The recent shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers, has once again shown the brutality of gun violence in the United States.
But behind each of these deadly shootings lies an equally shocking catalog of numbers.
That’s around 20,000 dead and 36,000 injured so far this year.
Mr. Miller has another figure to add to this list. For decades, he periodically crunched the numbers and calculated the price of gun violence in the United States.
According to his latest calculations, using 2019 data, that’s $557 billion (or $810 billion) in one year.
Calculation of costs
Mr. Miller divided the economic costs of gun violence into two categories: direct and indirect.
After each shoot, there are a series of direct costs that can affect an individual, their family and those around them.
“There is medical care, not just for the injury at the time it occurs, but for the lifetime of medical care that may follow, for example, traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. And there there is mental health care for the victim and the victim’s family,” Miller said.
He says the direct costs also included the need for emergency services like the police and then the involvement of the criminal justice system, from court costs to incarceration costs.
Miller then turned to indirect costs or “the [lost] value of life,” which he breaks down into “the loss of work, both wage labor and domestic labor… [because] if you are killed, you lose a lifetime in labor costs” and “loss of quality of life”.
The “quality of life lost”, which made up the bulk of the overall amount, represented “the present value of what was damaged beyond repair when a victim’s life was cut short or a survivor was permanently disabled by the armed violence”.
Using 2019 data from US federal government sources and a cost model developed by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, these direct and indirect costs totaled $557 billion, or $810 billion, in one year.
It was a big spike in Mr. Miller’s latest analysis of gun violence.
Much higher than we thought
The costs calculated using 2019 data ($557 billion) were significantly higher than the last time Miller calculated the numbers using 2018 data. Those numbers were US$280 billion ( $406 billion).
Mr Miller says this was due to a significant numerical shift.
Departments and agencies of the United States federal government recently agreed on a “value of a life” amount that was considerably higher than previously used. So Mr. Miller adopted the same metric.
“We’ve gone from a human life worth about $6-6.5 million ($8.5-9 million) to about $10.5 million ($15 million). dollars),” he says.
As a result, the economic cost of gun violence is much higher than previously thought.
Who pays the bill?
When it comes to direct costs, especially in health care, the government (hence, the taxpayer) pays a large part of the bill.
“Most firearm injuries are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, which are our public insurance programs for low-income people,” Miller said.
“Private health insurance pays another big chunk … And some [bills] will even be paid out of pocket by the people who have been shot.”
Mr Miller says the government has “some income transfer programs for people who are severely and permanently disabled” by gun violence, meaning it “recovers some of those indirect wage losses as well”.
American employers also pay the costs of gun violence.
“Employers pay for things like life insurance and [after an episode of gun violence] they have to hire and train a new employee,” says Miller.
Suicide and guns
While gun violence in the United States is often associated with mass shootings, suicide represents approximately 60% of all lives lost to firearms.
The analysis showed that suicides have lower overall economic costs because less is spent on direct costs like the criminal justice system and incarceration.
But as Mr. Miller and his team put it: “The intangible cost of pain and suffering is a crushing burden to bear.”
And the prevalence of guns plays a big role in where suicides and homicides occur.
“One of the interesting things we’ve learned from the research is that your risk of dying by suicide and your risk of dying by homicide are both much higher if you have a gun in your home,” Ms. .Miller.
Despite the regularity of gun violence in the United States, there was good news for gun control activists in the past month.
The US Congress has passed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a bipartisan compromise on an issue that bitterly divides Americans.
The new law included a package of measures, such as tougher background checks for young gun buyers, restrictions on gun ownership for perpetrators of domestic violence, and funding for mental health programs.
“Lives will be saved,” President Joe Biden said at the White House as he signed the law.
But the law was signed just days after the US Supreme Court expanded gun rights by ruling that Americans have the right to carry guns in public for personal defense.
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