Speaking at the White House on Thursday evening, a visibly frustrated and emotional President Obama remarked on the deadly shooting at a community college in Oregon. (AP)

This story was originally posted on Aug. 27. In the wake of President Obama's comments comparing terror deaths to gun deaths following the shooting in Oregon, we've updated the figures and republished the article.

In an interview with a local television station in Philadelphia in August, President Obama drew a distinction between the effects of gun violence and terrorism.

"What we know," he told ABC in an interview, "is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism."

Outside of the context of the interview, it's hard to know what point Obama was hoping to make. It's fairly safe to assume, though, that he was contrasting the amount of energy and resources focused on the threat of terrorism in the United States with the amount of attention paid to gun violence.

It's incontrovertibly true that more people in America die from gun violence each year than die from terrorism. How "terrorism" is defined can be tricky, as we've noted in the past, but we can look at data compiled by the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland.

It estimates that 18 people died in terror attacks in the United States last year — of 3,521 total between 1970 and 2014. By comparison, the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive figures that 9,948 people have been killed by gun violence so far in 2015 alone.


The government releases annual metrics on firearm deaths. The most recently available are from 2013. Comparing annual firearm homicides to terror deaths in the United States offers a starker contrast.


Incidentally, if you consider firearm suicides as a form of gun violence, the red bars above would all more-than-double. In 2013, there were 11,208 firearm homicides and 21,175 firearm suicides.

The contrast between terror and gun deaths appears to hold true globally as well. International terrorism deaths have increased over the past few years, the result of the conflict in the Middle East. But comparing data from the Global Terrorism Database to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime — data that doesn't even include every country, looks only at gun homicides, and includes only a handful of countries for 2010 — the discrepancy is clear.


So: Obama's factual point is accurate. His political one — assuming we're understanding it correctly — is iffier.

The data above probably say more about the small effect of terrorism than it does about the large effect of gun violence. Gun violence is real and pervasive, of course, but you could make the same point about fatalities that result from car crashes or from heart disease. The number of people who die from those things dwarfs the number of deaths from terrorism, too.

Using data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (as of 2013) and estimates from the American Cancer Society for 2015, we can compare those factors to 2014 terrorism.


There are a lot of other factors that can be overlaid here to add some gray space: preventability, trends, definitions. Regardless, it's clear that terrorism holds an outsized role in political debate for the demonstrated threat it poses to American citizens. It's less clear, using solely the metric of annual deaths, that gun violence should then necessarily be the first priority.