For the first time in more than 60 years, the death rate for Americans killed by firearms is as high as the mortality rate linked to motor vehicle accidents.
New data released by the government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that guns and car accidents each cause 103 deaths among every 1 million people.
The two death rates were far apart for decades, but improved safety equipment in cars has drastically reduced the number of fatalities from motor vehicle accidents.
At the same time, the incidence of deaths caused by firearms is higher, the CDC said, but most of that increase is due to a rise in suicides involving guns.
Despite the converging mortality trends for firearms and automotive incidents, the biggest causes of Americans' deaths are medical ailments such as cancer and heart disease.
The CDC said firearms and motor vehicles are among the leading nonmedical causes of Americans' deaths each year. Guns and cars kill more people than do falls, and considerably more than alcohol abuse does.
Automobile deaths have dropped about 60 percent since the 1960s because of the introduction of seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes and other technological aids for drivers, plus increased enforcement of prohibitions on driving under the influence of alcohol and advances in roadway designs.
Regional differences illustrate the changes in mortality data linked to firearms. Ten years ago, only two of the 50 U.S. states — Alaska and Maryland — recorded more gun-related deaths than auto-related fatalities. However, the most recent figures available, for 2014, show 21 states had more gun deaths than auto fatalities.
The District of Columbia, the nation's capital, had a higher rate of firearms deaths compared with car accident fatalities throughout that period.
It is easy and legal for the vast majority of people in the U.S. to buy guns, including assault rifles. That fact is regularly mentioned in the news with the country's string of mass killings — the latest earlier this month when a radicalized Muslim couple killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a holiday party in California.
The National Rifle Association, a strong lobbying group, has been successful in blocking gun control regulation, despite calls by President Barack Obama for Congress to take action against certain types of gun sales.
Some Americans maintain that the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms, means there must be no restrictions. Other Americans say some restrictions are necessary in an attempt to cut down on the number of deaths by gunfire.
The Second Amendment, ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing all Americans' 10 basic freedoms, says: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."