Vermont group criticizes gun death report
A report showing that Vermont had more gun-related deaths than highway fatalities in 2011 is an anomaly, sportsmen's groups say.
The report, which was released last week by the Violence Policy Center, said Vermont had 78 gun deaths and 62 motor vehicle deaths in 2011. That marked the first time the state recorded more gun deaths than crash deaths.
The vast majority of the gun deaths are suicides and the number of highway deaths was below average that year, critics said.
Vermont joined Washington, D.C., and 12 other states, including Maryland, Louisiana and Colorado, on the list compiled by the Violence Policy Center.
The Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., conducts research and education initiatives to advocate for increased gun control.
"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," a statement released with the study stated.
It's alarming that guns pose such a substantial risk in some states, the report says. Both gun deaths and highway deaths should be considered public safety issues, and both should be regulated by the state, the Violence Policy Center argues.
Vermont gun deaths increased from 52 in 2007 to 78 in 2011, according to Department of Health statistics. About 90 percent of those deaths -- 65 of 70 deaths in 2010 -- were suicides. In 2008, there were eight firearm-related homicides, none in 2009, one in 2010, and four in 2011, and two in 2012. The remaining gun deaths in the VPC report were accidental.
"Two deaths a year for a population of 600,000 is a damn good number. Truly violent crime numbers are extremely low," said Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont.
According to the VPC report, Vermont's gun death rate per 100,000 is 12.45, slightly above Michigan's 11.70 rate, and below Washington, D.C.'s 13.89 gun deaths per 100,000. Vermont's motor vehicle death rate per 100,000 residents is 9.89.
Between 2007 and 2010, motor vehicle fatalities fluctuated between 67 and 73, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Program.
Vermont police cited a slightly different figure for 2011 motor vehicle deaths -- 55 -- but said that 2011 had the lowest recorded fatalities on Vermont roads since 1944. The 2011 and 2012 numbers were 77 and 71, respectively.
Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen, emphasized that he doesn't expect to see Vermont on this list again.
"It was a one-year anomaly," Hughes said, citing the record low numbers of motor vehicle deaths. "Homicides and accidents are some of the lowest in the country, both by ratios and numbers. Suicides have remained stable. And this is in a state with a very high number of licensed gun owners."
In 2011, Vermont and Hawaii had the lowest rates of firearm-related murder.
Max Schlueter, research associate for the Crime Research Group of Vermont, however, isn't convinced by the juxtaposition of gun deaths and highway deaths.
"Why would you make that comparison? It's apples and oranges," Schlueter said. "I can see comparing highway deaths to accidental deaths like heart disease. I don't know, I guess if you have an ax to grind. "
"The reason that Vermont is among the very safest of states is because of the excellent character of our citizens and the great work done by the hunter education instructors and firearms safety instructors," he said.
"Vermont's gun laws are also very effective in deterring crime. All of that said, it is unrealistic to use a one year record low level of motor vehicle fatal accidents in 2011 to justify a gun control agenda today."