Road deaths continue to accumulate in Victoria at their steady rate against a very slow growth in transport use, the easy improvements in road safety have been and gone and what options remain are politically “difficult”. While the media will make significant reports on any firearm deaths the much more common road fatalities receive much less attention. But how does the safety of these dangerous weapons compare?
Gun ownership is a very political issue and in Australia has very tight controls from a worldwide perspective. All types of firearms including air powered and other non-lethal types are restricted to appropriately licenced holders, and carrying of them is restricted to specific areas. The population as a whole are rarely exposed to firearms and their laws but for a quick overview we can compare some of the safety related points:
Obtaining a licence is similar in both cases with a (police) check for ineligibility and a probationary period with theory and practical tests before being able to operate the chosen object/device unsupervised at the minimum age of 18. But unlike the carte blanche issuing of drivers licences, someone wishing to own a firearm requires a well defined reason for their licence and weapon category. So we have vehicles of a purely recreational nature thundering along the public highways and exposing the public to unnecessary risks, while gun owners need to justify their use and then substantiate it to maintain their licence.
It is perhaps the segregation of gun use that is the most obvious difference, living in a city it is possible to avoid guns (other than those of the police) entirely but almost impossible to choose to avoid motorised traffic. But the really interesting parts are the statistics.
After removing suicides from the fatalities vehicles are killing 35 times more people than firearms, including intentional assaults/crimes. Such a wide gap cannot be accounted for solely by the segregation especially when we consider that a car is designed to be “safe” while a firearm is designed is to kill*. The difference is who they are operated by and suggested in the statistics, while the majority of gun deaths are suicide and just 2% are accidents the vast majority of motor vehicle fatalities are brushed away as accidents. Gun owners take the responsibilities of operating a lethal weapon seriously and have proven themselves through an excellent record of safety. Drivers on the other hand are out of control and need much tighter scrutiny on their actions.
We can look to the “Towards Zero” Victorian Road Safety Strategy for the proposed pathways to reduce motor vehicle deaths, the usual promise of better infrastructure will solve the problems along with globs of research and education. Right down to the bottom of the list
- Ongoing support of policing drink driving, drug driving and speeding in high risk areas and at high risk times of the year.
is the continued blind focus on the easy to prosecute/police activities that have just a peripheral effect on road safety. The existing campaigns to reduce such behaviour have been heralded as great successes, but reducing the incidences of these offences to zero will not reduce the road toll to zero. Even within this grand vision for reducing the road toll is a political nod to the motor industry with the concession that speeding enforcement should only be targeted. Whats needed is a much broader approach to road safety that holds those choosing to operate a motor vehicle accountable for their actions, accidents will happen but there are too many drivers ignoring (or ignorant of) the road rules as documented endlessly in this blog.
Licenced firearm users even including the recreational users show that an inherently dangerous activity can be safe and accessible. Its time to change the thinking of motor vehicles as a necessity of life, providing an environment where they are safer and restricted to those with both the most need and the willingness to take on the responsibility of operating a lethal weapon.
*Yes there are specialty airsoft/paintball/dart guns designed to be non-lethal but they are the tiny minority of firearms.