The Medical Debt of Colorado Shooting Victims Cries out for Healthcare Reform

Last updated on July 30th, 2012 at 05:09 pm

CNN”s Anderson Cooper looked at the financial cost to survivors of the Aurora, Colorado shooting on 360 the other night. Most people don’t think about that – they think that for those who lived, the ordeal is over. They can recover from their wounds and go back to their lives. But it’s not that easy. As Anderson Cooper reported, some of them will experience surgeries and treatments that will total millions of dollars:

Two of the chief wheels of American Republicanism are opposition to healthcare reform and support for gun owners to own whatever gun they want with as little government oversight as possible. What happens when those two collide? A mass murderer shoots a theater full of people. A theater full of people who did not shoot themselves, who through no fault of their own end up wounded and in hospitals and in some cases, looking at years of treatment to return to any kind of normal.

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Democrats make a big deal of raising the minimum wage to  $9.80 an hour, but let’s face it: $9.80 an hour, while an improvement over the current $7.25 is no more going to pay for that kind of medical care than the $7.25. Yet Republicans act like a pay hike is the end of civilization.

Who is going to pay for their medical care of the Colorado victims? The killer? No, he can buy four weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammo so he can gun down 70 people who he had never met before but he isn’t going to spring for millions of dollars of medical care. The Republicans? Not a chance. A third wheel of Republicanism is “personal responsibility.”

Personal responsibility for Republicans always seems  conveniently to reside with the victims of another’s irresponsibility, an irresponsibility that is often institutionalized by those very same Republicans who cry out for personal responsibility.

The GOP is more than willing to enable the shooting of these 70 victims in the name of gun-rights but healthcare rights? No so much.  They think the average citizens needs 100-round magazine and guns that can fire a round a minute 100 times without reloading, and that none of these weapons should be registered, or, in many cases, left at home but they don’t think as a consequence anybody needs access to adequate medical care. In the perfect NRA world, America will look like the Wild West, with everybody packing, “going heeled” as they put it in the days of Wyatt Earp. And a lot of people would die, needlessly.

The theory is that with everybody carrying a weapon, nobody will shoot anyone else. Who is going to pull out a gun in a room full of well-armed people? You’d be surprised.

It’s been tried before, you see. The problem with this logic is that in the days when virtually everybody did go heeled, in a time when many adult males were veterans of the Civil War and had some basic familiarity with guns, knew first hand what they could do to a human body, people were shooting each other left and right and for almost every reason you can think of.

There are reasons the American West of the 19th century earned the epitaph “Wild” West. There are reasons why people such as Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, achieved such notoriety along with outlaws like Jesse James, John Wesley Hardin, William Bonney and others. There are reasons why in those gun and vigilante-friendly days men seemed to move so fluidly between lawman and outlaw. Rooms full of well-aremed men would routinely shoot at each other, often at the drop of a hat. Even a crack shot like Hickock once killed his own friend and deputy. When a lot of (even well-meaning) men gather together and start shooting, things happen that weren’t intended. Innocent people die. ‘

The quiet, Minnesota town of Northfield was full of such men, one just one concerned citizen with a firearm but a whole town full of them. That didn’t stop the James-Younger gang from trying to rob their bank. Two citizens were killed.

No, I’m afraid guns aren’t deterrents against people with guns. History does not bear that out.

Because people are humans, because people are capable of great acts of violence as well of great acts of compassion, we need laws to govern our behavior. A state where there are no laws, as Thomas Hobbes correctly understood, will be a state of all against all, and life will be nasty, brutish, and short. Just as it was for those twelve dead in a Colorado theater.

You can argue, as some have, that had somebody been heeled in that Colorado theater, that the toll would have been less, but you can’t know that the heeled concerned citizen wouldn’t have missed and shot somebody else, or that the bullet, in passing through the target, would not have carried on and struck another – innocent – victim, or having missed, gone through a wall or partition and killed somebody in the lobby or an adjoining screen.

Bullets, when fired, do crazy things. Panicked people, inadequately trained, with guns in their hands, do crazy things. Even well-trained soldiers kill each other in friendly-fire episodes. Yet we’re to believe that a room full of people with guns who have achieved often negilgent levels of training, are to be trusted to bring down a perpetrator in a dark theater filled with smoke under chaotic conditions? Right. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Please don’t treat me like an idiot. If that’s your perfect world, I think I”ll stay home, thank you very much.

And as I asked above, who pays the medical bills in this new Wild West we have created? We already know that brave champion of gun rights who shot 70 people isn’t going to do it. Perhaps, once the police get who shot who all sorted out there will be lawsuits and counter-lawsuits and misery piled upon misery for the survivors and anguish for the dead resulting from the friendly-fire of concerned citizens.

There is a reason managers in the retail industry are taught to to give the robber the money he demands. The money is insured and nobody’s life is worth it. The money can be replaced. Human life cannot. But the ball is no longer in the manager’s court, now that concerned citizens might be going heeled to Burger King or some other restaurant or store, ready to turn that family-friendly environment into a Wild West saloon or the OK Corral. Anyone, anywhere, can trigger a massacre.

And how many people are even trained to use their firearms? How many people think they are better trained than they are, or need no training at all, or are simply naturally gifted shots? I think we’ve all met people who think they are better than they are – the same goes for guns and shooting. For myself, and my family, I won’t be any less dead if a concerned citizen shot me than if the original murderer shot me. My medical bills won’t be any less. And the vigilante is no more likely to pay for my medical bills than the bad guy.

So I ask again: who is going to pay for them? As Anderson Cooper’s report shows, there are people who are helping but not everyone has insurance and if the medical bills are in the hundreds of thousands or even millions, who is going to pay for that? Mitt Romney could but Mitt Romney is not about to. “Get shot on your own dime” ought to be the campaign slogan of the NRA-friendly GOP.

With Obamacare, everyone will have insurance. With Obamacare, people would not, having been shot and terrorized by a crazed killer, now be facing the terror the lack of insurance brings, and a ruined financial outlook and a lifetime of debt. It is bad enough the damage a killer with guns no person needs destroyed their lives in that theater. But society should not add to their misery by sustaining a system that leaves them helpless when, through no fault of their own, they are injured or terrorized by people that society has enabled.

Personal responsibility is all well and fine, but how many people really think personal responsibility enters into being a victim? You have a right to go to a theater and to expect an enjoyable escape from life for a couple of hours. Nobody can or should have to take personal responsibility for being shot by a mass murderer in a crowded theater. Are you seriously going to say that there should not be mechanisms in place to take care of people who are shot by all those guns we are insisting people have a right to own? Where is the logic in fighting for gun-rights while saying healthcare rights are unconstitutional?

We need healthcare reform in this country. And Obamacare is not the end-all – it is only a beginning. I have seen myself what crippling medical expenses can do to a family. And in real life, things happen to us that we can in no way be blamed for – the Aurora, Colorado shooting being a terrible example of that. As a society, it is our duty to do more than protect “our” gun-ownership privileges. It is our duty to protect each other from those who own guns, of those who drive while under the influence, of those like Zimmerman, empowered by vigilante-friendly laws, decide to take the law into their own hands. If it is right that society take a hand in enabling violence, shouldn’t society also take responsibility for treating those who are victims of it?

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