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War may be good for one thing: providing U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg with leverage for his argument that the United States needs stricter gun laws.
Lautenberg, who is pushing to reinstate a federal ban on high-capacity ammunition clips in the wake of the deadly mass shooting last month at a Colorado movie theater, said, "our lax gun laws make it far too easy for murderers to commit acts of violence."
"Here are the facts: Guns have murdered more Americans here at home in recent years than have died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In support of the two wars, more than 6,500 American soldiers have lost their lives. During the same period, however, guns have been used to murder about 100,000 people on American soil," Lautenberg said in a July 30 op-ed article posted on NorthJersey.com.
Lautenberg’s numbers are technically correct since 2001. In fact, he could have cited just a year of gun violence in the U.S. to make his point. But experts call his comparison flawed and misleading.
"More pickles are consumed in New York City than in Rhode Island. Is that a good comparison? I don’t think so. Because there are way more people in New York City," said Alan Lizotte, dean and professor at the school of criminal justice at The University at Albany.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks murders in the United States through its Uniform Crime Report program. Caley Gray, a spokesman for Lautenberg, cited that source -- which shows more than 8,700 people were murdered in the United States with firearms in 2010 -- to support the senator’s statement.
Since 2001 -- the year the war in Afghanistan began -- more than 95,000 people have been murdered with a gun in the United States, according to the FBI data.
Though those statistics do not include citizenship status, Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State University, said "my reaction is that you can safely assume that the vast majority of murder victims are U.S. citizens."
That death toll is far higher than the number of U.S. military casualties from the nation’s recent wars.
More than 6,500 U.S. military personnel have died in conflicts from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, according to data from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Gray said: "The numbers speak for themselves. The bottom line and the sad truth is that far more Americans are being killed by guns in their own neighborhoods than in deadly war zones."
But Kleck called the senator’s comparison "foolish and misleading."
"Taking account of the very different population sizes at risk, the risk of a gun homicide (or any kind of homicide) is enormously greater in Afghanistan than in the U.S.," Kleck said in an e-mail. "Obviously even one homicide is one too many, but the hinted suggestion that the risk of death from a gun is even remotely as high in the U.S. as in Afghanistan is absurd."
Lizotte also criticized Lautenberg’s statement for focusing only on the deaths of U.S. troops. "Many more people were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq than Americans," he said.
For example, a July 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service noted that in Afghanistan "11,864 civilians have been killed in the conflict since 2007, when the United Nations began reporting statistics, to the end of 2011."
Lautenberg said, "guns have murdered more Americans here at home in recent years than have died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan," claiming that "more than 6,500 American soldiers" died while "guns have been used to murder about 100,000 people on American soil."
Though Lautenberg’s numbers are mainly on target, three experts agreed that the senator’s statement is flawed largely because he uses raw numbers to compare two very different populations.
Also, Lautenberg focuses solely on deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, when many more have died in both wars.
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The Record, Opinion: Ban high-capacity ammunition clips, July 30, 2012
E-mail interview with Caley Gray, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Aug. 1 & 2, 2012
Interview with Jon Vernick, associate professor and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, Aug. 1, 2012
Interview with Krystal Cottman, public affairs specialist at the National Center for Health Statistics, Aug. 1, 2012
E-mail interview with Stephen Fischer, spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Justice Information Services, Aug. 1, 2012
E-mail interview with Gary Kleck, professor of criminology at Florida State University, Aug. 2, 2012
Interview with Alan Lizotte, dean and professor of the school of criminal justice at The University at Albany, Aug. 2, 2012
Interview with William Vizzard, professor of criminal justice at California State University-Sacramento, Aug. 2, 2012
Interview with Commander Bill Speaks, spokesman for U.S. Department of Defense, Aug. 2, 2012
U.S. Department of Defense, Casualty Report, updated July 31, 2012, accessed July 31, 2012
U.S. Department of Justice, Murder Victims by Age by Weapon, 2010, accessed Aug. 1, 2012
U.S. Department of Justice, Murder Victims by Weapon, 2006–2010, accessed Aug.1, 2012
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Deaths: Final Data for 2009," Dec. 29, 2011
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Report, accessed July 31, 2012
PolitiFact, Doonesbury strip says 270,000 Americans have been killed by guns since 9/11, Feb. 14, 2011
PolitiFact New Jersey, Rush Holt claims more than 80 Americans are killed by gunfire every day, July 27, 2012
CNN.com, Home and Away: Iraq and Afghanistan War Casualties, accessed July 31, 2012
U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office: Summary Statistics, updated July 30, 2012, accessed July 31, 2012
U.S. Department of Defense, Operation Enduring Freedom Marks Four Years, Oct. 7, 2005
Congressional Research Service, Gun Control Legislation, June 11, 2012
PolitiFact, Frank Lautenberg says U.S. has 9,500 gun murders a year, compared to 200 or less in other nations, Jan. 13, 2011
PolitiFact Virginia, Rep. Jim Moran says U.S. gun homicide rate 20 times higher than other western nations, Jan. 27, 2012
The Washington Post, Faces of the Fallen, accessed Aug. 2, 2012
Congressional Research Service, Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians, July 12, 2012
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