Gun violence cost America $280 billion in 2018: Report

"This is not a one-time cost. Every year we pay."

Gun violence has cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives. It's also cost the U.S. trillions of dollars.

From 1992 to 2018, the annual cost has fluctuated from $229 billion to $303 billion, most recently reaching $280 billion, according to a new report. That works out to about $860 per person.

The report, which was released on Wednesday by the nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety, broke down the economic costs of gun violence into five categories: medical, police and criminal justice, employer related, work loss and quality of life.

Ted Miller, a health economist and researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation who worked on the report, pointed to work and quality-of-life costs as the largest. Work losses refer to lost income because of firearm-related death or disability, while quality-of-life costs are more indirect losses from gun violence -- pain, suffering, a loss of well-being for victims and families -- that researchers quantified using jury awards and victim settlements as guides.

Although quality of life is an indirect metric, it's an important one, according to Miller.

"You can't go out and buy quality of life," he said.

The report also found that because of gun violence, federal, state and local governments spend a combined $34.8 million each day on areas such as medical care, first responders, ambulances, police and criminal justice services.

Sarah Burd-Sharps, director of research at Everytown, said she hoped the report could be a guiding force for lawmakers trying to decide between different policies and actions.

"It's critical that you have data on the billions that are going out, particularly at a time when municipalities and families are stretched because of COVID," she added.

Gun policy also may contribute to state gun violence costs, the report found. In Louisiana, among the states with the highest levels of gun deaths, the cost to residents averages out to $1,793 per person each year. In Massachusetts, which has strict gun laws and the lowest rate of gun deaths in the country, the average per-person annual cost is $261.

"It's pretty clear that states that have strong gun-safety laws have far lower costs than states with lax gun laws," Burd-Sharps said.

Calculating the cost of gun violence helps communicate its effect on individuals, employers and the government, even if they don't personally own guns. Economic breakdowns can help show whether gun violence interventions are worth spending money on and help policymakers compare gun violence to other health and safety issues, like drunken driving and smoking.

"Understanding budget implications can be influential in informed decision making," Miller explained. "It's having a yardstick that helps us understand how big a problem is."

To that end, he doubled down on a part of the report he hopes will not be overlooked by decision makers.

"This is the bill every year," Miller said. "This is not a one-time cost. Every year we pay."

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