Who Gets Shot in America?

By Robert VerBruggen

Embry Howell, Sam Bieler, and Nathaniel Anderson of the Urban Institute have an interesting new paper (PDF) based on hospital data from six states. The number capturing headlines is their estimate that, nationwide, treating gun injuries costs almost $670 million a year, most of which is paid for by taxpayers.

We shouldn't get too caught up in this statistic. As the authors themselves have noted, the toll of gun violence goes far beyond hospital costs -- and I would add that, contrary to the widespread claim that $670 million is a lot of money in this (national) context, it amounts to just $2.13 per person in the U.S. There are many reasons to make the prevention of gun violence a priority, but the potential to save an amount of money equal to 0.01 percent of total government spending is pretty low on the list.

The paper offers a highly valuable account, however, of how gunshot injuries are unevenly distrubuted throughout the population. Here's one chart, for example, with the numbers for males age 15-34, broken down by race:

These numbers (like those discussed by Reihan Salam recently) go a long way toward explaining why we talk about black-on-black crime a lot more than we talk about white-on-white crime, even though most crime for both groups is intraracial. I think they also have ramifications for Ron Unz's argument that Hispanic and white crime rates are essentially the same. (The authors used the Census's American Community Survey to estimate the total population of each group. Given the problem of illegal immigration, any survey in the U.S. might undercount Hispanics, and perhaps there are problems with the hospital data too -- but it would take a pretty dramatic counting problem to produce the disparities seen above.)

I highly recommend reading the whole paper, which is just ten pages long.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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