We Can’t Afford Guns Anymore

The shooting at the GOP baseball game was unusual only because it was a liberal shooting at conservatives. But otherwise, the shooting was normal.

Shootings are distressingly common. There have been about 153 mass shootings this year alone. America loves guns. But that love is destroying us.

It’s time to give up on private gun ownership.

The NRA has suppressed research probing the health effects of guns. But we have some. Dr. Ted Miller, a senior research scientist from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an independent nonprofit that studies public health and safety, believes that the social cost of firearms has been ignored.

“Guns are a product that pose hazard and we shouldn’t treat them differently than any other hazardous product,” says Miller.

Every year, guns cost America over $229 billion. That’s roughly $700 per American, according to a 2015 study Miller conducted with Mother Jones. That’s more than the cost of obesity and only slightly less than what we spend on Medicaid.

Gun violence incurs direct and indirect costs. The $8.6 billion worth of direct costs includes emergency medical services, related long-term health care, police investigations and prison expenses. Jailing shooters costs $5.2 billion, or $400,000 per gun homicide (of which there are 32 per day, on average). Indirect costs, such as lost wages, mental health expenses and victims’ quality of life, account for another $221 billion.

Every time a person’s shot, taxpayers are responsible for emergency room visits, lost income, physical therapy, mental health treatment and more. It’s bad now but would be even worse if the GOP succeeds in stripping health care from millions of Americans.

More stringent gun regulations produce lower costs. According to the Mother Jones report, states with looser gun regulations create higher costs than those with stricter laws. Hawaii and Massachusetts, in stark opposition to “gun rights strongholds” like Florida and Texas report the lowest gun death rates.

We cannot afford to let gun violence continue. The morality of harming other humans aside, we literally cannot afford the financial toll.

Increasing taxes on guns, a common proposal among gun control advocates, raises money to address social costs. But we need more research to know how much is needed. Besides, it’s unlikely Americans would ever support a tax high enough.

Gun rights supporters argue that if someone really wants a gun, they’ll pay more or steal one. But the evidence says otherwise. Philip Cook of Duke University studies the economics of crime and crime prevention, focusing on firearms and alcohol. According to Dr. Cook, if you raise the cost of cigarettes or alcohol, people smoke and drink less. He believes the same holds true for guns: raise the price of guns and people will buy fewer of them.

Miller notes that poor people who live in dangerous neighborhoods prize gun ownership. “They feel they need to protect themselves more than most,” he says, “and maybe what you’ve just done is force them into an illegal market. Because other people are armed and they feel they need to be armed.”

However, gun ownership overall does not make people or society safer. Many gun deaths and injuries are accidents, often occurring in households and between family members. Meaning “curious toddlers” and “teenagers showing off,” according to a 2016 study. That study also showed that southern states (with looser-to-laughable gun laws) have the highest rates of accidental gun injuries and deaths.

Dr. Cook agrees. “The public virtue of keeping guns is greatly exaggerated,” he says, noting that guns can be or misused or stolen, sometimes by family members and end up being “the source of crime.”
And with those crimes, the cost keeps rising.

In almost every gun control debate, the pro-gun side champions this argument: Americans like shooting guns and we can’t stop free Americans from doing what they want. Well, I like driving over a hundred MPH on the freeway but it’s illegal. Because. I. Could. Kill. Someone.

Their argument just isn’t good enough. Dr. Miller told me a story about a “very liberal” friend of his who hunts for all his meat because he feels it is more ecologically responsible and also provides healthier meat. While his environmental activism is admirable, he is an outlier. We as a society do not hunt for game. People don’t need to own guns for survival hunting.

We don’t need to own guns. We just don’t. People say “well people like hunting and target shooting.” Great, rent a gun and go hunting. Rent a gun at a shooting range.

Granted, gun ranges do come with their own set of complications. In most states, they aren’t required to perform background checks. The result is what Politico called “the little discussed suicide problem at America’s firing ranges.” Mentally unwell people and people at risk for suicide can walk into a gun range, sign a waiver and shoot themselves. Or accidents happen because most states don’t require ranges to train people on how to actually use guns.

This is a problem, to be sure. But there are solutions. Impose strict regulations on who can enter a shooting range and require all ranges to ensure every person in the facility knows how to handle their weapon. In other words, do the rational, sane things we should do for private gun ownership but too often don’t.

It’s long past the time we should care about gun owners’ feelings. We can’t afford to anymore.