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The Staggering Costs Of Gun Violence In The U.S. Every Year

If you’re the kind of person who needs an economic argument: each murder costs society almost half a million dollars.

The Staggering Costs Of Gun Violence In The U.S. Every Year
[Source Images: Vladvm/red mango via Shutterstock]

When nine people were murdered in Charleston on June 17, they were among 5,793 Americans to die by gun so far this year. In an average year, the death toll from guns, including suicides, is a staggering 33,000 lives.

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In a recent investigation, Mother Jones looked at how much gun violence costs the country–not the deeper emotional costs, or the societal scars from the kind of racial terrorism that happened in Charleston–but the actual economic cost of guns. The answer: $229 billion.

A single murder has average direct costs of almost $450,000, from the police and ambulance at the scene, to the hospital, courts, and prison for the murderer. In an average day, the country pays for 32 gun homicides.

Indirect costs are much higher–in total, the Mother Jones investigation calculated that the country pays about $169 billion for lost quality of life for gun victims, and $49 billion for lost wages.

And the real total is likely even more. Medical costs, for example, are hard to fully account for, and are often astonishingly high, as one example in the story from an ER nurse demonstrates:

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

Mental health care after gun violence costs an estimated $410 million a year but would be higher if everyone who wanted or needed it could afford it. Then there are the costs of beefed-up security, as in Columbine, where the federal government spent at least $811 million to help schools pay for security guards. Ninety percent of American schools also spent money on security after Columbine; by 2017, schools may spend $5 billion a year on security.

And then there are the numbers that are incalculable. As the article says:

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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?

What would it mean for the U.S. if it was more like other countries when it came to gun violence? We have more gun deaths, by far, than any other developed country in the world. We also have more guns than anyone: 88 guns for every 100 people, followed distantly by Yemen.

“These tragedies have become far too commonplace,” President Obama said after Charleston. “It costs this country dearly… I refuse to act like this is the new normal, or to pretend that it’s simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is somehow politicizing the problem.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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