Putting Bombs and Guns in Perspective

The Boston Marathon bombing raised a couple of questions in my mind.

The first is a the level of resources we devote to anti-terrorism efforts.

Since 2001, we’ve spent $1.2T domestically on anti-terrorism. That doesn’t count the $2T that we spent on two wars and the $4B/yr we continue to spend on drone attacks.

During that same period of time there have been 30 or so terrorist attacks in this country resulting in 45 deaths. Most of those including the Boston attacks were carried out by US citizens. The Beltway Sniper and Fort Hood shooting are others. There have also been 32 plots to carry out domestic attacks that were thwarted.

While it is difficult to place an economic value on preventing terrorist attacks, it is also clear that we are spending a lot of money on some things that aren’t working. The TSA, for example, spends $8B a year checking the shoes of every airline passenger. That effort and the associated personal and luggage searches failed to catch one terrorist. One of the Boston bombers was on a watch list. He had been interviewed by the FBI at the request of the Soviet Union. He was still able to fly to Russia and back because of a clerical error. If the whole TSA and FBI infrastructure can be overwhelmed by a clerical error, you have to questions what we are buying with our tax dollars.

As part of this effort, we also willingly give up our Fourth amendment rights regarding physical search. We also allow the government to listen in on our electronic conversations, have access to our banking records, and review any wire transfer in excess of $5,000.  I don’t recall seeing a single Tea Party sign suggesting the government keep their hands off their shoes, or email, or bank records.  Why is that?

The second question is how our anti-terrorism efforts compare to our efforts to reduce gun violence.

Since 2001, approximately 300,000 people were killed by a gun. The CDC estimated that those deaths cost our healthcare system $37B/year.  Over this same 11 year period that we’ve been using for comparison purposes, that adds up to $407B in insurance rate increases borne by the american people.  That doesn’t count the economic and personal costs from this epidemic loss of life.  We spend 3X that to prevent the much smaller economic and personal losses that we’ve suffered from terrorist attacks.

Our investment to prevent gun violence? The entire budget of the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is $1B/year.

We all grieve whenever a child is killed. A recent Colorado study found that 50% of the gun injuries suffered by children require intensive care compared to 20% for all other injuries. 14% of those gun injuries are self inflicted. 13% of those injured children die compared with 2% for all other injuries. We spend more money every year keeping fireworks out of the hands of children than we do guns. Even that is woefully ineffective, since the Boston bombs were made from fireworks purchased legally in New Hampshire.  I guess that gives new meaning to the state motto of  “Live Free or Die”.

On par, we spend a huge amount of money preventing terrorist attacks by foreigners. Our efforts have stopped about half of the attacks. Most the attacks that we’ve had are committed by US citizens.

Ten thousand times more people die every year in this country from gun violence than are killed in terrorist attacks. We spend an absurdly small amount of money and attention preventing it.

The Boston bombing was horrific. Law enforcement responded quickly. Perhaps giving up some fourth amendment rights is a small price to pay for preventing these attacks. But what would our response have been if those bombs killed 30,000 people? Why are we willing to pay this terrible price every year to preserve our current system of gun ownership and the sanctity of the second amendment?

The politics are obvious. The NRA, funded by gun manufacturers, directs 90% of the $50M or so that it spends every year in political contributions supporting Republican candidates. They have successfully prevented government agencies from collecting even statistics on gun violence since 1979. They have successfully made this a cultural issue rather than a rational one in order to take advantage of the Tea Party movement.  The NRA has successfully played “rope-a-dope” politics with gun control since the Clinton administration.

That may ultimately backfire (pun intended) because a recent study suggests that there is a link between conservative politics and higher rates of suicide.  That link is easy access to guns.

Though what is more likely is that the 80% of the public that support stronger background checks will likely hold their representatives accountable in 2014 for their votes this year.

In the meantime another 30,000 people will die from guns. Four or five of those will be at the hands of those who can be classified as terrorists. The rest will be at the hands of those who fiercely defend this system.


8 Responses to “Putting Bombs and Guns in Perspective”

  1. keith says:

    YS)Though what is more likely is that the 80% of the public that support stronger background checks will likely hold their representatives accountable in 2014 for their votes this year.

    MR)just won´t happen… Many are dems also..

    I have no problem with background checks!!! Could caer less about them. I have nothing to hid. I fully support our right to bear arms too, but I believe no everyone should have that right!!! How´s that for a conservitive?

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Background checks – see you are part of the 80% too. You don’t get to 80% without broad bi-partisan support.

    As far as accountability is concerned, it applies to both Republicans and Democrats. Many of those who voted against expanded background checks are going to have to explain their vote both in the primary and the fall election.

  3. keith says:

    My comment about accountability was ¨just won´t happen.¨ I don´t think the 80% is going to vote based on gun control… In my opinion it won´t move the needle… Healthcare, if it´s confusing and poorly implamented, will, the economy will, imagartion, if its viewed as obstructionist or too generous might… but not much else as I sit here today…my opinion.

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    We’ll see soon enough.

    Just saw that Senator Manchin was going to bring the bill up again as a stand-alone rather than an amendment. The reality, however, is that there just aren’t enough votes in the Senate. That’s because, even though there is strong public support for the measures contained in the bill, there is also the specter of NRA money supporting primary and general election opponents of whomever votes for gun control. There are too many Republican and Democratic Senators in narrowly red states up for re-election in 2014 for this measure to pass. The key, as you’ve said is whether those who voted against this law suffer defeat by candidates who make gun control part of their agenda.

    Those same metrics apply to all of the other issues that you raised.

    The REAL question is whether the coalition that elected Obama in 2012 will go to the polls again in 2014. If so, the Tea Party in particular and the conservative Republican movement in general will again suffer defeat.

    The degree of that defeat could give Obama the legislative majorities that he needs to pass the rest of his agenda in the last two years of his term.

    Otherwise, it is going to be more of the same.

  5. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Just another data point.

    Poll out today indicates that more Democrats plan to vote in the 2014 election than Republicans. Obviously there is a big difference between a poll and showing up at the polls, but this trend already is running counter to previous off year elections.

    According to the poll, this appears to be driven by the realization that one party control is the only way that things are going to get done in Congress.


  6. Jeff Beamsley says:

    This article also supports the claim that gun control advocates are going to be much more active in this next election cycle to hold their representatives accountable for their votes.

    This level of activism is starting to feel like the Tea Party uprising in 2010.


  7. Keith says:

    I would suggest that If the dems want to make 2014 about guns, they do so at they’re own peril… My opinion.

  8. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Remember no national elections in 2014. So, just like the Tea Party, local activists will run candidates who support the gun registration legislation that failed in the Senate. Those candidates will challenge sitting Senators in primaries and in the fall elections.

    We’ll see how it goes.

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