One more time, the fear of terrorism finds its way back into Americans minds after two alleged religious extremists opened fire in San Bernardino, leaving 14 people dead and at least 21 injured.
However, according to an expert in this matter, statistics show that the immediate danger for any resident in the United States is not terrorism, but violence related to common crimes that are usually perpetrated by victims’ relatives, friends or acquaintances. And, according to official statistics, the majority (70%) of this violence is inflicted by firearms.
“It is true, 14 people is an individual tragedy per se, but the annual amount of homicides in the United States is around 14,000,” said Brian Jenkins, adviser to the president of Rand Corporation and ex-adviser of the National Commission on Terrorism in the United States.
“I would say that the probability anyone of us to die in the hands of a friend or relative or in a domestic dispute than in a massive shooting, is 4 to 1,” he said.
An example of this tendency is the number of homicides occurred in 2013, released by the FBI, when 12,353 people were killed and, in almost 5,300 of those cases, the murderers were relatives, friends, or acquaintances. 8,454 of them died by firearm.
At the same time, the number of deaths has decreased throughout the years. Although the amount of those “massive” shootings —where more than 4 people die (according to police’s definition)- has increased to consistency in this country, the national rate of homicides maintains itself at a lower rate than that of the 80’s and 90’s, added Jenkins.
“The risk for the common citizen of being part of this kind of events is minimum,” said Jenkins.
The mass shootings are a media and spectacular phenomenon and, therefore, get more coverage and political reactions than the homicides that happen every day.
“Even more, the probability that we are killed by a terrorist is one in a million,” said Jenkins.
In fact, the expert adds, if we take away all the deceased in massive shootings and those classified as terrorism (with a political or group purpose) from the number of people killed in the country annually, “this would not reduce too much the rate of homicides in the country,” added the expert.
What Do the ‘Stats’ Say?
According to the FBI, 14,249 people were killed in 2014 in the United States. This number has not changed significantly since 2010, but it is much smaller than the predominant one in the 80’s and 90’s, when it fluctuated between 15,000 and 25,000 people killed per year.
Las Wednesday’s event centered the national attention in the city of San Bernardino, California, a place that has shown a homicide rate higher than the average and that has been gradually rising over the years.
There have been 4.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in the country, whereas in the city of San Bernardino there were 21 registered homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013. A great extension of this problem, according to isolated media reports, is the growth of gangs and drug trafficking.
More Deaths by Right-Wing Extremism
The number of mass shootings has increased over the years, but most of the victims in these kinds of shootings or attacks do not die in the hands of extremists related to the “Jihad” promoted by some Muslims, but in the hands of right-wing ideologies: anti government, anti abortion, racists, etc.
In fact, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism at the University of Maryland, there have been 65 registered attacks related to right-wing ideologies and 24 led by Muslim extremists since 9/11.
Even combining both numbers: deaths by any type of extremism, either right-wing or religious, the amount of dead people on American soil was 71 in the last decade, whereas more than 300,000 have died by firearms.
Are Firearms to Blame?
According to the FBI statistics, firearms are used in seven out of ten annual homicides so, in this context, they [firearms] have a leading role.
“It is easier to kill somebody with a firearm than with any other instrument”, Jenkins added.
The United States ranks first on a global scale with the highest numbers of firearms per capita: 270 million firearms; 89 out of 100 residents. And this number is from 2011.
In 2013, according to FBI, 69% of homicide victims died by firearm, 12.2% by knives or cutting weapons, 13.3% by other unknown weapons and 5.6% by “personal weapons” (that is, fist fights).