Most numbers in Gov. Cooper’s gun safety speech check out. Here’s why

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The mass shooting in Raleigh last month forced the issue of gun violence to squarely hit home in central North Carolina, with state leaders now calling the issue a public health problem.

Gov. Roy Cooper spoke to a bipartisan gun safety group last week and pushed for more comprehensive background checks, red flag laws and responsible gun ownership, bringing up several statistics in his push.

Do they add up?

THE CLAIM: In his online keynote speech to 97Percent, Cooper compared gun deaths to automobile accidents.

“In 1960, we had about 27 traffic deaths per 100,000 people. Forty years later, after changes in our laws, that number dropped to 16,” he said. “Today, it’s no longer car accidents. Now the number one cause of injury death for young people is being shot by a gun.”

THE FACTS: Most of the numbers brought up by the governor check out.

Those per capita death rates in car crashes come from the North Carolina 2020 Traffic Crash Facts publication from the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

For every 100,000 people in the state, 26.9 died in a car crash in 1960.

That rate did drop significantly over the years — but Cooper was off in his description of just how many it took.

Forty years after 1960 was 2000, and the rate that year was 19.4. It did drop lower than 16 in 2008, when it was 15.8, and fell as low as 12.5 in 2011.

The most recent figure in the publication came from 2020, when it was at 15.9 — but even that number ticked up for three consecutive years, after it was at 13.6 in 2017.

The governor’s claim about guns being the leading cause of death for young people comes from a combination of state and federal data.

Summer Tonizzo, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, pointed to numbers from the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force that show firearm injuries were the leading cause of death among those younger than 18 in 2021.

There were 116 deaths related to firearms in the state in 2021 compared to 95 unintentional motor vehicle traffic deaths, according to an August presentation from the task force that drew on death certificate data from the state Center for Health Statistics.

Of those, 69 were assaults, 34 were self-inflicted and 12 were unintentional.

Tonizzo said Kella Hatcher, the executive director of the task force, was unavailable for an interview during the holiday week.

Nationally, the National Institute of Health says firearm-related injuries surpassed motor vehicle crashes and became the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 to 19.

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