Our friends at the Giffords Law Center have just published a disquieting study which claims that gun violence in Missouri costs $1.9 billion a year, and that’s a conservative estimate, to say the least. The estimate is based on taking the average number of homicides, suicides, accidental shootings and gun assaults, and then multiplying these numbers using a gun-violence costs analysis developed by researchers who helped Mother Jones produce a study in 2015 which set the national cost of gun violence at $229 billion every year.
If we were to take the Missouri numbers, which average out to roughly $1 million for every fatal and non-fatal gun injury, the national cost would now be somewhere around $140 billion. Which means that the Mother Jones figure was too high or the Missouri costs o gun-violence calculated by the Giffords Center is too low.
On the other hand, by taking the Missouri figures and assuming they are representative for the country as a whole might also be an exercise in fake news or at least fake statistics, because we can’t assume that the breakdown between various gun-violence categories (homicide, suicide, etc.) in Missouri is similar to how gun injuries occur in other states. Either way, it’s a lot of dough. The only problem with these numbers, however, is they may not really tell us anything about the financial costs of gun violence owing to the methodology utilized to estimate those costs.
Most of the costs calculated in the Giffords study to represent the financial toll of gun violence are actually estimates of what the victim would not have lost had he or she not been shot by a gun. In other words, we are asked to believe that from the moment someone is injured they would have made choices about work, family, lifestyles and other social factors which they can no longer make. The estimates for lost income, for example, make assumptions about how much someone’s income will change over the course of their lives from what their income was at the moment the injury occurred. But in the case of gunshot victims, probably at least half of the 85,000 young men assaulted each year with a gun have never actually held a job. How do you reasonably estimate what the lifetime earnings of these victims might be?
Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig have been looking at the issue of gun-violence costs much longer than anyone else, and they published a good book on this subject in 2000 which, sad to say, is now out of print. The good news is you can still get the book on Amazon in a used edition for a couple of bucks. Where Cook and Ludwig construct a refreshingly and unique definition of costs, is by calculating what people would be willing to pay to avoid gun violence, either 9through higher taxes for better protective services or by simply moving to a neighborhood which is safer than here they currently live.
The Giffords report actually implies something of the same awareness between safe and unsafe because it notes that more than 60% of all gun violence in Missouri occurs in just two cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, which together count for less than 15% of the population of the ‘Show-Me” state as a whole. And within those two cities, of course, most of the gun violence is confined to specific neighborhoods, the polite term now used is neighborhoods which are ‘underserved.’
It seems to me that if the state of Missouri is losing $1.9 billion a year because of gun violence, what could the state do with that money if it wasn’t flushed down the gun-violence drain? Could they build some health stations to provide inner-city neighborhoods with better medical care? Could they strengthen technical and vocational education so that young people could qualify for solid, high-paying jobs?
Let’s not just sit around and bemoan the cost of gun violence. Instead, let’s calculate the value of getting rid of the guns.