October 8, 2020
The Impact and Cost of Gun Violence: A Plan To Help
Sadly, gun violence continues to plague America. The statistics are brutal—nearly 40,000 people die from gunshots, in addition to the 100,000 injured. Those counts equate to an average of 96 deaths plus 192 injuries every day. Of the deaths, gun suicides comprise about two-thirds, with somewhat less than a third homicides. The remaining are unintentional gunshots. 
Firearms send twenty children or adolescents to the emergency room each day. Two thousand people suffer gunshot-related spinal cord injuries, thus becoming lifelong patients.  Annually since 2017, the firearms death rate exceeded the motor vehicle accident death rate.
“Each year, nearly 1,500 minors are killed by guns and three million children are directly exposed to gun violence. Young children are most affected by gun homicides in the home—often related to domestic or family violence. Older children are at increased risk of gun suicide and gun homicides in their neighborhoods and communities,” according to the Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 
We each pay for the cost of gun violence.
The societal costs are a staggering $229 billion per year, or 1.4% of the GDP, for medical and mental healthcare, criminal justice costs, and wage losses. That doesn’t include the intangibles—pain, suffering, and damaged quality of life, according to a recent study by the Joint Economic Committee’s Examination of Gun Violence.  Gun violence costs everyone an average of $700 per year. 
The U.S. healthcare system consumes almost 75% of the costs. Many victims do not have insurance when the shooting occurs, and subsequently receive aid from Medicaid and Medicare. Nonetheless, about 60% of the remaining charges become the responsibility of the victim, thus exacerbating an already tragic situation.
America suffers more.
Compared to other developed nations, America is an outlier. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United States has an estimated 210 to 310 million civilian owned guns even though the U.S. has only an estimated 320 million people. The U.S. had 3.85 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people in 2016. Canada had 0.48 while Denmark had 0.14 deaths per 100,000 by comparison.
Mass shootings, defined by the FBI as incidents in which four of more people are killed or injured, have increased three-fold since 2000. The average for the first third of these twenty past years was 6.4 mass shootings per year, the middle third 16.4 per year, and most recently greater than 20 per year.
We can reduce gun violence through reasonable, proven methods.
Decades ago, the number of auto deaths was escalating rapidly. It would be much higher today without the safety measures we now take for granted.
Today, we do not even think about buckling up, trusting air bags, placing small children in car seats with five-point restraints, or having appropriate bumpers and telescoping steering columns. On our highways, collapsible bumper rails and other guards lessen the impact of crashes.
The executive director of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Georges Benjamin, says, “We’ve been very successful bringing down death and disability from cars. We can do exactly the same things for firearms.”
How? Improve regulations. Eight professional groups—ranging from the American Academy of Family Physicians to the American Bar Association—have demanded more extensive firearm regulations as a first step toward reducing gun violence in society. These organizations called for extending background checks on individual transfers and the purchase of firearms at gun shows, banning individual ownership of assault weapons and their high-volume ammunition magazines, and ending gag laws that prevent physicians from discussing gun safety with patients.
Second, eliminate civilian access to guns and ammunition that can be used for mass slaughter. They serve no productive role. That’s a point of view expressed by the editor of Modern Healthcare after the San Bernardino, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; Roseburg, OR; Charleston, SC; Watertown, CT; Aurora, CO; and Blacksburg, VA mass shootings.
Third, stop the proliferations of guns that are poorly designed, improperly cared for, or serve no useful social or sporting purpose.
How can the nation move forward? By understanding gun-violence reduction rather than becoming emotionally polarized at the time of each additional mass shooting, tragic suicide, or accidental injury to a child with a firearm.
Society can still respect individual rights while increasing safety for all. America has faced tougher challenges and been successful. Polarization will not cure the gun violence problem. A rational and collaborative approach can reduce gun violence.
Read about innovative approach to slowing the spread of gun violence in David Johnson’s commentary, A Chicago Story: Gun Violence; Budget Cuts and Social Contagion.
- “The Economic Cost of Gun Violence,” Gifford’s Law Center
- “In Memory of Daniel—Reviving Research to Prevent Gun Violence,” by Chana Sacks, NEJM, February 26, 2015.
- “A State-by-State Examination of the Economic Costs of Gun Violence,” by U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee Democratic Staff, September 18, 2019.
- “Violent death rates in the US compared to those of the other high-income countries, 2015,” by Erin Grinshteyn and David Hemenway, Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2019.