By Chris Christoff and Ilan Kolet
ATLANTA — Guns and cars have long been among the leading causes of non-medical deaths in the U.S. By 2015, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time, based on data compiled by Bloomberg.
While motor-vehicle deaths dropped 22 percent from 2005 to 2010, gun fatalities are rising again after a low point in 2000, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shooting deaths in 2015 will probably rise to almost 33,000, and those related to autos will decline to about 32,000, based on the 10-year average trend.
As the nation reels from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the shift shows the effects of public policy, said Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
The fall in traffic deaths resulted from safer vehicles, restricted privileges for young drivers and seat-belt and other laws, he said. By contrast, "we've made policy decisions that have had the impact of making the widest array of firearms available to the widest array of people under the widest array of conditions." While fewer households have guns, people who own guns are buying more of them, he said.
Friday's slaying of 20 children and six adults at the school in Newtown, Conn., reignited a debate over gun violence. While mass murders are rare, shootings aren't. About 85 Americans are shot dead daily, 53 of them suicides. Every day, one of those killed by firearms is 14 or younger.
Of the total, the CDC data show, 16 are between the ages of 15 and 24, mostly homicide victims. Wintemute said more than 200 people go to U.S. emergency rooms every day with gunshot wounds.
Gun deaths by homicide, suicide or accident peaked at 37,666 in 1993 before declining to a low of 28,393 in 2000, the data show. Since then the total has risen to 31,328 in 2010, an increase of 2,935, or eight more victims a day.