Today is Memorial day. Today we remember our fallen soldiers -- those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to further our nation's interests. According to an article at CNN, around 600,000 soldiers have died in service to our country since Memorial Day (and its predecessor, Decoration Day) was first observed back in 1868.
I've had quite a few relatives, living and deceased, who have served, or are serving, in the military. Today is also a time to think about the sacrifices made by those who did not die in battle. My maternal grandfather was a sailor in WWII, in the Pacific, and returned home safely, passing away as an old man. The giant flag presented at his memorial service is, today, covering my bay window. My niece's husband is an Army MP serving abroad. He's barely spent any time with his new daughter, born in September. So many first moments missed! Today I honor him, too. His wife, my niece, was in Iraq with him as an MP, and is now home with their three young daughters. My father, stepfather, and numerous great uncles all served in conflict, too, and have passed away. Luckily, none of my relatives died in battle.
But let us remember, that although we rightly show concern for those who are dying (or surviving) in distant wars, we should also note that far, far more people are dying from gunfire here on our own soil. People don't like to think about it that way. They don't want to believe that our nation is warring against gun violence here. But at 100,000 shootings a year in the U.S., we can't afford to cover our eyes and pretend that all is right.
This weekend I read a post over at the Common Gunsense blog. There the author, Japete, quoted a disturbing statistic, which was reposted from a page from Legal Community Against Violence:
Because I write a blog about gun violence prevention, I want to talk about America gun deaths as they compare to deaths of Americans because of war. More people have lost their lives to bullets on the streets and in the homes of American communities than American military members serving since the Viet Nam war:Between 1955 and 1975, the Vietnam War killed over 58,000 American soldiers – less than the number of civilians killed with guns in the U.S. in an average two-year period.4
In the first seven years of the U.S.-Iraq War, over 4,400 American soldiers were killed. Almost as many civilians are killed with guns in the U.S., however, every seven weeks.5
Those alarming statistics got me to thinking. How do our yearly fatal shooting numbers compare to other wars? So I took a closer look at the numbers.
I list my sources for these statistics at the end of this post. I compared fatal and non-fatal shootings in the U.S. to battle-caused fatalities and injury statistics of American military from each war (only battle-caused, since those do not count deaths due to non-combat accidents or sicknesses, for instance).
According to CDC statistics of the most recent yearly statistics available, 31,593 people died from lethal shootings in America in 2008 (2,633 per month). 66,769 were injured (5,564 per month).
Then I calculated: How long would it take for annual shootings in the U.S. to match the total number of deaths or injuries from our modern wars? Here's the result (click to enlarge):
Yes, it only takes 15 days for lethal shootings in America to match the total number of servicemen killed in the Afghanistan war. Only 2 months to match the number killed in Iraq. A miniscule 2 days to match the Persian Gulf War. And as for Viet Nam, our most controversial and bloody post-WWII war, it only takes 18 months.
You have to go all the way back to WWII to see numbers that seem somehow more reasonable, and that was a world-wide war requiring the majority of our able-bodied young men to serve, many dying.
But let me point out that this is an unfair test. Those numbers represent yearly shootings in the U.S. against all combat deaths across ALL years for each war.
It is more fair to compare average yearly U.S. shootings against the average yearly shootings for each war.
Here is what I found (click to enlarge):
Compare the first and second blue columns. Even if you lump together ALL post-WWII wars, the number killed in battle per year in all those wars combined is only HALF the number shot and killed in America each year. Half!!
I've used an "average number of battle deaths per year" value to compare against. For you gun guys who would argue that I should instead compare against each year of each battle, consider this: even in the most bloody year of the Vietnam war, 1968, we saw 16,592 soldiers killed. That's only about half the number of people fatally shot in the U.S. each year.
Japete at Common Gunsense pointed out a meaningful Doonesbury cartoon strip, which pretty much says it all:
I found this interesting article from PolitiFact checking the accuracy of a Doonesbury cartoon strip which noted that in the nine years since the 9-11 attacks 270,000 Americans have died from bullets not having to do with war. From the article:"What are we like as a people?" Slackmeyer muses to himself in his studio. "Nine years, ago we were attacked -- 3,000 people died. In response, we started two long, bloody wars and built a vast homeland-security apparatus -- all at a cost of trillions! Now consider this. During those same nine years, 270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire at home. Our response? We weakened our gun laws."
Make no bones about it: The number and rate of shootings here in America shows that we are at war, a war more deadly than any other war we've fought since WWII. But the enemy isn't across a trench or hiding in a cave. The enemy is our lax gun laws, allowing with surprising ease the ability of guns to get into the hands of those who shouldn't have them. The battlefield is anywhere guns are present: our towns, our streets, our homes. It's time to make a new trajectory for our nation away from gun violence.
ADDENDUM (2/15/13): More American citizens have died since 1968 (1,384,171) than U.S. soldiers killed in ALL wars combined (1,171,177). See the breakdown statistics HERE.
United States shooting deaths and injuries:
War casualties prior to present wars:
Iraq War Casualties:
Afghanistan War Casualties: