Guns Kill More Americans every Year than Die in Most Wars: A statistical breakdown

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.

american-guns-560

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

vietnam-war-01

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.

Conclusions

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.

6 thoughts on “Guns Kill More Americans every Year than Die in Most Wars: A statistical breakdown

  1. American military personnel that are deployed into combat are ARMED and TRAINED. Therefore, they have a high chance of survival. Most murder victims in the United States are unarmed civilians. Since World War I, soldiers go into war zones with fully automatic weapons, grenades, artillery and air support. They are expecting hostile fire and are constantly on guard. Most civilian shooting victim’s were not expecting to be shot and therefore, took no precautions. Even armed criminals that are shot by other criminals are often caught unaware because they are in their comfort zone in their own neighborhood at the time.

    Unless a mentally ill person also has a documented criminal history, a background check will not stop them from buying a firearm. They can just simply lie while filling out the form. The ONLY way to keep the mentally ill from buying guns from a licensed dealer is to create a national registry of mental patients. You probably would not support that though.

    You must understand that not every gun owner chooses to be a member of the NRA. There are several other pro Second Amendment organizations out there and not every gun owner is a member of one. The pro gun lobby is so powerful because they represent the majority of Americans and more importantly, the voters. That is why the politicians listen to them. You should visit http://www.gunpolicy.org and see just how many countries in the world allow civilians to own firearms. There are actually very few that do not.

    I agree with you that we need to stop getting into wars. Instead, we need to deploy our brave service people along our borders and in our ports to stop the flow of illegal drugs and to intercept potential terrorists to keep them from entering our country. We should also deploy them in the high crime areas of our major cities where the most murders are to support the police. Finally, we should encourage more law abiding Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights now that all states allow concealed carry. Think about it, the first person to make contact with a criminal is usually the intended victim or victim’s. When was the last time you ever heard of a uniformed police officer being robbed or car jacked?

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  2. An Ode to Sandy Hook…

    The Red Rose on the masthead of Guns in America (http://paper.li/PaulStewartII/1366470548) is dedicated to those who died in the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    The Rose’ tear drops of dew represent the life blood of these tragic victims who have been martyred on the alter of gun freedom. God bless and take care of each and every one; forever and ever. Amen.

    Some say they will never be forgotten. I say that too, and yet; to my very core, I believe there is more. There must be more right? Pray God there is more! They’re the tipping point in this self inflicted war on American innocence and innocents. Are they not? They’re bedrock. Upon which real American culture will return, and take hold! Not some anarchist’s nihilistic gun culture! Not some blood sport! But American culture. Real culture.

    A culture that lives and breaths the constitution. That promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. And safety, peace, and a right to peacefully enjoy a good life. For all. Especially for the children. The children must run free; not the guns. The price to do this is low; it’s simply common sense around gun management in America. The demilitarization of the civilian Homeland.

    I still believe Americans are rising up, way up. Putting on their SuperPower suits. They will stare down the barrel of them NRA guns. Crucify the congressional cowards. Lead America to where she never sees another Newtown tragedy. To where she can proudly celebrate the life and death of those Newtown children; and pay tribute to the millions of others lost to gun violence in just a few decades before them. And secure the future for so many innocents that are otherwise needlessly killed daily.

    This, this… is the America I know. An America that can stand tall; and her children, never senselessly fall.

    The American Dream is about a life of freedom, health and a share of wealth; not about whether your child will make it past kindergarten.

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  3. It seems another day and another tragedy. More tragedies and each time it seems to be more tragic.

    I sat here the whole time watching the breaking news live in Newtown, Connecticut as it unfolded. The school childrens’ tears. Their blood. Their blessed dreams and futures all spilled and drained away. As Eric Clapton’s song so mournfully sings: will there be tears in heaven? Since then so many more have died.

    Wasn’t it Icarus who flew too close to the sun? Well, is America flying too close to her guns? And ignoring her innocent children. Do her huddle masses, yearning to be free have to all buy guns? And how ‘free’ is that in reality? Free to shoot someone else? Certainly not safe and free of fear.

    As Joan Vennochi says in her article “Gun Control: Vital Curse Words”, it seems there is no longer any place in America that can be taken for granted as peaceful and safe. Not in a shopping mall, a theatre, a temple, or a school. Not on many streets, and I would add not even in the grassy yards around Florida gated residential complexes.

