Police in states with large numbers of gun owners have a higher risk of being killed on duty, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at data on police murders and gun ownership nationwide between 1996 and 2010. They found that police in states with high levels of private gun ownership had a more than three times higher risk of being killed on duty than those in states with the lowest levels of gun ownership.
The study was published Aug. 13 in the American Journal of Public Health.
“If we’re interested in protecting police officers, we need to look at what’s killing them, and what’s killing them is guns,” lead author David Swedler, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, said in a university news release.
“We know that 92 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty are killed by guns, three-quarters of which are handguns,” he said.
Of the 782 police officers who were murdered during the study period, 716 were killed by guns, including 515 by handguns, the study revealed.
Thirty-eight percent of households nationwide have at least one gun, the researchers found. The lowest rate was just under 5 percent of households in the District of Columbia. The highest was 62 percent of households in Wyoming.
Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi and Montana were in the top one-fifth for both gun ownership and police murders. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island were in the bottom fifth in both categories, the study revealed.
“We found that officers aren’t being killed in states with high violent-crime rates. While violent crime rates didn’t track closely to officer homicide rates, it was public gun ownership that had the strongest relationship,” Swedler said.
“Hypothetically, officers might be put at increased risk if they are more frequently encountering violent criminals, but our data doesn’t find that to be the case. We find that officers are at an increased risk for being killed the more frequently they encounter guns in public settings,” Swedler said.
Swedler added that many officers are shot when responding to domestic disturbance calls.
“Research shows that responding to domestic violence calls are one of the most common situations in which officers are killed. In states where firearms are more prevalent, officers responding to reports of domestic violence are more often entering potentially lethal situations compared to officers responding to such calls in states with lower firearm prevalence,” he said.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence offers gun violence statistics.