An April shooting at a law office on St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill exacted a tragic toll, cutting short the promising life of 23-year-old law clerk Chase Passauer.
The crime also had major economic repercussions. The costs of the investigation and incarceration, workers’ compensation payments and burial expenses added up to roughly $7 million — $2 million of it footed by Minnesota taxpayers.
Those figures appear in a study released Thursday by the self-described bipartisan advocacy group Minnesota Coalition for Common Sense. The report focuses on the high, sometimes hidden economic cost of firearm crimes.
Taxpayers pay a vast majority of the $764 million directly associated with the average of 922 shootings that kill or injure Minnesotans every year, it says. That financial burden on Minnesota families, law enforcement agencies and businesses could be reduced by stricter gun measures, including universal background checks, more investments in neighborhoods and intervention programs, the coalition argues in the report.
“What’s surprising is it’s such a high number [of people being fatally shot or injured], even in a state that compared to other states in the U.S. doesn’t have that high a rate of gun violence,” said Mike McLively, who helped author the report. “But it’s still such a staggering cost.”
The coalition, which has not yet compiled numbers from other states, says at least $76 million could be saved if statewide firearm-related deaths and injuries were reduced by just 10 percent.
The report got a cool reception from one of Minnesota’s most prominent gun rights advocates. Andrew Rothman, president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance and a familiar face at State Capitol hearings, said Thursday that the coalition report is not groundbreaking and the solutions it proposes “aren’t new.”
Violence is a result of “people engaged in other illegal activity,” Rothman said. “We can agree criminal violence is a problem. I don’t expect this report is anything more than whistling in the dark.”
The study follows the coalition’s formation in February by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a shooting victim, and her husband, retired Navy captain and former astronaut Mark Kelly. It has the backing of many law enforcement leaders, including Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau and Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell, as well as Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom and Jennifer Polzin, the CEO of Minneapolis’ Harriet Tubman Center. The Minnesota group dovetails with the couple’s national organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC focused on gun control.
“We have a gun violence problem in our nation that makes us stand out in the worst ways,” Kelly said during a February visit to Minnesota. “We have to do better.”
The costs pile up
From 2010 to 2014, Minnesota had an annual average of 922 firearm deaths and injuries, the study says.
“Immediately after a trigger is pulled, the bills begin to pile up: health care costs to repair shattered limbs and punctured organs, law enforcement and criminal justice expenses to investigate violent gun crimes and incarcerate offenders, costs incurred by businesses to cover for seriously injured or dead employees and lost employee wages,” it says.
According to the report, health care generates about $32 million annually and taxpayers spend about $31 million a year on law enforcement and criminal justice expenses. Lost wages reached $696 million a year.
In Minnesota, the direct cost of fatal and nonfatal shootings to employers is about $4.5 million per year.
For Dan Adkins, a managing partner at North Star Criminal Defense and Passauer’s co-worker, the direct costs of Passauer’s death were substantial, according to the report. About $15,000 went toward burial expenses, $60,000 in workers’ compensation payments (Minnesota law provides for benefits to some family members) and $6,000 in repair costs and other payments.
The report also found that firearm-related deaths and injuries cost the state more than $50 million annually in lost business opportunities.
After the St. Paul shooting, a potential tenant at the law office dropped out of a lease, citing safety concerns, according to the report.
“When you think about gun safety, the business community is not something that immediately comes to mind,” McLively said. “They’ve been affected really directly.”
After a shooting, “people in the area feel less safe, and are less inclined to frequent public places and businesses,” the report says. It can also determine when and where people are willing to work.
The coalition suggests that programs designed to reclaim public spaces in high-crime areas can reduce violence and create “social and economic opportunities for local communities.”
It also says that those exposed to gun-related crimes have a higher risk of being shot again. An intervention program while patients are recovering can provide a “teachable moment” and direct support once they are discharged, it said.
Two of the three solutions the coalition describes — community investment and intervention programs — “focus on the people, not guns,” McLively added.
“We can tackle this problem without drastic changes to gun laws,” he said.
Another proposed solution is universal background checks, which Giffords and Kelly mentioned during their February visit.
Gun rights groups say extending background checks limits the constitutional rights of gun owners. The report doesn’t detail the cost associated with universal background checks.
“Most Minnesota gun owners, 99.9 percent of them will grumble and say it’s not fair, but they’ll do it,” Rothman said. “But those who will commit [gun-related] crimes will laugh,” and fail to comply.
Minnesota currently doesn’t require background checks on private gun sales, which, the report suggests, is how the man who fatally shot Passauer was able to obtain a firearm. Only sales by federally licensed firearm dealers are subject to such checks.
Ryan Petersen, 37, convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole, previously had been convicted of several felonies.
The coalition argues that “had universal background checks been in place in Minnesota at the time, it would have been much more difficult for Petersen to acquire a firearm,” the report says.