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Gun Violence : The Real Costs

3.0 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195137934
ISBN-10: 0195137930
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The effects of gun violence in the United States go far beyond the costs borne by the legal system, according to the authors (both experts on pubic policy and gun violence) of this convincing, if technical, study. Calculating the costs of the roughly 110,000 annual gun-related deaths and serious injuries, the authors argue that gun violence is a public health problem that costs Americans about $100 billion a year. These costs include more than those immediately resulting from a gun injury (e.g., emergency room costs) ; it also includes related costs such as increased security at airports and schools. But most original and enlightening in this study is that in their cost-benefit outlook, the authors measure not only the financial but the emotional costs of a gun-filled society, which encompasses "not just victims but potential victims and those who are linked to those potential victims .In short, most all of us bear some part of the cost of gun violence." The authors go even further, arguing that "many of the interventions designed to separate guns from violence essentially pay for themselves." With all the evidence Cook, a professor at Duke, and Ludwig, a professor at Georgetown, marshal about the effects of gun violence, one might expect them to propose strict gun control measures. But instead they propose a series of limited reformsAmandatory registration of handguns, more police patrols against illegal gun carrying, increased sentencing for gun crimes. This study is bound to garner national attention (it has already been reported on in the New York Times), but the technical methodology and abundance of charts, graphs and tables will reduce this book's appeal to general readersAand that's unfortunate, because this volume is an innovative contribution to the growing literature on one of America's most intractable problems. (Nov. 1)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New England Journal of Medicine

In 1997, guns claimed the lives of more than 32,000 Americans, and another 81,000 suffered serious nonfatal injuries. Yet these figures fail to reveal the full toll of firearm violence. Not included, for example, are the costs of personal efforts to manage risk, expenditures for prevention by public agencies, and a general reduction in our quality of life. In Gun Violence, Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig attempt to quantify the total annual expense of firearm misuse. They settle at an estimate of $100 billion. While developing their accounting scheme, they concisely but thoroughly discuss the major issues in gun-policy research. The scope of the book is therefore broader than its title suggests, and it should appeal to a wide audience.

Monetary estimates of the value of human lives or the costs of fear and worry will always contain a subjective element. The methods used by the authors also require many assumptions, and the available data are often spotty. Some readers are certain to object to the conclusions. Still, Cook and Ludwig's approach is ambitious and pathbreaking. Theirs is the first attempt to document the many ways in which gun violence affects the United States, and they consider outcomes that are overlooked in most discussions. Their estimate -- however imprecise -- permits comparisons with other social problems, and it provides a basis for further refinements. Their analysis also guides preventive measures toward strategies with the largest net payoffs. This important book will be a model for other research, and it should influence discussions of public policy.

Cook and Ludwig conclude that the costs of medical care and of lost productivity contribute only a small fraction to the costs of gun violence. They estimate an annual gross expenditure of about $2 billion for the treatment of firearm injuries. After allowing for worker replacement and injuries that victims would have suffered anyway, the net figure becomes smaller. Productivity losses are lower still: if gunshot victims consume as much as they produce, the net effect on the community is essentially zero.

Beyond its effects on medical care and productivity, firearm violence causes harm in other ways. Victimization is among these, and in an interesting chapter the effects on work patterns, choice of residence, and the criminal justice system are discussed. Worries about personal and collective welfare impose additional burdens on many Americans. According to the book, the costs of prevention and victimization are enormously higher than the costs of lost productivity or medical treatment.

Cook and Ludwig contend that the best way to measure these costs is to find the amount that the public would willingly spend to eliminate victimization and the need for prevention. Of several possible methods to estimate the costs, they prefer "contingent valuation" surveys. With this approach, people are simply asked how much they think a given level of risk reduction is worth. To estimate the cost of firearm assaults, Cook and Ludwig presented the following scenario to a national sample:

Suppose that you were asked to vote for or against a new program in your state to reduce gun thefts and illegal gun dealers. This program would make it more difficult for criminals and delinquents to obtain guns. It would reduce gun injuries by about 30% but taxes would have to be increased to pay for it.

The respondents were then asked whether they would vote for the program, with the specified size of the tax increase varied. Aggregating the results, Cook and Ludwig found that citizens would be willing to spend about $1 million dollars to avert a single gun assault. Given the volume of firearm crime in 1997, eliminating crime-related gunshot injuries would thus be worth $80 billion annually. Using other methods, the authors conclude that eliminating suicides and accidents would be worth an additional $20 billion.

A large literature in economics considers the validity of contingent-valuation studies, and this book presents a persuasive argument in favor of the approach. Still, skeptical readers might wonder whether a different question would yield different results. The lower bound on the tax increase was zero, for example, but a fervent opponent of firearm regulations might wish to specify a negative value. More generally, the question did not address inconveniences to legitimate gun owners. Even small barriers to access to guns might dramatically erode the support found by the survey.

