We Have Nothing to Fear… but Fear Ourselves

OK. The title is a slight exaggeration but I thought this play on FDR’s words was catchy. This post is about our current efforts to ensure that foreign terrorists don’t slip in to our country and repeat 9/11/2001 or worse.

Is foreign terrorism our greatest threat?

The likelihood of being killed by a terrorist is .00003%. I’m not really good at statistics but I do know that is pretty darned low. I’m certain you’ve all heard that the number of previous terrorists from the countries on President Trump’s current immigration ban is … zero, nor have any people admitted to the U.S. as refugees ever engaged in acts of terrorism. Although terrorists have attacked our citizens since 9/11 causing the deaths of about thirty Americans, these attacks were perpetrated by people already in the U.S. (some of whom were citizens) who became radicalized.

I know the counter argument: More Americans have not been killed by terrorists because of the U.S. government’s vigilance. This is certainly true, at least according to Wikipedia. The diligent work of the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence gathering and law enforcement agencies has certainly saved many lives. Still…is this our greatest threat?

I’m sure you will expect me to compare the number of American deaths by terrorists to the number killed by gun violence, and since I don’t want to disappoint my loyal readers I’ll mention it briefly. In the first three months of 2017 alone 3,514 Americans died from gun violence. Of these, 140 were children under the age of twelve and 718 were between 12 and 18 years of age.  So in the first quarter of 2017 about as many of our fellow citizens died from gun violence as died from terrorism in the last 20 years. About  440,095 people died because of firearms from 2001 through 2014.  By comparison, approximately 400,000 Americans died defeating Germany and the Axis powers in World War II. I’m a gun owner who enjoys target shooting, but I believe we need sensible restrictions on gun ownership (the topic of a future post).

Here are some other ways we kill each other:

  • Someone is killed every 53 minutes and more than 9,000 die each year because of drunk drivers. Our laws on impaired driving do not work.
  • Since 1964 about 2,500,000 non-smokers have died from exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • In 2013 researchers at MIT calculated that 200,000 Americans die from air pollution each year. About 53,000 of those are from auto pollution and 52,000 result from power generation. Industrial smokestacks, railroads, heating and cooling systems, and other factors also play a role.
  • The CDC estimates that more than 3,000 of us die annually from foodborne illnesses.
  • In 2015 4,317 workers were accidentally killed on the job.
  • Parents murder their own children about 450 times each year.
  • More than 700 Americans are killed annually by drivers running red lights.
  • By some estimates more than 400,000 Americans die each year because of a preventable medical error. These include overmedication, infections, unnecessary procedures, and more.
  • More than 40,000 die each year from accidental poisoning.
  • Coal miners die from black lung disease, people die because their water supplies are tainted by chemical spills, a number die for lack of health care or insurance, and more than 4,000 pedestrians are killed each year.

I’ll stop adding to this morbid list, but I think you get the point. Do we need to be protected from foreign terrorists? Absolutely! Our government’s primary responsibility is ensuring our safety.

I just wonder why we think foreign terrorists are our greatest threat when statistical data say otherwise. Most of the deaths from the causes listed above could be significantly reduced if we showed the same resolve as with our current attempts to protect us from terrorists, and in my mind that threat is much lower than other perils we face daily.

PS: I apologize for the infrequent and short posts recently; life became sort of hectic. Thanks for your understanding.