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Gun violence follows epidemiological trajectories much like an actual virus, according to the research of Yale sociologist Andrew Papachristos. Both victims and perpetrators tend to belong to a tightly linked social network where transmission bounces from person to person, a process Stephen Hargarten, a professor and gun violence researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin, […]

Gun violence follows epidemiological trajectories much like an actual virus, according to the research of Yale sociologist Andrew Papachristos. Both victims and perpetrators tend to belong to a tightly linked social network where transmission bounces from person to person, a process Stephen Hargarten, a professor and gun violence researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin, likens to a “bio-social disease.” As such, it’s easy to fall into the illusion that unless you live in a dangerous neighborhood, you’re inoculated from the problem of gun violence.

But no one can escape its economic effects, which ripple societywide and cost the average citizen several hundred dollars a year in taxes and other, indirect costs.

On a national scale, shootings cost the U.S. population $229 billion each year, or about $720 for every man, woman and child, according to economist Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, who calculated these estimates for Mother Jones magazine. His figures include costs related to medical care, emergency response, prison costs, loss of productivity and lowered quality of life. By way of comparison, the U.S. government spends about $250 billion a year on state Medicaid programs, which provide health care coverage to the poor and disabled.

Statistics from Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission and The Gun Violence Archive.

Statistics from Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission and The Gun Violence Archive.

In Wisconsin, shootings cost significantly less (some $508 per person) than the national average, according to the study. But the burden in Milwaukee is much higher: Using 2014 data, Miller calculated for this story that gun violence costs Milwaukee County citizens about $825 million a year – $860 per person during a very low year for shootings. All things being equal, 2015’s violence likely cost more than $1,000 per resident as homicides spiked.

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Included in these estimates are police costs. According to the Milwaukee Police Department, each of the 99 homicides that occurred between Jan. 1 and Aug. 20, 2015 required an average of nine hours of police supervision by a staff of 28 sworn officers. That’s an average of $3,600 for personnel, which ended up costing a total of $313,100 for all 99 killings. The 404 non-fatal shootings that occurred during this time period cost some $552,100 in police wages, and each took an average of seven hours and 17 officers to process.

And then there are health care costs. Wisconsin hospitals received 742 E.R. visits for firearm-related injuries in 2014, and 349 of those required substantial hospital stays. Since private insurers covered only about one-fifth of these, government insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid spent $52.5 million on shooting victims in 2014. Spinal cord injuries, a common gunshot injury, can cost more than $500,000 the first year and require $100,000 each year following, according to Hargarten. Physical therapy, pain management, psychotherapy and prosthetic limbs can span a victim’s lifetime and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

To incarcerate people who commit gun crimes, Wisconsin spends almost $38,000 per person a year, and Mother Jones estimates that each homicide charge ends up costing its community about $414,000. In Milwaukee, police solve anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of all homicides.

Such violence continued into 2016, with more than 100 homicides reported as of late September, a pace slower than in 2015, when 152 people died. Many associated costs are tough to pin down but no less damaging: People tend to avoid violence-plagued areas when relocating, costing the city new tax revenue, new tourism dollars and new development.

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‘The Pistol Tax’ appears in the November 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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