In the final section of the book, Cook and Ludwig discuss possible interventions to reduce the frequency of firearm injuries. This short chapter can largely stand on its own, and it gives a reasoned assessment of many current policy proposals. Overall, this interesting and well-written book is not likely to produce a consensus about how much the misuse of firearms costs the nation. Given the care and detail of their work, however, Cook and Ludwig's analysis sets a very high standard for alternative estimates. Perhaps more important, the book offers a valuable framework for thinking about how gun violence affects American life. Anyone with even a casual interest in the topic will profit from reading it.

David McDowall, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2001 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.


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Product Details

  • Series: Studies in Crime and Public Policy
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195137930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195137934
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,455,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I did not read the book, but I read the peer-viewed study by Dr. Christian Westphal.

Here are his words:

In 2006, a study, published in the Journal of Public Economics, employing a panel regression of 200 U.S. counties across 20 years, found a significant elasticity of homicides with respect to firearms ownership. Based on this finding the authors made the public policy recommendation of taxing gun ownership.

However that study fell prey to the ratio fallacy, a trap known since 1896. All the "explanatory power" (goodness-of-fit-wise and significance-wise) of the original analysis was due to regional and intertemporal differences and population being explained by itself.

When the ratio fallacy is accounted for, all authors' results can no longer be found.

This is illustrated in this paper using a balanced panel from the data for 1980 to 2004. My findings are robust to (i) alternative specifications not subject to the ratio problem, (ii) using only data from 1980 to 1999 as in the original paper, (iii) using an unbalanced panel for 1980 to either 1999 or 2004, (iv) applying weighting as done by the original authors and (v) using data
aggregated at the state level.

Advocating gun control based on their findings is as founded as advocating decimation of storks as a measure of birth control from Neyman's example of "storks bringing babies" (to be found in Kronmal, 1993). Regression between ratios and time series seems to remain a dangerous field for scientists even today. What this tells us exactly is nothing more and nothing less than: Extracting information from this data with this method does not give the result claimed by the authors of the original article.

There are more studies prone to the ratio fallacy.
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Format: Paperback
I am the author of the New England Journal of Medicine review to which Dr. van der Linden so strongly objects. I doubt that Dr. van der Linden ever read the book, and he certainly did not carefully read my review. The review was not effusively praiseful of Gun Violence, and it noted some reasons for skepticism about the book's major conclusions. However, I believe that it introduces a worthwhile framework for thinking about firearm violence, and it is worth reading even if you disagree with it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cook is an idiot. . .
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By A Customer on September 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is obviously strongly on our side, but unfortunately it is not going to provide us with serious evidence. Suppose someone challenges me on how they got their $100 billion estimate of the costs of guns. Will I be taken seriously if I tell them that the book relies on one public survey question in one survey? If I do use this number, where does that leave me in arguing with gun nuts that cite these wacky surveys showing that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times a year? So they have 16 surveys. I don't believe any of them, but what do I say when they say I only use a survey to measure the costs, why not also the benefits? What if the gun nut morons point out that the estimates of benefits from the surveys are greater than our estimated costs? The one paragraph that Cook and Ludwig have on defensive gun uses being silly could just as well be used against their reliance on a survey. I want to use the figures here, but could one of the people on our side write a review saying how I could respond to these concerns. Absent that this book risks making us look rather silly and hypocritical.
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Format: Hardcover
...is absolute and unremitting damnation whenever there's a sociopolitical topic under consideration. In thirty-six years of reading (and citing) NEJM, I've found that there is no correlation whatsoever between the standards of scientific rigor with which they peer-review their clinical articles for factual accuracy and the politically-charged "public policy" stuff they publish when the editorial officers of the Massachusetts Medical Society have an axe to grind. Dr. McDowell's 2001 review of this book (quoted in its entirety on this Web site in order to extoll Cook and Ludwig's bogus-from-the-premises-up calculation of estimated costs associated with "firearms misuse") is a perfect example of the marshmallow gooiness of the NEJM's institutional excuse for intellectual rigor whenever the subject of individual autonomy comes under discussion.

By the standards of evidence-based medicine, the analysis upon which this book is predicated *CANNOT* be relied upon as a tool for the accurate evaluation of violence- or accident-related trauma associated with firearms. That same would hold true if Cook and Ludwig were looking at injuries and deaths associated with motor vehicles, toys, pharmaceuticals, power tools, agricultural equipment, or sports activities, and if there were a similar study -- using precisely this kind of analysis -- published on misadventures involving any of these other elements of modern life, the editors of NEJM would sandblast the authors with scathing sarcasm.

But because this book is about firearms, and because the Massachusetts Medical Society is collectively incapable of intellectual honesty in their continuing effort to restrict the rights of people to think and act for themselves, Dr.
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