The Staggering Cost of Gun Violence

Written by SK Ashby

Mother Jones teamed up with Ted Miller at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation to calculate the financial and economic cost of gun violence in America and their results, as staggering as they are, may be conservative.

But even the $229 billion figure ultimately doesn't capture what gun violence costs us. For starters, there are gaps in what we know about long-term medical and disability expenses specifically from gunshots. Miller's research accounts for about seven years of long-term care for victims, and for lifelong care for those with spinal-cord or traumatic brain injuries. But Kelly Bernado, a former police officer who now works as an ER nurse near Seattle, points out that survivors' life spans and medical complications can exceed expectations. One of her patients was shot as a teenager: "He was paralyzed from the neck down and could not feed himself, toilet himself, dress himself, or turn over in bed. He will live the rest of his life in a nursing home, all paid for by the taxpayers, as he is a Medicaid patient." She estimates that over the last two decades the price tag for this patient's skilled nursing care alone has been upwards of $1.7 million. [...]

Then there are the costs that the available research doesn't capture at all. What about the trauma to entire communities, whether from mass shootings or chronic street violence? What about the steep societal cost of fear, which stunts economic development and provokes major spending on security and prevention? "This is what big-city mayors worry about," says Duke University economist Philip Cook, who coauthored a study 16 years ago that asked people how much they'd be willing to pay to reduce gun violence where they live. "How can Camden get out of the profound slump it's in? The first answer has to be, 'We've got to do something about the gun violence.'"

The full report from Mother Jones is both incredibly interesting and depressing. It's also a great example of what Attorney General Eric Holder called "unacceptable."

The federal government does not have a full accounting of officer involved shootings and for more than decade the federal government was even barred from funding any study or research of gun violence; a prohibition that was partially lifted by an executive signed by President Obama.

It can be difficult to even write about the subject. For example, it's difficult to present specific data that refutes the popular claim that guns make society safer. When I looked into the subject myself following the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, I came across a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report produced in 2013 on the status of gun laws in America. The CRS report referenced a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on the use of firearms in self-defense. That study showed that guns are used for self-defense in just 1 percent of all violent crimes, but the study was conducted between 1989 and 1992.

Most of the data the federal government has access to is relatively ancient or simply doesn't exist. Third parties and non-profits have had to pick up the slack.

Gaps in the information available to us are not an oversight or a coincidence. The gun lobby partnered with members of Congress in the 1990s to ensure that we don't have relevant data.