Let’s start with the number: 1,384,171.
1,38,171 people have died in the most devastating war fought by Americans. Which war, you ask? World War I? World War II? The Civil War?
None of the above. This number is from the war being fought on the streets, in the neighborhoods, private homes, schools, and work places of the United States of America. Deaths by gunfire. Domestic gun deaths perpetrated by criminals, the mentally ill; enraged husbands, angry children, and some by unfortunate accident or suicide. And the number only reflects gun death statistics since 1968.
And, stunningly, this number exceeds the number of casualties in all the wars in U.S. history by 212,994. Impossible to believe? It is a claim made and proven:
1,384,171 Americans have died from domestic gunfire, 1,171,177 have died in our wars.
PBS commentator, Mark Shields, made the claim on December 21, 2012, just a week after the Sandy Hook shootings, and during the PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff and Mark Gerson. From the show’s transcript:
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both to the gun control discussion.
We heard from the head of the NRA, Mark, today, Wayne LaPierre, who is advocating putting an armed guard in every school. The president has launched a task force this week. Where do you see this headed?
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, to call Wayne LaPierre and the NRA have a tin ear, I think is an understatement. I mean, they seem to be almost whining about criticism of their position, that it somehow was rooted in the press bias or elected officials who have gun-free school zones.
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.
Really? More gun deaths at home than in all of our wars?
Given what seemed to be a hyperbolic statement – more than all wars in U.S. history? – Pulitzer Prize-winning and fact-checking website, PolitiFact, decided to investigate Shield’s claim. Putting their iconic “Truth-O-Meter” to work, they came up with some startling facts.
In considering all gun deaths in America since 1968, not just homicides, they gleaned their figures from databases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FBI:
“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.”
The compilations they extrapolated from that research led to the figures for each of the year-increments in the chart below, with 2011 clearly lower because it only reflects FBI figures, with more complete statistics to come …but even with that, the total gun deaths trump wartime dead.:
War deaths were compiled using a comprehensive document prepared by the Congressional Research Service, as well as the website icasualties.org. The war dead statistics were arrived at by combining “all war-related deaths, not just those that occurred in combat,” which makes the fact that these numbers are dwarfed by domestic gun deaths all the more shocking:
Simple arithmetic tells us Mark Shield’s statement is correct: gun deaths in America since only 1968 exceed the casualty totals of all U.S. wars by 212,994 deaths.
These numbers put the urgency of more effective and better implemented gun control into high relief. They also remind us that the most devastating war being fought by Americans is the one happening right on our own doorsteps, serviced by very weapons too many have aggrandized above the safety of our own citizens. Simply put, that needs to change.