Frum on Guns, Again

by Robert VerBruggen

He says he’s working on a full response to my earlier post, but he provides an “appetizer portion” here. He offers a new anecdote of a gun accident, the statistic that there are more than 600 fatal gun accidents per year in the U.S., and an assertion that guns are not regulated like other consumer products.

First of all, the anecdote is a little bizarre. According to the story released by the police department — and I called to confirm — an old man tossed his coat on top of a gun while it was on a dresser, and the gun went off. The sergeant I spoke with said he didn’t think the gun fell to floor; it just went off when the coat hit it. The sergeant said the gun was “not an antique,” but an older-style revolver. Older revolvers are often not designed to be dropped without firing, but they usually have pretty heavy trigger pulls. If this is the way events really unfolded, it’s a one-in-a-million occurrence.

Earlier this week on Twitter, Frum said that people who say guns are safer than cars must not know what a denominator is. So let’s do the math on these 600 fatal accidents. Somewhere between 35 percent and 47 percent of Americans have a gun in the home; to be generous let’s go with the low number and say 100 percent have a car. Back-of-the-envelope math indicates that 600 fatal gun accidents would be the equivalent of 1,700 car fatalities if we’re assessing the average risk of owning one versus the other. There have been more than 30,000 car fatalities almost every year since the mid-1930s.

Of course, one would assess the tradeoffs of a car differently than the tradeoffs of a gun — a car is necessary for transportation in most parts of the country, while a gun provides enjoyment and protection. A gun presents risks besides accidents as well — the owner or someone else might lose it and use the gun intentionally for ill; someone might commit suicide when they otherwise would not have. All of these factors are important and the risks vary from household to household. I don’t think anyone says that every person will be safer with a gun in the house.

But it’s simply not true that gun accidents are a great concern. There are 114 million households in the U.S., which comes to about 40 million households with guns. Again, back-of-the-envelope math: Each gun-owning household has a 0.0015 percent chance of a fatal accident each year. And you can reduce the risk of an accident greatly by following standard safety procedures.

I’ll hold off on talking about how tightly guns are regulated until I see his full response, but for the time being I’d like to reiterate the points I made before: Federal law does not allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers simply because their guns were used by criminals, but it does allow lawsuits in cases where guns were poorly designed or manufactured. And most of the safety features gun-controllers would like to mandate come with significant tradeoffs.

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