Oregon terrorist attack: The White House talks more about terrorism than gun violence.

Why Do We Care Less About Gun Violence Than Terrorism? Maybe Because the White House Does.

Why Do We Care Less About Gun Violence Than Terrorism? Maybe Because the White House Does.

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Oct. 2 2015 7:02 PM

Why Do We Care Less About Gun Violence Than Terrorism? Maybe Because the White House Does.

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President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference on Oct. 1, 2015 in Washington, D.C., after a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a speech following the mass shooting in Oregon, President Obama touched on a certain misallocation of anxiety that has plagued the country since 9/11: We spend so much time fretting over terrorism, but terrorist attacks only kill a few Americans a year, while gun violence kills about 12,000. The president even urged the media to show gun deaths and terrorism deaths side-by-side, and they did. He elaborated:

“We spend over $1 trillion and pass countless laws and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil and rightfully so. And yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”
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He’s right. How can that be? In part, it’s because the media, the public, and Congress aren’t the only ones who care much more about terrorism than gun violence. The White House seems to as well. We analyzed roughly 4,000 speeches and official remarks listed on the White House website and counted the number of speeches that contained selected words related to terrorism and to gun violence. These most include remarks made by the president, Michelle Obama, other members of the White House, and people speaking with the White House members at official events.

Here are our results:

Remarks mentioning terrorism or terrorist

Click a box to go to the speech on whitehouse.gov.

Remarks mentioning gun control or gun violence

Click a box to go to the speech on whitehouse.gov.

Of course, there’s a chicken and egg problem here. Does the White House talk more about terrorism because we care more about it, or vice versa? It also comes as no surprise that the White House doesn’t spend much energy pushing what may well be a hopeless political dream. Federal gun control legislation didn’t happen after a shooter massacred 20 elementary school students. It didn’t happen then despite the fact that Democrats controlled Congress and the White House at the time. Maybe it will never happen. But maybe talking about it a lot more—from the White House to the news media to the public—can help.

Update, Oct. 3, 2015: A bug in an earlier version of the charts caused the blocks to be linked to the same two speeches. This has been fixed.

Chris Kirk is a web developer at New York magazine and Slate’s former interactives editor. Follow him on Twitter.

Andrew Kahn is Slate’s assistant interactives editor. Follow him on Twitter.