The cost of gun violence: physical, emotional and financial toll
“We know annually, there’s about an $8-billion dollar cost occurred,” says Dr. DeRoon-Cassini. “And if you break that down by every single resident in Wisconsin, annually $1,400 of their tax dollars goes to addressing and treating gun violence.”
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Eight billion dollars, that’s how much money gun violence costs the state every year, according to a trauma psychologist from the Medical College of Wisconsin. The cost to taxpayers is just one area of impact. There’s also the physical and emotional costs, too.
From losing someone you love, treating a victim who survives being shot but is forever changed, all the way down to the cost all Wisconsin taxpayers hand over, everyone pays the price, even if they don’t know anyone who has been directly impacted by gun violence, according to Dr. Terri DeRoon-Cassini, a trauma psychologist with Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
“He was the hardest working man I had ever seen in my life,” Pardeep Singh Kaleka recalled.
Kaleka has paid the price of gun violence every day for the past ten years after his father, Satwant Singh Kaleka was killed in a mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin back in 2012. Satwant was a first-generation immigrant from India.
“He helped to create the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin,” Pardeep said. “He wanted to create sanctuary for other immigrants coming from India, and he was able to do that. And he died in a place he helped build. And he died fighting a white supremacist gunman with a butter knife. He was shot five times from close range.”
Pardeep’s father was one of six people murdered that day at the temple, a temple Pardeep and his two children were ten minutes late to the very morning of the massacre. He was taking his kids to Sunday school held at the temple.
“My daughter forgot her notebook at the house. I looked at her and made that split second decision of should I go back or should I head to the temple? And looking at her face her concern, I turned around,” Pardeep recounted.
By the time the family made the potentially life-saving detour for the Sunday school notebook, the freeway was filled with emergency vehicles. Pardeep pulled up and asked police what had happened.
“I knew both my parents were inside,” he continued. “My concern was for them. But I also had this relief as a parent knowing if we didn’t turn around to get that notebook, would I be able to save my 4 and 6 year old from a gunman?”
The mental cost of gun violence is something Pardeep lives with daily.
“It’s a personal journey as well. You have days you struggle. You have days where you’re angry and sad,” Pardeep said.
Hospitals are paying the cost of gun violence, too.
Dr. Anne O’Rourke is an Emergency Room surgeon at UW Health in Madison. She says in the past few years, the number of gunshot victims coming through her ER has increased.
“In 2019 we had about five of these patients a week, and now we are seeing eight patients per week; pretty big increase,” says Dr. O’Rourke.
Dr. O’Rourke says when a gunshot victim comes in, resources shift.
“The attending trauma surgeon is there,” Dr. O’Rourke said. “Our entire team, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, operating rooms and staff down, the blood bank the ICU; everyone is told, and a lot of people respond. There’s a lot of people there because we are all prepared to do what we need to do in the quickest possible way to save someone’s life.”
She says gun violence is a drain on the healthcare system, and it’s also a drain on taxpayers’ wallets.
“We know annually, there’s about an $8-billion dollar cost occurred,” Dr. DeRoon-Cassini said. “And if you break that down by every single resident in Wisconsin, annually $1,400 of their tax dollars goes to addressing and treating gun violence.”
DeRoon-Cassini says that money goes to things like funding the court system, law enforcement, treatment and rehabilitation.
“All of those things incur costs to society,” DeRoon-Cassini added. “And wouldn’t it be great instead of investing $8 billion annually in the state of Wisconsin to treating survivors of gun violence, if we were actually able to reduce gun violence and put that money towards the other end which is addressing the social determinants of health that have lead to the state we are in in gun violence? And I think that’s where a lot of people working on gun violence prevention would like to see that money go.”
There’s no greater cost, though, than the loss of a loved one.
“My healing has been about my children, my family,” Pardeep said. “Watching them live life with this hope and inspiration and I think I early on, took that oath that lots of parents take on, of I cannot let you inherit a world worse than I inherited.”
Pardeep is now paying it forward. He’s dedicated his life to anti hate work locally and nationally. He says he will never forget what happened to his father and his community, but he will keep forging forward at all costs.
“Don’t let the person who took your loved ones take the rest of you,” Pardeep said.
There are things people can do right now to help address gun violence. Dr. DeRoon-Cassini says it’s first important to educate yourself on the facts. And then connect with local groups already doing the work and volunteer.
Also if you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, there are resources available.
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