Guns ‘n bikes

There’s a reason that Stephen Paddock massacred 58 people in Las Vegas. There’s also a reason that people driving cars have killed 49 people so far this year in Southern California. The reasons are the same.

In the first instance, Americans have decided that mass shootings are a reasonable and acceptable cost of being able to easily and legally obtain weapons of virtually any kind. In the second, Californians have decided that individual killings of cyclists are a reasonable and acceptable cost for being able to drive as fast as possible to get where they want to go.

The shootings appear gruesome but they are not. Bullets do not make nearly the mess of a car smashing into a cyclist. But shootings are better for news media because they correspond to TV, movie, and video images that we have internalized as “dramatic.” Shootings are also better entertainment because the good guys always get the bad guy with even more shooting, even when the bad guy shoots himself.

Shootings are also more entertaining because victims get prayed over, flags get lowered, and the human story behind each victim gets told in horrifying detail. Memorials spring up and the event is commemorated each year by survivors.

Not so with people who kill bicycle riders. As the rider’s family finds, there is rarely any criminal proceeding of any kind. The killer almost always walks free and goes back to his or her job. “Sorry I’m late for work. I killed a bicycle rider and had to talk to the cops.”

Dead bicycle riders don’t get their stories told much beyond their club or their family or the local paper. President Trump certainly doesn’t visit their next of kin to offer condolences and paper towels.

Despite the difference in treatment, the cause is the same. Both are acceptable and reasonable costs of the activity that society has chosen to permit. When I read about people who have been killed using guns, I have no expectation that guns will somehow be limited in any meaningful way. Americans like guns. Americans like killing people. Americans like the entertainment of mass shootings. In order to have those things, you have to allow mass murder. Freedom isn’t free, and in this case, neither is slavery. In the same way that Americans believe health care is a privilege and guns are a right, Americans believe that cars are a right and bicycling on roads is a privilege.

You cannot discuss or negotiate this latter point with drivers any more than you can negotiate the unlimited right to weaponry with those who choose to misunderstand the 2nd Amendment. Deaths and horrific injuries are not mishaps, tragedies, accidents, or collateral damage, they are a necessary product of a system that everyone embraces in more-or-less democratically enacted laws.

If it is your right to drive as fast as possible to get to a destination, then your exposure to civil and criminal penalties for killing people should be minimal. If it is your right to own any weapon you choose, then mass killings will happen. If you think that there should be fewer mass murders and it disturbs you greatly, or you think that bicycle riders shouldn’t be killed with impunity, then perhaps this is the wrong society for you.

As Senator Thune wisely said, and I believe it applies to bikes as well as Las Vegas concert goers, the only real protection in America today is simple, if hard to achieve: “Get small.”



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38 thoughts on “Guns ‘n bikes”

  1. “In the same way that Americans believe health care is privilege and guns are a right, Americans believe that cars are a right and bicycling on roads is a privilege.”
    Yep, that is about it. Great post, Seth. I’m afraid, however, that only cyclists would get this analogy. The rest the driving public, not so much.

  2. I was thinking the same thing… maybe at the end of the year we do a graph comparing the too. So very sad.

    On a brighter note, can’t wait to get dropped Saturday morning and be a wallflower Saturday night.

    Thanks for leading the charge!

  3. I had an experience with a driver yesterday that echoes your thoughts. I was commuting home on Wesley in Culver City when a women brushed by me in her car. I sprinted after her to let her know there is a three foot passing law in California and that Wesley is marked for full lane bike usage. I caught her at the stop sign at the end of the street and told her these things. She replied, “That still does not give you the right to slow me down!” She then rolled up her window and flipped me off. I’m not sure she heard my reply, “Being in a hurry is not an excuse for trying to kill me.” Usually I do not take the high road when talking with motorists that buzz me like that and in this case I wish I hadn’t because there was no way I was going to convince her I was anything other than an impediment to her drive.

