Gun violence is an expensive problem, costing taxpayers thousands each
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Gun violence is a complex, multilayered issue fraught with political debates, but one thing is clear it comes with a high price tag.
“This is a problem that impacts everyone in some way, shape or form even if they don’t realize it,” Dr. Ashley Hink, a trauma surgeon at the Medical University of South Carolina, said.
In 2022, the hospital treated at least one gunshot wound a day. Not all patients ended up in Dr. Hink’s operating room, but many did.
“The overwhelming majority of injuries that we see are assaults and attempted homicides. It runs the gamut from community violence, drive-by shootings, interpersonal altercations, intimate partner violence, youth on youth violence,” she said.
A key point, she says, is that they’re preventable.
Not only do thousands pay the ultimate price with their lives each year, but gun violence in America causes an estimated $557 billion annually, according to Everytown Research. A portion of that cost, $371.9 million to be exact, is covered by taxpayers.
Medical bills, follow-up care, lost wages, plus the cost of law enforcement investigations and the judicial system all add up.
According to the same research group, each South Carolina taxpayer pays an estimated $2,716 each year in relation to gun violence or a total of $13.9 million for the entire state.
That is the 10th highest cost per resident in the country. The national average is $1,698.
A death related to gun violence costs an estimated average of $247,000 in taxpayer money and a firearm-related injury can cost an estimated $25,000. The latter is much more prevalent and can really add up. (see graphics below).
Though a victim might be expected to physically heal, they may be far from okay.
“The reality is that some of our patients that survive have totally life-altering injuries that change their lives forever,” Dr. Hink said.
That goes for families of victims too.
“I’m a gun violence survivor,” advocate Keith Smalls said.
Smalls’ 17-year-old son died after he was shot by a 15-year-old.
A normal day for him now involves checking in with his clients every morning, who he’s hopeful to free from the risky environments he finds them in.
Smalls is a client advocate for Turning the Tide, a violence intervention program founded by Dr. Hink.
For years, she’s found herself treating the symptoms, but not the cause of her patients’ injuries.
“We should be asking the question what is it that’s perhaps brought you here today? And what is it that we can do for you to help prevent this from happening again?” she said.
Firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the country according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Smalls, and other advocates, find themselves at the bedside of some of the youngest victims immediately after they’ve been shot.
“So many of our patients, victims don’t want the situation that they have,” Smalls said.
Turning the Tide aims to fill in the gaps where gun violence victims need support the most, addressing “modifiable risk factors” that can make people susceptible to violence.
Advocates may help bring groceries, drive kids to school, provide access to resources and set up job interviews.
“The doctors are doing lifesaving emergent medical care and we do soul care. We do heart work,” advocate Catherine Yetman said.
“It doesn’t matter what you go through,” a client of the program said. They did not wish to be identified. “You can’t let it beat you down. And what this program is basically like, it helps anybody that need that chance.”
Putting victims on a path to success can help reduce both their risk of violence and the people around them, and in turn, help break the cycle of violence.
“Once somebody has been victimized, they’re even more likely to be revictimized and over a five-year period they’re most likely to die by homicide,” Turning the Tide program director Christa Green said.
The nonprofit runs on about $350,000 a year
“That is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of dollars that we’re spending here locally on every shooting, on every homicide,” Green said.
The program reports success stories after only its second year, all of them continuing to stay with the advocates who work with the victims every day.
Dr. Hink reports that patients who have gone through the program are more likely to receive their follow-up care.
That can reduce costs by avoiding visits to the ER, especially so if the patient happens to be uninsured.
“I’ve got a letter that I keep up on my desk,” Yetman said. “He writes ‘I’ll never forget about you, your kindness gives me hope and confidence.’”
“Had I not been here, had this program not existed, he would have not have gotten what he got, which is what he deserved,” Smalls said about one of his first patients he worked with.
But this costly problem can’t be solved alone.
To find a solution to an issue as persistent and complex as gun violence, these advocates say, like emergent surgery, it’s all hands on deck.
“It’s really rooted not just in individual risk factors, family risk factors, but also in our community, in our systems and in our policies and to really reduce it, you have to tackle it from all of those perspectives,” Dr. Hink said.
To learn more about the program you can visit their website: https://muschealth.org/medical-services/emergency/trauma/turning-the-tide
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