Car Control

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Car Control

Nov 30th, 1999 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.


Edwin J. Feulner is the founder and president of The Heritage Foundation.

Cars are a menace to society. Every year they lead to thousands of deaths. Criminals use them in committing crimes. And when mixed with drugs or alcohol, their deadly potential increases. In short, cars should be banned.

Sounds crazy, right? But substitute "guns" for "cars" and you have the gun-control argument in a nutshell.

Gun-control advocates will argue that the comparison is unfair, and it is: To guns. The truth is, cars are more dangerous than firearms. In 1997 there were 43,458 motor vehicle deaths in the United States, according to the National Center on Health Statistics. By comparison, there were 32,436 firearms deaths-and fully half of those were suicides.

Notice I said motor vehicle deaths, not motor vehicle accidents. Some will say that gun victims are murdered while car-crash victims are "accidentally" killed, an argument designed to make guns look "bad" and cars "neutral." But 39 percent of all fatal crashes involve drunk drivers using their cars as deadly weapons. By the numbers, criminals kill about 15,000 people a year with guns, and drunk drivers kill about 15,000 people a year with two-ton machines that can travel at more than a hundred miles per hour. Perhaps we should pass a law banning "Saturday Night Chryslers."

Not only do guns cause fewer deaths than the activists would have us believe, they can also be life-savers. According to John Lott, a professor at the University of Chicago, as many as 2 million crimes a year are prevented in the United States because the potential victim is armed. In Canada and Great Britain, for example, where gun controls are stringent, 50 percent of all break-ins occur while the victims are at home. In the United States, where many homeowners own weapons-and the criminals are aware of this-87 percent of all home burglaries occur when the residents are away, Lott notes in his book "More Guns, Less Crime." Is there a lesson here?

For his contribution to the gun-control debate, Professor Lott has become an intellectual pariah. Elite opinion-shapers, who have embraced gun control with religious fervor, want nothing to do with him. In their view, if you have something nice to say about guns you're one of those people-the kind who hunt ducks with bazookas, worry about Communists invading their cul-de-sac, and name their kids "Smith" and "Wesson."

Of course, gun-control snobs are seldom at risk of serious crime themselves. It's easy to preach against guns from gated communities protected by private police forces. But suggest that the $8-an-hour rent-a-cop who guards these neighborhoods be allowed to have a gun to protect his own family, and the gun-control zealots wax hysterical.

Witness today's political debate, which is rife with talk of rights-a "Patients' Bill of Rights" for those who want their insurance plans to cover liposuction, an "Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights" for those who want more (or fewer) peanuts in their in-flight snacks. Mention constitutional rights, however, including the right to own a gun, and you'll be accused of being a Neanderthal.

In Maryland, Attorney General Joseph Curran can't be bothered with the Second Amendment. He wants laws that would ban all handguns in the state. Never mind that Curran is sworn to uphold the Maryland constitution, which guarantees Maryland citizens the protections of the U.S. Constitution. When it comes to the Bill of Rights, some politicians defend only the parts they like.

That's the way the gun-control crowd wants it. No 225-year-old scrap of parchment will stand in the way of their drive to banish guns-but not cars, rocks, knives, baseball bats, or any other object used to inflict harm-from the face of the earth. It's that kind of thinking that poses the real threat to Americans.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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