Although the assault weapons ban favored by the Obama administration was unceremoniously shot down by Congress last week, the White House has not slowed down its public relations machine.
On social media websites like Facebook, Obama has published an image citing several statistics in support of universal background checks for would-be gun buyers. Among the claims is this: "Since 1968, more Americans have died from gun violence than in all of America's wars -- combined." The statistic certainly produces the intended emotional effect -- but is it accurate?
According to official records and accepted historical estimates, the number of Americans killed in action in our nation's 12 major wars is roughly 860,000. (This estimate excludes those who died from disease.)
According to statistics compiled from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, 831,131 incidents of homicides and non-negligent manslaughter occurred between 1968 and 2011. However, not all of these were committed with guns. Although the percentage of homicides and manslaughters that were committed with firearms was not tracked for many of the years in question, statistics from the past decade suggest that just over two-thirds of murders in the U.S. are committed with guns.
Assuming that firearms are used in 67.8 percent of U.S. homicides (the statistic from 2011), 551,303 homicides were committed with guns between 1968 and 2011 -- far short of the 860,000 American war deaths. This shows the extent of the administration's exaggeration.
The White House's number appears to be reached by including gun suicides and gun-related accidents under the definition of gun violence. Accidents and suicides are, of course, tragic, but they aren't exactly "violence," nor are they akin to Sandy Hook. International comparisons show that there is no clear link between gun ownership rates and the suicide rate: Japan's 2009 suicide rate was twice as high as the U.S. rate, for instance, despite Japan's significantly stricter gun control laws and lower gun ownership rates.
In the end, the administration's claim is as empty as its policy prescriptions. Our political culture produces enough already in the way of fear-based advocacy. But to compound this by diminishing the ultimate sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, all in order to promote an ideological agenda, is about as shameless as it gets.
Kavon W. Nikrad is founder of Race42016.com and a former policy fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.