In an average year, gun violence in America kills nearly 40,000 people, injures more than twice as many, and costs our nation $280 billion. This staggering figure is higher than the entire US Department of Veterans Affairs’ annual budget. Without a doubt, the human cost of gun violence—the people who are taken from us and the survivors whose lives are forever altered—is the most devastating. But examining the serious economic consequences of gun violence is paramount to understanding just how extensive and expensive this crisis is. And during these times of unprecedented economic uncertainty and stretched-thin health care resources from the coronavirus pandemic, these vast funds could be directed elsewhere if many of these shooting tragedies were prevented from occurring in the first place.
This $280 billion problem represents the lifetime costs associated with gun violence, including three types of costs: immediate costs starting at the time of an incident; subsequent costs such as treatment, long-term physical and mental health care, forgone earnings, criminal justice costs; and cost estimates of quality-of-life lost over a victim’s lifespan.
As survivors, families, communities, employers, and taxpayers, we all pay for the enormous costs associated with this violence, whether we own a gun or not.
On an average day:
- American taxpayers pay a daily average of $34.8 million for medical care, first responders, ambulances, police, and criminal justice services related to gun violence.
- Families directly affected by gun violence everyday face $4.7 million in out-of-pocket costs for medical bills and mental health support, and $140.3 million in losses from work missed due to injury or death.
- Society loses an estimated $586.8 million per day in intangible costs from the pain and suffering of gun violence victims and their families.
- Employers every day lose $1.4 million in productivity, revenue, and costs required to recruit and train replacements for victims of gun violence.
The large variation in rates of gun deaths and injuries in the 50 states and Washington, DC, translates into substantial differences in the economic burden from this violence. Compiling this information is vital so that policymakers and constituents can understand how resources are currently being spent and to provide direction for a different tomorrow. The average cost for overall gun violence in the United States is $860 for every person. However, in states with stronger gun laws, the economic toll of gun violence is less than half this amount, whereas in states where gun laws are weaker and gun injuries and fatalities are higher, gun violence costs residents double or more this amount per person.
In the week before Thanksgiving 2020 there were 20 shooting incidents in Dallas, Texas. When the week was over, a combination of road rage, shootouts, and drive-bys resulted in 12 people being killed and 19 injured, including a grandfather and his four-year-old granddaughter. This violence left in its wake a $10.1 million price tag for taxpayers and the loss of $101.1 million for families directly involved.1Gunviolencearchive.org, November 9–15, 2020, incidents in Dallas, TX. Accessed 12/02/2020. Costs estimated using cost per death or injury with assault intent from analysis by Ted R. Miller and the PIRE Institute, based on 2017 HCUP hospital discharges and 2018 CDC-reported deaths. Today we are all paying an enormous economic cost, as well as an unmeasurable human cost of trauma and loss, for our failure to prevent gun violence.
This report doesn’t try to put a price on human lives. Rather, it details the depth and breadth of America’s gun violence crisis in an effort to show why we must work to solve it now. Quantifying what we all spend in the aftermath of a shooting—whether the shooting was unintentional, an assault, a police-involved shooting, or an act of suicide—helps us understand the price we pay for this violence.
This report is divided into four sections based on broad cost categories: costs borne by the government and paid for with taxpayer dollars, out-of-pocket costs paid by families and employers, lost income, and an estimate for the intangible lost quality-of-life costs of gun violence to account for pain and suffering, a commonly accepted economic principle used, for example, in jury awards. All of these economic costs ultimately pale in comparison to the pain of losing a loved one. Our hope is that by combining strong data with survivors’ testimonies, we present a holistic picture of America’s gun violence epidemic and the sense of urgency to solve it.
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund worked with the leading health economist researching the cost of gun violence, Ted R. Miller, and researchers at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), to calculate the economic impact of gun violence. Data featured in this report is from the federal Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other studies as detailed in the Methodological Note. This report uses an Injury Cost Model developed by PIRE that forms the backbone of the CDC’s work on costing injuries from a broad array of causes, including gun violence.2Bruce Lawrence et al., “The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Revised Injury Cost Model” (Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, February 2018), https://bit.ly/2S5pXPB.
The Breakdown: $280 billion in Gun Violence Costs
Medical CostsImmediate and long-term medical care, mental health care, and ambulance and patient transport
Police & Criminal Justice CostsPolice response and investigation, court administration staff, and incarceration
Employer CostsEmployer costs for lost revenue and productivity
Work-Loss CostsIncome lost because of death and disability
Quality-of-Life CostsQuality-of-life loss for pain and suffering
Government Costs Paid by Taxpayers
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was known to say that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.3 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., accessed December 3, 2020, https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-quotes. Taxation buys our children’s education, economic security when we are older, garbage pickup, park maintenance, food and medicine safety regulation, public safety, and much more. These government services contribute to the good of our society.
