Introduction - The Economic Impact of Firearm-related Crime in Canada, 2008

1. Introduction

Firearm-related violent crime has received considerable attention over the past few years in Canada.Footnote 1 One of the government's priorities is to tackle crime through various methods including providing tougher sentences for violent and repeat offenders, particularly those involved in weapon-related crimes.Footnote 2 Given the potentially fatal consequences and the relatively large number of young people involved, firearm-related crime is considered a serious social problem, requiring considerable resources directed toward combating the criminal use of firearms.

1.1 Firearm-related Crime in Canada

In 2008, there were a total of 8,710 police-reported incidents in Canada committed with a firearm present or used during the commission of an offence. This represents about 2% of all police-reported incidents in Canada for 2008. Among these incidents, robbery (41.3%) and assault with weapon/causing bodily harm (18.0%) were the most common incidents, followed by firearms – use of, discharge, pointing (14.9%), uttering threats (10.6%), and forcible confinement or kidnapping (3.2%).Footnote 3 With respect to homicide and attempted murder, while these offences only represented a small proportion (2.1% and 3.0%, respectively) of all firearm violence, they were more likely to be committed with a firearm. Specifically, firearms were present in about one third of homicides (32.7%) and attempted murders (35.8%) in 2008.Footnote 4

Also in 2008, police statistics indicated that there were 9,469 victims of firearm-related violent crime in Canada, representing a victimization rate of 28.4 per 100,000 population.Footnote 5 Male victims were the majority (67.1%). Victims of robbery and assault with a weapon/causing bodily harm together accounted for more than two-thirds (66.9%) of the total firearm-related violent victimizations. Compared to previous years, the national firearm violence victimization rate remained stable. In spite of this fact, two issues should be pointed out. First, the victimization rate of firearm violence in large census metropolitan areas (CMAs) are significantly higher than the national average rate. For example, Vancouver reported the highest victimization rate (45.3 per 100,000 population) in 2006, followed by Winnipeg (43.9) and Toronto (40.4), all of which are well above the national rate of 27.5 per 100,000 population in that year.Footnote 6 Second, the national rate of youth (age 12 to 17 years) accused of gun crime has significantly increased during the past few years. In 2008, the charge rate for youth (12-17) for committing a firearm-related crime was 55.2 per 100,000 population, which was 48.6% higher than the 2002 rate (37.1). In the same year, the charge rate for adults was only 16.6 per 100,000 population.Footnote 7 Moreover, youth accused of committing a violent offence are more likely to use a firearm than adults. In 2008, police reported that 1,424 youth were accused of a firearm related violent offence, accounting for 6.1% of all youth accused of violence. This percentage is more than double the proportion for adults (2.9%).

Violent offences committed with a firearm are more likely to cause death and major injuries. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS), 203 deaths and 436 major injuries were caused by firearms in 2008, representing 33.2% of all deaths and 5.1% of all major injuries as a result of violent crime in that year. Furthermore, research indicates that guns are a feature of youth gang-related activities. Erickson and Butters (2006) show that participation in gangs greatly increases the probability that a juvenile will be involved in an altercation (as offender or victim) involving guns. A series of studies conducted in many cities across the US also demonstrate that gang members are more likely to carry, use, and/or be victimized by a firearm.Footnote 8 In Canada in 2008, firearms were involved in less than 30% of all non-gang related homicides, yet firearms were used in nearly 70% of all gang related homicides.Footnote 9 In addition, the use of firearms among youth gangs is generally becoming more prevalent and is especially acute in larger urban areas.Footnote 10 The fact that gangs are more likely to occur in the larger CMAs could also explain why firearm violence victimization rates are significantly higher in larger CMAs .

1.2 Costs of Crime

The impact of firearm-related violence can be both wide-ranging and long-lasting as it directs a society's resources to address the problem and causes unquantifiable pain and suffering to victims and their family members. For instance, the criminal justice system must allocate resources to resolve the incident if the crime has been brought to the attention of police. To the victims, the firearm can result in either a fatality or a nonfatal injury. In the former case, family members may grieve the loss of a loved one, and in the latter case, victims may require medical attention, hospitalization or long-term health care. The survivors of firearm violence may also develop mental health concerns which could impact their ability to perform daily activities. Counselling may be necessary in the long run. Their family members may need to take time off from daily routines to accompany them. Moreover, as a response to this problem, governments and the public not only provide various services to victims and their families, but also establish ongoing prevention campaigns to raise awareness. All of these examples are the various consequences of this social problem.

Examining the financial impact is not a new approach in understanding crime. Proponents of crime costing hold that an understanding of the economic costs of crime can lead to important insights and policy decisions, both in terms of criminal justice policy and in terms of other social problems that compete with crime for government funding and resources.

Specifically, a systematic estimation of the financial costs imposed by criminal behaviour would allow comparisons to be made between the harm of firearm-related violent crime and the harm of other offences. This meaningful knowledge would enhance our understanding of the crime, enabling us to make better-informed policy decisions. For example, is a program that can prevent one robbery with a firearm better than one that prevents three assaults? One way to answer such a question is to ask residents of the affected area which they prefer through polling or survey. However, in many circumstances, policymakers must rely on less direct methods of determining an appropriate choice. In such cases, one would need to have a metric that allows for comparisons between robbery with a firearm and assault. A dollar's value provides such a metric. Furthermore, a comparison can also be made between the aggregate harm of firearm violence and other social problems, which can help us to better shape our priorities by focusing scarce resources on policies that have the most significant impact on Canadians.

