President Obama delivered angry remarks at the White House late yesterday on the nation’s latest mass shooting, and included a challenge to journalists:
“I would ask news organizations – because I won’t put these facts forward – have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won’t be information coming from me; it will be coming from you.“We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”
Americans have come to expect a robust governmental response to terrorism, with officials, agencies, and cabinet departments going to great lengths to protect the public from violent attacks. At the same time, however, mass shootings routinely kill thousands of Americans each year.
Just how significant is the imbalance? Let’s take the president up on his challenge.
Part of the difficulty in assessing data like this is how to define terms. If we’re counting shooting deaths in the United States, for example, do we limit our analysis to murders or do we include suicides and accidents? If we’re measuring terror deaths, what’s the best way to define “terrorism”? Do we include Americans killed by terrorists while abroad?
NBC News summarized the data this way:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 153,144 people were killed by homicide in which firearms were used between 2001 and 2013, the last year that data are available (that number excludes deaths by “legal intervention”).The Global Terrorism Database – which uses a criteria to determine terrorist attacks but also includes acts of violence that are more ambiguous in goal – estimates that 3,046 people in the U.S. died in terrorist or possible terrorist attacks between 2001 and 2014.The top number doesn’t even include suicides and legal police killings (which boost the number to 394,912). Still, just counting homicides alone, 11,780 Americans were killed by guns a year on average, in that time period, while 219 on average were per year killed by terrorism – although of course the 9/11 attacks are the bulk of the deaths.
Vox’s Zack Beauchamp published a chart, citing data from the Justice and State Departments, which helped, but CNN published a related report, which was more comprehensive – it included all U.S. gun deaths (homicides, suicides, and accidents) based on the most recent available data from the Centers for Disease Control, comparing the data to all American terrorist deaths (on U.S. and foreign soil). The result looks like this: