Over the weekend, a racially motivated mass shooting occurred, this time in Jacksonville, Florida. Three Black people were murdered before the white gunman turned one of his guns on himself. The 21-year-old legally purchased both the handgun and AR-15 style rifle he used.
It’s these regularly horrific events that bring out statements from local leaders, advocacy groups of all kinds, governors and presidents. Those statements are then followed by media scrutiny until the next horrific shooting occurs. It’s a feature of America’s policies on guns, not a bug. It is predictable and no matter what words are used in the heartfelt statements given in response, it will continue.
What is missing from the cycle is important: we don’t ever talk about what it all costs. No, in most circles, it doesn’t get a mention. An accounting of the cost of guns is rarely undertaken, and when it is, the numbers are so shocking and enormous, the study usually falls victim to the post-truth era in which we live.
In March of 2022, Indiana passed its law eliminating the need for a gun permit. The year before, the Indiana General Assembly had made the permit free of charge. The policy reasoning behind these moves in consecutive years is grounded in the mantra of “why should people have to pay for something that is a constitutional right?”
The cost of gun ownership
The answer is simple: the mere presence of guns in our culture is expensive. Wildly expensive. Even those of us who don’t own a gun, or participate in the gun market at all, are sharing the costs of that market. We are literally, and involuntarily financing the killings.
In most circumstances of policy making, the “cost causer” is who we look to first to pay somehow. Either through user fees, or targeted taxes, it is widely accepted as fair.
Except with guns.
With a year’s worth of statistics in Indiana since “permitless” carry became the law, we now know a few unsurprising things. Gun related crime has continued to grow. The costs of the mere presence of guns in our culture has also grown. And a year after the requirement to obtain and carry a permit for most guns was repealed, two years after the fee for the permit was eliminated, the gun market contributes less to its costs.
If gun related crime hasn’t shown some sort of reduction, it is safe to assume the costs haven’t either. More and cheaper access to guns logically leads to more guns being possessed, which would lead any rational, objective person to predict more shootings. That’s what the year of data shows. Yep, we expected that.
Who pays that cost?
Importantly, when we talk about the costs of guns, it’s not just crime. It includes accidents. It includes suicide attempts, even failed ones.
As reported by Casey Smith of the Indiana Capital Chronicle on Aug. 21, accidental shootings are on the rise. Smith wrote: “Since July 2022, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) has been tracking accidental shootings, specifically. IMPD found non-fatal, accidental shootings more than doubled in February 2023 compared to February averages in the last 5 years. There were as many as 75 such incidents for the last half of 2022, and more than 75% of those were self-inflicted.”
There’s a cost to each one of them. Medical costs. Emergency responses. Productivity loss. When I think of these things, I immediately think of insurance. Since a home with guns in it is less safe than a home without guns, shouldn’t homeowners’ insurance rates reflect that?
San Jose, California passed an ordinance earlier this year to address just that. In January, the city began requiring homeowners and renters who own firearms to carry liability insurance. Of course, the NRA and its followers immediately claimed this is an infringement of rights, which is, as it usually is, nonsense. I’m sure homeowners with swimming pools might have an opinion about this argument in San Jose, a town that is likely teeming with home pools.
Everytown Research and Policy published its sweeping report on the cost of guns in July of last year. The number? $557 billion annually, or nearly $1,700 for every resident in America. Not every gun owner. Not every NRA member. Every resident.
The gun market does contribute something though. In 2019, the federal excise tax on guns and ammunition generated $653 million, a little over 1% of what it costs. Yes, that’s just more than nothing.
Indiana’s costs are slightly higher than that average of course, and Hoosiers just made guns cheaper.
What does culture get for this Faustian bargain? Gun owners get freedom. They get a false sense of safety and security. They get identity.
The rest of us just get the tab.