While the formulation of a metric that objectively estimates the costs of criminal behaviour would benefit the act of policy making in many ways, a simple costing analysis is not the be-all in terms of evidence to support decision making. Many other factors necessarily feed into the process and may blur the objectivity of the costing metric. Nevertheless, with an increasingly diverse population in terms of culture, religion and attitudes towards social policies, it becomes increasingly important to develop the capacity of building policies on objectively based foundations. Although several examples of costing exercises on victimization have been found in Canada, none have examined firearm-related violence specifically and comprehensively. Therefore, the goal of the present research is to attempt to fill the knowledge gap.

The report is structured as follows. An extensive review of literature on costs of firearm-related crime is presented in the next section, followed by the discussion of the methodology and data sources used. Then, the estimation results are presented and brief concluding remarks follow. Detailed calculations and estimations are displayed in Appendices.

2. Literature Review

There have been several attempts to estimate the firearm related costs in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the US. However, these studies are primarily focused on the health care costs associated with injuries caused by firearms, such as hospitalization costs, long-term health care costs and insurance costs. In addition, these studies are usually not limited to firearm-related crime, but also cover suicides, attempted suicides and accidental injuries or deaths where a gun was used. Their main methodologies and key findings are summarized below.

Using a sample of 250 persons initially admitted for hospitalization from January 1, 1984 through June 30, 1985 for firearm injuries at the University of California Davis Medical Center, Wintemute and Wright (1992) estimated that the initial hospitalization charges totalled about USD$3.3 million in 1985 and the subsequent charges for rehospitalisation were USD$447,900 for medical records review to June 30, 1989. Therefore, the average cost per person was USD$14,982 (1985 dollars).

Cook et al. (1999) examined a sample of 134,445 cases in the US to estimate the national acute-care and follow-up treatment costs for persons hospitalized with nonfatal gunshot injuries. At an average medical cost per injury of USD$17,000, the 134,445 gunshot injuries caused the total lifetime medical costs of USD$2.3 billion (1994 dollars).

Based on an existing national database that was derived from 1,012 non-federal community hospital discharge information in 22 states in the US, Coben and Steiner (2003) identified 35,810 firearm-related injuries nationwide in 1997 and estimated the total associated hospital charges of over USD$802 million. The average cost per case was USD$22,396 (1997 dollars).

Allard and Burch (2005) conducted a review of all serious abdominal firearm-related injuries (requiring admission to hospital and emergency surgery) at a state hospital in South Africa over a 6-month period. Their findings indicated that the hospital spent a minimum of USD$30,803 on the treatment of the 21 abdominal gunshot victims from admission to discharge. On average, the treatment of each patient cost approximately USD$1,467 (2003 dollars).

Some research specifically examined the costs for firearms injuries in comparison with cut/stab wounds. Miller and Cohen (1997) estimated that gunshot injuries cost an estimated USD$126 billion in 1992, which is more than twice the costs for cut/stab wounds (USD$51 billion). Costs under their consideration included medical care payments, productivity losses, pain and suffering and lost quality of life. In terms of medical attention, the average treatment cost for each gunshot survivor was USD$154,000 versus USD$12,000 per cut/stab survivor. In another study based on U.S. hospital records, Mock et al. (1994) also suggested that the average acute medical care costs for gunshot wounds were more than two times higher than stab wounds. Moreover, the authors estimated that if all the 1,116 gunshot-wound patients in their study suffered stab wounds instead, there would be an annual saving of $1.3 million in health care costs.

Several studies also provide important insights into other economic and social costs of firearm injuries. In addition to the direct expenditures on health care, professional services and related goods, Max and Rice (1993) also estimated the indirect costs such as lost productivity due to firearm injuries in the US. They reported that the total cost of firearm injuries in the US in 1990 was approximately $20.4 billion, including $1.4 billion for direct expenditures, $1.6 billion for lost productivity resulting from injury-related illness and disability, and $17.4 billion for lost productivity from premature death. Scott and Scott (2006) estimated the costs of accidental deaths caused by firearms in New Zealand, covering medical costs, hospitalization costs, productivity losses and the lost value of human life. Annual total cost amounted to $1.3 million ($144,656 per incident). Similarly, Miller (1995) conducted a comprehensive study of the various costs associated with firearm wounds in Canada, which included: medical care, mental health care, public services (police investigation), productivity losses, funeral expenses, pain and suffering, and lost quality of life. Miller estimated that the total costs associated with gunshot wounds in 1991 were CAD$6.6 billion (1993 dollars). This was equivalent to CAD$235 per capita, as compared with CAD$595 in the US (converted to 1993 Canadian dollars from a 1992 US estimate). The author suggested that the per-capita-cost difference might result from differences in gun availability in the two countries.

As indicated by these studies, firearm-caused injuries pose a substantial financial burden on the health care system and on the society in general. The findings highlight the necessity for effective and successful firearm violence prevention strategies and gun control policies. For instance, Ludwig and Cook (2001) presented an estimation of the benefits of reducing gun violence. Their results suggested that reducing gun assaults by 30% was worth a total of USD$24.5 million (1998 dollars) to the American public.

In contrast to the previous research, this study will be focused on the economic and social costs of firearm-related crime in Canada. Therefore, consequences of suicide, unintentional shooting and other accidental events are not included. In the meantime, we try to widen the lens by developing a framework to capture the full range of costs borne by Canadians. We will not only estimate the costs borne by victims as a direct result of crime, but also examine the various costs borne by family members, friends and colleagues, other people who were hurt or threatened in the incidents and various services providers. Furthermore, we will consider the costs specifically pertaining to the Canadian criminal justice system, such as expenditures for police, court, prosecution, legal aid and corrections.

Date modified: