October 03, 2015

Guns killed more Americans in 12 years than AIDS, war, and illegal drug overdoses combined

Thursday night, during an impassioned address about the shooting at Umpqua Community College, President Obama laid out a challenge to the media. "Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who've been killed through terrorist attacks in 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," he asked.
We've looked at those numbers a bit, but you can take this comparison even further: if you include all gun deaths (including homicides, suicides, and accidents), guns killed more Americans between 2001 and 2013 than terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, AIDS, and illegal drug overdoses combined:
Here's how each of these compares specifically to gun deaths.

1) Terrorism

Even in 2001, over ten times as many Americans were killed by guns as by terrorists. In an average year between 2002 and 2011, there were roughly a thousand times as many Americans killed by guns as by terrorism:
Javier Zarracina/Vox

2) The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

In total, 6863 Americans died fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (per iCasualties); guns killed almost five times as many Americans in 2013 alone. Here's a year-by-year comparison during the heights of both wars:


AIDS spread to hundreds of thousands of Americans in the 80s and 90s; when the government at first failed to confront the problem, it was rightly considered an outrage. Since then, public health campaigns have limited the spread of HIV and anti-retroviral drugs prevent many HIV-positive people from developing full-blown AIDS. Guns kill far more Americans per year than AIDS, and yet aren't treated as a public health crisis by the US government:

4) Illegal drug overdoses

The risk of overdose deaths are one of the many reasons why the US government is waging a war on drugs. Yet illegal drug overdoses only kill about one-third as many Americans per year as gun-related homicides, suicides, and accidents:
Javier Zarracina/Vox

5) Auto accidents

Guns aren't the leading killer in the United States. Things like heart disease and cancer kill a lot more people annually than guns. The toll from guns is still quite significant; it's roughly comparable to the number of people killed by car accidents every year:
Javier Zarracina/Vox

The federal government has spent a lot of money and time trying to lower the death toll from things like car accidents and AIDS. It's waged metaphorical wars on terrorism and drugs, and literal ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to keep Americans safe. And yet the United States won't take the most basic steps on the national level, such as requiring background checks on every gun sale in America, to reduce the death toll from guns.
"We spent over a trillion dollars, and passed countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so," President Obama said in his Thursday evening statement. "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?" 

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