Commentary

Rural or urban, we all bear the economic cost of gun violence. Here’s how to fix it | Opinion

Tina Ford, of Clairton, Pa., speaks at a Capitol news conference on Tuesday, 6/22/21 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

By Erin Buchner

Whether you are a survivor of gun violence or know someone who is, gun violence impacts each of us in the Commonwealth.

While Philadelphia often makes headlines for shootings happening on a daily basis, gun violence is not isolated to our cities. People living in Wayne and Lawrence Counties are dying of gun violence at rates not far behind the rate of those living in Philadelphia County —19.7, 16.8, and 20.2 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively.

Every year, more than 1,500 Pennsylvanians are killed in acts of gun violence, and on average for each life taken by gun violence, two more of our neighbors are shot and wounded. This session legislators are faced with choices.

One option is to make real investment in violence intervention programs. The other option is that Pennsylvanians continue to pay — with their lives, with lost loved ones, with resources that their communities desperately need.

Every act of gun violence has devastating consequences for families, friends, and entire communities.

Those who survive their shootings go on to experience an array of difficulties that include psychological trauma and debilitating medical costs. All too often survivors are impacted financially by job loss, diminished wages and productivity. Responding to continued violence also costs our healthcare systems valuable resources, making it even more difficult to treat the ongoing pandemic.

It’s clear that the costs of gun violence aren’t just experienced by those directly affected; entire communities are paying the price of Pennsylvania’s gun violence crisis.

In addition to the emotional loss of losing someone to gun violence, the financial loss poses a significant threat to the financial stability of many families in Pennsylvania.

‘We carry each other, we help each other’: These Pa. moms lost sons to gun violence. They want Harrisburg to help | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Lost wages and opportunities suffered by survivors of gun violence and their families is devastating and creates additional stress on Pennsylvania’s social safety nets.

The economic burden of gun deaths and injuries does not lay solely on the families of those directly impacted. The government-related costs, such as first response, medical care, mental health care, long-term disability, police response, and criminal justice costs, fall on taxpayers.

Employers pay to cover or replace employees in the hospital or killed. Our state and communities lose tax revenue as well — income tax when workers are lost to gun violence, sales tax when families need to prioritize hospital bills first, and property tax from values deflated by fears of gun violence.

A recent study by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and leading health economists at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that gun violence costs Pennsylvania $12.1 billion each year, of which $567.4 million is paid by taxpayers.

This translates to an average cost of $942 per resident each year.  These are dollars we could be investing in education, economic redevelopment, infrastructure, and so much more. Not dealing with gun violence is a breach of the fiduciary duty that we place with our legislators to responsibly manage our tax dollars.

As a volunteer in the gun violence prevention movement, I’ve listened to countless stories of the impact of gun violence on survivors right here in the Commonwealth; from unintentional shootings and domestic violence to gun homicides and suicide.

So far in 2021, gun violence has claimed the life of a 9-year-old in Philadelphia and a family of four in Chester County; Police are investigating an unintentional shooting death in Clinton County, while two separate shootings in Monroe County left one dead and five in the hospital.

Far too often, I hear my fellow Pennsylvanians living in more rural parts of the Commonwealth claim that gun violence is just an “inner-city problem.”

The reality is, the majority of gun deaths in our commonwealth — 62 percent — are from gun suicides, which tend to be concentrated in rural areas. This isn’t just a problem for those living in cities. In light of the financial burden it puts on all Pennsylvania tax payers, it must be on all of us to solve this problem.

So what can we do? For starters, members of the General Assembly should treat gun violence as the public health crisis that it is by funding successful prevention programs including violence intervention. The Legislature should utilize federal funds to fuel these important programs. They took a large and important step in allocating $30 million for violence intervention programs in this year’s budget..

To ensure continued funding, they can also act on bills now before the state House and Senate that create grant programs that can be accessed by street outreach, hospital based intervention programs, and more using federal Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA) funding.

All told, we need every Pennsylvanian to recognize the far-reaching consequences of gun violence. Whether you know the trauma of gun violence firsthand, or are lucky enough to have not been touched by it yet, every taxpayer in our state is paying the price for this uniquely American problem.

Let’s work together to end gun violence, save lives, and make sure all our communities are safe and thriving. To find out more about our secure storage education program, visit besmartforkids.org or join a local group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America by texting READY to 644-33.

Erin Buchner is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.