Dealing with Reality: Assessing Greater Dangers

Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side by side on your news reports,” he said in his address on the shooting. “We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?

– President Barack Obama, October 1, 2015

NowThis, a New York-based news company that produces content specifically for social media, did what the President asked:


The totals calculated by NowThis have been reviewed by a number of sources; Politifact found that the number of Americans was those killed on U.S. soil, and that the number of Americans killed by firearms was closer to 307,000.

But if we use NowThis numbers, you are 11,667 times more likely to be killed by a firearm than you are by a terrorist. That’s a stone cold fact. And, as the President noted, Congress has forbidden the Center for Disease Control to even officially count the number of firearm deaths. Even though if firearms were an infectious disease if would be a source of absolute panic. Consider: Ebola killed exactly one (1) American, who became infected in Africa and died in the U.S. And look at the hysterical reaction to Ebola.

Heck, children playing with firearms killed 252 people in 2015 alone. About five a week. And what did Congress do? Nothing. What did the American people demand Congress do? Nothing.

The United States is suffering a plague that is 11,667 times more dangerous than terrorism, 280,000 times more virulent than Ebola, and infinitely more dangerous than a Syrian terrorist getting in disguised as a refugee. And the Congress has done nothing. Wait, Congress has gone out of its way to make the problem worse.

How is that possible? How is that not insane? Are the American people and their elected representative so criminally bad at assessing risk?

Is it that the terrorist threat is a bogeyman? Americans love and hate bogeymen. That’s Jim Wright’s theory, over at Stonekettle Station. Certainly politicians pander to our fears, but the pandering seems to be more successful for terrorism. Is it the Dunning-Kruger Effect? Are Americans so stupid that they not only cannot assess risks but are unaware of the concept of comparative risk assessment? Does their profound inability or unwillingness to sensibly assess risk allow them to be so clumsily manipulated?

How do we fix this?