Gun violence leads to huge health-care costs. Gun violence has to be kept in the public’s sight if we’re ever going to do better than we’re doing now as a country.
There’s more reason to treat gun violence as a public-health issue. Gun injuries result in billions of dollars of health-care costs, which affects not just the injured or killed but often takes money that hospitals might use for other patients.
A new Stanford University study focused on the health-care costs of gun injuries and found that from 2006 to 2014 Americans paid more than $6.6 billion to treat victims of gunshots. That’s without counting long-term care or rehabilitation.
The study, published last week in the American Journal of Public Health, could easily be lost in the unending stream of bizarre behavior emanating from Washington, D.C. We have to keep our eyes on Washington, but without losing sight of the many other problems that need to be dealt with.
Gun violence has to be kept in the public’s sight if we’re ever going to do better than we’re doing now as a country. We tend to think of it only when there is a big incident, but gunfire is a constant problem.
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Last week a woman was sitting in her car outside a Renton restaurant when a stranger walked up and shot her in the leg.
In 2014, 33,700 people in this country died of gunshot injuries, the majority of them self-inflicted. An additional 81,000 were treated for nonfatal gunshot injuries, and taxpayers paid for at least 41 percent of the medical costs of dealing with those deaths and injuries.
Doesn’t that seem like a problem worth addressing? It’s a public-safety issue, a crime issue and a public-health issue. Treating gun violence as a public-health issue is a relatively recent approach that is both about the recognition that it significantly affects the lives and health of victims and also a reaction to how difficult it has been to address gun violence more directly.
Our country has a relationship with guns that is rare in the world. The right to guns is a political issue pressed by a powerful lobby that is unconcerned with anything other than selling more guns.
Gun-rights advocates argue that having a gun in every pocket and under every bed will keep your family safe, or combat terrorist attacks or random mass shootings or assure your personal safety at the mall. Those arguments ignore reality. For instance, studies find people are less safe with a gun in the home.
Defenders of gun rights sometimes argue you might need a gun to fend off the federal government. But, really, who needs to fight off the government when it cowers in the face of the gun lobby?
For decades, gun-rights advocates have kept at bay meaningful national action to reduce gun violence, even getting Congress to stop funding research on anything that might support gun-control measures. A group that advocates for ignorance is generally pushing something that wouldn’t fare well in the sunlight.
As a result of all that lobbying, we have a lot less information about gun violence than we should have, but the information we do have all points to guns as a costly indulgence, taking lives and making us less safe than we’d be without them.
The best available research finds an association between gun laws and gun violence, with states that have more regulation generally having less violence.
One study found that the murder rate increased in eight states that expanded their “right-to-carry” laws between 1999 and 2010.
Our state is doing better than that. We now have a law that allows authorities to restrict a person’s access to firearms if that person has been judged to be a danger to oneself or to other people.
And Seattle’s city government passed a law that collects a tax on gun and ammunition sales to fund gun-injury research. It hasn’t raised a lot of money yet — Seattle is not a hotbed of gun sales — but it moves us in the right direction in the absence of federal action.
And the city is currently funding a three-year public-health study that’s aimed at filling in some of the gaps in research on gun injuries.
The more information we have, the better the odds we’ll make personal and policy choices that make us healthier in multiple ways.