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Taxpayers On Hook Locally For Gun Violence

October 3, 2019

There is hardly a day that our newspapers, radio, or television news is not reporting on a gun shooting in our city, county, or state.   Obviously, the most important part of the stories is the deaths or injuries that result in gun violence.  But underneath all the news about guns in our society is the far too-often unmentioned costs of this issue on taxpayers.

Madison is currently working on shaping a new budget where, as always, the revenues are stretched tight.  Many programs cry out for more dollars, only to be told they must work with current amounts.  This is why a budget amendment before the Finance Committee late last month caught my attention.

The committee voted to add $75,000 to fund design costs for updating the lighting under the Monona Terrace on John Nolan Drive.  Downtown alderman Mike Verveer said, and correctly so, that the amendment for the funds (#14) was driven by the shooting that took place in that location following the Shake the Lake fireworks.

Granted, the amount of the amendment was rather paltry when considering the entire budget.  But that money could have been used in some local programs where a real difference would have benefited the city.  But due to the rising need for local units of government to respond to gun violence the money will be appropriated for safety in an area now proven to need it.

But all such upgrades are not so cheap.  In fact, they can be widly expensive.  The New Verona High School which will open in 2020 is one such example.  

The design for the new school already underwent some changes after parents, students and staff raised concerns in the wake of the February shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The amount of glass was reduced slightly. But in some cases, a covering designed like a barn door can be slipped across windows to block them.

Where it made the most sense, classrooms were designed so that they sandwich a middle room that has no windows to the exterior hallway, Gorrell said. Students from the outer rooms can go into the inner room in an emergency situation. In other cases, classrooms have two exits.

The building also is designed so sections can be cordoned off denying access to large areas. Eliminating the K-wing where some students eat lunch and some classes are held will increase the security.

Citizens can become numb to the continual episodes of gun violence being reported, and in some ways consider this to be the new normal.  Such reactions can be understood at some level, but that then allows for real solutions not to be pressed hard enough with those elected officials who have the power to make changes.

But if gun violence can be considered as an additional cost to hard-working taxpayers it might be an effective way to nudge more citizens to demand accountability from their legislators. The Giffords Law Center, which compiles data on gun violence in states, reports that the direct annual cost of gun violence to Wisconsin taxpayers is over $177 million.

They state that including healthcare costs ($46 million per year), law enforcement and criminal justice expenses ($58 million per year), costs to employers ($6 million per year), and lost income ($927 million per year), the initial price tag of gun violence in Wisconsin
is over $1 billion per year. Much of this tab is picked up by the public. Up to 85% of gunshot victims, for example, are either uninsured or on some form of publicly funded insurance. 

More ideas will emerge as to ways local officials can work at constructing safety measures in our communities to ward off gun violence.  While those are laudable goals it begs the question as to why more citizens do not just demand a solution for the root cause of the violence.

And so it goes.

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