Having a gun at home not only increases the risk of harm to one's self and family, but also carries high costs to society, concludes an article in the February Southern Medical Journal, official journal of the Southern Medical Association. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, professionals, and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health, and pharmacy.
"Firearm-related violence vastly increases expenditures for health care, services for the disabled, insurance, and our criminal justice system," writes Dr. Steven Lippmann of University of Louisville School of Medicine, and colleagues. "The bills are paid by taxpayers and those who buy insurance."
Guns at Home Increase Dangers, Not Safety
Based on a review of the available scientific data, Dr. Lippmann and co-authors conclude that the dangers of having a gun at home far outweigh the safety benefits. Research shows that access to guns greatly increases the risk of death and firearm-related violence. A gun in the home is twelve times more likely to result in the death of a household member or visitor than an intruder.
The most common cause of deaths occurring at homes where guns are present, by far, is suicide. Many of these self-inflicted gunshot wounds appear to be impulsive acts by people without previous evidence of mental illness. Guns in the home are also associated with a fivefold increase in the rate of intimate partner homicide, as well as an increased risk of injuries and death to children.
Gun-related violence also has psychological and other consequences for survivors—especially children. Dr. Lippmann and colleagues point out that easy access to guns also enables tragic episodes like the mass killings at Virginia Tech University, in which a background check might have prevented the shooter from obtaining a weapon. Such "tragically recurrent" events are in addition to gun deaths related to criminal activities, gang violence, interpersonal disagreements, and other incidents.
Gun Violence Carries High Costs for Society
Dr. Lippmann and colleagues cite research showing the massive economic consequences of firearm violence. Medical care for gunshot victims in the United States is up to $4 billion per year. Including indirect costs such as disability and unemployment, the costs may total up to $100 billion. In the authors' city of Louisville, expenses for uninsured gun-injury victims alone exceed the money allotted for indigent medical care costs for the entire community.
"Taxpayers often bear a large percentage of these financial burdens," according to the authors. Other costs show up in the form of increased insurance premiums. Gun violence costs the U.S. criminal justice system approximately $2.4 billion per year—nearly equal to all other crimes put together.
Despite these high costs, "[F]irearms remain so much a part of our culture that gun-related violence and legal expenses are routinely accepted as a normal part of our life," Dr. Lippmann and colleagues write. "Politically, gun control remains unpopular, but raising awareness among doctors about the relationship between firearms, the rates of violence, and expenses involved may have an impact on their thinking."
In publishing the review, the editors of SMJ hope to promote a conversation within the medical profession about the health, economic, and social consequences of guns in the United States. In an editorial in the same issue, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Ronald C. Hamdy writes, "Our goal…is to provide solid, scientific evidence regarding these often controversial topics, in an attempt to avoid the personal and emotional quagmire which is so easily adopted in issues such as these." The SMJ website features a podcast in which Dr. Lippmann discusses his findings.