On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh discussed instances of gun violence before declaring, "It is more dangerous in Obama's hometown than it is in Kabul, Afghanistan."
LIMBAUGH: Chicago. That's Obama's town. And Chicago Tribune: one dead, eight wounded in shootings across city over night. This is last night. The overnight violence raised the weekend toll. Seven fatal shootings and one fatal stabbing between Friday afternoon and early Monday morning. It is more dangerous in Obama's home town than it is Kabul, Afghanistan. But, let me tell you something, I've got this Chicago Tribune story and there is a Google Map of murders in Chicago. Do you know that you can Google Map murder locations in Chicago? That's how common -- as though anybody would want to go to these places -- but you can do it. I'm looking at it.
While it is clear that Limbaugh's motive was to take a cheap shot at the president, there was a disturbing truth in his words. Not just in Chicago, but in the United States as a whole, gun violence occurs with a frequency that many would expect to find in a war zone rather than a superpower nation.
The sad fact is that the rate of firearm death in the United States is eight times higher than our nation's economic counterparts. A 2003 study by Harvard School of Public Health professor David Hemenway found that the firearm homicide rate in the United States is 19.5 times higher than the average rate found in other high-income nations.
Beyond the immeasurable cost in human life, a new study released by the Center for American Progress demonstrates that the economic cost of gun violence, at a minimum, totals in the tens of billions of dollars.
The study, co-authored by former Bill Clinton economic advisor Robert Shapiro and conservative economist Kevin Hassett, found that the direct cost of violent crime amounted to more than $42 billion in 2010 nationwide. Direct costs were defined as "associated costs of police, courts and correctional institutions, out-of-pocket-medical expenses borne by victims, and lost earnings by both victims and perpetrators who are arrested and convicted." Intangible costs, which include pain and suffering and diminished quality of life as a result of violent crime, were projected at $156 billion, meaning Hassett and Shapiro pegged the total cost of violent crime at nearly $200 billion per year.
Significantly, the study notes that firearms continue to play a major role in violent crime. Even as the overall violent crime rate is declining, the frequency that handguns are used in homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults has remained constant.
[Center for American Progress, 6/19/12]
The authors estimated the total direct and intangible costs of each murder range from $4.2 to $10 million dollars, suggestingthat the 11,493 firearm homicides that occurred in 2009 could have resulted in total costs of $48.3 to $114.9 billion.
Commenting on the study during a press conference call this afternoon, National Urban League president Marc Morial zeroed in on handguns as a significant factor in violent crime.
The first thing I want to do is affirm, and indicate, and emphasize that violent crimes usually take place with handguns. Handguns are responsible for almost 70 percent of all homicides and 40 to 50 percent of all robberies. They are committed with handguns. So were talking underneath the problem of violent crime, were talking about a challenge with guns, easy access to guns, the use of guns -- particularly illegal guns -- in the commission of felonies in urban communities.
Morial's diagnosis of the problem is spot-on. According to the Firearm and Injury Center at Penn, a project of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, the availability of firearms is correlated with increased gun homicide rates in high-income industrialized countries. The United States leads developed nations in both of these categories.