Neal Opening Statement at Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on the Public Health Consequences and Costs of Gun Violence

Sep 26, 2019
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

Building off last week’s hearing concerning the spread of hatred and violence, today’s hearing addresses the need to better understand how gun violence affects our nation’s public health.  

This is a serious matter – one of paramount concern. Isolated acts of violence and self-harm leave children, families, and communities devastated; and in a matter of moments, mass shootings take, and change the direction of, scores of innocent lives. The residual effects of gun violence include costs for individuals, families, communities, and health care providers. 

I appreciate all of the witnesses coming here today, especially those sharing personal stories. Fifteen years ago, Arizona State Representative Jennifer Longdon survived a senseless shooting. The costs she has faced are truly immeasurable. Welcome, Representative Longdon, and thank you for your willingness to share what you and your family have endured.

I also want to thank Dr. Satcher and Professor Sorenson for highlighting the importance of federal research that could position policymakers to better address this public health crisis.  Dr. Punch will share a powerful story about the brutal toll of gun violence she personally experienced as a trauma surgeon.  Thank you all for being here.

Gun violence imposes nearly $230 billion in annual costs, translating to about one percent of GDP. And rural states have the highest gun violence-related costs as a share of their economies. But as our witnesses today will acknowledge, there are other, personal costs that are impossible to quantify.  

Many policy discussions about guns use mental illness as a rationale for the perpetrator’s actions. However, people living with mental illness – including depression – are actually more likely to be victims of gun violence than to be the perpetrators of such violence. 

It is true though, that mental illness, including depression, can predict suicide risk, and in America, suicides by firearm outnumber gun homicides two to one. In fact, suicide rates have increased by more than 30 percent in 25 states since 1999.

My home state of Massachusetts is ranked second lowest in overall firearm deaths, but guns are used in 21 percent of suicides. While we grapple with the same risk factors for suicide, at nearly 10 deaths per 100,000 people, we rank third lowest overall with a suicide rate notably lower than the national average of 14. I ask, why this is the case?

More research is certainly needed, but one can surmise that a low rate of uninsured residents, common sense laws governing gun access, and innovative interventions supported by non-governmental and academic partners have all contributed to Massachusetts’ comparatively lower suicide rate.  

In closing, I want to thank my colleagues for sharing their very personal stories with the Committee today.  I also thank Chairman Lewis for holding this important hearing.  We are fortunate for your constant moral leadership to seek solutions to some of the most urgent challenges facing our nation. 

And with that, I yield back.