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After Guns Wound and Kill, Bills Pile Up for Victims and Society

December 07, 2015



It was 1:30 a.m. on the first day of summer in 2014, and Claudiare Motley had just dropped off a friend after coming into town for his Milwaukee Tech High School 25-year class reunion. He was parked around North 63rd Street and West Capitol Drive, writing an email on his phone, as two cars pulled up.

Motley, then 43, knew “something was going on” as one of the vehicles turned in front of him and stopped. He put his phone into his pocket, shifted his car into gear. A teenager jumped from the car and tapped Motley’s window with a gun.

He accelerated as 15-year-old Nathan King fired, shattering glass. Motley rammed the car in front of him out of the way. He sped off and looked in the rearview mirror to see if they were chasing him.

“I just saw blood gushing out of my jaw,” Motley said.

After more than a year and six surgeries to repair his injuries, Motley estimates his out-of-pocket costs are at least $80,000 and counting. Motley’s credit has taken a hit, and he estimates lost earnings to his family’s international law firm during times he could not work to be between $40,000 and $60,000.

Wisconsin taxpayers and health care providers also pay a high price for gun violence. In April, Mother Jones magazine pegged the cost of gun violence to Wisconsinites in 2012 at $2.9 billion in direct and indirect costs, or $508 for every person in the state.

Those figures include the financial and psychological tolls taken when a bullet forever alters the lives of victims and shooters alike. There are lost wages, stunted futures, shattered plans, life-changing trauma.

Firearms are a big factor in crime statewide. In 2014, guns were involved in 75 percent of murders, 56 percent of armed robberies, 27 percent of aggravated assaults and 3 percent of forcible rapes, according to the state Department of Justice.

Taxpayers pay all of the costs for police, prosecutors and incarceration — and sometimes to defend the accused — in gun crimes. And 79 percent of health care costs in Wisconsin associated with firearm-related injuries are paid by the public, according to a 2014 report using 2010 data by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Nathan King is wheeled out of court after being sentenced in July. King, who shot Claudiare Motley on June 21, 2014, was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot during another attempted robbery a few days later.
Credit John Klein / For the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

State taxpayers paid about $1,500 for the 50 hours spent by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Joy Hammond to prosecute King during the case that ended in September. They paid $1,537 for King’s attorney, Ann T. Bowe.

Residents of Wisconsin will spend about $405,000 to keep King in prison during his 12-and-a-half-year sentence for the Motley shooting and another incident in which King himself was shot. After he is released, King will be on extended supervision for seven and a half years at a cost to taxpayers of at least $21,000 in today’s dollars.

King will likely face limited employment opportunities after he leaves prison. The teenager is now paralyzed from the waist down after a woman shot him when King tried to steal her car a few days after the Motley shooting. Motley said he does not expect to see much of the $29,339 in court-ordered restitution.

The tally for the Motley shooting — at least half a million dollars — is the cost of just one shooting in a city that this year has seen 691 people shot, including 131 killed, by firearms as of Nov. 15. That was a 77 percent increase in gun homicides from November 2014 and an 11 percent increase in nonfatal shootings.

Entire communities pay price

In addition to victims, entire communities face costs, including reduced property values in high-crime areas and increased costs to keep the public safe.

“It’s not just a problem for the individuals who are unlucky enough to get shot,” said Philip Cook, professor of public policy, economics and sociology at Duke University. “It’s a problem for whole communities. It’s a drag on economic development, it’s a drag on quality of life in a variety of ways.”

Violence was one of the things that prompted Motley to move out of his hometown of Milwaukee about eight years ago. He and his wife, Kimberley, and three children moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in part to escape what he calls a “cultural acceptance of violence” and a “proliferation of guns and illegal drugs.”

A report from the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy organization, suggests that a reduction in violent crime — including homicides, rapes and assaults — could have large impacts on urban areas. Cutting homicides by 25 percent in Milwaukee, it projected, could add $2 billion in increased housing values.

Experts say because the cost for each shooting is so high — often in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars — anything that could reduce gun violence would likely be worth the investment.

