Gun injuries cost U.S. $46 billion a year in lost work and medical care

(Reuters Health) - As Americans mourn the 59 people killed in Las Vegas on Sunday, a new study spotlights gunshot victims who survive.

“A startling number” of people, 78,000 a year, are treated in U.S. hospitals for firearm injuries, said lead author Dr. Faiz Gani in a phone interview.

The new report in Health Affairs calculates the price tag for firearm injuries: $2.8 billion a year in American hospital charges and $46 billion a year in lost work and medical care.

“There’s a large clinical and financial burden here, and we really need to do something about it,” said Gani, a postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scientific, research-driven public policy might prevent shooting massacres like this week’s at a Las Vegas country music festival, he said.

Government-funded research has led to lifesaving interventions to prevent other injuries. It inspired laws mandating automobile seat belts and air bags, for example. But Congress has essentially choked off federal funding for scientific studies of firearms-injury prevention since 1996.

“Horrific mass killings receive the most media attention, but as can be seen by the numbers, they only represent a small portion of the total costs - human and medical - of gun injuries in the United States,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center in Boston, who was not involved with the study.

Gani and colleagues analyzed a nationally representative sample of patients who arrived alive in U.S. hospital emergency departments with firearm-related injuries from 2006 through 2014.

More than 700,000 people sought care in emergency rooms for gunshot wounds during the nine years, they estimated.

Males were nine times more likely than females to be victims of gunshot injuries, and men ages 20 to 24 were at the highest risk, the study found.

The study did not collect information about race/ethnicity.

Unintentional shootings led to more than one-third of the non-fatal firearm injuries, the authors found.

“Unintentional shootings are often presented as a minor problem - they are not,” Hemenway said by email.

The new study reveals gaping holes in our understanding of gunshot injuries. Researchers could not determine, for example, what kind of weapon was used in nearly two-thirds of the cases because the information was unrecorded.

In 1996, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that people who kept guns in their homes faced a nearly three-fold greater risk of homicide and a nearly five-fold greater risk of suicide. In response, Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican who described himself as the National Rifle Association’s “point person in Congress,” submitted an amendment to strip the CDC budget of $2.6 million, the amount it spent on firearms research the previous year.

The so-called Dickey Amendment has since then almost entirely stopped federal funding of firearms research.

Before he died this year, Dickey had a change of heart. In 2012, he and Mark Rosenberg, who directed the CDC when the Dickey Amendment was approved, co-authored a Washington Post editorial calling for scientific research to prevent firearm injuries. (

“We were on opposite sides of the heated battle 16 years ago, but we are in strong agreement now that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners,” they wrote.

SOURCE: Health Affairs, online October 2, 2017.