both sets of data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics) through 2011 (the most recent year of available data), the firearm accident death rate dropped 77 percent, while the motor vehicle accident death rate dropped only 53 percent.

We doubt that any of this will incline Sugarmann and his handful of anti-gun officemates to bring their sputtering cars theory to a screeching halt.  That will occur only when those who fund the VPC--in this case, the Joyce Foundation, the Herb Block Foundation and the David Bohnett Foundation--realize how little mileage they are getting for their investment.

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