“Almost any reasonable policy that reduces crime will pay for itself,” said David Weimer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of political economy and expert in cost-benefit analysis.

Some Democrats on the state and national levels have called for expanding background checks and banning certain types of assault weapons.

Jeff Nass, executive director of Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators Inc., disagrees. He said any cost-benefit analysis should include the positive value that guns have when used for self-defense.

Nass, whose organization is affiliated with the National Rifle Association, argued that violence and gun issues are separate. He called for more prosecution of illegal gun possession and gun crimes.

“Bad violence is bad violence. Whether it’s done with a knife, a gun, whatever, it’s the person,” Nass said. “The people that we know are violent — that we know are in the criminal element — need to be held accountable.”

Gun violence drives up medical costs

Statewide, there were 349 hospitalizations and 742 emergency department visits because of firearm-related injuries in 2014, according to Department of Health Services data.

About half of emergency visits and 60 percent of hospitalizations are covered by Medicaid or Medicare, which are public insurance programs. The total amount public insurance programs paid for gun-related injuries in 2014 was about $6 million after negotiations between health care providers and the state and physician fees are factored in.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association, which provided information to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism used to reach this estimate, cautioned that it is “very rough.”
Stephen Hargarten, director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.Dr. Stephen Hargarten, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said firearm injuries are “very, very expensive” to the public.

“It’s costly to all of us because a significant portion of the people who are injured with bullets are those who are on Medicaid, Medicare or self pay,” said Hargarten, director of the college’s Injury Research Center.

Legal, law enforcement costs high

In 2014, the Milwaukee Police Department responded to 6,622 calls of shots fired. Those calls may have overlapped with the 3,632 incidents of gunshots detected by ShotSpotter, a $320,000-a-year system that allows Milwaukee police to pinpoint locations where a firearm has been discharged in an area of 11 square miles in the city.

According to the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, there were 75 firearm homicides and 583 nonfatal shooting victims in the city in 2014. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted more than 1,100 cases involving a firearm last year.

In November, the Legislature’s budget-writing committee unanimously backed $366,800 for the state to hire two assistant attorneys general to work as special prosecutors for gun cases in Milwaukee. Democratic and Republican lawmakers called that move a “Band-Aid” solution.

Gun violence costs wide-ranging

It is not just victims and perpetrators who pay a high price. There are other costs — some of them hard to quantify.

Ted Miller is senior research scientist at the nonprofit Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which uses research to recommend ways to improve public safety and health. He said one understudied cost of gun violence is the impact of adverse childhood experiences. Serious traumas, such as witnessing or being a victim of gun violence, can harm brain development and lead to health problems including depression, heart disease and drug abuse.

“I think a lot of us for a long time have said violence is a public health problem, and a lot of people didn’t really believe it,” said Dr. Marlene Melzer-Lange, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and program director of Project Ujima at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee which provides counseling to victims of violent crime.

“Your health either as a witness or as a direct victim is going to be affected downstream.”

Victims can get some of their costs covered. Wisconsin’s Crime Victim Compensation Program caps the amount victims and their families can receive at $40,000 and only for out-of-pocket expenses, plus $1,000 to clean up a crime scene and $2,000 for a funeral. In all, $4.1 million was awarded in 2013-14 for 2,498 claims. The average claim paid was $3,205.

Motley has applied for but not received compensation for his injuries. He said he will keep pushing for that and to keep guns and repeat offenders — such as the 17-year-old who gave King the gun used to shoot him — off the streets.

“I’m not going to lay down. That’s not who I am,” Motley said. “And I’m just going to keep fighting.”

Ashley Luthern of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Emily Forman of 371 Productions and Kate Golden of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism contributed to this report.

This report was produced in collaboration with Precious Lives, a two-year project investigating the problem of gun violence among young people, its causes and potential solutions in the Milwaukee area and statewide. Other partners in the project are 371 Productions, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Public Radio 89.7 WUWM and The Voice 860 AM WNOV.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s coverage is supported by The Joyce Foundation.

The nonprofit Center (WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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