American freak-out over terrorism

April 22, 2013 | By | 3 Replies More

In the United States, not all lives lost are equal. If politicians and media pin the word “terrorism” to the lost lives, those deaths garner 1,000 times as much attention as otherwise. That is the topic of an article titled “Why Does America Lose Its Head Over ‘Terror’ But Ignore Its Daily Gun Deaths?”:

What makes US gun violence so particularly horrifying is how routine and mundane it has become. After the massacre of 20 kindergartners in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, millions of Americans began to take greater notice of the threat from gun violence. Yet since then, the daily carnage that guns produce has continued unabated and often unnoticed.

The same day of the marathon bombing in Boston, 11 Americans were murdered by guns. The pregnant Breshauna Jackson was killed in Dallas, allegedly by her boyfriend. In Richmond, California, James Tucker III was shot and killed while riding his bicycle – assailants unknown. Nigel Hardy, a 13-year-old boy in Palmdale, California, who was being bullied in school, took his own life. He used the gun that his father kept at home. And in Brooklyn, New York, an off-duty police officer used her department-issued Glock 9mm handgun to kill herself, her boyfriend and her one-year old child.

At the same time that investigators were in the midst of a high-profile manhunt for the marathon bombers that ended on Friday evening, 38 more Americans – with little fanfare – died from gun violence. One was a 22-year old resident of Boston. They are a tiny percentage of the 3,531 Americans killed by guns in the past four months – a total that surpasses the number of Americans who died on 9/11 and is one fewer than the number of US soldiers who lost their lives in combat operations in Iraq. Yet, none of this daily violence was considered urgent enough to motivate Congress to impose a mild, commonsense restriction on gun purchasers.

You would think that a country absolutely saturated with violence through its movies and video games would be able to keep some perspective in order to keep in mind that every lost life is somewhat equal to every other lost life. But to do that would mean that we would need to improve health care, education, our chemically poisoned environment and dilapidated neighborhoods. We rather crank up our military and para-military toys.

Michael Cohen at the UK Guardian makes a similar argument in an article titled, “Why Does America Lose Its Head Over ‘Terror’ But Ignore Its Daily Gun Deaths?” He draws a comparison to America’s refusal to take any steps to require meaningful background checks for those intending to purchase guns:

If only Americans reacted the same way to the actual threats that exist in their country. There’s something quite fitting and ironic about the fact that the Boston freak-out happened in the same week the Senate blocked consideration of a gun control bill that would have strengthened background checks for potential buyers. Even though this reform is supported by more than 90% of Americans, and even though 56 out of 100 senators voted in favour of it, the Republican minority prevented even a vote from being held on the bill because it would have allegedly violated the second amendment rights of “law-abiding Americans”.

So for those of you keeping score at home – locking down an American city: a proper reaction to the threat from one terrorist. A background check to prevent criminals or those with mental illness from purchasing guns: a dastardly attack on civil liberties. All of this would be almost darkly comic if not for the fact that more Americans will die needlessly as a result. Already, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun violence every year (compared to the 17 who died last year in terrorist attacks). What makes US gun violence so particularly horrifying is how routine and mundane it has become.


Category: Politics, Psychology Cognition, Violence

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. NIklaus Pfirsig says:

    How about this:

    On average, there are 70 traffic fatalities per day and hundreds of traffic related injuries. most of these could be prevented. It’s so common place it rarely makes the news.

    The fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas killed 14 and injured almost 200.

    The Boston bombs killed three and injured almost 200.

    So why is the media so focused on the Boston bombs?

    Well the media is working hard to make a connection between the Boston bombers and radical Muslim terrorists. But the Texas explosion was the result of decades of neglecting and even ignoring safety regulations, combined with austerity driven cutbacks in training and inspections, to boost profits.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Glenn Greenwald:

    Over the last two years, the US has witnessed at least three other episodes of mass, indiscriminate violence that killed more people than the Boston bombings did: the Tucson shooting by Jared Loughner in which 19 people (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) were shot, six of whom died; the Aurora movie theater shooting by James Holmes in which 70 people were shot, 12 of whom died; and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting by Adam Lanza in which 26 people (20 of whom were children) were shot and killed. The word “terrorism” was almost never used to describe that indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, and none of the perpetrators of those attacks was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A decade earlier, two high school seniors in Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used guns and bombs to murder 12 students and a teacher, and almost nobody called that “terrorism” either. In the Boston case, however, exactly the opposite dynamic prevails. Particularly since the identity of the suspects was revealed, the word “terrorism” is being used by virtually everyone to describe what happened.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Freak-out, indeed. Curiously, the GOP is very selective about using inflammatory words like “terrorism.” When the perpetrator is non-White, non-Christian and/or a non-citizen, the word is center-stage at maximum volume. Indeed, some in the GOP (e.g., John McCain, Lindsey Graham, etc.) were nearly apoplectic last week when Obama didn’t immediately use the term in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. But when the perpetrator is a White, Christian, U.S. citizen who has bombed, say, an abortion clinic, the word disappears from the GOP lexicon.

    And. speaking of the conveniently elastic GOP lexicon, when has the GOP *ever* demanded that abortion clinic bombers be treated as “enemy combatants” or demanded that they be prosecuted in military tribunals?

    Likewise, when has the GOP ever suggested that any abortion clinic bombers be charged with “using a weapon of mass destruction?” I always thought a “weapon of mass destruction,” was reserved for big weapons that cause truly widespread carnage — things like nuclear, biologic or chemical munitions, or an jetliner packed with fuel. How does a pressure-cooker bomb that fits in a small backpack, and that only kills three people when two such bombs are detonated in a large crowd, belong in the same category? And how does an assault rifle with a 100-round magazine *not* fit the same category?

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