Eleanor Clift Hackishly Cites Gun vs. Auto Death Stat to Justify Obama Executive Action

Towards the end of her January 4 piece for the Daily Beast – "Obama Takes His Last Shot at Gun Control" – hailing President Obama's controversial and arguably illegal move to essentially legislate new gun controls via presidential fiat, liberal journalist-turned-pundit Eleanor Clift justified the action by complaining that gun-related deaths in the U.S. now outpace automobile accidents: 

With the revelation that guns now kill more Americans than car accidents, there is a new urgency to the issue of gun violence. Yet administration officials were unable to say how many gun dealers might be brought into compliance with background checks under Obama’s new executive order. Record keeping around guns is difficult to determine in part because the National Rifle Association has kept it that way.

It's a convenient go-to soundbite for lefties pushing gun control, of course, but Clift is a journalist who should know better regarding how easy it is to cynically massage a government statistic for the furtherance of a policy objective. For more context, here's reporting from December 2015 by the Washington Post – no conservative organ it – regarding the matter. You'll also note at the end of the excerpt a line of criticism from a left-leaning researcher at Brookings about the folly of simple-minded policy prescriptions (emphases mine):

For the first time on record, Americans are as likely to die by a gunshot as in a traffic accident, according to new federal data. Gun deaths now outnumber vehicle deaths in 21 states and the District of Columbia. That was true in just two states a decade ago, Alaska and Maryland.

The trend was driven largely by the sharp drop in the rate of traffic fatalities, a result of a series of laws and safety measures aimed at making driving safer. Gun homicide rates also have fallen in recent years, but have been offset by the rising prevalence of suicides. Today, suicides account for roughly two out of every three gun deaths.


On gun deaths, the story has been more complicated. Fatalities declined precipitously during the 1990s, but have plateaued since then. While gun homicides have continued to decline, suicides have risen.

Those divergent trends reflect two different pictures of gun violence in the U.S. Black Americans are significantly more likely to be victims of homicide, but just one in five black households have guns. White Americans are more than twice as likely to have guns in their homes and they experience gun violence largely through suicides.

Richard Reeves, a Brookings researcher who studies inequality, said the differences in how guns affect black and white Americans speak to the need to “think multidimensionally” about the problem. “The nature of those deaths are hugely different,” he said. Opponents and supporters of gun rights often “need to be honest that one blanket solution will not solve the problem.”

When you delve into the particulars, it becomes abundantly clear that the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides and hence not all that germane to the gun-control debate. What's more, "[g]un homicide rates... have fallen in recent years," coinciding with the liberalization of state-level gun laws – more "shall-issue" concealed-carry permit states, etc. –  beginning in the mid-1990s.

Gun control advocates, of course, had long predicted a spike in criminal gun violence thanks to loosened gun laws, but evidence flies in the face of the talking points.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.