Josh Sager – September 2013
On December 21st, PBS’s Mark Shields made an extremely astute comparison (that honestly I am angry at myself for not thinking of myself), between American military casualties and American domestic gun casualties. According to Shields, more Americans have died in the past 43 years due to guns domestically than in EVERY military conflict since the founding of our country. Here is his full quote:
“You know, Judy, the reality is—and it’s a terrible reality—since Robert Kennedy died in the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, more Americans have died from gunfire than died in all the—all the wars, all the wars of this country’s history, from the Revolutionary through the Civil War, World War I, World War II, in those 43 years.”
This comparison may be shocking but it is undeniably true when one looks at the statistics. If every American war—from the revolution to Iraq—is taken into account, approximately 1,171,177 Americans have died due in conflict. In comparison, approximately 1,384,171 Americans have died due to gunshot wounds in the USA during the last 43 years—to save you a little math, this means that 212,994 more Americans (118% more) have been killed by guns domestically during the last 43 years than have been killed during every war in the last 250 years.
To me, these statistics indicate two things: first, we need to stop getting into wars and sacrificing our brave service-people. Second, we need to admit that our country has a massive gun problem and that we need an immediate intervention, lest we continue to incur a massive death toll.
That said, I am certain that others will disagree and will try to mitigate this by pointing out that Shield’s gun statistics include suicides and accidents, thus the comparisons are not actually valid (comparing apples and oranges). To address these people, I will now break down the death tolls further in order to put things into perspective.
A More Detailed Comparison
It is certainly true that not all gun deaths are murder, thus the comparison made by Shields is not necessarily perfect—as such, I will strip accidents and suicides out of the equation in order to create a direct comparison between domestic gun murders and wartime gun casualties.
Here is a breakdown of American gun deaths due to homicide, as compiled by the Department of Justice:
- 1993 18,253 2003 11,920
- 1994 17,527 2004 11,624
- 1995 15,551 2005 12,352
- 1996 14,037 2006 12,791
- 1997 13,252 2007 12,632
- 1998 11,798 2008 12,179
- 1999 10,828 2009 11,493
- 2000 10,801 2010 11,078
- 2001 11,348 2011 11,101
- 2002 11,829 2012 11,224***
- 2004 11,624
***estimated using 3-year recent gun homicide average due to a lack of data***
Total American gun homicide victims between 1993 and 2012: 253,618
Average gun homicides per year: 12,102
Here is a breakdown of American military casualties—including numbers from every branch of service—according to the official “American War and Military Operations” document of the Congressional Research Service:
- Revolutionary War: 4,435 dead
- War of 1812: 2,260 dead
- Mexican War: 13,283 dead
- Civil War (Union and Confederate): 525,000 dead
- Spanish-American War: 2,446 dead
- World War I: 116,516 dead
- World War II: 405,399 dead
- Korean War: 36,574 dead
- Vietnam War: 58,220 dead
- Persian Gulf War: 383 dead
- Afghanistan War: 2,175 dead
- Iraq War: 4,486 dead
Total American war dead: 1,171,177
Now, given these two data sets, we can start having a little fun with statistics, arithmetic, and data comparison:
This is a casualty count for every US war, expressed by the time it would take for American murderers to kill the same number of people (using the 20-year average):
- Persian Gulf War: 11 days, 13 hours
- Afghanistan War: 65 days, 14 hours
- War of 1812: 68 days, 4 hours
- Spanish-American War: 73 days, 18 hours
- Revolutionary War: 133 days, 18 hours
- Iraq War: 135 days, 7 hours
- Mexican War: 1 year, 35 days, 15 hours
- Korean War: 3 years, 8 days, 2 hours
- Vietnam War: 4 years, 295 days, 22 hours
- World War I: 9 years, 229 days, 4 hours
- World War II: 39 years, 181 days, 23 hours
- Civil War (Union and Confederate): 43 years, 139 days, 4 hours
Outside of WWII and the Civil War, 240,778 Americans have died due to war, while over 250,000 have been murdered with guns. This means that more Americans have been murdered with guns in the last 20 years than the combined casualty count of all but the two worst wars that the United States has fought in its 200+ year history.
