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

The Disconnect

There's no doubt the Boston bombings rattled the U.S. The terror ended more than a decade in which law enforcement agencies were able to keep terrorism somewhat under control. Since the 9/11 attacks, 2009 was the only year in which the number of terrorism fatalities in the United States reached double digits. At that time, an Army psychiatrist killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas [source: Shane].

The facts speak for themselves. Terrorism in the United States has been on the decline for nearly 40 years, while the number of gun deaths has soared. Americans were more vulnerable in the 1970s to terrorist attacks then they are today. In the 1970s, there were about 1,350 terrorist attacks in the United States. Most of those attacks involved extremist groups such as white supremacists, Puerto Rican nationalists and black militants. But aggressive law enforcement, among other things, caused the numbers to drop substantially in the 1980s and 1990s [source: Shane].

As terrorism decreased, gun-related homicides spiked, peaking in 1993 at 17,075, according to the National Institute of Justice. From 1993 to 1999, the number of gun-related homicides slowly dropped to a low of 10,177, but increased to a high of 11,547 in 2006. In 2011, 467,321 people were victims of a gun-related crime. During that year, 68 percent of murders, 41 percent of robberies, and 21 percent of aggravated assaults were committed with a gun. The total number of gun-related homicides in 2011 was 11,101 [sources: National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics].

Yet, some lawmakers treat terrorism as an epidemic and gun violence as a minor malady. A push for more gun control legislation after the shootings of 20 first-graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012, failed miserably in Congress. A move to ban military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines never made it to the floor. Expanded background checks crashed and burned in the Senate.

Why the disconnect? Some say that the United States, unlike other countries, has little experience in dealing with terrorism. As a result, we recoil at such violence, while turning our heads from more immediate dangers (read: gun violence) that are part of our everyday experiences.

Perhaps Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson got it right when he wrote this on April 23, 2013: "When we say 'never again' about terrorism, we really mean it. When we say those words about gun violence, obviously we really don't."

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