    1. Right. Your death is an acceptable consequence of her right to go as fast as she can.

  4. Good post. In fact, it’s not just cyclists who are victims of vehicular mayhem. Other motorists and pedestrians are as well. Total yearly fatalities are in excess of thirty five thousand (35,000) with many more critically injured (incurring severe lifetime impairments). Also, Supersize Big Mac meals (poor diet in general) is the cause of tens of thousands of deaths and lifetime impairments. But cars and Big Macs don’t make exciting headlines so lets not hold our breaths that the media will ever focus a spotlight on highway safety and healthier eating habits. Instead, media coverage seems to reflect our collective desire to be entertained and immediate gratification and twisted logic. Traits that also explain all the mayhem caused by crappy drivers and questionable dietary choices (which kill far more than automatic weapons).

    1. I decided to leave out the ultimate casualty of our right to go as quickly as we want to go, which are pedestrians. They are killed and maimed in far higher numbers than bicycle riders. Totally acceptable and reasonable. If you don’t want to get hit, or rather, if you don’t want to die when you get hit, drive. Oh, wait a minute …

  5. Hank from Pasadena

    Well, we are going to have an almost full fleet of self driving cars which hopefully will have a “don’t hit a cyclist feature” before any reduction in the number of guns sloshing around the country so at least there is that.

    By the way, since many cars now have crash avoidance is that due to radar or something? Is there a sensor you could put on one’s bike to trigger the radar?

    1. You are 100% right about self-driving cars and the effect they will have on pedestrian-bicycle collisions. Don’t know about the trigger …

      1. Hank from Pasadena

        Ill be first in line to buy one. I run the Varia rear radar now. Got to take every possible advantage.

        1. Fact is, if they see you they will almost never hit you. That’s why I’m crazy about lights, especially in the daytime.

  6. Tim Joe Comstock

    Probably lots of NRA members at that concert, and not all bicycle riders are cyclists. Some pedestrians ruin a driver’s life by stumbling into traffic.

    Just sayin’. You know I’m on yer side, Skinny. I almost creamed a guy this morning in a pre-dawn rain. He was pedaling a Wally without lights and I didn’t ever actually see him…I was going ten miles under the limit and braked for a shadow .I wanted to pull over and go back and beat the shit out of him.

    ‘Cause I don’t carry a gun. Never will. I’m weird that way.

    Fifty-eight dead in Vegas. REALLY shady story so far, but at least every sentient creature on the planet now knows what a “bump stock” is…

    Does it ever seem to you that we get what we asked for, ’round here?

    1. We always get what we asked for, but most of the time we forgot we asked for it, or we thought we were asking for something else. That’s what my wife says.

    1. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate being compared to Steve Martin should move along now! Thank you!

  7. When this crap went down the first thing I thought was “this shit is a part of our culture. Why the outrage? People should be getting use to it.” Good analogy to bikes / cars. And what’s the value of a minority? Ooops, just another dead minority teen…

  8. Very well put, resonates all over the place.

    I agree that driverless cars will greatly reduce accidents.

    When the driverless tech trickles down to bikes, I will send by bike out to ride the donut with youse people.

  9. Pingback: Today’s Headlines – Streetsblog Los Angeles

  10. Personally, I just think some people want this world to be a more perfect world than it is. Do you ever think how ironic it is that cars must leave a 3 foot barrier with bicyclists, but motorcycles can lane-split with only inches to spare, and in fact they do sometimes deliberately kick or smack your car?
    How about bicyclists riding the wrong way on sidewalks practically mowing down pedestrians? Or skateboarders. In Los Angeles it’s legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk against traffic even when there are pedestrians present.
    We need to have completely separated sidewalks, bike lanes, and car lanes, in all areas even if it means building overhead ramps. Obviously this is an absurd idea.
    So, my point is, that is just not a perfect world and yes we do have to accept that there are going to be some sad consequences. But it’s not just bicyclists versus cars.
    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to try.
    I gave up my bicycle commute to the office because Prospect Avenue around Beryl in Redondo Beach is just too unsafe, and ironically it’s going to a health center called the Beach Cities Health District. One where they want to add up to 400 more units of housing on taxpayer owned land. I’ll tell you, for the third time, it’s just not a perfect world.

  11. “Every car a potential weapon, every motorist a short fuse.” So says Bikesnobnyc

  12. If you kill or injure somebody with a gun, the police confiscate your weapon and you don’t get it back until there is an investigation. If you kill or injure somebody with a car, and you are sober, you will probably drive your weapon home.

    1. Because shooting somebody dead is murder. Killing somebody with a car is an accident.

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