What is clear from this report’s analysis is that while not every household has a gun, and while not all communities experience high levels of gun violence,4Gun violence does not affect all communities equally. Gun homicides, for example, are concentrated in cities. In 2015, half of all gun homicides took place in just 127 cities, which represented nearly a quarter of the US population. Within these cities, gun homicides and injuries are most prevalent in racially segregated neighborhoods with high rates of poverty. Everytown’s research on nonfatal gun injuries revealed that the likelihood of sustaining a gunshot wound is many times higher for those living in low-income areas than higher-income neighborhoods. Communities already facing concentrated poverty, a low tax base, and often generations of underinvestment in basic government services such as schools, hospitals, and transport systems can least afford the crippling cost of gun-related violence. These compounded disadvantages form a downward spiral that in turn contributes to more gun violence. we all bear the economic burden of injuries and deaths caused by firearms. Roughly $12.7 billion in tax money per year pays for our country’s gun violence epidemic. Instead of K–12 education funding, social services, economic redevelopment grants, and so many other vital public goods from which we all benefit, we are spending precious funding on an epidemic that brings nothing of benefit and plenty of heartbreak and broken lives. And this is happening at a time when the National Conference of State Legislatures has catalogued cuts that states are having to make in order to close budget shortfalls due to COVID-19. While costs vary depending on the circumstances of the incident, each gun fatality costs taxpayers an average of $270,399 for the initial and long-term repercussions of that incident, and each nonfatal injury costs $52,585.
Each gun fatality costs taxpayers $270,399.
Each nonfatal gun injury costs taxpayers $52,585.
Individuals, families, and employers pay $1.7 billion annually in out-of-pocket medical and mental health care costs for gun-related violence in America.
Government costs for gun violence—paid for by taxpayers—fall into two broad categories: medical costs and police and criminal justice costs, as detailed below. The annual medical cost of gun violence is paid partly by the government (52 percent) and partly by families and private individuals (48 percent), with the portion of medical costs borne by taxpayers of $2.0 billion. The second group of taxpayer costs, for police and criminal justice, totals $10.7 billion per year. For gun violence survivors, these services provide a lifeline many wished they never needed.
Medical and long-term disability costs of gun violence cost taxpayers $2.0 billion annually. This includes:
- Medical care including Medicaid
- Mental health care
- Ambulance and patient transport
Police & Criminal Justice Costs
Police and criminal justice costs of gun violence cost taxpayers $10.7 billion annually. This includes:
- Police response and investigation
- Court Administration
- Public prosecutors and defenders
- Jail and prison incarceration
Jim Burch, President of the National Police Foundation, shares the economic toll and trauma that law enforcement experience.
Read Jim’s Story
Across the country, gun violence places an enormous strain on our first responders and criminal justice systems. Jim Burch served in the Department of Justice for more than 20 years, overseeing initiatives to support state and local law enforcement. Through that work, Burch learned of the human and economic toll gun violence takes on police departments at every stage of an investigation.
Investigating gun violence effectively often requires resources and tools: gunshot detection, ballistics imaging, forensic examination, and the court system. According to Burch, “Gun crime is probably one of the more costly types of criminal activity and violence that is dealt with by our criminal justice system.”
Then there is the trauma that police officers and first responders experience on the job. Gun violence affects police officer wellness and likely retention rates because “people can’t or just don’t want to be exposed to that level of repeated pain and trauma,” Burch explained. That trauma can also make it harder for officers to do their jobs. “If you have a police officer who has seen this so much that they’re numb to the violence, how effective can they be in understanding the community’s concerns and impatience around gun violence? We become complacent over time with levels of gun violence.”
“It’s truly a problem that is compounding in nature,” Burch said. “If you don’t have the economic engine and the investment being made in those communities, and yet they are disproportionately affected by this type of extraordinarily costly problem, there is this vicious cycle of economic disruption.”
Source: Jim Burch in discussion with Kaelyn Forde, Everytown for Gun Safety, April 7, 2020.
Costs Paid by Families and Employers
In addition to the burden on taxpayers, individuals, families, and employers bear enormous costs for gun-related violence in America, including $1.7 billion annually in out-of-pocket medical and mental health care costs. Families also experience the loss of $51.2 billion from work loss for victims and perpetrators. Employers pay $528.7 million per year to cover the costs of employee absence due to gun violence.
