Gun violence has toll beyond the death count, studies find

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As gun violence continues to rise in Rochester, new studies show that the toll extends beyond the number of deaths and injuries to include financial and psychological impacts on survivors and the community.

Nationwide, the annual cost of gun violence is $557 billion, more than the GDP of 160 countries, according to a study released this month by gun control advocacy group Everytown. These costs include medical expenses; immediate and follow-up care; the work-loss of foregone earnings or unpaid caregiving for victims; police resources, such as investigation and incarceration; and quality-of-life costs.

New York’s portion of that total was $11.4 billion or $588 per resident, the second-lowest per resident cost of gun violence behind Massachusetts. Both are among the states with the strongest gun laws, Everytown notes. The highest overall cost was Texas at $51 billion; Alaska had the highest per resident cost at $3,397.

According to Everytown’s cost calculator, every homicide victim in New York represents $14 million in costs to families, employers, the government and the broader community, while every nonfatal victim results in costs totaling $500,000.

“No dollar amount could ever fully convey the cost of gun violence for families, survivors, and communities,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, senior director for research at Everytown at a hearing before the congressional Joint Economic Committee this month. “But examining the serious economic consequences of gun violence offers a wider lens for understanding just how extensive and expensive this crisis is.”

Everytown’s data indicates the cost of violence by firearm in Rochester from January to June was $461 million, with taxpayers bearing $35 million of that cost.

“While not everyone directly experiences gun violence, we all pay an economic price for this epidemic,” said Burd-Sharps.

Similar to Everytown, the results of a 10-year study from the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard published in June highlight the medical and psychological costs of gun violence. The research primarily focused on survivors of firearm violence.

“Firearm-related deaths have garnered national scrutiny,” the report states. “Meanwhile, nonfatal firearm injuries (which includes firearm accidents) remain poorly understood.”

In total, with roughly 85,000 survivors annually in the U.S., the researchers estimated that spending attributable to nonfatal firearm injuries nationally would exceed $2.5 billion in the first year after an incident. That figure is for new survivors alone. Long-term medical spending could also increase those costs as would any downstream spending from the increased psychiatric burden borne by family members.

In Rochester, the number of nonfatal victims has increased. In 2021, more than 350 victims survived shootings, a record level for the last two decades. Halfway through this year, the city has had 139 nonfatal victims.

According to the Harvard report, each of those survivors, and to a lesser extent, their family members, could likely see their hospital bills, medication costs, susceptibility to other diseases and psychiatric disorders all increase in the years following the event.

Researchers found that medical spending in the first year after an event was about $30,000 per survivor, many of whom rely on Medicare. In the first year, survivors were also 200 percent more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder and 670 percent more likely to develop a substance use disorder. However, researchers say this could be a sign of undiagnosed psychiatric illness pre-injury that may have been uncovered during post-injury care.

Solutions outlined by the report include the need for more screening about alcohol and substance use, more attention to safe prescribing practices, and more training for firearm safety and storage. It also stresses the need for additional data on this underreported subject.

By contrast, Everytown’s report stresses the need for political action.

“Compiling this information is vital so that policymakers and constituents can understand how resources are currently being spent and to provide direction for a different tomorrow,” the report states. “It puts a price on our collective inaction and equips policymakers, advocates, local leaders, and all Americans with additional information that can help advance action to prevent shootings and keep our families safe.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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