The annual cost of medical treatment for survivors of gun injuries in the United States amounts to at least $1 billion, according to a report by a federal watchdog.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' nonpartisan investigative body, used recent hospital data that showed injuries from gun violence led to 50,000 emergency room visits and 30,000 hospital stays per year.
The report issued Wednesday notes that the overall cost to treat injuries from guns is likely much higher than $1 billion because the GAO didn't include ambulance rides and long-term physical and mental care.
The report found that more than 15 percent of firearm-injury survivors will be back in a hospital after their first visit, costing an additional $8,000 to $11,000 per patient.
Most victims of gun violence are too poor to pay for their own treatment, so public programs such as Medicaid covered more than 60 percent of the costs of care, according to the report.
While the report didn't break down all patient data by race and ethnicity, it found that black patients accounted for more than half of all inpatient stays and costs and live in the South. Those victims often receive worse treatment "because of racial bias in the health-care system", the GAO report said.
The investigation into health costs for gun injuries — the first of its kind — is based on available data on caring for people who suffer non-fatal gun injuries each year. The incidents covered by the report vary widely, from injuries that occurred while cleaning a weapon to instances of self-harm and suicide or interpersonal gun violence, including injuries inflicted by law enforcement.
The report was requested by House and Senate Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, the head of the House Oversight Committee.
Maloney said in a statement: "Today's report provides shocking new evidence of how gun violence strains our health care system and disproportionately harms historically marginalized communities in the United States.''
The GAO report is one of the first federal reports on gun violence since 1996, when the Dickey Amendment blocked federal health agencies from supporting gun control.
In 2018, Congress passed language clarifying that while the agencies are barred from funding gun-control advocacy, they weren't banned from supporting research. Congress appropriated money specifically for that work a year later.
In 2019, Congress, led by Democrats, bypassed the amendment to fund federal health agencies to carry out research on gun-violence prevention.
The House Committee on Appropriations crafted a bill Thursday to give up to $25 million to the National Institute of Health's budget for "firearm injury and mortality prevention research". That would be double its current budget.
Republicans have opposed the funding, saying it injects gun politics into otherwise bipartisan federal health spending and raises the specter of health agencies engaging in anti-gun "propaganda".
Violent crime rose sharply across the US in 2020. Gun violence rose 8 percent.
Mass shootings in the US didn't stop amid the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, there were more than 600 mass shootings (in which four people or more were killed or injured in a single attack), according to The Gun Violence Archive. In 2019, there were 417 mass shootings.
As of Thursday, according to the archive, there have been 350 mass shootings so far this year; 22,814 gun violence deaths, including 10,878 murders and 12,936 suicides; and 21,522 injuries.