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More killed by guns than vehicles in Az for 3rd straight year

There were more people killed by firearms than by motor vehicles in Arizona in 2011, the third year in a row, according to a new study.

Gun deaths outpaced those from cars and trucks in 14 states that year, the latest for which full data is available, according to the Violence Policy Center.

Arizona was again second only to Alaska in the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 residents, while ranking at the top for motor vehicle deaths per capita.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, a strong supporter of more stringent gun regulations, was taken aback by the figure, while a local gun-rights proponent welcomed that news "that motor vehicles are so safe."

"Is that true?," Kozachik asked when learning of the report on Tuesday.

Saying that he wasn't entirely surprised, Kozachik said he is "continuing to push the envelope as far as I can" to enable local authorities to deal with firearm deaths.

The Midtown Democrat is pushing the City Council to pass a law allowing local police to petition a court to impound the firearms of a person found to be a "danger to himself or others," he said.

"Not on a whim, but if a court finds somebody dangerous, we should be able to do that," Kozachik said. "It's not about confiscation, but about the safety of the public."

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"We're doing what we can," he said, listing a number of local laws and policies that have been blocked by the Legislature or Attorney General Tom Horne, including destroying guns after city-sponsored gun buybacks, making firing a weapon while intoxicated a crime, and requiring a report to the police when guns are stolen or lost.

Charles Heller of the Arizona Citizens Defense League said that it is "a lie" that gun deaths are increasing.

"Overall the national figures are falling," he said Tuesday. Questioned about Arizona data, Heller said that "people move ... statistics rise and fall."

"You don't defend people's freedoms by statistics, you use the Constitution," said the opponent of gun control.

While Heller joked that it was welcome news that vehicle deaths are decreasing, he downplayed the significance of any increase in gun deaths.

Other than suicides, deaths from guns "are mostly gang-related, and drug-related killings," he said. "There's not an epidemic ... any unlawful death is a tragedy, but we need some perspective."

There were 964 gun deaths in Arizona in 2011, and 872 vehicle deaths. Alaska topped the per-capita list with 126 gun deaths, coming in second in per-capita vehicle deaths with 87.

In 2010, Arizona had 931 gun deaths and 795 motor vehicle deaths. In 2009, the state had 856 gun deaths and 809 deaths involving vehicles.

The Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center renewed its call to regulate firearms.

"Gun violence is a public health crisis with an unacceptable toll on human life," said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. "To reduce gun death and injury, firearms must be regulated for health and safety just as we regulate motor vehicles and all other consumer products."

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"More than 90 percent of American households own a car while little more than a third of American households contain a gun. And yet, if charted out year by year ... deaths nationwide from these two consumer products are on a trajectory to intersect," the report said (see chart in sidebar).

Reiterating a call for more regulation of guns made a year ago in a similar report, the VPC said:

Comprehensive regulation of the firearms industry and its products could include: minimum safety standards (i.e., specific design standards and the requirement of safety devices); bans on certain types of firearms such as "junk guns" and military-style assault weapons; limits on firepower; restrictions on gun possession by those convicted of a violent misdemeanor; heightened restrictions on the carrying of loaded guns in public; improved enforcement of current laws restricting gun possession by persons with histories of domestic violence; more detailed and timely data collection on gun production, sales, use in crime, as well as involvement in injury and death; and, public education about the extreme risks associated with exposure to firearms.

Kozachik concurred on the need for more regulations, focusing his attention on state and local issues.

"Access," he said when asked why gun deaths are more frequent than vehicle deaths in Arizona.

"Access is at fault. You can obtain a gun easily and no license is required, no test is required, you don't need to show you know how to operate it."

"Anybody can get a gun, with a street sale or at a gun show, with no background checks for a person-to-person sale," he said.

Heller strongly opposed any new regulations.

"Government has a fecal touch," he said. "Anything it touches will at some point descend into crap."

The study by the gun-control pressure group said that 2011 is the last year in which state-level data is available from the Centers for Disease Control for both firearm and motor vehicle deaths.

Beyond Arizona and Alaska, other states in which more people were killed by guns than cars were Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia.

Counted among gun deaths were firearm suicides, homicides, and fatal unintentional shootings; motor vehicle deaths included both occupants and pedestrians, the group said.

"More than 90 percent of American households own a car while little more than a third of American households have a gun," a news release on the report said. "Americans' exposure to motor vehicles vastly outweighs their exposure to firearms. Yet in 2011, there were 32,351 gun deaths and 35,543 motor vehicle deaths nationwide. In 1999, there were 28,874 gun deaths and 42,624 motor vehicle deaths nationwide."

"We know states like Arizona which have weak gun laws have higher gun violence death and injury rates," said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, in the release. "We will continue to advocate for common sense policies such as universal background checks and mental health tool kits."

Activist Heller echoed his call of two years ago, made following a previous report by the VPC, for better firearms training.

"Could the state of training be better? Absolutely," he said then. "We ought to make gun-safety training mandatory in the schools."

Heller said Tuesday that training should not be required for adults who wish to carry a gun.

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"The best thing you can do about crime statistics is to not be one," he said. "Be aware, be prepared to defend yourself, don't take stupid risks," he said.

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Gun deaths in 2011

State Gun deaths Vehicle deaths Gun deaths/100k Vehicle deaths/100k
Alaska 126 87 17.41 12.02
Arizona 964 872 14.91 13.48
Colorado 573 512 11.20 10.01
D.C. 86 39 13.89 6.30
Illinois 1,114 1,080 8.66 8.40
Louisiana 865 750 18.91 16.39
Maryland 542 517 9.28 8.85
Michigan 1,156 1,016 11.70 10.29
Nevada 376 281 13.82 10.33
Ohio 1,227 1,178 10.63 10.21
Oregon 420 371 10.86 9.59
Utah 308 277 10.94 9.84
Vermont 78 62 12.45 9.89
Virginia 868 816 10.71 10.07
Washington 624 554 9.15 8.12