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Cops Are Killed 3 Times More Often in States With More Guns, Study Shows

The math was simple: More guns equalled more police deaths, while fewer firearms equalled less cop murders.

by VICE News
Aug 14 2015, 3:40pm

Photo by Tony Webster/Flickr

VICE News is closely watching policing in America. Check out the Officer Involved blog here.

It's not just regular American citizens that are killed more often in states with higher private gun ownership — the lives of police officers are more at risk as well, according to a new study.

Researchers who published their data in the American Journal of Public Health took the number of police officers killed between 1996 and 2010 from the FBI's database that tracks cop killings, and compared those numbers with data on each state's household firearm ownership.

Of the 782 occupational police homicides — 92 percent of which were caused by guns — researchers found that in states with high firearm ownership, cops were killed at three times the rate of those killed in states with low firearm ownership. They also found that 15 percent of the total number of police deaths were caused as officers responded to domestic disturbances.

"If we're interested in protecting police officers, we need to look at what's killing them, and what's killing them is guns," the study's lead researcher, David Swedler, of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, told NBC News. "We were not surprised to find that firearm ownership is associated with homicide rates."

Related: Unsafe Access to Guns a Leading Cause of Death Among Children and Teens

In the eight states with the lowest rates of gun ownership per capita, cops were killed at a rate of 0.31 per 100,000 the study found. But among the 23 states with the highest rate of gun ownership, police homicide rates were 0.95 per 100,000. Variables — including education levels, ethnicity and poverty rates — were factored into the results.

America currently has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with an average of 88 guns per 100 people, compared with countries like Canada (30.8 guns per 100 people) or Australia (15 per 100), according to data published by The Guardian in 2012.

At least 38 percent of households in the US have at least one gun. States with the lowest rates of gun ownership per capita include New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, while states with the highest include Montana, Mississippi, Alabama, Alaska, and Arkansas.

But it's not just police who are more at risk of getting shot and killed in states with more guns. A previous study conducted by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence found a distinct correlation between higher gun deaths of citizens in states with higher gun ownership rates, while states with lower gun ownership rates had thelowest gun deaths.

"Our research has quite simply shown that more guns equal more deaths," Rebecca Adeskavitz, a researcher at the Brady Center told VICE News in February.

The latest study on gun ownership and rates of police homicides indicates that legislators should reassess laws controlling gun ownership in their states, Swedler said.

"If people in the United States are concerned about the lives of police officers, think about the laws in your state regarding firearms," he said.

Related: Why the Battle Over So-Called 'Cop-Killer' Ammunition Is Completely Ridiculous

Photo via Flickr