The average hospital stay for a nonfatal gun injury costs $67,245—as much as the US median household income for an entire year.5US median household income in 2018 was $64,324. Jessica Semega et al., “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019” (US Census Bureau, September 15, 2020), https://bit.ly/3mERkhD. It isn’t hard to see how medical bills from gunshot injuries quickly add up and financially devastate families. The ongoing, complex nature of the medical and mental health care that some gun violence survivors require means that those costs can last years, decades, or a lifetime.
Across the country, gun violence victim and perpetrator work loss accounts for $51.2 billion per year. Families feel the loss of a missing monthly paycheck and benefits—plus the burden of caring for the injured—even more acutely when the injured person or lost family member was supporting children or a main breadwinner. While perhaps not intuitive, it is important to consider both victims’ and perpetrators’ economic losses to understand the full scope of gun violence on our society and what we lose when guns shatter lives.
Carolyn Tuft relies on Medicare after being wounded and losing her daughter to gun violence in 2007.
Read Carolyn’s Story
Like many gun violence survivors, Carolyn Tuft of Salt Lake City, Utah, relies on Medicare and Supplemental Security Income to access the continuing care and support she needs after being shot three times. Before the shooting, Tuft was an avid cyclist, hiker, and runner who supported her family of four kids with $2,800 per month from a successful cleaning business. “Within minutes, everything changed,” Tuft said.
A gunman opened fire on Tuft and her 15-year-old daughter, Kirsten Hinckley, while they were shopping for Valentine’s Day cards at the Trolley Square Mall on February 12, 2007. In an instant, Tuft lost Kirsten, the baby of the family who was “the glue—bubbly, kind, and funny,” she said. “It damaged us all in so many ways because it was like that light was put out.”
Tuft was left with shotgun pellets throughout her body, which are now causing lead poisoning. Her injuries are life altering and a chronic source of pain. Thirteen years later, Tuft estimates her medical costs are well into the millions. “When I finally came home from the hospital, it was three kids and a very sick mom,” she said.
Tuft, unable to return to the physically demanding work of cleaning houses, struggled financially. “When I got shot, I was no longer able to return to work. And when you can’t work, you can’t pay bills, you can’t pay the mortgage—there’s that trickle-down effect,” she explained. “Everything was gone, and it wasn’t a slow trickle. It was a fast one.”
Ultimately, she said, “there was just no money coming in . . . I no longer had a house for us all to live in, and so it tore our family apart.” For her kids, Tuft said, “it impacted everyone in such a huge way, and violently.”
“I now live below the poverty line on less than $500 a month,” she said. “Gun violence throws people into poverty when they’re as seriously injured as I was. People never imagine they can end up like that when they are hard working and have successful jobs.”
The former small-business owner and independent single mom says she wishes she didn’t need to rely on the government for help, but there is simply no other way.
Source: Carolyn Tuft in discussion with Kaelyn Forde, Everytown for Gun Safety, March 17, 2020.
Finally, when survivors’ injuries leave them unable to work, the economy as a whole suffers. In addition to the burden of lost wages on survivors’ families, gun violence costs employers $528.7 million per year. This encompasses the direct costs to productivity such as lost revenue due to unfilled jobs, the value of the time supervisors spend adjusting schedules to cover for lost work, and the cost burden of recruiting and training replacements when necessary.
Private Payer Costs
Individuals, families, and employers pay $1.7 billion annually in out-of-pocket medical and mental health care costs for gun-related violence in America. This includes:
- Immediate medical treatment
- Follow-up medical care, long-term rehabilitation, prescriptions, etc.
- Mental health care services for victims and immediate family members
- Coroner services, as applicable
Private Payer Losses
Individuals, families, and communities lose $51.2 billion annually in income from victims and perpetrators for gun-related violence in America. This includes:
- Forgone earnings or work due to victim injury or death and from perpetrator incarceration
- Wage equivalent for unpaid household and caregiver work for victims
Lost Revenue and Productivity
The burden of covering for employees killed or injured by guns costs employers $528.7 million annually. This includes:
- Lost productivity for victims’ employers
- Lost revenue in case of unfilled absence
- Recruiting and training replacement workers
DeAndra Yates-Dycus’s son “Dre” was shot and survived, his medical bills costing more than $10 million over six years.
Read DeAndra’s Story
DeAndra Yates-Dycus’s 13-year-old son, DeAndre “Dre” Knox, was shot in the head by a stray bullet at a birthday party in Indianapolis on February 1, 2014. The shooting left Dre unable to walk or talk and his family struggling to understand what the rest of his life would hold. “When someone survives and they are in a critical state like my son, it’s kind of like, What’s today gonna bring?” Yates-Dycus said. “Dre survived and that means the world to me, but the everyday battles can take an emotional toll if you allow them to.”
