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We Need to Talk about the Economic Toll of Gun Violence

In 2017, gun violence claimed nearly 40,000 lives—the highest level in decades.

When we talk about our country’s gun violence crisis, we rightly start by acknowledging the tragic human cost. But we also need to talk about the overlooked impact that gun violence has on the American economy.

Gun violence imposes billions of dollars of costs on the economy every year. On Wednesday, I testified in front of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee about the cost of gun violence, and how investing in proven solutions and adopting evidence-based policies can save dollars and lives.

Below are a few highlights from my testimony.

The Economic Cost of Gun Violence Is Astronomical

Gun violence costs the United States an estimated $229 billion every single year. This total includes direct costs like emergency transport and medical and mental health treatment, as well as law enforcement, court, and prison expenses. It also includes indirect costs like lost wages and reduced quality of life for survivors who live with permanent injuries and pain.

Notably, this $229 billion estimate doesn’t take into consideration a range of other significant indirect costs, like lost business opportunities, lowered property values, neighborhood flight, reductions in the tax base of communities across the nation, and the trauma experienced by communities that experience chronic gun violence every day. 87% of the direct costs of gun violence are borne by American taxpayers.

While comparatively rare compared to other types of gun violence, mass shootings often compound these costs. Take the state of Nevada. Prior to the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, the annual economic cost of gun violence in Nevada was $2.3 billion.

The Las Vegas shooting that left 58 people dead and more than 800 injured cost an estimated $600 million. Many of the costs associated with this shooting, including surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and extensive periods of rehabilitation, were borne by victims and their families. The $600 million estimate doesn’t account for decreases in tourism that the city sustained after the shooting, nor does it account for the estimated $1 billion in costs for insurance companies.

To Lower The Cost of Gun Violence, We Must:

Invest in Research

We need to research gun violence to better understand its causes and how to most effectively prevent it. A 20-year absence of federal investment in gun violence research has prevented scholars from answering more complex questions about the toll this violence extracts from our economy, including: What are the lifetime healthcare costs for survivors of different types of gunshot wounds? How does gun violence stifle economic development and growth? We can’t let these questions remain unanswered while tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year.

Fund Community Violence Intervention Programs

Community violence intervention initiatives have proven effective in reducing gun homicides and nonfatal shootings that are disproportionately concentrated in urban areas, particularly in underserved communities of color. In recent years, effective violence reduction strategies have been implemented in a number of cities, including Oakland, California, which has seen a 50% reduction in shootings since 2012.

In Connecticut, a state-funded violence intervention program has helped combined gun violence rates drop more than 50% in three major cities since 2011—at a cost of less than $1 million per year. Research from Connecticut and Massachusetts has shown that every dollar invested in these programs results in about $7 saved. One Harvard criminologist estimates that an eight-year federal grant program to fund community violence intervention programs would save more than 12,000 lives with an associated cost savings of $120 billion.

Pass Evidence-Based Legislation Like H.R. 8

We know what laws will work to save lives from gun violence—we just need leaders with the courage to enact them. On Wednesday night, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy and more than 20 other Senate Democrats held the Senate floor to demand that Mitch McConnell bring H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, and other gun safety bills up for a vote.

More than 90% of Americans support universal background checks, yet still Mitch McConnell refuses to act.

Now is the time for the Senate to act.

If we want to save American lives and dollars, we don’t have any more time to lose.