COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a policy organization, researched the financial cost of gun violence throughout the country and uncovered the cost in South Carolina is more than $1.5 billion each year.
Of that total, the analysis reported $293 million comes at a direct cost to taxpayers. This number accounts for suicides, homicides, and accidental shootings that occur due to guns.
“What really goes into the direct cost of gun violence is health care cost, law enforcement cost and then lost wages of people who have been injured or killed from gun violence,” explained senior staff attorney Mike McLively with the Giffords Law Center.
The center found law enforcement and criminal justice expenses account for $120 million.
Lost income comes at the highest cost with $1.3 billion lost.
“There are communities that are more impacted by day-to-day gun violence and see it upfront and center, but then there are communities that might feel safer. But we should understand that all of us are paying for gun violence whether we understand it or not, so it’s important to point out that the taxpayers are footing a lot of this cost of gun violence and the economic damage it reeks in our communities,” McLively explained.
It’s not just South Carolinians picking up the bill.
Researchers have previously estimated gun violence costs the U.S. economy $229 billion each year, with direct costs equating to around $8.6 billion, according to data analyzed by Mother Jones, an investigative publication and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an independent nonprofit.
The 2015 analysis uncovered a single murder costs around $441,000 after you add up the cost of the hospitals, courts, prison, and emergency response.
The investigation reported the total toll of gun violence is around $700 to each American every year.
“But these costs are not borne evenly; the data shows that states with smart gun laws save lives and funds. Wyoming, with the nation’s highest rate of gun deaths, also bears the highest gun violence costs per capita of any state: gun violence costs Wyoming around $1,400 per resident every year, twice the national average,” the Gifford Law Center stated online.
The center also gave South Carolina an ‘F’ for its gun laws.
“South Carolina failed to pass any significant gun laws in 2018. The state lacks a number of basic gun safety laws, though it does prohibit gun possession by certain domestic abusers,” the organization stated.
The center said the state could raise its grade by requiring universal background checks and passing extreme risk protection order laws.
South Carolina is one of 22 states with a ‘F’ rating from the organization.
California is called out for having the strongest gun safety laws with the lowest gun death rates. The state currently requires background checks for gun sales and was the first state to pass an extreme risk protection order law.
On the other end, Mississippi is ranked as the worst state for gun laws. The state does not regulate assault weapons, unsafe handguns or firearm purchases, according to the center.
McLively explained the organization has found a correlation between the strength of a state’s gun laws and a gun death rate, which results in less of a financial impact.
“Number one would be for South Carolina to strengthen its gun laws. The state has the 12th highest gun death rate in the country and some of the most lax gun laws in the country,” McLively said.
After this weekend’s deadly shootings in Texas and Ohio, some South Carolina lawmakers are calling for change.
“I’m getting tired of going to pray vigils,” said Rep. Wendell Gilliard, (D) - Charleston. “If we don’t act and act now we will be right back in another prayer vigil.”
The mass shooting that happened at Mother Emanuel in 2015 is in Gilliard’s district and he knows all too well the effects of gun violence.
“We can not put a price on lives. We have to take the role of leadership in these positions whether we like it or not,” he said.
Gilliard along with Rep. Wendy Brawley sent a letter to Gov. McMaster, the Senate president and Speaker of the House on Monday, urging them to call a special session to pass bills related to hate crimes and ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“Our citizens deserve and need leaders willing to courageously address issues of hate crimes and mass murders before more South Carolina lives are senselessly taken by mass murders,” the letter stated.
Republican Senator Greg Gregory said he would support the special session and banning high-capacity magazines.
“To me its crystal clear. These mass shootings, the number of people who are shot and killed are largely a result of the sophistication of weapons today and these weapons are designed and engineered to kill people in combat,” Gregory said.
Gregory is currently a sponsor on a bill that would extend the wait time for FBI background checks from three days to five days.
“It’s been sweeping the country now for 20 years and the only real change is the place and the shooter and the number of people who are killed or maimed and it’s not going to stop,” Gregory said. “It’s going to keep going on and we can address it from a number of angles but I think better reporting requirements, better background checks and the banning of military-grade accessories are going to be the most benefit in the shortest amount of day.”
Both Gregory and Gilliard said they don’t think South Carolina lawmakers are doing enough to address the state’s ranking as the 12th highest gun death rate in the country.
“I don’t think we are and its primarily the fault of legislators in my party, republicans who have not been willing to consider for the most part, common sense gun laws,” Gregory said.
He said it has been years since state lawmakers have passed a bill strengthening gun laws and more pressure is needed by the public to make this a bipartisan issue.
McLively said including the economic impact into the conversation on gun violence may be one way to establish that common ground.
“I think one area that can appeal to people on both sides of the aisle and make them understand the gravity of this issue is to make this argument that this is an economic burden on our communities that we can address and there are solutions out there, some have to do with regulating guns and others don’t and they can all be very effective,” McLively said.
Some of the potential solutions not related to regulation is funding intervention programs targeted at people at the highest risk of violence.
“We’ve invested now billions of dollars federally in reducing the amount of people who are dying because of overdoses and we’re finally starting to see the needle move on that issue and I think with a similar investment for this epidemic we could see more progress in the United States," McLively explained but he said the country is not at this point yet.
For now, state lawmakers, like Gilliard, plan to keep fighting to make change locally.
“If you cant be optimistic in the state of South Carolina, then you need to get out of office but you’ve got to keep pounding,” the democratic representative said.
Gregory is also hopeful in the coming months is bill will be able to get passed and close the Charleston Loophole.
“Mass shootings like the kind we saw this past weekend, obviously are so horrific and they can help wake us up to the problem and drive the conversation for solutions but I also think it is important to point out that those types of events are a very small percent of overall gun violence and its really daily violence that is happening in our cities that don’t necessarily go reported, don’t get national coverage, that are the bulk of the problems so that’s where we need to tailor our solutions,” McLively said.