Politics & Policy

Gun Control Is Not the Answer to Shootings that Kill Police Officers

NYPD officers in Times Square, July 2015. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
Just ask the officers themselves.

Democrats keep using shootings of police officers to push for more gun control.

Having just arrived in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, the Reverend Jesse Jackson complained on Sunday that police are more likely to be killed in states that have open-carry laws. He claimed that without an assault-weapons ban police lives are endangered because people haveaccess to military weaponry, stronger than the police have.”

President Obama touched on this issue a couple of weeks ago: “If you care about the safety of our police officers, then you can’t set aside the gun issue and pretend that that’s irrelevant.” Hillary Clinton echoed Obama and Jackson at the NAACP Annual Conference last week: “People who should care about protecting police officers should be committed to getting assault weapons off the streets to start with.”

The Philadelphia Police Union, which will be protecting Democrats’ convention this week, takes such professions of concern with a grain of salt. The union has angrily denounced the party’s plans to host the relatives of those killed by police — including Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner of New York City — without also inviting the relatives of police who have been killed in the line of duty.

Research in my new book, The War on Guns, shows that each one-percentage-point increase in gun ownership is associated with a 3.6 percent decrease in the number of police killed. Clinton and Obama keep pushing for background checks on private transfers of guns, but using data from the handful of states that mandate such checks, I found no relationship between tighter restrictions and the number of police shot to death in the years 2000–2014.

Jackson’s claim about open-carry laws is simply wrong. From 2013 to 2015, the six states (plus the District of Columbia) that banned open carry actually experienced higher rates of police death (20.2 versus 17.3 per 100,000 officers).

But if Clinton, Obama, and Jackson don’t believe my research, maybe they’ll believe police officers. In fact, there is probably no group that supports private gun ownership more than the police do. Americans may be divided on this issue, but police know that allowing law-abiding citizens to keep and bear firearms improves everyone’s safety.

Take the survey just released last week by the National Association of Chiefs of Police. After polling more than 20,000 sheriffs and chiefs of police, the NACOP found that 86.4 percent “support nationwide recognition of state issued concealed weapon permits” and 76 percent believe that “qualified, law-abiding armed citizens help law enforcement reduce violent criminal activity.”

There is probably no group that supports private gun ownership more than the police do.

Rank-and file-police show even stronger support for private gun ownership. PoliceOne, an organization of about 380,000 active and 70,000 retired officers, surveyed 16,000 members on the subject in 2013.

Virtually all of the survey’s respondents said the “assault-weapons” ban, “a federal ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than ten rounds,” background checks on private transfers of guns, and “a national database tracking all legal gun sales” would either do no good or actually cause harm.

Seventy-one percent of officers said that an assault-weapons ban would have no effect, while 20.5 percent said that it would make things worse. Seventy-six percent of officers said that legally armed citizens are either extremely important or very important in reducing crime. Eighty-six percent of officers said that abolishing gun-free zones would reduce or eliminate casualties from mass shootings.

Police are informed by what they see on the street every day. They know how important having a gun is to their own safety, and they know the help that private citizens can provide them if properly armed and trained.

Take just two cases from this year.

In the first, a drunk man attacked a deputy sheriff near Austin, Texas. “I remember thinking, ‘Stay in the fight. Just keep fighting, keep fighting. Do whatever you can do, just stay alive. You need to go home,’” The deputy recalled. He ended up having his gun taken away from him by the assailant. Fortunately, a nearby citizen with a conceal-carry permit pointed his handgun at the attacker and ordered him to, “Freeze!” The deputy said he owed that citizen his life.

In the second, an Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, police officer tried to break up a fight between two teenagers who had just gotten out of school. He quickly found himself being attacked by a crowd of 40 to 50 people. Fortunately, a permit holder kept the mob at bay until other officers arrived. Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said that, thanks to the permit holder, the officer only suffered “significant hand injuries.”

Hillary Clinton frequently reveals that she doesn’t know much about guns. Last week, she claimed that the gun used to kill five police officers in Dallas was a “military weapon.” The gun was a semi-automatic, meaning that it fires one bullet per pull of the trigger. It functioned exactly as a typical, small game-hunting rifle does. That didn’t slow down the Dallas attacker, who had the element of surprise on his side, but civilians who are defending themselves and their families might not have a lot of time to manually reload a gun after each shot.

Before they endanger more lives, Clinton, Obama, and their associates ought to ask some police officers for a private lesson on the basics of crime and guns.

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