In a single year of “peace,” more Americans are murdered by firearms than died during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Spanish American War, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War—on a bad year (as we saw in the mid-90s), this death toll can also eclipse the casualty count of the Mexican War.
In an average year for gun homicides, the domestic gun homicide casualty count would overtake the total American casualty count for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars at 6:00PM on July 19th (200.75 days). During the remaining 164 days in that year, American murders would kill nearly 1000 more Americans than died in the Persian Gulf and Revolutionary Wars combined.
Every 1,756 days (4.8 years), more Americans are murdered domestically with guns than were killed in the massively protested Vietnam—this means that, on November 12th, 2013, more Americans will have been murdered by guns since Obama’s 2008 swearing in than died in Vietnam.
And finally: In the last 17 years, more Americans have been killed by domestic gun violence than nuclear weapons have killed in their entire history—the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, which are the only cases of nuclear weapons use, killed approximately 200,000 Japanese citizens. Using the 20-year estimate for gun violence, this means that an atomic bombs worth of death (aprox. 100,000 deaths) is caused by gun violence in the USA every 8 years, 3 months.
When our troops go overseas, we are all concerned about their safety and many (religious American) pray that the troops come home safe—given these numbers, maybe it is the troops who should be worrying about us. A truly shocking number of Americans are murdered every year with guns, creating what many would consider a gun-murder epidemic.
Unlike with war deaths, there are no flag-wrapped coffins to entice people to take notice and the media rarely reports on this epidemic unless something especially horrifying happens (ex. school shootings). That said, if any external enemy were inflicting the kind of damage that we are doing to ourselves with guns, it would be front-page news until the problem is solved.
Few people deny the existence of this epidemic, but a significant portion of the American population is enamored enough with their guns that they are willing to look everywhere but the weapons to see the root cause of this affliction; most commonly, these people blame the mentally ill (yet they refuse to enact strong background check to prevent them from buying weapons) or violent video games. We know that such diversions are incorrect, simply because virtually every developed country has mentally ill people and most have violent media, yet the only extreme statistical outlier in gun murder is the one which has pathetically weak gun laws and over 80 guns per 100 citizens.
When hearing these comparisons, I have no doubt that gun-absolutists will make numerous arguments in order to defend their precious weapons.
Some may argue that weapons have become more deadly over the years, thus comparing musket casualties in the Revolutionary War to gang shootings with semi-automatic pistols is disingenuous. Put plainly, they have a somewhat valid point—now if only they could realize this in regard to arguments over gun control. It is undeniable that guns have become exponentially more deadly over the years, yet gun laws have not kept up.
Others will argue that many of these shooting were cases where innocent Americans defended themselves against violent attackers, thus the shooting were justified. Unfortunately, these people would be wrong, as numerous studies have shown that gun homicides are most commonly cases of criminal conduct and that self-defense is an extreme minority in these homicide numbers.
Yet more will try to argue that the USA is large and highly populated, thus homicide numbers are not a good comparator to war casualties (homicides are much more spread out and exist in a much larger population than war deaths). Put plainly, the fact that gun homicide numbers are so high that this comparison to war deaths is even possible is a disgrace. When adjusted for population, the 20-year average gun homicide rate per 100,000 population in the USA is 4.129, which is far worse than other large developed countries like Canada (average .58 murders/100,000) or Australia (average .25 murders/100,000)—put simply this is a fair comparison because, when compared to other developed countries, the US’s gun murder problem makes us a type of very stable war zone.
Ultimately, the argument that more guns are the solution to stop gun violence is simply damaging to our country and we need to recognize that our gun control is the only option. While it may not look like a warzone, the United States is suffering gun murder casualty counts which eclipse most previous wars.
If you care about your country and want to ensure that your children do not live in constant fear of being killed by a psychopath with a gun, you must take a stand and demand that your representatives buck gun lobbyists and the NRA and start working on a real solution to the gun murder epidemic. We must slow the flow of new guns into the hand of unstable or violent people, while also stopping the distribution of guns in private hands to those who should not be able to own them. In addition to this, we must demand increased licensing requirements, regulations on where guns can be carried, and restrictions on what guns can be owned.
It is time to stop the long and extremely bloody American gun war.