Guns play an outsized role in deaths from terror attacks, especially in the US, data show

October 9, 2017 by Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times

Explosives. Arson. Guns. Driving into a crowd of people.

These are the most common tools that terrorists use to inflict fear and destruction on an unwitting public.

But a new study suggests that these violent methods, while all horrific, are not equally deadly.

In a research letter published Friday in JAMA Internal Medicine, investigators report that although guns were used in fewer than 10 percent of terrorist worldwide between 2002 and 2016, they were responsible for more than half the resulting deaths.

The new work was led by Dr. Robert Tessler of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle.

To better understand the deadliness of different types of terrorist attacks, he and his team consulted the Global Terrorism Database maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

The group 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." (Based on this definition, the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday night that killed 58 people and injured nearly 500 would not qualify as a .)

The database uses a combination of machine learning and manual review to gather information from more than 1 million daily media reports published in 80 languages around the world. For each attack, information on the location, type and number of fatalities is provided.

For this study, Tessler and his colleagues looked at data from 2,817 terrorist attacks in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand between 2002 and 2016.

Of these, 85.3 percent were in Western Europe, and 11.7 percent were in the U.S.

Explosives were used in 49 percent of all attacks, followed by arson (36 percent), firearms (9.2 percent) and vehicles that plowed into crowds of people (5.4 percent). An additional 3.1 percent of attacks were labeled "miscellaneous." (Single attacks can include multiple weapons, resulting in a total over 100 percent.)

The proportion of terrorist attacks involving firearms was highest in the United States compared with other countries. Between 2002 and 2016, 20 percent of all terrorist attacks in the U.S. involved firearms.

The Netherlands had the next-highest rate of terrorist attacks with guns: about 14 percent.

The authors suggest that policymakers take this work into account when considering future legislation to protect citizens from .

Explore further: Researchers can predict terrorist behaviors with more than 90 percent accuracy

Related Stories

Researchers can predict terrorist behaviors with more than 90 percent accuracy

March 2, 2017
Government agencies cannot always use social media and telecommunication to uncover the intentions of terrorists as terrorists are now more careful in utilizing these technologies for planning and preparing for attacks. A ...

There is almost no research on what distinguishes potential terrorists, study finds

September 25, 2017
A recent analysis of the existing research on factors associated with an individual's risk for engaging in terrorist activity highlights how little we know about these factors and the need for additional research in this ...

Research: US terror concentrated in New York City; bombs weapon of choice

May 4, 2010
Terrorist attacks in the United States, over the past four decades, have centered on New York City, the vast majority of them involving bombs or explosives, says a new report from the University of Maryland-based National ...

After London attacks, Facebook, Twitter pledge to continue anti-terror help

June 6, 2017
Facebook and Twitter vowed to continue policing their networks for terrorist elements after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's call for tougher Internet regulation in the wake of recent terror attacks in London.

Terrorism and the Olympics by-the-numbers: Analysis from UMD-based START

July 26, 2012
History offers a warning, but no clear pattern on the true risk of terrorism at the Olympic Games, concludes a new report by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) based at the ...

Looking at terror attacks 'per capita' should make us rethink beliefs about levels of risk and Muslims

June 7, 2017
Recent events in London, Manchester and elsewhere highlight that Western societies are vulnerable to terrorist attacks – and political decision-makers need to find solutions.

Recommended for you

Studies reveal role of red meat in gut bacteria, heart disease development

December 10, 2018
In concurrent studies, Cleveland Clinic researchers have uncovered new mechanisms that demonstrate why and how regularly eating red meat can increase the risk of heart disease, and the role gut bacteria play in that process.

Genetic changes associated with physical activity reported

December 10, 2018
Time spent sitting, sleeping and moving is determined in part by our genes, University of Oxford researchers have shown. In one of the most detailed projects of its kind, the scientists studied the activity of 91,105 UK Biobank ...

Licence to Swill: James Bond's drinking over six decades

December 10, 2018
He may be licensed to kill but fictional British secret service agent James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder, according to an analysis of his drinking behaviour published in the Medical Journal of Australia's Christmas ...

Obesity, risk of cognitive dysfunction? Consider high-intensity interval exercise

December 10, 2018
It's fast-paced, takes less time to do, and burns a lot of calories. High-intensity interval exercise is widely recognized as the most time-efficient and effective way to exercise. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers ...

How to survive on 'Game of Thrones': Switch allegiances

December 9, 2018
Characters in the Game of Thrones TV series are more likely to die if they do not switch allegiance, and are male, according to an article published in the open access journal Injury Epidemiology.

Expert calls for strong, sustainable action to make world roadways safer

December 7, 2018
According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on road safety, more than 1.3 million people die on the world's roadways each year—and millions more are injured or disabled. Yet despite the huge cost to families ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.