Why Law Enforcement Officers Should Demand Stricter Gun Policy

Hey there reader.  I hope you’re doing great.   I’m sure you agree, law enforcement officers have a tough job. President Obama confirmed this after 5 police officers were killed and 7 were wounded in Dallas, Texas on July 8, 2016. We were reminded LEOs have tough jobs again when 3 more were killed and 3 more were injured in Baton Rouge, Louisiana 9 days later.

Both of these tragedies happened at the hands of young, male, veterans carrying rifles in public; Micah Johnson used an SKS rifle in Dallas, Gavin Long used an AR-15 rifle in Baton Rouge.

Reader, I believe we have a problem in this country: LEOs and the public in general are at greater risk when when firearms are carried in public, outside of the home. And no, this blog isn’t about all lives matter, blue lives matter or black lives matter.  It’s about preventing gun violence for both civilians and LEOs: LEOs carry firearms because civilians carry firearms.  So let’s analyze LEO death rates, firearm policies, mass shootings and state gun ownership rates to form a policy to prevent these events from happening so frequently.

Law Enforcement Officer Facts

  • There were 794,300 law enforcement officers in the US as of 2010.
  • There were 900,000 LEOs in the US as of 2015.
  • The median ratio of LEOs to citizens per country is 300 per 100,000.
  • The US had 15 percent fewer LEOs than the median country in 2010: 256 per 100,000.
  • LEOs are killed by gunfire almost 3 times more often than the next most common cause of death, automobile accidents.

Law Enforcement Officer Death Details

Since American law enforcement officer deaths were first recorded in 1791, more than 20,000 have been killed in the line of duty. The 1920s were the deadliest decade for LEOs: 2,437 were killed. The single deadliest year for LEOs was 1930, when 304 were killed but LEO deaths dropped dramatically in subsequent decades with an average of 162 killed per year during the 1990s. The single deadliest day for LEOs was on September 11, 2001 when 72died. 1 in 5 LEOs killed were killed with an assault weapon in 2014 and 92 percent of all LEO homicides were committed with a firearm from 1996 through 2010. A total of of 123 LEOs were killed in the line of duty in 2015.  71 percent of law enforcement officers killed were done by white men in 2016.

Firearm And Ownership Facts

  • Household gun ownership rates declined from 53.7 percent in 1978 to 32.4 percent in 2014, an overall all decrease of 38 percent in 36 years.
  • Hunters saw the biggest decline: 31.6 percent in 1977 to 15.4 percent in 2014, an overall decrease of 51 percent.
  • Personal gun ownership rates declined from 28.1 in 1980 to 22.4 in 2014, an overall decrease of 20 percent. Experts believe the decline was due to the aging gun ownership population, lack of interest in guns and hunting by young people, the end of military conscription and the increase in single-parent homes headed by women.
  • 60 percent of respondents said personal safety and protection were the top reasons for ownership in 2013.
  • All firearms have 2 firing options; automatic or semi-automatic. Assault rifles have automatic fire, they are also known as machine guns. And assault weapons have semi-automatic fire: one round per trigger squeeze but sometimes they can have 3 round burst options. This means nearly every firearm in the US, except revolvers, is an assault weapon.

But note, it seems like automatic and semi-automatic firing options are distinctions without much of a difference.

Firearm Regulations And Decisions

Congress passed the National Firearms Act in 1934: organized gangs used automatic weapons like the Thompson Submachine gun in crimes and shootouts like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre during the prohibition era.

The NFA mandated automatic machine guns to be registered to their owners, required owners to be fingerprinted, have their backgrounds checked and pay a $200 fee when these weapons were exchanged. The NFA also required;

  • An identification of the machine gun, including serial number; name and address of the manufacturer, maker, or importer, if known; model; caliber, gauge or size; and any other identifying marks on the firearm;
  • The date of registration; and
  • The identification and address of the person entitled to possess the machine gun.

Congress passed the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act which banned the possession and transfer of all machine guns except those manufactured before May 19, 1986: machine guns would only be possessed by and manufactured for governmental agencies thereafter.

The Assault Weapons Ban applied to semi-automatic weapons, it was enacted in 1995 and expired in 2004. Assault weapons were defined by their semi-automatic fire, model and physical characteristics. The AWB banned high capacity magazines and the manufacture and sale of AK-47s, Uzis, AR-15s, AR-70s and TEC-9s. Assault weapons which predated the ban were grandfathered in.

The Supreme Court’s Heller decision in 2008 made gun ownership for self-defense within the home an individual right, it reversed the Miller decisionof 1939 which allowed the collective right to own firearms.

Policy Analysis

Machine gun deaths reduced significantly after the NFA: there were only 2machine gun deaths recorded in the 6 decades following the NFA. And note, there were 240,000 machine guns in the US in 1995 and half of them belonged to governments agencies.

There were 1.5 million assault weapons which met the model and physical characteristics of the AWB before it was enacted. There are approximately 3,750,000 privately owned AR-15s in the US today but they make up a small part of the 310–320 million privately owned guns: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns as of 2009.