    I don’t know about you, but the guns and their politics in America today are not contributing to your freedom. They are taking it away. Like the Sun melting the wax on Icarus’ wings. Even if you accept that somehow men and women must buy guns because the other guys all seem to have them. And that’s the only way to be safe. How then to protect the youngsters and especially the children? Build steel fences and lock down the schools permanently? Buy them multi-coloured bullet proof vests? Oh, and matching helmets? And bring in the armed guards at the gates?

    Freedom indeed.

    This is not funny. This is not right.

    This is ridiculous and simultaneously gut wrenching vile and evil. Is there not a moral obligation to each other to make sure that nothing like this happens? Especially to innocents? Please don’t try to tell me that it’s just that some people are breaking the laws already on the books and its just a minor problem with enforcement. It is not the broken laws that kill people. It is not crazy and addled minds that kill people. It is the flagrant and rampant availability of guns and full accessories for them. That is what kills. Look here at this Chinese tragedy if you don’t believe me. And read this by Nicholas D. Kristof OP-ed “Do we have the courage to stop this?” And I note it will take courage. He states that children 5 to 14 years of age in America are 13 times more likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries.

    This is no way to show exceptionalism.

    If you want to have a gun, fine. You and the person who created the gun, and the person you bought it from and the person who you might sell it to should all bear full responsibility for its use in any illegal or accidentally harmful way. I mean joint and several responsibility. Sound harsh? So be it. You want to play with a gun? Fine. You pass tests on how to use it and you register it and re-register it every year. And if you sell it to anyone, they must do the same. Anyone out of line and anyone gets hurt and you all face the consequences.

    What is it with America that it needs to pack heat everywhere? And now the effort to be able to “show” it and bring it into all the stores and public places? It seems like the hubris of Icarus. What is with this logic that the answer to gun tragedies is more guns? As if everyone has to be their own super man. Or their own Wyatt Earp? Or Clint Eastwood hero of choice. Boys and men gone wild? Or worse? This is not God’s work, that’s for sure.

    God doesn’t condone guns. A society that allows the savaging of its children and innocents, is itself dying. This must stop now. It can’t be left in the hands of politicians. It has to be taken up by the good and the wise right thinking majority of American people. I say that gun owners and the politicians, mostly on the far right, have their NRA. Or is it the other way around I suppose.. America’s children ALSO need power: as in an American Life Safety Organization. There should be one. Dedicated to fighting back against those pushing America to fly too close to her guns and away from her sons and daughters. Dedicated to fighting to make a child’s life safer. Indeed, everyone’s life safer.

    And in fact freer too. As Joan says in her article: “does the right to own arms, per the Second Amendment, framed centuries ago I might add, trump the little children and their rights to make it out of Kindergarten?

    So let me see. Serious gun control or more children massacred? Easy choice. All rise! The Movement starts now!

    Take back the streets, schools and public places of America and make them safe. Outlaw people who mismanage guns and regulate their ownership and use properly, so those who carry them without proper licences and training are outlaws.

    The kids are not coming back. The other innocents killed in random places by random people; no return either. Are they dying in vain? Just so much collateral damage as America flies too close to her guns?

    Americans must rise up, way up! Put on your SuperPower suits. Stare down the barrel of them NRA guns. Stare down all those who oppose proper gun controls. It is time the majority of right thinking Americans stood their ground.

    In the meantime, Jesus loves those little children; he will keep them safe. And pray to God they suffer no more tears in heaven.

    References

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icarus
    http://bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/14/vennochi/QZ4zaNKSRRMReEGYBeDXJK/story.html
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2012/12/14/china-school-stabbings/1770395/
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-do-we-have-the-courage-to-stop-this.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

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  4. The stats that you have altered for this article still need to be scrubbed further. Example: homicide with legally purchased firearms vs homicide with illegally purchased firearms. And let’s say a law abiding citizen pulls his concealed firearm and shoots an “active shooter” in a public area, it is still marked as a homicide statistically, when in reality, it may have saved many of lives. Also, comparing the homicide rate in the US vs US service members killed in combat is a terrible comparison. Members of the military are trained for combat and wear body armor. If they had not been, the numbers would be outrageously higher. There is a medic with every platoon, on scene to administer field first aid at a moments notice, unlike at a school or movie theatre or other US shootings. Gun control is not the issue. I personally have 6 firearms in my household, none of which have ever killed anyone. This is also another reason why the statistics of firearms per capita in the US is higher in the US than other countries. To make this long story short, go blow smoke up someone else’s ass.

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  5. Pingback: As A Foreigner I Finally Understand America's Gun Laws, I Still Don't Agree With Them | Xpatnation

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