Another tragic mass shooting outside Los Angeles at a Lunar New Year event that was supposed to be a celebration, leaving 11 dead, 10 injured and the shooter on the loose. Six hundred forty-one (641) mass shootings in 2022; 40,000 deaths and 85,000 gunshot survivors on Sunday — these are the latest statistics resulting from America’s unique love for guns.
A 2022 study by Harvard Medical School tracking gun violence survivors through their first year of recovery found they averaged a $2,495 per month increase in medical expenses; or $30,000 in the first year. This translates to $2.5 billion in health care spending for gunshot survivors annually. These costs are borne by survivors, health insurers, hospitals, and taxpayers. The only ones who don’t pay are shooters and gun manufacturers.
Cost estimates do not take into account the hidden impact these violent incidents have on the mental health of family members, witnesses, first responders, health care staff, and whole communities. Studies show post-traumatic stress results in higher rates of substance use and depression, and reduced work and school performance.
The financial cost of our Second Amendment right to bear arms should not be borne by the people harmed by guns. A school teacher wounded in the line of duty should not be expected to cover the medical expenses required to repair her body. Her heart and mind will bear the hidden cost of the trauma for years — likely her lifetime. As a nation, we have looked the other way while shooting victims face double damages by bearing the brunt of the cost of recovery.
We don’t expect people injured in automobile accidents to pay for their own medical expenses when the injury is clearly the result of someone else’s reckless driving. Similarly, those injured by a shooter should have their recovery costs covered. We all share the freedom to own guns; any one of us can be injured — and more of us are (mass shootings have more than tripled from 2010 to 2019 compared to the previous decade); it’s time we all bear the cost of this expensive and deadly right.
One way to cover these costs is to require all gun owners to be insured, just as drivers are required to have car insurance. San Jose, California, implemented an ordinance in August 2022 requiring the city’s gun owners to carry liability insurance. Most homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies cover gun accidents that occur to non-household members, even when outside one’s home, as long as the gun is owned legally.
But intentional shootings, not accidents, account for the vast majority of gun injuries. Requiring proof of homeowner’s or renter’s liability insurance before one can legally obtain a gun could serve as a deterrent. One hope with the San Jose requirement is that insurers will educate and incentivize gun owners to practice gun safety measures, thereby reducing gun accidents which are responsible for high rates of gun injuries to children.
But until liability insurance covers intentional injuries by shooters, it is only a partial solution. Still, this new ordinance is a promising start. It was initiated by Mayor Sam Liccardo after two deadly mass shootings in 2019 and 2021 killed 12 in his city and left even more injured. To his credit, he decided to offer more than “thoughts and prayers” to the residents of his city after these tragedies. Other leaders and policy makers would do well to follow his example.
A national Gun Victim Recovery Fund similar to state Crime Victim Compensation funds is a more far-reaching option. Its sole purpose would be to cover the medical and mental health costs of survivors of mass shootings and non-self-inflicted gun injuries. Gun manufacturers, states, and individuals would all contribute to this fund, pro-rated based on incentives aimed at reducing gun violence.
Gun makers could be required to contribute to the fund based on a percentage of their annual gun sales or on the percentage in which their guns were involved in mass shootings and injuries. States could pay into the fund based on their percentage of gun injuries, with reductions for statewide gun safety laws. Every individual age 18 and older could also be required to contribute, with higher rates for those with assault and battery convictions, illegal possession of a firearm or domestic violence histories.
In addition to covering medical and mental health care for survivors, the fund would force us to calculate some of the actual costs of gun violence, track what safety measures work, reward states with safety laws and fewer incidents, and require states with a higher number of incidents and few safety measures to bear a greater percentage of the costs.
Gun advocates have not been moved to enact sensible gun safety measures when confronted with the human suffering alone. A cost/benefit analysis of what we actually pay for the Second Amendment in dollars and cents might be a more compelling approach.
What I am proposing is a gun tax. It’s time we own up to the cost of our guns instead of glorifying them. When we are all forced to pay out of pocket for a right that takes so much from us, we might re-evaluate our choices. Until then we will still be left with the far-reaching and harder to calculate personal and social toll that our gun rights cost us as a nation every year.
Candace Waldron, MDiv, is a freelance blogger at www.candacewaldron.com, author of “My Daughter He: Transitioning With Our Transgender Children,” and former assistant director of Protective Services at AgeSpan. She lives in Rockport.