In the six years since the shooting, Dre has spent a great deal of time in hospitals. He has epilepsy, secondary to the traumatic brain injury he suffered from the shooting, his mother said, and his quadriplegia makes him susceptible to bedsores and breathing issues. At one point, he was treated at a rehabilitation center 280 miles away from where his family lives, and Yates-Dycus scrambled to pay for gas, food, tolls, and a hotel nearby. After undergoing four surgeries, Dre’s medical bills topped a million dollars in the first six months following his injury alone and more than $10 million over the past six years, his mother estimates. The family relies on Medicaid to pay for Dre’s care.
Gun violence also cost Yates-Dycus her job as a clinical instructor at a local college. She then went to work for herself in an effort to balance taking care of Dre and supporting both him and her other child.
But the particular nature of Dre’s medical needs made at-home care too costly for the family to afford while Yates-Dycus works, so she made the tough decision to send Dre to a specialized 24-hour-care facility, which she says costs more than $3,000 per day. They’ve also raised money from friends, family, and Dre’s school to equip their home to be wheelchair-accessible and get a van that allows them to travel with Dre.
“People don’t understand what it means to survive gun violence,” Yates-Dycus said. “People don’t understand what is attached to surviving, which is a high economic cost.”
Source: DeAndra Yates-Dycus in discussion with Kaelyn Forde, Everytown for Gun Safety, March 17, 2020.
The damage caused by gun violence, of course, is not limited to the individual who was shot. When a person’s life is cut short or altered in this way, the trajectory of their family’s life changes forever as well. And the high cost that society bears extends far beyond medical bills.
In America, gun violence costs an estimated $214.2 billion annually in lost quality-of-life. These are intangible costs that quantify—based on jury awards and victim settlements—the pain, suffering, and lost overall well-being that a person and their family experience due to gun death and injury. Quality-of-life lost represents the present value of what was irreparably damaged when a victim’s life was cut short or a survivor was permanently disabled by gun violence, with a higher amount for younger victims with years of life ahead of them.
Pain and Suffering
Gun violence costs an estimated $214.2 billion annually in lost quality-of-life. This includes:
- Estimate of the intangible loss of victims and survivors due to either a life cut short or a person permanently disabled by gun violence.
While these estimates are enormous, they do not include the indirect impact that gun violence has on many other people in our country, which would undeniably put the price even higher. While this report’s quality-of-life lost estimate includes individuals who were shot and their immediate family, it does not include children who lost their parents, siblings, or extended family members, or those who witnessed gun violence and were marked by the trauma of it. The collective trauma we all feel when a mass shooting, homicide, or suicide occurs certainly isn’t free.
The pain and suffering caused by a single gun can ripple through an entire family, as is the case with gun suicides, which account for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths6Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data at publication time: 2014 to 2018 and half of the cost of gun violence in America. Suicides have lower overall economic costs associated with them—largely because less is spent on criminal justice and incarceration costs—but the intangible cost in pain and suffering is a crushing weight to bear.
McKay Moore Sohlberg’s husband died by suicide, putting her in financial uncertainty.
Read McKay’s Story
McKay Moore Sohlberg’s husband, Olof Erick Sohlberg, ended his life with a gun on April 25, 2011, at their Oregon home. A successful urologist, Olof had lunch with his daughter, ran some errands, texted his wife about dinner, and then purchased a gun. Three hours later, he took his own life. Because he used a firearm, Olof’s suicide was lethal. Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, 4 percent result in death. But approximately 90 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death.1Andrew Conner, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Suicide Case-Fatality Rates in the United States, 2007 to 2014: A Nationwide Population-Based Study,” Annals of Internal Medicine 171, no. 12 (2019): 885–95, https://doi.org/10.7326/M19-1324
In an instant, Sohlberg lost the only man she ever loved, whom she had known since her teens, as well as the father of her girls. She was also thrown into financial uncertainty, worried about how the family would afford to stay in their home and pay for the kids’ schooling. “He was the primary wage earner, so that was very scary,” Sohlberg said. “I had two children in private colleges and a senior in high school.”
Sohlberg’s husband had managed the couple’s finances, so it was now up to her to figure things out. She said she was more fortunate than most; Olof had retirement savings and a life insurance policy that could help his family in the short term. Long-term, the economic impact of his suicide continues. “It certainly changed the long-term trajectory of what we had both planned, mostly in terms of retirement,” she said. “I’m working longer than I would have, and a lot of that is in order to maintain health care, which is so expensive.”
