The economic cost of gun violence in America was $810 billion in one year. This is why

The recent shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers, once again demonstrated the brutality of gun violence in the US.

But behind each of these deadly shootings is a catalog of numbers that is just as shocking.

Every day, more than 110 Americans are killed by guns and more than 200 are injured.

That’s about 20,000 dead and 36,000 injured so far this year.

Mr. Miller has one more figure to add to this list. For decades, he has periodically crunched the numbers and calculated the price tag of gun violence in the US.

According to his latest calculations, using 2019 data, it comes to $557 billion (or $810 billion) in one year.

Calculate costs

Miller divided the economic costs of gun violence into two categories: direct and indirect.

After every shooting, there is a series of direct costs that can affect a person, their family and their immediate environment.

“There is medical care, not just of the injury when it first happens, but the lifelong medical care that can follow, for example a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. And there is mental health care for the victim and the victim’s family, ‘ says Mr Miller.

He says direct costs also include the need for emergency services such as police and then the involvement of the criminal justice system, from court costs to incarceration costs.

A woman lights a candle while dozens of others flicker.
Mourners lit dozens of candles after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York that left 10 dead in May.Reuters

Mr. Miller then looked at indirect costs or “the” [lost] value of life”, which he broke down into “the loss of work, both wage work and housework … [because] if you are killed, you lose a lifetime of labor costs’ and ‘lost quality of life’.

The “quality of life lost,” which made up the bulk of the total amount, represented “the present value of what was irreparably damaged when a victim’s life was cut short or a survivor was permanently disabled by gun violence.”

Using 2019 data from US federal government sources and a cost model developed by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, these direct and indirect costs totaled $557 billion, or $810 billion, in one year.

This was a major peak of Mr Miller’s latest analysis on gun violence.

Much higher than previously thought

The costs calculated from the 2019 data ($557 billion) were significantly higher than the last time Mr. Miller crunched the numbers using the 2018 data. Those numbers came in at $280 billion ($406 billion). ).

Mr. Miller says this was the result of a significant numerical change.

A man walks past bullet holes in a shop window.
A pedestrian walks past bullet holes in the window of a storefront in Philadelphia.Getty Images: Kriston Jae Bethel

US federal government departments and agencies recently determined a “value of a life” amount that was significantly higher than what was previously used. So Mr. Miller took the same standard.

“We’ve gone from a life value of about $6-6.5 million ($8.5-9 million) to a value of about $10.5 million ($15 million),” he says.

As a result, the economic costs of gun violence are much higher than previously thought.

Who pays the bill?

When it comes to direct costs, especially in healthcare, the government (ie the taxpayer) pays a large part of the bill.

“Most firearms injuries are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, our public insurance programs for lower-income people,” said Mr. Miller.

“Private health insurance still pays a great deal… And some [bills] will even be paid out of pocket by people who have been shot.”

Miller says the government has “some income transfer programs for people who are severely and permanently disabled” by gun violence, meaning it “also covers some of those indirect wage losses.”

U.S. employers also pay for gun violence charges.

“Employers pay for things like life insurance and [after an episode of gun violence] they need to hire and train a new employee,” Miller says.

Suicide and weapons

While gun violence in the US is often associated with mass shootings, suicide accounts for about 60 percent of all lives lost to guns.

The analysis found that suicides have a lower overall economic cost because less is spent on direct costs such as the criminal justice system and incarceration.

But as Mr. Miller and his team put it, “The intangible costs of pain and suffering are a crushing burden to bear.”

And the prevalence of guns plays a big part in where the suicides and murders take place.

“One of the interesting things we’ve learned through research is that your chances of dying by suicide and your chances of dying by murder are both much higher if you have a gun in your house,” Miller says.

Action on weapons

Despite the regularity of gun violence in the US, there was good news for gun control activists last month.

A boy with a shirt that reads 'protect me' and a woman with a shirt with children's handprints.
People in the US have taken part in gun control demonstrations after a recent series of mass shootings.Reuters

The US Congress passed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a two-part compromise on an issue that bitterly divides Americans.

The new law included a package of measures, including stricter background checks for younger gun buyers, gun ownership restrictions for perpetrators of domestic violence, and funding for mental health programs.

“Lives will be saved,” President Joe Biden said at the White House as he signed the bill.

But the law was passed just days after the US Supreme Court expanded gun rights by ruling that Americans have the right to carry firearms in public for personal defense.

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