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Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002

The Costs of Gun Violence against Children
Philip J. Cook Jens Ludwig

Summary

Gun violence imposes significant costs on children, families, and American society as a whole. But these costs can be difficult to quantify, as much of the burden of gun violence results from intangible concerns about injury and death. This article explores several methods for estimating the costs of gun violence.

One method is to assess how much Americans would be willing to pay to reduce the risk of gun violence. The authors use this "willingness-to-pay" framework to estimate the total costs of gun violence. Their approach yields the following lessons:

  • Although gun violence has a disproportionate impact on the poor, it imposes costs on the entire socioeconomic spectrum through increased taxes, decreased property values, limits on choices of where to live and visit, and safety concerns.

  • Most of the costs of gun violence—especially violence against children—result from concerns about safety. These are not captured by the traditional public health approach to estimating costs, which focuses on medical expenses and lost earnings.

  • When people in a national survey were asked about their willingness to pay for reductions in gun violence, their answers suggested that the costs of gun violence are approximately $100 billion per year, of which at least $15 billion is directly attributable to gun violence against youth.

The authors note that in light of the substantial costs of gun violence, even modestly effective regulatory and other interventions may generate benefits to society that exceed costs.