How To Waste $37 Billion Per Year

Money BagsThe funerals are still being conducted in Newtown, CT, and the tragedy has a grievous grip on our attention as the year ends.  We’re all too aware of the human cost.  There are lives lost, families shattered, hearts broken, minds in upheaval.  The personal and social impact of this heart wrenching event should be foremost in our thoughts (and prayers for the families) but we’re paying other costs as well.  Economic ones.  It is no secret that there are economic costs to gun violence in this country.

The Public Health Issue Intersects With The Economy

Increasing health care costs in this country put a strain on our health care delivery system.  We could mitigate these if we could find a way to reduce the number of gun violence victims who arrive at treatment centers each day.  Add up the direct medical costs, combine them with  lost productivity, and the amount of money we’re losing is significant.

“Combining the direct medical costs of treating fatal gun injuries with the economic damage of lost lives, firearms-related deaths cost the United States $37 billion in 2005, the most recent year for which a CDC estimate is available. Non-fatal gun injuries cost an additional $3.7 billion that year, according to the agency.”  [HuffPo]

However, it doesn’t end there.   There’s a matter of the non-fatal injuries to consider.  The result of some of those injuries will be a lifetime accumulation of medical care costs for rehabilitation, assisted living, and continuing treatment, and we’ve known this since 1999:

In a 1999 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Cook and his colleagues concluded that gunshot injuries in the U.S. in 1994 produced $2.3 billion in lifetime medical costs. Taxpayers footed half of that through Medicaid, Medicare, workers’ compensation and other government programs. [SeattlePI]

Yes, that’s taxpayers… and for those who profess to be concerned about the waste of taxpayer dollars this should be illuminating.  Back in 1994 taxpayers paid $1.15 billion toward continuing medical expenses incurred because of gun violence.  The price tag has gone up, like everything else, in the last 18 years.

And, it has.   The following information comes from an article published in December 2009.

“The health care and economic costs of gun violence in the US are equally staggering. According to the Public Services Research Institute in 2008, firearm homicide and assault cost federal, state and local governments $4.7 billion annually including costs for medical care, mental health, emergency transport, police, criminal justice and lost taxes. They also state that when lost productivity, lost quality of life, and pain and suffering are added to medical costs, estimates of the annual cost of firearm violence range from $20 billion to $100 billion.”

$20 billion (the low end estimate) for economic costs of gun violence sinks in a bit deeper when we consider that in FY 2009 the total spending for public schools in the State of Nevada was $3.12 billion from their general funds.  [NVPlan pdf]

And then there’s the insurance issue:

“According to the National Center for Disease Control, the cost of firearm fatalities is the highest of any injury-related death. In fact, the average cost of a gunshot related death is $33,000, while gun-related injuries total over $300,000 for each occurrence. Unlike car crash victims who are privately insured, roughly 80% of gunshot victims are uninsured. In the Journal of the American Medical Association (June 14, 1995), researchers found that private health insurance pays for the majority of the treatment of firearm-related injuries though it may cover only about one-fourth of the total injury victims. As a result taxpayers and insurance holders are unfairly burdened by the enormous and largely preventable health care cost associated with firearm violence.”  [HuffPo]

Want to help control health care costs  and related economic losses in this country?  Then how about mitigating the $33,000 we lose in gun related deaths and the $300,000 it costs when someone is injured?

Additionally, if we’re truly concerned about the housing market in the United States there’s the issue of lost real estate value as associated with homicides, some 67% of which are gun related:

“On average, a reduction in a given year of one homicide in a zip code causes a 1.5 percent increase in housing values in that same zip code the following year. We applied these findings to available data on the value of the housing stock in the metropolitan areas of all eight cities. The estimated increases in the value of the housing stock for the eight cities and their immediate metropolitan areas, following a 10 percent reduction in homicides, range from $600 million in Jacksonville and the surrounding area to $800 million in the Milwaukee area, to $3.2 billion in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, and $4.4 billion in the Boston area. Unfortunately, inconsistent reporting of other types of violent crime—rapes, assaults, and robberies—preclude a reliable analysis of the impact on housing values of changes in the incidence of those crimes.”  [CAP]

Anyone who is sincerely interested in not only mitigating the personal and social costs of gun violence,but also interested in helping contain rising health care costs, interested in reducing the cost of Medicaid services, interested in maintaining worker productivity, or even just interested in the value of their own real estate has a dog in this particular altercation.   We need more, not less, information about the price tag for this issue, but we may not get it.

Keeping US and us Blind

There’s an other issue which precludes a rational discussion of the economic costs of gun violence — the NRA’s opposition to research related to gun violence and medical issues.   The Atlanta Journal Constitution explains:

“At one time, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control was at the forefront in that debate, dedicated to addressing gun violence as a matter of public health. But gun rights advocates cried foul, accusing the CDC of practicing politics rather than science, and Congress agreed, stripping the agency of funding for gun-related research.  […]

Researchers say the means to prevent such tragedies are lacking in part because the National Rifle Association’s campaign against the CDC intimidated scientists across the nation. Those who oppose gun control say the scientists sponsored by the CDC were biased and a threat to fundamental American rights.”  (emphasis added)

We’ll have a better grip on the relationship between gun violence and public health issues — and on the economic ramifications of that matrix when the hysterics at the NRA stop obsessing about “Government Tyranny” and start realizing what their policies are costing their members, in taxes, in government supported health care expenditures, and even on their own property values.

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