Back in early 2013, I wrote a column about gun-related health care costs for which society gets stuck with the bill. At the time, Oakland had just experienced a year in which 130 people had been shot to death and 550 had been wounded. The wounded still living got my attention at the time, because the cost of rehabilitating them is charged to society as whole one way or another. Hospitals providing emergency care to the uninsured have to build those costs into other services paid by those who have coverage. Long-term rehabilitation paid for by government programs are included in our tax bills. So how much does this mayhem cost us?
Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation cites the following statistic for 2016: There were 3.85 gun-shot deaths per 100,000 which works out to about 12,500 deaths nationwide. A higher more common number includes accidents and suicides but we’re limiting this to senseless violence. Considering the Oakland statistic above, for every person shot to death, there are about four who survive --- or about 50,000 per year. The last official government figure was a cost of $50,000 to rehabilitate a victim --- published in 1999. If the number today is $100,000 it pencils out to a cost to society of roughly $5 billion per year. Organizations like Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles offers constructive alternatives for healing, but someone who has been there told me that it is a depressing scene with so many gun-shot victims rolling around in wheel chairs.
I have some first-hand experience of what rehabilitation looks like after a first cousin of mine was shot in the head at age 13 back in the 1950’s. It’s the same old story. He and some friends were playing with a revolver they thought was empty, but there was a round in the chamber. He lived but was paralyzed on one side and never fully recovered.
Help may be on the way in the form of teenage activism as described in a compelling article in October’s Vanity Fair magazine. Incentivized students from Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have become a national, powerful voice for change as they convened an event on the Washington Mall to campaign for gun control measures. Stitched together by social media, simultaneous rallies were held in 800 other cities. Over 100,000 participants showed up in Denver, for example.
Their platform includes five demands: (1) universal comprehensive background checks; (2) a digitized, searchable data base for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; (3) funding for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence; (4) a ban on high capacity magazines; and (5) a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles. The original branding of “#Never Again” has now morphed into “March for our Lives” or MFOL for short. MFOL affiliates now number in the thousands.
But that’s not all. There was the “#Road to Change” bus tour that had the Parkland students traveling across the country to engage in political activism. It started in Florida where they descended on the capital and got Rick Scott, the governor, to defy the National Rifle Association and push through a bill to ban bump stocks, raise the minimum age to 21 for gun purchases and to require a three-day waiting period. The trip across the country over the summer was for the purpose of organizing a national political movement by selecting student leaders in major cities and teaching them how to organize and improve public speaking skills. The objective of this generation --- a group now sick of lock down drills --- is to become more powerful than the NRA.
They will get there. The number of citizens age 18 to 29 who say they plan to vote this year is climbing. It is now 51 percent for Democrats and 36 percent for Republicans according to Harvard’s Della Volpe who has studied young voters for twenty years. The ability to have a voice and experience a cause and effect relationship is intoxicating. The fact that they were intimidated enough by some gun-wielding adults to cancel a Salt Lake City event just backfired by generating more publicity. It is exhilarating to think of what this generation may accomplish beyond just the issue at hand.