Now that the Trump administration and Congress have shown they can’t work together to craft a new health care act, they are about to take on an even more difficult task: crafting a federal budget that 50% plus 1 members of the House of Representatives can agree on. The aspect of the federal budget likely to be the most contentious will be what we should spend money on beyond the need for military readiness and above the baseline “entitlements” that dominate much of the plan. There will be much talk, to be sure, about carrying out another campaign pledge: to “Make America Safe Again.” What exactly are the leading causes of death (other than disease and insufficient health care, see above) in America? Let’s do the math.
For sure, we’ll hear a lot about the related risks of Terrorists and Criminal Immigrants (illegal and otherwise). A recent (2016) policy analysis by the prestigious Cato Institute looked at all deaths over the past 40 years. It turned out that the chance of an American dying in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil (the averages include those killed in the 9-11 attacks) was 1 in 3.6 million per year. The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee was 1 in 3.64 billion per year, or about a thousand times less likely than being killed by a non-refugee terrorist. The chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is even smaller: 1 in 10.9 billion per year, or about three thousand times less likely than being killed by a terrorist. So being killed by a terrorist sounds like a risk we should spend lots of federal money to prevent! But how does that compare to other risks that we Americans face? Turns out there is a website (http://riskcomm.com) that calculates annual risks. Here are some: Being struck by lightning: 1 in 4 million. Being killed by a terrorist is about as likely as dying from being struck by lightning. Accidental drowning in a bath tub is about 1 in 800,000, or about 5 times as likely. Accidental drowning in a swimming pool is about 1 in 400,000, or about 10 times as likely as dying in a terrorist attack. Accidental suffocation in bed? About 7 times as likely. Dying in an automobile accident? About 1 in 18,000 – a whopping 200 times more likely than dying in a terrorist attack. And the risk of being shot to death (not including suicides) is 1 in about 24,000 – 145 times more likely than dying in a terrorist attack, but not quite the risk of dying in a car crash. The statistical risk of death via self-inflicted gunshot wound is larger than that: 1 in about 17,000, more likely than dying in an automobile crash and 205 times more likely than being killed by a terrorist.
Should we spend federal money to protect us from criminal illegal immigrants, and from terrorists bent on murdering us all? Of course. But let’s be sure to keep it in perspective. If the goal is really to “Make America Safe Again,” there are lots of hazards that are much more dangerous in their potential to end our lives, including bathtubs, swimming pools, beds, automobiles and biggest of all, firearms. We will soon see how those hazards to us all, hazards which dwarf terrorists and criminal illegal immigrants in how they threaten our daily lives, are addressed in the upcoming Trump budget.