It seems like all we have heard about recently is guns, gun violence and gun control. Let’s face it, murdering innocent victims is easy to report on.
It has always bothered me that drunken driving claimed many lives, too. But unless a celebrity, sports figure or famous person is involved, the stories don’t make national news. Based on the emphasis placed on gun violence in the media and by politicians, one might assume that drunken driving deaths are rare.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports causes of death. When I compared deaths from guns and drunken driving, I found the numerical loss of life is almost identical.
According to the CDC, at least 30 people per day die from drunken driving, and it is a $50 billion-per-year problem. In 2010, there were 35,322 motor vehicle deaths and 31,672 firearm deaths. Drunken drivers caused 10,228 deaths, while 11,078 were firearm homicides. There were 211 children under age 15 killed in alcohol-related traffic crashes, and 219 were killed by firearms. Most of the remaining firearm deaths – 9,382 – were suicides.
The sad reality is that there are a lot of people killed by drunken drivers. The victim is just as dead as one killed by a lunatic with a Bushmaster on a killing spree. It is senseless. It is tragic. Knowing the numbers, how disingenuous is it for our elected officials to bombard us with gun control? Look at the numbers. Don’t we need alcohol control just as much?
How proud our New York politicians must have been of their work to hurriedly pass the New York SAFE Act almost in the middle of the night, with little time to read or discuss the law, let alone allow the public to comment. All of us had better be scared when our constitutional rights are eliminated overnight.
Will our elected officials stop with guns, or will a drunken driving “Columbine” prompt them to institute new knee-jerk laws to control alcohol?
• The sale of liquor of more than 40 proof would be banned immediately and higher-proof liquors would be registered with authorities or the contents destroyed.
• The higher-proof liquor could not be sold, given to or consumed by anyone but the original purchaser.
• Possession of non-registered higher-proof liquor would be a felony.
• Permits would be required to allow alcohol consumption in establishments that serve. Permit holders would need to get reference letters from people who swear they do not have an alcohol problem, and the permit would need to be renewed every five years.
• Universal background checks against DUI and DWI databases would be required for all alcohol purchases at any store. Purchasers would need to complete detailed forms listing each liquor or wine bottle purchased.
• The size of alcohol beverage containers would be limited to 10 ounces and the number of drinks per liquor bottle to some small number. Beer purchases would be restricted to a single six-pack.
I would like to see a public opinion poll on “common sense” alcohol control laws like these to combat drunken driving. Such proposals would likely be condemned immediately and called silly or stupid.
In focusing on shootings, the media are remiss by not emphasizing drunken driving, another largely preventable cause of death in the United States. Politicians concentrate on gun control instead because it is a simple means to prey on the fears of their subjects, whom they feel entitled to rule. Banning liquor or guns for the masses is an ill-conceived method to control and punish the many for the crimes of the few.
If you have lost a loved one to gun violence or drunken driving, I am truly sorry for the pain and suffering you have endured and continue to experience. Please use your voice to recommend punishing the real criminals with mandatory lengthy sentences of 20 years or more when guns are used in violent crimes or when drunken drivers kill. There should be no plea bargains, no acquittals over technicalities and no spectacular trials where the defendant claims not to know the victim was struck with a car or shot with a gun.
Those who drink and drive must stop now, before another innocent person is killed. Take responsibility. Better yet, get help. The numbers are out there for all to see. Drunken drivers are just as bad as those who murder with a gun.
David J. Rodman, M.D., is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine.