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Is gun violence or terrorism a bigger threat to the United States?


News of the Boston Marathon bombings gripped citizens of the U.S. and the world on April 15, 2013, and in the ensuing days. The incident led some to wonder whether the U.S. pays more attention to terrorism than to gun violence.
News of the Boston Marathon bombings gripped citizens of the U.S. and the world on April 15, 2013, and in the ensuing days. The incident led some to wonder whether the U.S. pays more attention to terrorism than to gun violence.
© Tom Green/Corbis

Breshuana Jackson was 28 years old and expecting a baby. On April 15, 2013, police say Tyrone Christopher Allen, 26, shot Jackson, killing his girlfriend and unborn child. "Tyrone shot me," Jackson reportedly confided to a witness moments before her death. That same day, Nigel Hardy, a 13-year-old boy in Palmdale, Calif., used his father's gun to commit suicide. Tragedy struck again that day when someone gunned down James Tucker III, 31, as he rode his bike in Richmond, Calif. [sources: Cohen, Peterson].

Chances are you never heard about these or the several other victims of U.S. gun violence that occurred that April day. That's because on April 15, terrorists set off two bombs in Boston, killing three people and injuring 264 others who stood near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The bombings were front-page, 24/7 news as law enforcement unleashed a massive manhunt for the culprits that ended four days later in a shootout. When the smoke cleared, one of the suspected terrorists lay dead and the other captured.

The Boston bombings triggered a visceral reaction across the country that overshadowed the overheated gun-violence debate that was being waged simultaneously. The attack reminded Americans that terrorism in the homeland did not disappear in 2001 with the 9/11 attacks. The reaction to the bombings in relation to the issue of gun violence left some foreigners scratching their heads. One London journalist wrote that there had been a "collective freak-out" as Americans allowed themselves to be "easily and willingly cowed by the 'threat' of terrorism" while random gun violence went on unchecked [source: Cohen].

Although such criticism seems harsh, it has illuminated a growing non sequitur when it comes to terrorism, gun violence and public policy. Policy makers are far more willing to expend political capital and resources on combating terrorism than dealing with gun violence. In fact, days before the Boston bombings, Congress refused to expand background checks to keep the mentally ill and criminals — including international and domestic terror suspects — from purchasing guns. All of this leads to a nagging and provocative question: Is terrorism a larger threat than gun violence in the United States?


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