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Guns claimed more Arizona lives than traffic accidents, study says

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WASHINGTON – More Arizonans were killed by guns in 2009 than in motor-vehicle incidents, evidence of the need for stricter gun laws, according to a report released this week.

The report by the Violence Policy Center said Arizona was one of 10 states where firearm deaths outstripped traffic deaths in 2009, the most recent year for which numbers were available.

“Arizona needs to start looking seriously at the fact that it has a major gun-violence problem,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the center.

But an Arizona lawmaker who supports gun rights criticized the report’s “apple-and-oranges” comparison that he said was simply designed to influence firearms legislation.

State Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail, said it is unfair to compare gun-related deaths to motor-vehicle deaths because most gun deaths are not accidental.

“Do you use a car in self-defense?” Antenori asked hypothetically.

The report, released Tuesday, said traffic deaths fell 43 percent between 1966 and 2000 because of “the combined efforts of government and advocacy organizations.” It argued that gun deaths would also fall if firearms were subject to federal health and safety regulations like other consumer goods.

“The historic drop in motor-vehicle deaths illustrates how health and safety regulation can reduce deaths and injuries that were at one time thought to be unavoidable,” it said.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, cited speed limits, licensing of drivers and laws against drinking and driving as examples of government regulations that make it safer to use a motor vehicle.

“When you can have reasonable oversight of something and reasonable safety regulations you can prevent bad things from happening,” Gross said.

While traffic deaths have fallen nationwide, gun deaths have been largely unchanged. If the trend continues, the report said, firearm fatalities could exceed motor vehicle deaths nationally unless there is further federal regulation.

“The bottom line is, can gun deaths be prevented in the same way that automobiles have been?” asked Gross. “Yes. Sensible policies and industry regulations have made cars safer.”

Antenori said it was consumer demand, not government regulation, that has made automobiles safer over time. A gun is “only as safe as the individual that uses it,” Antenori said.

He ridiculed the findings as a “study designed to influence policy for an agenda” – tighter regulations on firearms.

But Rand said the report points to a real problem. Given the uses of cars and guns, and the fact that people encounter cars far more often, it makes it “more remarkable” that Arizona gun deaths outpace motor-vehicle deaths.

“Arizona is going in the absolute wrong direction,” she said, pointing to recent laws loosening restrictions on guns.