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Are Officer Involved Shootings Exacerbated By Public Gun Access?

Category: Guns
Posted: 07/21/17 13:09

by Dave Mindeman

This chart shows the number of individuals killed by police officers year by year...


As you look at it, consider this:

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) -- officially, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act -- is a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States federal law that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms it defined as assault weapons, as well as certain ammunition magazines it defined as "large capacity." The ten-year ban was passed by the U.S. Congress on September 13, 1994, following a close 52-48 vote in the Senate, and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment, and it expired on September 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision.

It is hard not to notice the graph. In 1994, there begins to be a precipitous drop in officer involved fatalities. Conversely, in 2004, there is an upward climb in these incidents. In the 10 years in-between which correspond to the tenure of the ban, the graph tends to hold in a range pattern.

Is this just a coincidence?

The job of being a police officer is a very difficult one. And we expect them to be making fast paced life threatening decisions at any moment.

But what about outside influences? What have gun laws in the United States done with the police officer's state of mind?

The prevalence and easy accesibility of guns, forces police officers to assume that anyone they encounter is armed. And with the demise of the assault weapons ban, they may have to assume that they are out gunned in many respects. And arguably have to act faster and with potentially more force.

Couple that with racial bias or rookie officers or hair trigger responses and you have a lot of the ingredients for tragedy.

Too many times we have had to discuss officer involved fatalities. Way too many. And it is time that we have a serious discussion about ALL the factors involved.

Race is obviously a key. Police Chief Jane Harteau first statement on the recent police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk was that "it should not have happened." Very true. But no such statement came from law enforcement on the death of Philando Castile. Which arguably also should not have happened. It seems difficult for police officials to maintain an even depiction of an officer shooting when different races are involved. The police are more willing to admit wrongdoing when a white person is shot and apparently afraid of the racial explanations and implications when a black person is killed.

That should not be.

But let's address the other elephant. Guns. Too many damn guns. It is tragically ironic that this Australian women died at the hands of a gun in the United States. This probably would not have happened in her home country of Australia. The Australian government dealt with their gun issue. They restricted access and got rid of the numbers. This is something that could never happen in the US, but we can, at least, look for common sense ideas that can reduce the outrageous prevalence of firearms in America.

Police officers have to assume that guns are everywhere. And they are. The first action an officer takes is often to draw their weapon. That was not always the norm. In the past, many would have time to assess the situation critically before feeling threatened. But now, the threat level is immediate. And guns are the cause.

The above chart does not definitively prove any kind of relationship involving the assault weapons ban. But it should at least open the conversation.

Frankly, we have to do something about all of this...and soon.
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