Guns Are a Huge Reason Americans Die Younger Than People In Similar Countries

February 16, 2018, 5:33 PM UTC

The horrific mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school on Wednesday left 17 dead. Shootings have become so commonplace in America that they’ve almost been normalized—but a significant amount of research shows that there’s nothing “normal” about the U.S. gun violence epidemic in a global context.

Americans are far more likely to die early or live a diminished quality of life compared with similar nations because of gun violence, according to a 2017 Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker report. The study uses a metric called “Disability adjusted life years,” (DALYs), which incorporates both premature deaths and the number of “healthy” years of life lost due to poor health, disability, or injury. As the chart below shows, America is a clear outlier from countries like Canada, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Japan when it comes to diminished life and overall well-being attributable to firearms.

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“In the U.S., 225 years of life per 100,000 people are lost to disability and premature death as a result of assault by firearm—almost 19 times the comparable country average of 12 years of life per 100,000 people,” wrote the study authors.

Other analyses have reached similar conclusions. A recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report found that gun deaths have risen for two consecutive years after 15 years of relative stability; gun violence, car crashes, and drug overdoses shed about a year off of the average American male life expectancy, with guns contributing to almost half of that drop.

Firearm assaults disproportionately afflict younger people. Consider: In 2015, 20% of the 35,905 Americans aged five to 24 who died were killed by guns in some way, shape, or form. That’s nearly 3,000 more than the number of people in that age group who died from drug overdoses. All told, about 33,000 people die by firearms every year, including some 21,000 suicides.

That doesn’t just take a toll on American life and well-being—it also affects health care spending and the economy. Several analyses have found that the direct and indirect costs of gun violence (such as through lost wages and direct hospital costs) can range from $175 billion to $229 billion in a given year.

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