Every Picture Tells a Story: Guns and Cars

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In considering traumatic deaths, firearms have overtaken motor vehicle collisions as the primary cause of lost potential years of life. This is not the gun violence that captures the headlines; it is the slow daily attrition we have, in large part, to which we have become numb.

The data is from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics; the years of life lost were based upon the difference in the age of death versus an average age of death of 80. I’ll let the graphs speak first and catch you on the other side.

This is about men. The data on women show nothing like these changes, and women are far less likely to kill themselves with guns than men; I suspect they also are less inclined to be involved in car collisions. Let’s put some numbers to the pictures. Years per life lost (YPLL) is a biased metric; it is far larger for the loss of a youngster than an oldster – so take the numbers in relation to one another rather than as absolutes.

  • In 2018, firearms took 1.43 million years; motor vehicle crashes 1.34 million.
  • Males accounted for 85% of firearm deaths.
  • White males accounted for nearly half of the firearms deaths, predominantly from suicide among those over 45 – deaths of despair.
  • Black males accounted for 18+% of firearm deaths, predominantly from homicides among those under age 34.
  • The researchers defined legal firearm intervention as "a firearm death inflicted by the police or other law enforcement agents acting in the line of duty." While nearly doubling between 2009 and 2018, they described it as remaining "relatively constant, with 333 deaths in 2009, and 539 deaths in 2018." The 22,702 years of life lost was 1.5% of the total years lost to firearms. 
  • Suicides from firearms exceeded homicides in every region but one, the Northeast.

Suicides are “crimes of opportunity” – “Up to 70% of suicides are based on impulsive behavior and suicide attempts are typically made after less than 3 hours of contemplation.” [1] That being said, firearms are the most effective (90%) means of killing oneself.

There is a clear signal that young black males are very much at risk for homicidal gun violence. The underlying causes are more difficult to untangle. The presence of easily procured weapons, whether legally or illegally obtained, may facilitate impulsive violence. As I pointed out in a previous study, criminals convicted of violent offenses had great difficulty with impulse control. 


[1] For a bit of a closer look at suicidal impulses, consider this piece by Dr. Peter Attia.


Source: Firearms: the leading cause of years of potential life lost Trauma Surgery and Acute Care DOI:10.1136/tsaco-2021-000766