After the Heller decision, individuals had a right to own a firearm for self-defense within the home. But the right wasn’t unlimited: state concealed weapon restrictions would continue to be upheld. And states could still prohibit convicts, fugitives of justice, illegal aliens, drug dealers, drug users, the mentally ill, domestic abusers, dishonorably discharged veterans, citizens who renounced their citizenship and stalkers from owning guns. Heller also still allowed states to forbid carrying of firearms in schools and government buildings and it allowed states to restrict dangerous and unusual weapons as well.

The dangerous and unusual language was left vague so the term could be applied to assault weapons like those found in the AWB: the 2nd Amendment does not “protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes…semi-automatic rifles are too dangerous based on evidence that they unleash greater destructive force than other firearms and appear to be disproportionately connected to mass shootings.”

Assault Weapons And Mass Shootings

Mass shooters still used assault weapons during the AWB, the catch was mass shootings happened less frequently: 92 of 108 mass shootings occurred before and after the AWB while only 16 mass shootings occurred during the AWB. This is an average of 2.05 mass shootings per year before the AWB and 1.6 mass shootings during the AWB, there were 22 percent fewer mass shootings during AWB than before it. The years following the AWB are the most concerning: 46 mass shootings occurred from 2005 to 2015, an average of 4.18 mass shootings per year, 62 percent more mass shootings happened per year after the AWB expired.

State Gun Ownership Rates And Police Officer Deaths

Researchers at Harvard University found a significant correlation between state firearm ownership rates and LEOs killed. The researchers used FBI datato track LEOs killed in the line of duty via firearms from 1996 to 2010. Then they cross referenced this data with state-level gun ownership rates from a survey from the CDC from 2001 to 2004.

They controlled for overall violent crime rates, property crime rates, racial and economic demographics of states. They also controlled for income, education, alcohol consumption and rural/urban populations.

The researchers found the 8 states with the lowest gun ownership rates had an ownership rate of 13.5 percent on average. And the 23 states with the highest gun ownership rates had an ownership rate of 52 percent on average.

The researchers found the 23 states with the highest gun ownership rates had 3 times more LEOs killed via gunfire than the 8 states with lowest gun ownership rates: 0.95 police officers were killed for every 10,000 officers employed in high gun ownership states while just 0.31 police officers were killed for every 10,000 officers employed in low gun ownership states.

The researchers found the mean household gun ownership rate in the US was 38 percent and average household gun ownership ranged between 4.8 percent in Washington, DC to to 62 percent in Wyoming. They also found states with the lowest gun ownership rates were densely populated; Illinois, Massachusetts and New York for example. Washington, DC was included in this group. And states with the highest rates of gun ownership were found to have low population density; Louisiana, Vermont and Wyoming for example.

They also found states with the lowest gun ownership rates were densely populated; Illinois, Massachusetts and New York for example. Washington, DC was included in this group. And states with the highest rates of gun ownership were found to have low population density; Louisiana, Vermont and Wyoming for example.

“Higher levels of private firearm ownership likely increased the frequency with which officers faced potentially life-threatening situations on the job.”

“High rates of LEO homicide victimization appeared to be caused by more frequent encounters with violent criminals and by more frequently encountering situations where privately owned firearms were present.”

“LEOs working in states with higher levels of gun ownership faced a greater likelihood of being shot and killed on the job compared with their peers in states with lower gun ownership.”

Researchers also found a 10 percent increase in a state’s firearm ownership rate would result in 10 additional LEO deaths over a 15 year period. 92 percent of LEO deaths were committed with a firearm, 75 percent of them were committed with a handgun.

Law Enforcement’s Opinion

The International Association of Chiefs of Police supported a reinstatementof the federal AWB, expanding background checks and registering gun offenders in a database. The Major Cities Chiefs Association supported similar proposals. County sheriff groups however opposed stricter gun control policies: they serve low density, rural populations where gun homicides are less of a problem. Gun suicides, however are more common in rural locations and there are twice as many gun suicides in the US than there are gun homicides per year on average.

Big Picture

Economic growth, development, technology and jobs have always been the reasons why Americans moved from rural areas to urban areas. Guns have the possibility of doing more damage in urban areas than in rural areas: there are more citizens and demand is greater for firearms in cities. The greater demand for firearms correlates to a greater amount of gun violence, hence city police chiefs demand stricter gun control than rural sheriff departments.

Crime declined significantly after the 1990s and yet 70 percent of Americans believed crime was higher in 2015 than 2014. This is likely because local news programs lead with news that bleeds: news stories involving gun violence. “An analysis of Los Angeles television stations in 2009 found that local broadcasts often started with crimes that were not even in Los Angeles, leaving viewers with the impression that the biggest thing happening most days is something awful.”

Gun sales immediately surge after terrorist attacks, natural disasters, urban riots, mass shootings and inaugurations of politicians who favor gun restrictions.

