Gun violence costs Missouri $1.9 billion per year. Guess who’s paying much of the tab?

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Missouri is paying a steep price for gun deaths.

Gun violence in Missouri costs the state $1.9 billion per year, according to a new report from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. And taxpayers are on the hook for much of the tab.

About 85 percent of victims are either uninsured or reliant upon some form of publicly-funded insurance. While many Missourians may be quick to say, “This doesn’t involve me,” the economic toll of this violence has far-reaching consequences.

“Gun violence is a major problem in Missouri,” said Mike McLively, urban gun violence initiative director at Giffords Law Center. “It impacts everyone across the state whether they know it or not.”

Gun deaths take a toll on the health care system, law enforcement, victims and businesses. Based on the average number of shootings from 2011 to 2015, the price tag includes:

Health care: $98 million

Law enforcement and criminal justice expenses: $159 million

Costs to employers: $12 million

Lost income: $1.7 billion

The tally doesn’t include difficult-to-measure costs such as lost business opportunities, lower property values and reductions in Missouri’s tax base.

Missouri has the seventh-highest gun death rate in the nation, according to the report, averaging 339 gun-related homicides a year, 562 gun-related suicides and 996 non-fatal gun assaults per year.

Gunshot victims face hospital bills ranging from $5,000 on average up to $100,000, depending on the length of stay and type of injuries, a 2017 Health Affairs study found.

Consider the case of Corey Blevins of Kansas City. Blevins, 39, was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in 2004. His coma-induced emergency room visit and six-month hospital stay was costly. The resulting physical therapy during the last 14-plus years added additional financial burdens.

Blevins’ out-of-pocket expenses have surpassed five figures. He estimates Medicaid has covered $2 million to $3 million for various surgeries and other medical needs.

“And that might be low,” Blevins said. He has not worked since he was shot. “I was fortunate to have good insurance. Medicaid covered a lot. There were millions that I did not have to pay. But all of this violence is costing taxpayers money.”

He’s just one example. Thousands of shootings each year in Missouri put a strain on the state’s economy. And until lawmakers are willing to take a hard look at the state’s lax gun laws, the exorbitant medical bills will continue to pile up.

Missouri has some of the most lenient gun laws in the nation. Anyone 19 and older can legally carry a concealed weapon without a permit, training or even a background check.

From 2014 to 2016, gun homicides increased by nearly 43 percent across the state. Many of the deaths were concentrated in St. Louis and Kansas City, accounting for nearly 63 percent of all gun homicides in Missouri.

The violence is not just an urban issue. Suicide gun deaths and unintentional shootings have affected every part of the state. Twice as many Missourians die by suicide annually than by homicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Firearms accounted for the majority of those deaths.

“Missouri’s well-being is on the line,” McLively said.

There are concrete steps that lawmakers, elected officials and community leaders in Missouri should take to address the public health crisis, but the first is recognizing that this is a crisis.

The state must allocate funds so that cities can do the work locally. Remedies include enacting more stringent gun safety laws and investing in evidence-based violence prevention and intervention strategies. And that’s just a start.

Reducing gun deaths should be an urgent priority in Missouri. The state can’t afford to keep paying this price.