Paying for Gun Violence

Mother Jones’s investigation into the cost of gun violence in America shows just how urgently we need smart gun laws.

by Robyn Thomas, Executive Director, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Earlier this month, Mother Jones published this excellent report on the staggering cost of gun violence in America. The research puts a human face and a $229 billion price tag on this public health crisis. At the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, we’ve long understood that states with smart gun laws have lower rates of gun violence, which is why we’ve advocated for more effective gun laws for over 20 years.

The Mother Jones investigation takes a deep look at the financial havoc gun violence wreaks on survivors, their families, and the communities in which they live. But the results of gun violence ripple far beyond isolated neighborhoods, and the data tells us the true cost lax regulation of this epidemic has on taxpayers each year — over $700 per American. In context with other other public health crises, that’s more expensive than obesity and nearly as high as smoking.

These numbers give a clear picture of the price we pay for failing to take action to address gun violence, and how uneven that price is across the country. Louisiana, for example, consistently receives an “F” grade from the Law Center in our annual Gun Law State Scorecard and, not surprisingly, also has the nation’s highest gun homicide rate. (Harvard’s David Hemenway points out the science behind this relationship in an enlightening Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times last week.) With the information brought into focus by Mother Jones, we now know that Louisiana residents pay an average of $1,300 per person per year to cover the cost of these preventable shootings. By comparison, citizens of states with smart gun laws on the books, like Massachusetts and Hawaii, pay a fifth of that price per year.

Opponents of universal background checks and other common-sense legislative solutions to gun violence like to point out the price of implementing new laws. However, with each of America’s 32 daily gun homicides costing taxpayers nearly $400,000, we’re spending almost $13 million on gun homicides per day. Given that the overall cost of gun violence totals $229 billion per year, the price associated with lifesaving measures like universal background checks pales in comparison.

The good news is that momentum is on the side of common sense. Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, 99 new smart gun laws have been passed in 37 states, and more are pending in the current legislative cycle. Last year voters in Washington State adopted universal background checks via a ballot initiative, and a similar initiative is now pending in Nevada. Over 90 percent of Americans, including the majority of gun owners, support background checks, and in spite of inaction at the federal level, lifesaving smart gun laws have outpaced laws weakening gun regulation.

Mother Jones’s top-notch investigation makes it that much harder for Congress to keep its head buried in the sand, ignoring the problem while the loss of life — and taxpayers’ share of the related bills — continues to rise. We’ve always known that we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to stop gun violence, but now we have a better understanding of our financial obligation to end a public health crisis that costs $229 billion and kills over 30,000 people every year.

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