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John Rosenthal Headshot

Health Care Costs and Gun Violence

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On average, guns kill or wound 276 people every day in America. Of those, 75 adults and 9 children will die. In the US there are more than 30,000 deaths and over 100,000 injuries related to gun violence each year. Incredibly more children die or are injured by guns each year in the US than in all twenty-six industrialized nations combined.

The health care and economic costs of gun violence in the US are equally staggering. According to the Public Services Research Institute in 2008, firearm homicide and assault cost federal, state and local governments $4.7 billion annually including costs for medical care, mental health, emergency transport, police, criminal justice and lost taxes. They also state that when lost productivity, lost quality of life, and pain and suffering are added to medical costs, estimates of the annual cost of firearm violence range from $20 billion to $100 billion. According to the National Center for Disease Control, the cost of firearm fatalities is the highest of any injury-related death. In fact, the average cost of a gunshot related death is $33,000, while gun-related injuries total over $300,000 for each occurrence. Unlike car crash victims who are privately insured, roughly 80% of gunshot victims are uninsured. In the Journal of the American Medical Association (June 14, 1995), researchers found that private health insurance pays for the majority of the treatment of firearm-related injuries though it may cover only about one-fourth of the total injury victims. As a result taxpayers and insurance holders are unfairly burdened by the enormous and largely preventable health care cost associated with firearm violence.

Consequently, it's just common sense that reducing gun violence will dramatically reduce national health care costs. Currently, anyone can legally buy an unlimited number of firearms from "private sellers" in 33 states (and at thousands of annual gun shows) without proof of ID or a background check. Clearly, this failed national policy of unrestricted access to firearms is a major cause of the gun violence epidemic in the US. Congress must include gun violence prevention in the new health care reform debate. Simply requiring a criminal background check for all gun sales would significantly restrict access to guns by those who historically misuse them, namely criminals, terrorists, the mentally ill and children, without limiting the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens. Certainly, this alone will not stop all gun violence, but it will save lives immediately and save billions of dollars annually in uninsured health care costs.

Given the fact that many of the estimated 40 million uninsured Americans live in the same poor urban neighborhoods where they are also most at risk of becoming victims of gun violence, Congress could potentially save billions of dollars in preventable health care costs by reducing gun violence simply by requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales and making it harder for criminals and terrorists to legally buy guns undetected in the US. This common sense public safety and national security policy change alone could likely save taxpayers enough to provide insurance for the majority of the uninsured and save thousands of lives from largely preventable gun violence. If that isn't a WIN Win I don't know what is.

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