Thirty Pieces of Silver

When people do evil, and the rest of us have to pick up in the aftermath, I always wonder, was the high cost worth it.

In the case of our lawmakers taking money from the NRA and other pro-gun interests, what’s puzzling to me is that they take not a whole lot of money for a hellishly high cost to all of us.

A word on semantics: when I say gun lobby, I’m referring to the morally bankrupt pro-mass-shooting political beast that blithely lines the pockets and deafens the ears and blinds the eyes of public officials to the high social cost of gun ownership run amok. I’m not here to rip on hunters who use appropriate firearm safety or farmers who keep a shotgun on hand to keep the rabid skunk out of the hogs.

I’m addressing the collective insanity of our totemic worship of semi-automatic weapons to the extent that we fail to ensure that the people purchasing and using them are not going to use them to optimize the number of people they kill when they decide to take their beef to church, work, or school.

Yeah, we all talk about how much money the gun lobby spends.

But really, on a per-official basis,it’s a laughably small amount when considering how much gun violence costs each of us.

Not that we even know how much gun violence costs us. The federal ban on funding NIH or CDC research has sure helped hamstring that. But there are a few estimates out there, and I’ll use those. Business Insider reported that the daily cost of gun violence to taxpayers is around $12.7 million. Daily.

Mother Jones suggests around $700 per person per year; the Los Angeles Times used that figure when making the case that this has all gotten out of control.

CBS News reported that estimates for the total cost of gun violence in 2010 were $174 billion.

For context, the total annual cost of gun violence to U.S. taxpayers is greater than the FY2015 Department of Defense budget to maintain the world’s largest Navy.

Put another way, our annual national spending on gun violence is approximately twice what we spend on SNAP (once known as food stamps)  to provide food assistance to the 46 million Americans experiencing hunger and food insecurity.

In King County, Washington — my home — our public health department put the total cost of gun violence per resident at $492 annually.

In the last four years, we’ve lost more Americans to gun violence than we’ve lost to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, and Vietnam, combined. In terms of domestic gun violence, each presidential term is equivalent to half a century of modern warfare.

Gun violence has now surpassed automobile accidents as a cause of death in this country.

All this to say, I think that $500 per person in the U.S. is a reasonable number to use when discussing the annual amount that we pay  for the right to keep people shooting themselves and each other.

Ignoring the math-ier parts of congressional apportionment, each member in the U.S. House represents around 650,000 people, making the average cost of gun violence per legislative district somewhere around $325,000,000.

Imagine any other program where a legislator said, “We’re going to roll out this program, but the average cost to a family of four is around $2,000 in tax increases.”

Imagine any other program where a lawmaker comes home to his district and says, “Well, we all have to do our part. The cost to our district will be over three hundred million dollars. Just trust me on this.”

Seems like, if someone really wanted to save some taxpayer dollars, they’d be motivated to maybe trim a little from the high cost of gun violence.

But by allowing the high cost of gun violence to be borne by taxpayers, our lawmakers are not being good fiscal stewards.

Seems like, if someone was going to be on the take from the industry that’s costing the U.S. so dearly, it’d better be pretty darn expensive to buy the vote of a lawmaker.

But the direct campaign contribution amounts that these politicians are receiving to keep their pro-mass shooting votes coming are kind of laughably small.

Looking at political contributions in the 2014 election cycle, the most venal among our elected officials topped out around $68,000 in campaign and leadership PAC contributions. If you figure that it costs less to buy a Texas senator than to provide salary and benefits for a couple of teachers, it’s kind of a small take. If you compare the average 2014 Goldman Sachs bonus (around $375,000) with the low five figures that a lot of campaigns get from pro-gun groups, it’s a little embarrassing. If you are going to sell your vote to a lobby, at least get enough cheddar to buy a decent used car. Or a couple of AR-15s.

Now obviously these campaign contributions only signal the flood of contributions a candidate could get if they have an A grade rating from the NRA. It’s admittedly a tiny fraction of all the donations funneled into campaigns by proxy groups that embrace the idea that the ease of eradicating our fellow citizens by the tens of thousands per year is what makes us truly free. And we’re talking unfettered access to an entire echo chamber of rabid, slavering ammosexual paranoia, and who can really put a price tag on a prize like that?

So, I admit, it may take a lot more diffuse money and events and influence to actually buy votes. But, since we’re working with imperfect data on the true cost of gun violence, we’ll have to just roll with the publicly available data on the cost of campaign contributions, acknowledging that both may be much higher.

Is it really worth ten thousand dollars for a pro-mass-shooting vote? Fifty thousand? When the average cost of gun violence per district is more than three hundred million dollars per year?

What if we were able to cut gun violence by 10%? Every member in the U.S. House could save her district an average of just over $30 million per year.

What if by instituting background checks and closing the loophole on 40% of gun sales we were able to reduce the cost of gun violence by 20%? What politician wouldn’t love to go to a town hall meeting and proclaim that his votes have saved taxpayers in the district $60 million a year?

Wouldn’t a real fiscal conservative just love to trim that kind of fat from the budget?

I’m just not seeing the financial upside to this gun violence epidemic. It’s a tremendous burden on taxpayers and a program that most of us aren’t keen to pay for. Our taxpayers are spending more to respond to domestic gun violence than any nation on earth — aside from the U.S. — pays to have a standing army.

We have elected officials whose votes are bought for a fraction of what it takes to get a decent yacht or a reasonably-sized second home. They are disappointingly easy to corrupt, and it’s hard to see how the pro-mass shooting stance is benefiting them personally. Except that each mass shooting allows them the chance to offer “thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families” before taking a few more pieces of silver to crucify over 30,000 Americans a year on the cross of gun violence.














One thought on “Thirty Pieces of Silver”

  1. I recent read a book- Confessions of an Economic Hitman- that seems to explain a lot about why governments focus on some initiatives and ignores others. Elected officials, the world over, continue to ignore the needs of the many for the benefit of a few. I know democracy is not perfect, but I do not think this is democracy in the first place.


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