Policy Recommendation

The US had approximately 320 million people and 900,000 LEOs in 2015.  Using the 300 LEOs per 100,000 citizens ratio, the US should employ 960,000 LEOs.  I recommend hiring 60,000 more LEOs, an increase of 6 percent.

I think what made the NFA so effective in reducing machine gun deaths is the background check and registration to the owner. Part of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 prohibited the federal government from establishing a database to record firearm ownership. This law needs to be repealed so a national database could register semi-automatic gun owners to their weapons. This will likely reduce the 232,000 guns stolen each year and since 79 percent of all gun crimes were committed by criminals with guns owned by someone else, the registration would likely reduce the number of illegally obtained guns via straw purchase. Also, the central database is necessary for law enforcement agencies to share information about gun owners.

I think reinstating the AWB would reduce the number of mass shootings and police officers killed per year. Rifles are more powerful and more accurate than pistols. And a pistol is usually the only firearm a police officer carries. Given the Dallas and Baton Rouge police were overpowered by a shooter with a rifle at first, it makes sense to restrict rifles in the same way as the AWB and restrict semiautomatic handguns in the same way we restrict NFA weapons.

State background checks would close the private seller loophole: background checks ensure persons prohibited from owning firearms are blocked by the seller and the state. And since the state is ultimately responsible for suppressing crime and validating gun sales with background checks, states should run background check laws in addition to the federal NICS background check.

Permit to purchase gun laws check the backgrounds of private gun sales before the sale. Permits alert LEO agencies to gun buyers and permit to purchase gun laws reduced gun homicide rates in Connecticut by 40 percent over a 10 year period. When permit to purchase gun laws were repealed in Missouri, gun homicides increased 25 percent over a 10 year period.

Lost and stolen firearm reporting laws deter gun trafficking and discourage straw purchases. They also facilitate the return of lost or stolen guns to their lawful owners and assist LEOs in disarming people prohibited from possessing firearms. Reporting laws make LEOs aware of people who repeatedly fail to report the stolen firearm and indicating they might be trafficking firearms. States without lost or stolen firearm reporting laws export 2.5 times more crime-guns over state lines than states with these laws. 48 hours seems like a fair amount of time for private gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm to LEO agencies since federal law requires this amount of time for federal firearm licensed dealers.

A ban on open carrying firearms in public is possible using the legal logic of the Heller decision and several states already do this; California, Florida, Illinois, New York, South Carolina and Washington, DC ban handguns in public. California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington, DC also ban the open carrying of rifles in public.

State concealed carry gun laws have proliferated since the 1990s and there are no states which ban concealed carry today. Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming have no concealed carry restrictions which means anyone with a gun can concealed carry in these states. But before concealed carry was allowed in the 1990s, carrying concealed weapons was illegal in southern states and was considered nefarious because open carry was allowed. Open carry was prohibited in northern states.

Concealed carry permits can last for several years, Florida’s concealed carry permit is good for 7 years. The Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2014 would have ensured states would reciprocate valid concealed carry permits from other states if it was passed. However, states could refuse to reciprocate if a state has no concealed carry permit at all: gun owners from Idaho, which has no concealed carry permit law would be prohibited from concealed carrying in border states like Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming and 37 other states plus Washington, DC. This law is still being debated.

A ban on concealed and open carry is possible under the Heller decision given handguns were for self-defense in the home. And the 7 year concealed permit seems too long in my opinion. States which permit concealed carry should shorten this time to a 24–72 hour period. This modification would still meet the needs of most gun owners; hunters could still hunt, gun owners could still take their guns to the range, exchange, repair and clean them. The point is, unless concealed carry is permitted by the state, guns must be stored in the owner’s home.

Safe storage gun laws would reduce the number of guns stolen each year, they also reduce gun accidents, injuries and gun suicides for teenagers. Massachusetts fines citizens $7,500 when gun owners fail to secure their firearms. I think a national safe storage gun policy could be treated as a civil offense, like a DUI with a fine of $5,000 to the owner of guns lost, misplaced or stolen and used in a gun crime, gun injury or gun death. Also, 200 hours of community service would drive home the point of safe storage gun laws.

Conclusion

The NFA and AWB were good examples of effective gun control. But those laws were enacted to fix the problems of the 1930s and 1990s. Gun control must be comprehensive to be effective. And we need new comprehensive firearm restrictions to solve our mass shooting and LEO death problems for the 21st century.

There was an obvious correlation between the decrease in LEO deaths and the enactment of the NFA. And LEOs should demand greater gun restrictions, their lives depend on it. I bet if we put similar restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, we’d see a similar decline in LEO and civilian gun homicides.

We can’t prevent all every mass shooting and police officer from being slain but we can do more to prevent some of them from happening so often.

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kristianberhost@gmail.com

I want to write about new experiences, the people I meet and the things I learn. I moved from Tempe, AZ to Arlington, VA with my dog 3 years ago. We love it here.

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