Use of Firearms in Terrorist Attacks

Oct 7, 2017
Use of Firearms in Terrorist Attacks

A new research letter published by JAMA Internal Medicine compares the proportion of terrorist attacks committed with firearms in the United States with the proportion in other high-income countries, as well as the deadliness of attacks with firearms compared to those by other means.

The article by Robert A. Tessler, M.D., of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, Seattle, and coauthors searched the Global Terrorism Database from 2002 to 2016. The database is maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland and it defines a terrorist attack as the “use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal through fear, coercion or intimidation.” The database collects location, type and number of fatalities for each attack and categorizes weapons.

During the study period, the database captured 2,817 terrorist attacks in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, of which 2,403 (85.3 percent) were in Western Europe and 329 (11.7 percent) were in the United States.

The types of attacks were: explosives (49 percent), incendiary (36 percent), firearms (9.2 percent), vehicle/melee (5.4 percent) and miscellaneous (3.1 percent).

In the 2,817 attacks, there were 1,031 fatalities, of which 566 (54.9 percent) were attributed to firearms, according to the results.

The proportion of firearms attacks among countries with 10 or more attacks was highest in the United States at 20.4 percent with 67 attacks followed by the Netherlands at 14.3 percent with three attacks, according to the results.

“Although firearms were used in fewer than 10 percent of terrorist attacks between 2002 and 2016, they accounted for about 55 percent of the fatalities. … In the United States and other countries, government policies and legislative efforts to protect citizens from terrorism should consider the proportions and lethality of terrorist attacks committed with firearms,” the article concludes.