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A new study released by the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center shows that Virginia gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics for both are available.

The study shows there were 875 firearm deaths reported that year statewide, compared to 728 motor vehicle deaths.

The study compiled firearm-fatality-related statistics from several sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

In addition to Virginia, the study shows that the entire Washington region also saw a similar outpacing of gun deaths to motor vehicle deaths.

According to the study, in Virginia, of the 875 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 271 were identified as homicides, 576 were identified as suicides and 13 were identified as unintentional deaths.

In Maryland, there were 538 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 306 of which were identified as homicides and 222 of which were identified as suicides. That same year, there were 514 motor vehicle deaths.

In the District of Columbia, there were 99 firearm deaths reported in 2010, 84 of which were identified as homicides and 13 of which were identified as suicides. That same year, there were 38 motor vehicle deaths in D.C.

The study surmises that motor vehicle deaths may be on the decline as the result of successful injury prevention strategies that include many safety-related changes to vehicles.

“For example, vehicles now incorporate new safety features including head rests, energy absorbing steering wheels, shatter-resistant windshields and safety belts,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “In addition, the roads that the vehicles traveled were improved by better delineation of curves; use of breakaway signs and utility poles.”

Rand contends that meanwhile, firearms remain the only consumer product not regulated by the federal government for health and safety.

“Health and safety regulation of firearms is left to the states, and very few impose meaningful regulation designed to decrease all categories of gun related death and injury,” she said. “Moreover, the effectiveness of one jurisdiction’s efforts is often undermined by weak standards in neighboring jurisdictions coupled with the lack of minimum federal standards.”

But Mike Stollenwerk, founder of Fairfax County-based pro-gun group Opencarry.org, calls the VPC study misleading.

“Comparing total vehicle accident deaths to total gun deaths is a misleading ‘apples to oranges’ statistic,” he said. “The VPC numbers show that in 2010 there were 728 vehicle accident deaths in Virginia compared to only 13 accidental gun deaths. That's 65 vehicle accident deaths for every one accidental gun death. Unlike motor vehicles, guns are essential to Americans' self-defense capability. Moreover, operating motor vehicles is a privilege, while gun carry is a constitutional right.”

According to the study, nationwide in 2010 there were 31, 672 firearms deaths reported as compared to 35,498 motor vehicle deaths.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com