What Does Gun Violence Really Cost?

What Does Gun Violence Really Cost?

Organisation: Mother Jones (United States)

Publication Date: 04/11/2016

Size of team/newsroom:large


How big a toll does gun violence take on the US economy each year? It turns out that question is harder to answer than you might expect. Even though public health experts today are nearly unanimous in their agreement that gun violence is a serious crisis, Congress passed a budget amendment at the behest of the gun lobby that choked off research into gun violence. That was two decades ago. Ever since them, federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have stopped collecting and studying data, and academic researchers have seen their grants cut and faced hostility if they choose to study gun violence. The result was that nobody could answer the fundamental question: What does gun violence truly cost? After a six-month special investigation, Mother Jones reporters discovered the answer—a staggering $229 billion. That's more than Apple's worldwide revenues and about as much as the obesity epidemic. Beneath the raw numbers are tales of the long-term financial suffering that shooting victims face. MoJo reporters followed Jennifer Longdon, a martial arts enthusiast and mother who was left paraplegic after an unsolved shooting—and who was bankrupted by medical costs. The package also featured seven short profiles of gun violence survivors who faced profound financial consequences in the aftermath of gang violence and mass shootings, as well as documentary and animated videos, and compelling data visualizations of our major findings. After the magazine published this feature report, the impact was widespread. President Obama addressed the issue for the first time in a speech to the nation’s mayors, saying gun violence “costs you money… It costs this country dearly.” Longdon was invited to be at President Obama's side this January when he announced executive orders for reducing gun violence. In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee has also tapped Mother Jones’ research to inform gun legislation his administration is exploring. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote “This new report from Mother Jones will make silence just a little harder from now on.”

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

No media outlet, academic or government institution had done a project of this kind before, and the Mother Jones feature package continues to be widely cited in the national media. In putting together this feature, Mother Jones reporters had to track down obscure, complicated datasets. They collaborated with economist Ted Miller, one of few researchers to study the issue since the 1990s, to update the data that existed with the most recent CDC numbers and analyze it comprehensively. The package is groundbreaking in that the reporters overcame a widespread political chill on gun violence research and became the first to exhaustively outline the economic, social, and human costs of gun violence.

Technologies used for this project:

The reporters built their own datasets on the economic costs of gun violence from scratch using obscure, little known data. They analyzed the numbers collaboratively using Google spreadsheets, boiling down their complex database into a series of charts and other data visualizations. These easy-to-digest images illustrated not just the immediate costs of a shooting—like the police response, EMT transport, and hospital costs for the victim—but also the long term costs of mental health care for the victim, the victim's lost productivity, and cost of imprisoning the perpetrator. Additionally, they created, designed and produced an original 90-second animated video conveying the key findings of the investigation. During the reporting process, the writers collected video footage of shooting victim Jennifer Longdon and chronicled her struggles in a two-part video.


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