There was also the cost to Olof’s surgery practice, which had to scramble to find someone who could take care of the patients he had treated for years.
Sohlberg spent years not talking about her husband’s death because of the stigma around suicide. But that silence ultimately became too costly. “With the financial and emotional costs I have, I just can’t be silent anymore. My kids have rallied me, saying, ‘We need to do something. You need to help be our voices.’”
The trauma of Solhberg’s husband’s death extended far beyond her immediate family. “Even just thinking about the health care costs from Olof’s suicide—every single family member who sought mental health care, and our friends—I can think of 20 people, just counting quickly, who sought mental health services after this,” she said.
Source: McKay Moore Sohlberg in discussion with Kaelyn Forde, Everytown for Gun Safety, March 18, 2020.
Costs by State
Not surprisingly, states with high levels of gun violence face higher associated costs, whereas states with lower levels of gun violence and strong common sense gun laws face a lower financial burden. Louisiana has been challenged by high levels of gun violence for a long time, with an average of 967 gun deaths per year over the past five years and a rate of gun homicide that has increased 11 percent over the past decade. At an average price tag of $1,793 per person each year, Louisiana has the highest per person cost of gun violence in the United States, which translates into a very high burden for the state.
Massachusetts, on the other hand, is able to allocate far more taxpayer dollars to productive investments for its residents. Massachusetts has the lowest rate of gun deaths in the United States, with the rate of gun homicides having gone down 12 percent over the past decade. At an average cost of $261 per person each year, Massachusetts has the lowest per person outlay from gun violence in the United States.
The Economic Cost of Gun Violence by State
See data on the economic cost in your state on EveryStat.
In states with stronger gun laws, such as Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, the human and economic toll of gun violence, with a per person cost of less than $400 annually, results in more government funds to invest in education, health care, workforce development, and other valuable services and programs that can address underlying causes of gun violence. In states where gun laws are weaker and gun fatalities are higher, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri, the per person cost of gun violence is four times higher, at more than $1,600 per resident.
The graphic below illustrates these wide differences by comparing two states with similar population sizes but vastly different costs resulting from gun violence. Missouri, with a population of 6.1 million residents, spent $9.8 billion on gun violence as compared to Washington State, with a slightly larger population (7.4 million residents) but nearly half the cost—$5.3 billion. Neither amount is cause for celebration. But Missouri is a state with some of the weakest gun laws in the country, including no law requiring background checks on unlicensed gun sales and a law allowing residents to carry hidden, loaded handguns in public with no permit or safety training required.7https://everytown.org/state/missouri/. Washington, on the other hand, requires background checks on all gun sales, has an Extreme Risk law that allows loved ones or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing firearms, and requires that all gun owners store their firearms securely.8https://everytown.org/state/washington/.
Similar Population Sizes, Vastly Different Costs
Cost of gun violence per person: $716
Cost of gun violence per person: $1,606
There are so many things our country needs. If we didn’t have to be supporting the people whose lives have been ripped apart from somebody irresponsibly buying a gun and using it, it would make a huge difference. Everybody’s taxes are paying for the damage.
—Carolyn Tuft, gun violence survivor
With nearly 40,000 lives lost and almost 85,000 more injured each year, the human cost of gun violence in America is staggering. Families, friends, and entire communities suffer the long-term and irreparable impacts of these tragedies—physically, emotionally, and financially.
While survivor stories carry immense power in driving change, quantifying the financial burden of gun violence offers another important strategy and data point for doing so. This rigorous study finds that gun violence costs America an estimated $280 billion annually, toward which taxpayers pay an average of $12.7 billion, and survivors and their loved ones often pay additional millions over their lifetimes—not to mention the immense cost of quality-of-life lost. Further, some states and communities—many of which already face heightened gun violence and weaker gun safety laws—carry more of this cost than others, worsening disparities and challenges faced, and lessening resources available to prevent this cycle to begin with.
This report is part of Everytown’s efforts to paint a more complete picture of the staggering cost of gun violence in America. Calculating the economic cost of gun violence is a critical addition to this narrative because it puts a price on our collective inaction and equips policymakers, advocates, local leaders, and all Americans with additional information that can help advance action to prevent shootings and keep our families safe.
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund would like to gratefully acknowledge the work of Ted R. Miller, Bina Ali, David I Swedler, and Bruce A Lawrence of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation for their work to calculate the cost of gun violence, Kaelyn Forde for report drafting and survivor interviews, and Jim Burch, McKay Moore Sohlberg, Carolyn Tuft, and DeAndra Yates-Dycus for their willingness to share their stories.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.