Academic journal article The Future of Children

The Costs of Gun Violence against Children

Academic journal article The Future of Children

The Costs of Gun Violence against Children

Article excerpt


Gun violence imposes significant costs on children, families, and American society as a whole. But these costs can be difficult to quantify, as much of the burden of gun violence results from intangible concerns about injury and death. This article explores several methods for estimating the costs of gun violence.

One method is to assess how much Americans would be willing to pay to reduce the risk of gun violence. The authors use this "willingness-to-pay" framework to estimate the total costs of gun violence. Their approach yields the following lessons:

* Although gun violence has a disproportionate impact on the poor, it imposes costs on the entire socioeconomic spectrum through increased taxes, decreased property values, limits on choices of where to live and visit, and safety concerns.

* Most of the costs of gun violence--especially violence against children--result from concerns about safety. These are not captured by the traditional public health approach to estimating costs, which focuses on medical expenses and lost earnings.

* When people in a national survey were asked about their willingness to pay for reductions in gun violence, their answers suggested that the costs of gun violence are approximately $100 billion per year, of which at least $15 billion is directly attributable to gun violence against youth.

The authors note that in light of the substantial costs of gun violence, even modestly effective regulatory and other interventions may generate benefits to society that exceed costs.


For some, the title of this article may conjure up a dry accounting exercise, calculating medical expenditures and earnings lost because of injury. But an accounting of this sort, while common enough, misses the point. Public concern about gun violence has little to do with the resulting burden on the health care system or the reduction in the labor force due to death and disability. Rather, the costs of gun violence that truly matter, especially for children and their families, have everything to do with concerns about safety Avoiding and preventing gun violence is a costly enterprise in both the public and private spheres, but most parents (and other community members) would be willing to pay even more if they could reduce that threat further. The cost of gun violence, then, is the flip side of the value of safety.

In recent years, the United States has benefitted from a substantial increase in safety from violence. (See the articles by Blumstein and by Fingerhut and Christoffel in this journal issue.) The immediate economic benefit of this reduction has included savings in criminal justice and medical costs. More importantly, lower violence rates have played a leading role in stimulating a renaissance in many central cities. Cities have become more livable and attractive because they are safer. That change is worth billions of dollars, as demonstrated by rising urban property values. (1-4)

A major exception to this trend is concern about school gun violence. Although school shootings remain quite rare (see the article by Fingerhut and Christoffel), with the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and elsewhere, even suburban schools no longer seem like a safe haven. It would be worth a great deal to reestablish the sense of security in schools that prevailed as recently as the mid-1990s.

These observations are helpful in understanding the economic burden that gun violence places on American society. Quite simply, the threat of death and injury reduces the standard of living in a variety of ways. Translating that insight into specific dollar estimates is not easy, because the value of safety from gun violence is subjective and only partly reflected in market transactions. But the practical difficulties of developing a reliable estimate are not insurmountable. …

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