If you’ve never personally been affected by gun violence, it’s easy to think the ripples of it haven’t affected your life, but it’s simply not true. Much of the financial burden of gun violence rests on the shoulders of taxpayers. Law enforcement expenses and criminal justice system costs are almost fully funded by taxpayers. And because approximately 85 percent of gunshot victims are uninsured or on publicly funded insurance, a majority of the healthcare costs for gun violence victims are funded by taxes as well.[i]
Florida has some of the country’s weakest gun laws and some of the worst mass shooting tragedies, including the shooting in Parkland that killed seventeen and injured seventeen, and the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed fifty and injured forty-nine. There are more than 6,000 shootings in Florida every year, costing the state over $5 billion.[ii] When adding in the estimated costs of pain and suffering, that number rises to over $14.1 billion. The annual cost of gun violence for Florida taxpayers is approximately $950 million. In Pennsylvania, the yearly directly measurable cost of gun violence is over $3 billion, with the estimated annual cost to the taxpayers over $590 million. The state has the thirty-first highest gun death rate in the country.[iii]
Are these numbers still feeling too far away? Think of it this way: gun violence costs each American, including you, roughly $700 every year.[iv]
The costs of gun violence go beyond this, though, and pervade multiple areas of local economies and the community residents’ quality of life. Think about it with me. If an area experiences a surge in the rates of gun violence, how does that affect local businesses? Home values? Quality of life for residents and children?
It’s not just about the people who get shot and the people who do the shooting, it’s about everyone—even the people who live daily with the effects of this crisis without even realizing it. An analysis by researchers at The Urban Institute found sharp increases in gun violence can “significantly reduce the growth of new retail and service businesses and slow home value appreciation.” Higher gun violence rates can also be associated with fewer retail and service businesses, fewer new jobs, lower credit scores, and lower homeownership rates. In Minneapolis, each gun homicide in a census neighborhood in a year was related to eighty fewer jobs the next year. In Washington, DC, every instance of ten gunshots in a census tract in a year was related to one business closing.[v]
Business owners in high gun violence areas have to spend a significant amount of money on top of their regular business expenses just to deal with the threat of gun violence. They install bulletproof windows, plexiglass, bars over their windows, and security systems. They hire extra security staff. They reduce their hours to avoid more dangerous times, resulting in reduced income. Even during operating hours, they lock their doors to filter and screen people who want to come inside. For communities that experience a high rate of gun violence, the possibility of being directly affected by it feels imminent. This one fact informs numerous decisions they make on a daily basis.
It becomes the way they live their lives. The way gun violence affects local economies and slows an area’s population growth helps perpetuate a cycle where gun violence continues to ravage communities that are already at risk.
Instead of identifying gun violence as a cause of economic distress for various communities, we often simply label them “bad neighborhoods” or “the bad side of town.” In Roanoke, Virginia, a city right outside of where I grew up, we knew all the “bad areas.” We knew the places where we shouldn’t even drive down the road. After college, I worked there as a social worker and was often scared to go out on calls because I knew I was going to a place where there was often violence, including gun violence.
Driving down the road, my eyes would catch sight of a convenience store with bars on the windows or a retail shop with a gate across the front door, and I would think to myself, “No wonder no one wants to live here.” I was ignorant to the systemic injustices affecting these neighborhoods and to the ways we write them off as hopeless or lost causes. I had no framework to understand the cycle of economic depression, due in part to gun violence, affecting certain areas of Roanoke. It’s almost a chicken and egg situation. Is the gun violence worse in these areas because they are “bad” areas? Or are they “bad” areas because we’ve allowed gun violence to consume them, and therefore suppress any chance of economic resilience?
It’s time for a widespread acknowledgment of the economic impacts of gun violence. Gun violence isn’t just killing people, it’s killing communities. It isn’t just costing people their lives, their body parts, or their mental health. It’s costing them their hopes, their sense of security, and their opportunity to build meaningful lives for themselves and their families. By reducing gun violence, we won’t only save lives and prevent the suffering of thousands of people, but also we can help communities rebuild and thrive. We can stop a cycle that continues to oppress our neighbors. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty pro-life to me.
Adapted from When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough: A Shooting Survivor’s Journey into the Realities of Gun Violence by Taylor S. Schumann. Copyright 2021 by Taylor Sharpe Schumann. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL (www.ivpress.com).
[i] U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee Democratic Staff, “A State-by-State Examination of the Economic Costs of Gun Violence,” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, September 18, 2019, www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/b2ee3158-aff4-4563-8c3b-0183ba4a8135/economic costs-of-gun -violence.pdf.
[ii] U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, “A State-by-State Examination of the Economic Costs of Gun Violence.”
[iii] U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, “A State-by-State Examination of the Economic Costs of Gun Violence.”
[iv] U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, “A State-by-State Examination of the Economic Costs of Gun Violence.”
[v] Yasemin Irvin-Erickson et al., “Gun Violence Affects the Economic Health of Communities,” Urban Institute, July 12, 2018, www.urban.org/research/publication /gun-violence-affects-economic-health-communities.