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The hidden costs of gun violence: the economic consequences

When we think about the harm wrought by guns, we often forget there are long-term negative economic impacts brought by the firearm. Not only is this for the families who have lost their breadwinners to gun violence. Gun-related deaths and injuries have a major and often hidden impact on hospital resources, and cost countries and its taxpayers billions of dollars globally every year.

The total global economic impact of gun violence is unknown and yet we do know that there have been numerous studies on the economic impact of firearm assaults in America.  Although their figures differ from one study to the next, the same conclusions are always the same: that country’s love for the gun costs them millions of hidden tax dollars each year.

According to one of  the most recent studies, in September 2013, the think tank Urban Institute produced a report[1] that concluded that firearm assault injury cost US hospitals in 2010 was almost $630 million.

According to the report, these costs are concentrated among young males and residents of low-income areas, and that “since a majority of costs are for publicly insured or uninsured, most costs are borne by US taxpayers[2]. The report also noted that uninsured gunshot victims have different treatment in emergency departments. Since their treatment are the most expensive, they are admitted for inpatient care less often, since it will just add further to the cost: “The numbers indicate that some hospitals may be making treatment decisions based on the insurance status of the patient rather than on the patient’s condition.”[3]

Another US review estimated the care costs for regular gunshots victims at $18,000. This financial breakdown did not include complicated plastic or neuro-surgery, and other reviews have quoted much higher costs. $48,000 for treating people shot in the hand. Over $100,000 for those shot in the face. The daily cost of care for a spinal cord gunshot victim in a US hospital being estimated at about $2,000 a day. The list goes on.

Costs, however, often go beyond hospital fees. Gun violence results in costs incurred by the victim’s employer, then there are insurance claims, and then there are the costs as a gun-related case goes through the criminal justice system.

total_costs_7Data[4] gathered by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) has estimated that for the year 2010, the cost of firearm injuries was $174 billion [5] [6]. This figure includes work loss, medical care, mental health, emergency transport, police, criminal justice, insurance claims processing, employer cost and costs regarding ‘quality of life’.

As for Canada, it was estimated, by the Department of Justice Canada[7], that for 2008, the total economic and social costs of firearm-related crime were approximately $3.1 billion. According to the study, there were a total of 8,710 police-reported incidents in Canada committed with a firearm and police statistics indicated that there were 9,469 victims of firearm-related violent crime that year[8]. Victims incurred health care costs, productivity losses, and other tangible and intangible costs, totalling to approximately $2.7 billion[9]. As for the costs incurred by the Canadian criminal justice system, this was approximately $302 million[10].

In South Africa, it is not known how much gun violence costs the country, however a study[11] in 2005 calculated the in-house hospital treatment of those who received serious abdominal firearm-related injuries. Based on admissions to a single state hospital across six months, and taking into account variables such as the operating theatre time and the duration of stay in hospital, the costs for treating abdominal gunshot wounds was approximately $2.9 million (US dollars) per annum. The study notes how doctors in the public health system are employed at a rate of 22 per 100,000 population, and they provide health care services for almost 85 per cent of South African residents who do not have private health insurance:

This means that at least 56 of every 66 (per 1 000 population) trauma cases seeking medical attention will be treated by doctors working in the public health care system. From this limited analysis, it is apparent that the trauma burden currently exceeds both financial and human public health care resources in SA.”[12]

These cumulative and often hidden costs are immense and need to be considered as part of the whole picture when we look at the burden of gun violence globally.

They should also act as a clarion call for States to address the impact of gun violence – not only domestically but also as a consequence of their firearm exports around the world.

[1] Urban Institute, ‘The Hospital Costs of Firearm Assaults’, September 2013 http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412894-The-Hospital-Costs-of-Firearm-Assaults.pdf

[2] Urban Institute, ‘The Hospital Costs of Firearm Assaults’, September 2013, p.8 http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412894-The-Hospital-Costs-of-Firearm-Assaults.pdf

[3] Urban Institute, ‘The Hospital Costs of Firearm Assaults’, September 2013, p.8 http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412894-The-Hospital-Costs-of-Firearm-Assaults.pdf

[4] PIRE, ‘Societal Cost per Firearm Injury, United States, 2010’ http://www.pire.org/documents/GSWcost2010.pdf

[5] Bloomberg, ‘Shootings Costing U.S. $174 Billion Show Burden of Gun Violence’, 21st December 2012 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-21/shootings-costing-u-s-174-billion-show-burden-of-gun-violence.html

[6] Forbes, ‘How Guns And Violence Cost Every American $564 In 2010’, 14th January 2013 http://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2013/01/14/how-guns-and-violence-cost-every-american-564-in-2010/

[7] Department of Justice Canada, ‘The Economic Impact of Firearm-related Crime in Canada, 2008’ (2012) http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2013/jus/J2-382-2013-eng.pdf

[8] Department of Justice Canada, ‘The Economic Impact of Firearm-related Crime in Canada, 2008’ (2012) http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2013/jus/J2-382-2013-eng.pdf

[9] Department of Justice Canada, ‘The Economic Impact of Firearm-related Crime in Canada, 2008’ (2012) p.37 http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2013/jus/J2-382-2013-eng.pdf

[10] Department of Justice Canada, ‘The Economic Impact of Firearm-related Crime in Canada, 2008’ (2012) p.37 http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2013/jus/J2-382-2013-eng.pdf

[11] D Allard and V C Burch, ‘The cost of treating serious abdominal firearm-related injuries in South Africa’ (2005) South African Medical Journal

[12] D Allard and V C Burch, ‘The cost of treating serious abdominal firearm-related injuries in South Africa’ (2005) South African Medical Journal p.593

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