100 billion dollars. That is the annual cost of gun violence in America according to the authors of this landmark study, a book destined to change the way Americans view the problem of gun-related violence.
Until now researchers have assessed the burden imposed by gunshot injuries and deaths in terms of medical costs and lost productivity. Here, economists Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig widen the lens, developing a framework to calculate the full costs borne by Americans in a society where both gun violence and its ever-present threat mandate responses that touch every aspect of our lives.
All of us, no matter where we reside or how we live, share the costs of gun violence. Whether waiting in line to pass through airport security or paying taxes for the protection of public officials; whether buying a transparent book bag for our children to meet their school's post-Columbine regulations or subsidizing an urban trauma center, the steps we take are many and the expenditures enormous.
Cook and Ludwig reveal that investments in prevention, avoidance, and harm reduction, both public and private, constitute a far greater share of the gun-violence burden than previously recognized. They also employ extensive survey data to measure the subjective costs of living in a society where there is risk of being shot or losing a loved one or neighbor to gunfire.
At the same time, they demonstrate that the problem of gun violence is not intractable. Their review of the available evidence suggests that there are both additional gun regulations and targeted law enforcement measures that will help.
This urgently needed book documents for the first time how gun violence diminishes the quality of life for everyone in America. In doing so, it will move the debate over gun violence past symbolic politics to a direct engagement with the costs and benefits of policies that hold promise for reducing gun violence and may even pay for themselves.
The effects of gun violence in the United States go far beyond the costs borne by the legal system, according to the authors (both experts on pubic policy and gun violence) of this convincing, if technical, study. Calculating the costs of the roughly 110,000 annual gun-related deaths and serious injuries, the authors argue that gun violence is a public health problem that costs Americans about $100 billion a year. These costs include more than those immediately resulting from a gun injury (e.g., emergency room costs) ; it also includes related costs such as increased security at airports and schools. But most original and enlightening in this study is that in their cost-benefit outlook, the authors measure not only the financial but the emotional costs of a gun-filled society, which encompasses "not just victims but potential victims and those who are linked to those potential victims .In short, most all of us bear some part of the cost of gun violence." The authors go even further, arguing that "many of the interventions designed to separate guns from violence essentially pay for themselves." With all the evidence Cook, a professor at Duke, and Ludwig, a professor at Georgetown, marshal about the effects of gun violence, one might expect them to propose strict gun control measures. But instead they propose a series of limited reformsAmandatory registration of handguns, more police patrols against illegal gun carrying, increased sentencing for gun crimes. This study is bound to garner national attention (it has already been reported on in the New York Times), but the technical methodology and abundance of charts, graphs and tables will reduce this book's appeal to general readersAand that's unfortunate, because this volume is an innovative contribution to the growing literature on one of America's most intractable problems. (Nov. 1)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
February 13, 2002
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