from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

Obama’s Terrorism Mistake

July 24, 2015

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

In an interview conducted yesterday, President Barack Obama made the following comment to BBC North America Editor Jon Sopel:

You mentioned the issue of guns, that is an area where if you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense, gun-safety laws. Even in the face of repeated mass killings.

And you know, if you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.

It is understandable for the president to make this comparison given the overwhelming focus on terrorism and vast expansion of government counterterrorism authorities, versus the collective shoulder-shrug and tacit acceptance made in response to vastly more lethal gun deaths. However, this comparison is needlessly and factually incorrect.

The number of American citizens who have been killed by terrorism since 9/11 is actually 367. As noted, the vast majority of them have been tragically killed while living and working in Iraq or Afghanistan, not while residing within the United States. For a president who often proclaims that his “most sacred duty” as president “is to keep the American people safe,” his unawareness of the toll of terrorism is surprising. Hopefully, White House aides make him aware of his mistake lest he repeat again.

Total U.S. citizens killed by terrorism since 9/11

2001 after 9/11: 7

2002: 25

2003: 35

2004: 74

2005: 56

2006: 28

2007: 19

2008: 33

2009: 9

2010: 15

2011: 17

2012: 10

2013: 15

2014: 24

Total: 367

Data: For 2001, see the University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database. For 2004, no U.S. government number was provided; this estimate is based upon the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs count of citizens deaths by “terrorist action.” For the remaining years, see the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism.

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism