Comparing the risk of dying in a terrorist attack to a common household accident like slipping in the bathtub is inappropriate. After all, inanimate objects like bathtubs do not intend to kill, so people rightly distinguish them from murderers and terrorists. My research on the hazard posed by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil focuses on comparing that threat to homicide, since both are intentional actions meant to kill or otherwise harm people. Homicide is common in the United States, so it is not necessarily the best comparison to deaths in infrequent terror attacks. Yesterday, economist Tyler Cowen wrote about another comparable hazard that people are aware of, that is infrequent, where there is a debatable element of intentionality, but that does not elicit nearly the same degree of fear: deadly animal attacks.
Cowen’s blog post linked to an academic paper by medical doctors Jared A. Forrester, Thomas G. Weiser, and Joseph H. Forrester who parsed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mortality data to identify those whose deaths were caused by animals in the United States. According to their paper, animals killed 1,610 people in the United States from 2008 through 2015. Hornets, wasps, and bees were the deadliest and were responsible for 29.7 percent of all deaths, while dogs were the second deadliest and responsible for 16.9 percent of all deaths.
The annual chance of being killed by an animal was 1 in 1.6 million per year from 2008 through 2015. The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil was 1 in 30.1 million per year during that time. The chance of being murdered by a native-born terrorist was 1 in 43.8 million per year, more than twice as deadly as foreign-born terrorists at 1 in 104.2 million per year. The small chance of being murdered in an attack committed by foreign-born terrorists has prompted expensive overreactions that do more harm than good, such as the so-called Trump travel ban, but address smaller risks than those posed by animals.