Thursday, June 02, 2005

The actuarial cost of gun violence in the U.S.

An actuary looks at the cost of the gunslinger society.
June 2, 2005

In a study to be published in September in The Journal of Risk and Insurance, Jean Lemaire, a professor of insurance and actuarial science at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, takes on the actuarial cost of the Second Amendment. And the result is staggering.

Lemaire points out that in 2000, the U.S. recorded 11,000 firearm deaths. The European Union, with 25 percent more people had fewer than 1,300. Japan had 22. Looking at that same year, Lemaire pointed out a study showing that gun violence costs the U.S. society $100 billion annually or $360 for every American. But that might not be the most serious cost.

Lemaire calculates how much time Americans as a whole lose off their lives because of gun violence in the actuarial tables, and how much more they pay in insurance costs as a result. What is striking about both costs is how unevenly they are distributed throughout the population. According to Lemaire, all firearm deaths in 2000 -- that is, both homicides and suicides -- reduced the life expectancy of all Americans by an average of 103.6 days. Broken down by race and gender, however, there are notable gaps in how various groups fare. Men lose between five and six times more days than women: 166.8 versus 30.5. African-American men lose more than twice as many days as white men: 361.5 versus 150.7. The most significant gap, logically enough, combines these racial and gender differentials: There is more than a tenfold difference between days lost by African-American men (361.5) versus days lost by white women (31.1).

The annual cost in insurance to all this mayhem is $4.9 billion, although that figure, he admits is problematic. Most deaths happen to young Americans who by and large don’t buy life insurance. Total annual medical bills for gun violence is somewhere between $2 and $2.3 billion a year for gun-related injuries. The increased cost to the criminal justice system? $2.4 billion.

“Among all fatal injuries, only motor vehicle accidents have a stronger effect [than firearm deaths],” he says. “The elimination of all firearm deaths in the U.S. would increase the male life expectancy more than the total eradication of all colon and prostate cancers.”

He does not think Americans are more violent than other people. He also thinks the notion that if we didn’t have so many guns we would find other ways to do each other in specious. If you compare two similar cities, Seattle and Vancouver you find that 41 percent of people in Seattle have guns while only 12 percent of people in Vancouver do. The rate of assault with a firearm is seven times higher in Seattle, and the homicide rate is 4.8 times higher. The people in Vancouver didn’t resort to knives and hatchets to commit mayhem when denied guns. They just committed fewer murders.

The evidence is clear, he concludes: The availability of handguns in Seattle increases the assault and homicide rates with a gun, but does not decreased the crime rates without guns, and that restrictive handgun laws reduce the homicide rate in a community.

Good luck, guy.

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