Sometimes a Single Statistic Is a Terrible Revelation

Over the past decade, any number of commentators have noted the striking differences between our national discussions of and our national responses to terrorist attacks and domestic gun violence. In fact, that contrast has now been referenced so frequently that it has become something of a truism.

But, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, has highlighted a statistic that should breathe new life into that truism and give it fresh dimension.

It is a statistic that should profoundly disturb every American, whether they are gun owners or not. Moreover, it should make us much more determined to move beyond the current impasse—beyond the well-rehearsed talking points–and to treat this issue with the great seriousness that it not only deserves but demands.


Here is that statistic:

Since 1970, nearly 1.35 million Americans have been killed by firearms.

As a point of comparison, in all of America’s military conflicts, from the American Revolutionary War to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, 1.39 million Americans have been killed.


5 thoughts on “Sometimes a Single Statistic Is a Terrible Revelation

  1. The NRA is the murderer’s lobby for a reason. What gun humping ammosexuals do not understand is that the insanity comes AFTER you come in to possession of weapons of mass and instantaneous death. How many men gain possession of a gun with the express intent of murdering their wife or girlfriend? The insanity comes AFTER a man gains possession of a gun. The rest of the modern world understands this about men and sensibly regulates firearms and are not continuously bathing in the blood of their youth and families.

    In 2012, on the PBS News Hour, Mark Shields stated that since 1968, “more Americans have died from gunfire than died in … all the wars of this country’s history.” did a study to determine the validity of Shields’s claim. Here’s what they found via the Congressional Research Service:
    Revolutionary War
    War of 1812
    Mexican War
    Civil War (Union and Confederate, estimated)
    Spanish-American War
    World War I
    World War II
    Korean War
    Vietnam War
    Persian Gulf War
    Afghanistan War
    Iraq War

    Another 362 deaths resulted from other conflicts since 1980, such as interventions in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia and Haiti, but the number is not large enough to make a difference.

    Gunfire deaths
    The number of deaths from gunfire is a bit more complicated to total. Two Internet-accessible data sets from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allow us to pin down the number of deaths from 1981 to 1998 and from 1999 to 2010. We’ve added FBI figures for 2011, and we offer a number for 1968 to 1980 using a conservative estimate of data we found in a graph in this 1994 paper published by the CDC.

    Here is a summary. The figures below refer to total deaths caused by firearms:
    1968 to 1980 377,000
    1981 to 1998 620,525
    1999 to 2010 364,483
    2011 32,163
    Total 1,384,171

    Politifact ruled that Shield’s statement is true:

    1.4 million firearm deaths trump 1.2 million deaths from war. They also note these figures refer to “all gun-fire related deaths — not just homicides, but also suicides and accidental deaths.”

    The NRA and pro-gun crazies have been spouting statistics for their cause, in fear, since the Sandy Hook massacre. Liberal/Pro-GunSense groups have given their own figures. Who wins? Nobody. The study is devastating, and proves America has sorely lost, is losing, and will continue to lose, until laws are changed.

    This sobering and poignant information needs to become known to every U.S. citizen. And we need to demand action. Thank you, Mark Shields. Thank you, Politifact for the research.

    A study in the Annals Of Internal Medicine examining gun violence worldwide proved that women in the United States are disproportionately likely to be victims of gun violence when compared to women in other developed countries:

    As reported by The Atlantic “Women in the United States account for 84 percent of all female firearm victims in the developed world, even though they make up only a third of the developed world’s female population. And within American borders, women die at higher rates from suicide, homicide, and accidental firearm deaths in states where guns are more widely available This is true even after controlling for factors such as urbanization, alcohol use, education, poverty, and divorce rates.”

    Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that not only are women more likely to be the victims of gun violence, but this violence is more likely to be perpetrated in the home by a male domestic partner than by a stranger:

    “More than twice as many women are killed with a gun used by their husbands or intimate acquaintances than are murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means.”

    Proponents of gun rights often claim that ownership of firearms are essential for self-defense. However a study published in the American Journal of Public Health interviewed 417 women in 65 battered women’s shelters across the country. One third of the women interviewed came from a home with a gun in it. Of that third, two-thirds had been victims of gun crime of some sort, the most common being a male domestic partner threatening to kill them (71.4%). Just 7% of the women interviewed said they had successfully used a gun in self-defense. The evidence so far suggests that women are more likely to be threatened with a gun than use one to defend themselves.

    It has long been established that owning a firearm means you are more likely to be a victim of gun violence. However it is only in the last few years that, after overcoming staunch opposition from the gun lobby, researchers have been able to demonstrate that violence with guns is far more likely to affect women than men. Their findings should have an arresting effect on men in the United States as well: a study analyzing homicides in the years 1998-2000 published in 2005 proved that in two-thirds of cases a male partner shot himself after shooting his female partner.

    • I am familiar with the statistics you cite. I believe many are. But the relevant question, I think, is not the body count. Nor is it the entrenched positions of those on either side of this issue.

      As disturbing and alarming as these numbers are, the reality is, the second amendment ain’t gonna change anytime soon. Let’s accept that as reality. The political will is not there. And with a sharply divided government, likely to remain divided for decades to come, there is no opportunity to change the second amendment even if the will were there.

      Notice I am not taking sides on the issue. I am only describing reality- fair or not- as it exists. Talking past one another has made this situation worse, not better. And so I believe the solutions have to come about via compromise, and that means both sides have to tone it down- big time.

      And I am not at all ignorant of the issues. On the one hand, I lost a beloved brother to gun violence. On the other, I’ve known hundreds of responsible gun owners who never once came close to an accident, much less a crime involving a firearm. I’ve seen both realities- up close & personal.

      The only way out of this horrendous mess requires everyone work together. We can’t let the rhetoric continue to divide us.

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