The United States just passed the 17-year mark in the longest war in its history: the Afghanistan war. Eleven soldiers were killed there in 2017. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during that same time 39,773 people were killed by guns (homicides and suicides) here in the U.S. That’s more than 100 people every day. Clearly, we are in the middle of a serious public health crisis (and war at home), and something needs to be done.
If you don’t think gun violence damages the quality of life of every person in the U.S., consider just how much it robs from the public purse, and how much it shortchanges what your government could do for education, infrastructure, health care and more. According to the Stanford University School of Medicine and its Division of General Surgery, the average annual cost of inpatient hospitalizations for firearm injury from 2010 through 2015 was over $911 million. Medicare and Medicaid covered 45.2% of those costs. Uninsured patients were responsible for 20.1%.
When you include both direct costs, such as medical care, and indirect costs, such as lost wages and the impact on the quality of life, firearm violence is estimated to cost $229 billion annually.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The researchers also note that gun violence has cost our health care system approximately $2.2 trillion over the past decade, and continued readmissions and long-term health care costs of firearm-related injuries will be a persistent strain on our health care system.
Those alarming statistics aren’t looking at the human suffering and widespread anxiety that repeat episodes of gun violence inflict on individuals, families and communities. There were over 9,000 more suicides by gun than homicides using guns in 2017, and the suicide rate in the U.S. has escalated 33% since 1999. So, what should we do? Here are some ideas:
>> Reinstitute the assault rifle ban: A national assault weapons ban was signed into law in 1994. It was allowed to expire 10 years later. Since then, approximately 1.3 million assault rifles have been sold each year, along with 8 billion to 15 billion rounds of ammunition.
The good news is that since the ban expired, on a state-by-state basis, registrations, background checks and progress in licensing have reduced assault-style rifle access for people with criminal records (such as domestic abuse). But national legislation would be good.
>> Here’s more good news: The will of the people is beginning to be heard. Of U.S. voters, 70% support banning high-capacity magazines and 68% support banning all assault-style weapons. Background checks on all gun sales are favored by 88% (69% of NRA members, too!), and 78% favor creating a national database with information about each gun sale.
>> Make gun purchaser licensing universal: Recent research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that, “of the approaches used by states to screen out prohibited individuals from owning firearms, only purchaser licensing has been shown to reduce gun homicides and suicides.” Petition your state politicians and other organizations for purchaser licensing.
>> Gun owners should act more responsibly, too: Lock up your guns in one place and ammunition in another. In 2016 firearm injuries were the second leading cause of death among kids up to age 18 (motor vehicle crashes — mostly due to cellphone use — were No. 1). Take a handgun safety course; check out handgunsafetycourse.com.
Let’s all work together to stop this waste of lives and resources.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.