WASHINGTON -- Gunshot wounds and deaths cost Americans at least $12 billion a year in court proceedings, insurance
costs and hospitalizations paid for by government health programs,
according to a recent study.
"I think people probably don't
understand that as well as they ought to," said Ted Miller, author of a
study that found that gunfire deaths and injuries incur a direct
societal cost of $32 per gun.
About 20 years ago, Miller calculated the costs to society of
shooting injuries and deaths with funding from the National Institute of
Justice. He decided to run the numbers again this year after the
shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
"I was surprised," Miller said. "Back in 1994, the costs of drunk driving were substantially higher, but it has reversed."
found that total costs per injury had at least doubled or come close
for medical care, psychiatric care, court cases, insurance and emergency
transport. For example, in 1992, medical care for a fatal shooting
averaged $14,500. In 2010, that number reached $28,700.
He found that medical care in 2010 cost $3.2 billion for 105,177 deaths and injuries. In
1992, medical care cost $3 billion for 171,800 deaths and injuries,
including 31,674 BB gun shootings, which were not included in the 2010
According to government statistics analyzed by
Miller for the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, costs to
the government in 2010 broke down this way:
* $5.4 billion in tax revenue lost because of lost work
* $4.7 billion in court costs
* $1.4 billion in Medicare and Medicaid costs for injuries and deaths
* $180 million in mental health care costs for victims
* $224 million in insurance claims processing
* $133 million for responding to shooting injuries
Miller also found that Medicaid covers 28% of hospital admissions for
firearm injuries, 37% of hospital days and 42% of medical costs. But in
another study, he found that even if people weren't on Medicaid when
they were injured, about 8% ultimately enroll in Medicaid after their
injuries. "So about half of the medical costs borne by Medicaid may be
the best estimate," he said.
A 2012 study by the Vanderbilt
Medical Center in Nashville found that 79% of gunshot victims in greater
Nashville were enrolled in Medicaid. That compared with 45% of Medicaid
enrollment for all other emergency room patients. African-American
patients were three times more likely to be gunshot victims than were
white patients, the study showed.
Manish Sethi, a trauma surgeon
at Vanderbilt University and a researcher for the study, said his team
decided to look at the numbers after seeing "a bunch of African-American
kids with gunshot wounds" coming through the emergency room. "We have
to do something."