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It's official: Guns are deadlier than traffic accidents

A Glock 20 10mm hand gun is displayed at the sales counter of the Guns-R-Us gun shop in Phoenix, Arizona on Dec. 20, 2012. (Reuters/ Ralph D. Fresco)

A small-town newspaper in Washington state took on one of the most contentious issues in America's great gun debate over the weekend.

"Is it true that more people die from traffic accidents than gun violence?" The Herald of Snohomish County asked?

The pro-gun National Rifle Association routinely argues that traffic accidents are deadlier than guns.

"Not here,"  The Herald said.

Data kept by the local medical examiner shows that more people have died of gunshot wounds than traffic accidents each year for the past five years. Why isn't that fact more widely known? Because four our of every five of those deaths by guns were suicides and, hence, rarely reported. Fatalities from traffic accidents, on the other hand, almost always make the news.

From 2007 to 2011, some 227 people in the county died by gunfire, while 168 died in traffic accidents.

Last year the county had 18 homicides - 10 by guns.

Ever since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 20 children and six staff were shot to death, American media have given heightened coverage to the gun issue.

In Chicago, First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendelton over the weekend. The 15-year-old majorette was shot to death in a Chicago park just a week after performing in President Barack Obama's inauguration.

Rev. Michael Pfleger asked the congregation, "When did we lose our soul?"

Still, even as Chicago has experienced an increase in gun-related violence, it could get worse. A U.S. high court has ruled that Illinois' prohibition on carrying concealed weapons must end by June. The prohibition was unconstitutional the appeals court ruled. Illinois was the only state in the U.S. where it was illegal to carry a concealed weapon. By June the ban will end.

In Arkansas, however, Gov. Mike Beebe is poised to go further, making it legal to pack guns inside Arkansas churches. As it turns out, Arkansas is one of just 10 states that still prohibits congregants from carrying guns into places of worship. America's 40 other states allow them.

In Ohio it's a little different: congregants are allowed to pack guns. But individual places of worship are allowed to post signs prohibiting them.

Pastor Linda Steelman at Marietta's First Congregational Church told the local Times newspaper that her congregation has posted signs.

"We just ask people out of respect for a place of peace, to leave their weapons in their cars," she said.

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller




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