The Chances of Dying from Terrorism in USA


Based on a study (2016) by Alex Nowrasteh from Cato Institute, 3,024 Americans died from 1975 through 2015 due to foreign-born terrorism. This number includes the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2,983 people) and averages nearly 74 Americans per year.

Since 9/11, however, foreign-born terrorists have killed roughly one American per year. Six Americans have died per year at the hands, guns, and bombs of Islamic terrorists (foreign and domestic).

Of the 154 foreign-born terrorists, who killed 3,024 people in attacks from 1975 through the end of 2015, 10 of them were illegal immigrants, 54 were lawful permanent residents (LPR, otherwise known as Green Card holders), 19 were students, 1 entered on a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, 20 were refugees, 4 were asylum seekers, 34 were tourists on various visas, and 3 were from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries. The visas for 9 terrorists could not be determined. See the table below:

Source: Terrorism & Immigration, A Risk Analysis, by Alex Nowrasteh (Cato Institute).
During that period, the chance of an American being murdered by a foreign-born terrorist was 1 in 3,609,709 a year. The chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee was 1 in 3.64 billion a year.
The annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist.
- Terrorism & Immigration, A Risk Analysis, by Alex Nowrasteh

See the table below for a break-down of the data presented above:

The Lifetime Odds of Death For Selected Causes in US

From the data, the chances of being killed by foreign-born terrorists are 1 in 3,609,709 (a 00003% chance). So where does terrorism fall in the broad spectrum of concerns of death for Americans?

The date, from National Safety Council (Injury Facts 2017 Edition), present to us that Americans are:

  • 22x more likely to die from lightining;
  • 30x more likely to die from legal execution;
  • 32x more likely to die from being bitten or struck by a dog;
  • 54x more likely to die from a cataclysmic storm;
  • 57x more likely to die from contact with hornets, wasps, and bees;
  • 63x more likely to die from contact with heat and hot substances;
  • 94x more likely to die from contact with sharp objects;
  • 217x more likely to die from exposure to excessive natural heat;
  • 237x more likely to die from exposure to electric current, radiation, temperature and pressure;
  • 367x more likely to die from airspace and transport incidents;
  • 522x more likely to die from firearms discharge (unintentional);
  • 804x more likely to die from being a pedal-cyclist;
  • 1042x more likely to die by choking from inhalation and indigestion of food;
  • 2409x more likely to die from exposure to fire, flames, or smoke;
  • 3038x more likely to die from accidental drowning and submersion;
  • 3664x more likely to die from being a motorcycle rider;
  • 5579x more likely to die by being a pedestrian;
  • 9755x more likely to die from an assault by firearm;
  • 28,422x more likely to die from falls;
  • 31,664x more likely to die from motor-vehicle incidents;
  • 37,601x more likely to die from unintentional poisioning by and exposure to noxious substances;
  • 37,996x more likely to die from intentional self harm;
  • 128,918x more likely to die from chronic lower respiratory disease;
  • 515,672x more likely to die from heart disease and cancer;

Matter of fact, the Powerball website states that the odds of winning the grand-prize is 1 in 292,201,338 (roughly 292 million). Therefore, Americans are 12x more likely to win the Powerball grand-prize than they are to die from a terrorist attack by a refugee (1 in 3.64 billion) in USA.

The Disproportionate Concern of Terrorism in USA

The threat of terrorism, or as Trump would call it, “radical Islamic terrorism,” is not that grave of a concern that Americans should be so terrified. The mainstream media does a great job of influencing the minds of millions of Americans, as does our current President, as if terrorism is a existential threat within the US. Matter of fact, terrorism should be the least of our concerns — we should be more worried about lighting killing us!

Why are we more concerned about vetting refugees more extensively than tourists when those coming to the US with tourist visas are the ones that have committed the highest number of deaths? Maybe we need to reconsider our immigration policies and base them on objective facts and data rather than on ill-founded, fear-mongering, rhetoric.

The Logic of The Costs

If we were to assume for a moment that one 9/11-like event killed 3,000 Americans per year, and indefinitely, the typical American is still far more likely to die walking out the door, getting into a car, jumping into a pool, or simply standing up.

John Mueller and G. Stewart explored the costs and benefits of fighting terrorism, for Cato Institute in a September 2014 study. That report states:

“[T]he United States spends about $100 billion per year seeking to deter, disrupt, or protect against domestic terrorism. If each saved life is valued at $14 million, it would be necessary for the counterterrorism measures to prevent or protect against between 6,000 and 7,000 terrorism deaths in the country each year, or twice that if the lower figure of $7 million for a saved life is applied.”

I believe it is worth conceding that the billion dollars spent by the US government, and Homeland Security, each year has thwarted terrorism and reduced the deaths of Americans domestically. Also, from the data available, and from any reports Homeland Security has released, it is difficult to assess the exact amount of lives saved by counter terrorism measures domestically and internationally.

Insuring Domestic Tranquility & Pursuing Justified Policies

Yes, terrorism is a hazard to human life. From the first sentence of the Constitution of the US, and from the work of Thomas Hobbes, a key reason for the founding governments is to “insure domestic Tranquility.” Although terrorism often invokes extraordinary fear and anxiety, we cannot allow emotions to overcome our logic — at least not those who are in government and serve the public.

Any actions that our government takes should be based upon a factual, objective, inquiry and not on factual mistakes, ideological beliefs or politcal objectives. When our public officers take the Otah of Office, they are to defend the Constitution, and the nation, but this does not entail purusing policies that are disproportionate to the risks posed. Nor should our public officers pursue policies that have no ground or basis in fact.

These kinds of policies (in reference to the Immigration Executive Orders by President Trump) help no one and fail to further our national interests. They divide us, the people, and victimize the nationals (and non-nationals abroad) subject to the ban. These are not policies the US should pursue nor defend.

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