A study published in this month's issue of Health Affairs examines the price America pays – in terms of lives lost and dollars spent – for the right to bear arms, and it couldn't be more pertinent.
After the Vegas mass shooting (the deadliest in US history) gun control is once again making headlines. This study, however, highlights the everyday tragedies that see tens of thousands of people visit emergency rooms and die because of gun violence every year.
Researchers calculated the economic and personal cost of gun-related violence. They worked out that firearm-related injuries cost America $2.8 billion a year for emergency room and inpatient care, not to mention thousands of lives.
“The rate of firearm-related deaths in the United States is higher than the rate in comparable high-income countries, with firearms accounting for approximately 36,252 US deaths in 2015,” the study authors wrote.
12,979 of these were homicides and 22,018 were suicides.
Faiz Gani, a research fellow at the Johns Hopkins Surgery Center for Outcomes Research, and colleagues analyzed a nationally representative sample of 150,903 patients. In total, 704,916 people were admitted to an ER between 2006 and 2014 for firearm-related injuries.
Young men are the group most at risk of gun violence, the study found. Roughly 89 percent of patients were male. Over half were between 18 and 29 years old.
In terms of actual numbers, an average of 45.8 in every 100,000 men and 5.5 per 100,000 women visited an ER because of a firearm-related injury every year. For men between 20 to 24, it is 152.8 in every 100,000.
The majority of people who visited an ER had been injured by assault (49.5 percent). Accidents were the second leading cause (35.3 percent). Suicide attempts accounted for 5.3 percent.
Cases of attempted suicide were more common among patients coming from higher income brackets, whereas lower earners were more likely to visit an ER because of an assault injury. During the study, 8.3 percent of patients admitted died in the ER or in inpatient care as a result of their injury.
From a financial perspective, the researchers found that roughly $2.8 million was spent on patient care overall, averaging out at $5,254 per emergency department visit and $95,887 for treatment as an inpatient.
According to Gani, over half of patients in the study were uninsured or self-paying, which meant they faced the burden of repaying hospital expense or the charges went uncompensated.
The numbers are shocking but, as Gani points out, they don't paint the whole picture. The study didn't look at pre-hospital deaths or those who had sustained injuries but did not visit an ER. Therefore, it has likely underestimated the real cost to of injuries caused by firearms, both in lives and economically-speaking.
"Until people are aware of the problem's full extent, we can't have the best-informed discussions to guide policy," said Gani.