Guns will likely surpass car crashes as the top killer of young Americans in 2015, according to a new forecast based on data from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
As car accident fatalities involving young people have plummeted in recent years, the overall number of deadly shootings has remained stagnant, the CDC tallied. If the trends continue, the Center for American Progress projects that shootings will outpace auto accidents in the year ahead.
Based on data from previous years, the Center for American Progress projects that 6,040 individuals aged 15 to 24 will likely die from gunshot wounds in 2015, and 5,864 from car crashes. Automobile fatalities have decreased by about 25 percent in the past 10 years, according to federal data. The number of gun deaths has slightly decreased in recent years, but not at a rate comparable to car crashes.
Chelsea Parsons, a spokeswoman for the Center for American Progress, told VICE News that the decline is mostly because of government regulations on the auto industry, including efforts to curb drinking and driving.
"We have spent a great deal of time and money over the last 20 years studying the causes of car accidents in this country," Parsons said. She added that new laws and car safety features have "had the cumulative effect of reducing the number of fatalities of young people due to car accidents."
Meanwhile, Parsons said, the lack of tight restrictions on gun ownership has continued to enable shooting deaths. She noted that more than half of the people killed by guns in the US are under the age of 30, and said the US has "largely ignored the fact that gunshots continue to cause the death of thousands of young people every year."
The last time guns proved deadlier than cars for people aged 15 to 24 was 1994, when more than 11,000 people were shot to death. The rate of gun violence among young people declined in the following years, and has hovered at around 6,000 deaths a year since 1999.
"We have not directed nearly as much attention to the issue of gun violence among young people in this country," Parsons said. "While car accident deaths have declined sharply among this group, deaths due to gunshots have remained largely stagnant."
Technology could significantly cut down on gun risks, retired US Air Force Col. Morris Davis told VICE News.
"Automobiles have declining death rates because of improvements in technology to make cars safer, and we could use technology in the same way to reduce rates of gun deaths," said Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay who now campaigns for the closure of the prison camp and other causes.
One simple regulation, Davis explained, could be password-protected locks on guns, similar to those used with iPhones. Offering an example, he said the toddler who accidentally killed his mother recently in Walmart would never have been able to use the gun he found in his mother's purse if it had a lock. He also claimed that firearm thefts could decrease if robbers could not unlock weapons.
"If you can put the lock on an iPhone you should be able to put it on a deadly weapon," said Davis, who noted that he is a gun owner.
The founder of Moms Demand Action, a national firearm reform activist group, echoed Davis' concern that guns are far less regulated than vehicles.
"We have invested a lot of money in car safety… Every fatality on our nation's roadways has been documented by the government," the founder, Shannon Watts, told VICE News. She noted that car license plates and driver licenses helped "instantly verify the validity of the owner" of a vehicle, but that no such measures exist for concealed weapons.
Watts' organization has made a heated push for expanded background checks of prospective gun owners.
"Universal background checks to us is a no-brainer," Carmen Vellon, a member of Moms Demand Action, told VICE News. Vellon, a mother of two young children, joined the group soon after it formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. "A lot of us were worried about this epidemic, but that was the last straw," she said.
At least one in 30 online gun buyers have felony or domestic abuse records that would ban them from buying guns, an investigation by the watchdog Every Town for Gun Safety recently showed.
Friends of the NRA, a group that supports the rights of gun owners, did not immediately return requests for an interview with VICE News. Representatives of the National Rifle Association (NRA) were not immediately available for comment.
The NRA's website includes data that shows an overall decrease in the number of firearm incidents in the US in recent years. Firearm accidents have decreased overall, the NRA found, and crime rates have decreased as firearm sales have increased.
"While Americans acquired between 135-140 million new firearms from the end of 1991 through the end of 2013, the nation's violent crime rate decreased in 19 of those 22 years," the NRA noted.
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