Most people are aware of the human toll of gun violence, but a new report in Santa Clara County is revealing its staggering financial cost.
Firearm incidents cost the county $72 million each year, according to a county report. This estimate covers the costs from public sector responses to gun violence, including health care and the police, and does not cover incarceration. The report also claims Santa Clara County had about 550,000 firearms in 2021--roughly one gun for every four residents.
At a gun buyback event in Milpitas on Sunday hosted by Supervisor Otto Lee, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and Milpitas Police Department, residents turned in 415 firearms, according to a press release from Lee. It was the first county buyback event since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past two decades, 1,494 county residents have died from firearm-related injuries, with the most common cause being suicide. The report shows Latino residents are disproportionately impacted by gun violence--more than half of all non-fatal firearm injuries reported at emergency rooms between 2016-2020 were for Latinos, who only account for 25% of the county's population.
The Board of Supervisors, which asked for a report on the cost of gun violence in January 2020, will receive the report during its Tuesday meeting. The board will also likely direct the county's legal representative to craft an ordinance banning ghost guns--an action delayed from March. Ghost guns are non-serialized firearms that can be assembled from parts or through 3D printers, making them difficult to trace.
Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who has raised concerns about the growing number of ghost guns found at crime scenes, said at a news conference Monday that the county decided to examine the cost of gun violence following the 2019 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. She said the report offers an opportunity for the county to weigh strategies for addressing gun violence.
"There are communities all over the country that have used different kinds of strategies to lower gun violence," Chavez said. "There are plenty of opportunities for us to look at that aren't necessarily all very cost prohibitive for us to be able to address this."
The county is considering enhanced gun control measures just before the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at VTA's light rail yard. The attack prompted San Jose officials to crack down on gun violence, which included passing the country's first liability insurance mandate for gun owners. City officials also recently passed a local ordinance that prohibits possessing, manufacturing, selling, assembling, receiving or distributing ghost guns.
Assistant District Attorney James Gibbons-Shapiro said shootings have impacts on communities throughout the county that go deeper than dollars.
"The cost of these shootings are (a) small part in dollars," Gibbons-Shapiro said. "But much more than that are the cost to the families of the dead, the people who have been shot, and the cost to the people living in neighborhoods, and on streets; the cost in trauma, stress, fear and pain."
Several California cities, including San Francisco and San Diego, recently passed laws banning non-serialized firearms. A city memo noted ghost guns are appearing with growing frequency at crime scenes, and in Santa Clara County the number of non-serialized guns found at crime scenes went from four in 2015 to 293 in 2021.
Margaret Petros, executive director of Mothers Against Murder, a nonprofit that assists victims of violent crimes, said she was stunned by the financial cost of gun violence in Santa Clara County.
"$72 million is shocking to me," Petros told San Jose Spotlight. She noted the financial burden of gun violence can be traumatizing for families, citing as an example the exorbitant cost of planning a funeral, which can cost approximately $25,000.
Petros is dubious that bans on ghost guns will have an impact on criminal violence, noting that people can still harm one another with knives or other weapons. She said it would make more sense for the county to invest in resources to help victims of crimes that would stop the cycle of violence.
"The system needs to start caring about individual people," Petros said. "If we start educating children at a very young age about how painful (crime) is... that's when we will prevent crimes and prevent gun violence."
Jose Valle, an organizer with community advocacy group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said he couldn't speak on the potential public safety impact of the ghost gun ordinance. But he noted the county should invest more in addressing the root causes of crime.
"The majority of crime that is committed in Santa Clara County is not done by people that are inherently criminal, or inherently malicious," Valle told San Jose Spotlight. "A lot of it stems from inequality and poverty--that's what needs to be discussed and confronted."
The Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Learn how to watch and participate at sanjosespotlight.com.
This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight.