The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release


New Report Says Weak Gun Laws Threaten Officer Safety

Police officer deaths by gunfire soar in 2010: 2011 gun deaths on track to be higher


Law enforcement officers suffered a 24 percent increase in deaths by gunfire in 2010 over the previous year, according to a new report, Officers Gunned Down, released by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The report was issued Tuesday as thousands of law enforcement officers prepare for the annual observance of Police Week, with events memorializing police officers killed in the line of duty.

Officers Gunned Down shows that police officers increasingly are facing deadly gunfire. Since January 1, 2009, at least 122 law enforcement officers have been shot and killed, with an average of one officer killed by gunfire each week. Since the beginning of 2011, guns have killed at least 30 law enforcement officers.

The report cites the nation's weak gun laws, including lack of universal background checks, and the expiration of the assault weapon and assault clip ban, as a major factor in the escalating threat to officer safety.

"The same weak gun laws that put ordinary Americans at risk of gun violence are especially lethal to law enforcement officers who are on the front lines protecting us," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Center. "To protect our officers, as well as ordinary Americans, Congress needs to close the loopholes in federal law that allow easy access to assault weapons and large-capacity assault clips. Law enforcement officers shouldn't be under the constant threat of deadly gunfire as they do their jobs."

While there is a perception that police officers in urban areas are the most vulnerable to being gunned down, this report shows that police officers working in many parts of the United States, including rural areas, face serious danger as well.

States with particularly weak gun laws, such as Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Utah, Florida, and Ohio have had a high number of officers gunned down in recent years. Police officers often are killed while protecting the public or responding to calls from people in distress. One such case involved Officer Jesse Hamilton, 29, who was shot and killed on Aug. 21, 2009, while responding to a domestic disturbance call in Pasadena, Texas. As he interviewed a woman on the porch, he learned that a male suspect was armed with a handgun. Moments later the man emerged from the home and shot the officer to death. Texas scored only six of 100 points on the Brady State Gun Law Scorecard, released last week.

On March 15, 2010, Patrolman James Kerstetter, 43, was among officers responding to a mother's urgent call in Elyria, Ohio, after a neighbor exposed himself to her child and kicked in a window of her home. When officers responded, the suspect opened fire on them, killing Kerstetter. Ohio scored just 9 points out of 100 on the Brady Scorecard.

Guns that were meant for use in war are so much more accessible, in large part because Congress has failed to close the gun show loophole and allowed the assault weapon and assault clip bans to expire in 2004. In West Memphis, Arkansas, Officer Thomas William Evans, 38, and Sgt. Brandon Paudert, 39, were shot 14 times and 11 times, respectively, by an AK-47-wielding gunman, who had been pulled over in a traffic stop on May 20, 2010. Arkansas received 4 points on the Brady Scorecard.

As Officers Gunned Down details, police officers and other Americans are frequently being shot with guns that are sold without background checks that might stop the dangerously mentally ill, felons and domestic violence perpetrators, who should not have legal access to guns. Police officers also are frequently being shot with assault weapons, and guns with large capacity assault clips, which were banned in the U.S. from 1994 - 2004.

    Specific policy recommendations of Officers Gunned Down include:
  • Ban Assault Weapons and Assault Clips.
    Assault weapons and assault clips have no sporting purpose and are valued by criminals because they allow the firing of 20, 30, 50, or even 100 rounds, without reloading, allowing shooters - like the one in Tucson - to kill a lot of people quickly. Congress should adopt a strong and effective ban on assault weapons and assault clips.
  • Close the Gun Show Loophole. There is no sound reason why a prohibited purchaser who could not legally buy a gun from a licensed dealer should be able to buy a gun, without a background check, from a private seller. Yet federal law has a gaping loophole, under which non-licensed sellers may sell guns without a background check. Congress should close this loophole.
  • Uncuff the ATF.
    Severe constraints on ATF's ability to enforce the law prevent it from promptly shutting down lawbreaking gun dealers who arm straw purchasers, gun traffickers, and other prohibited individuals. The standard for revoking a gun dealer license is so high that it is extremely difficult for ATF to revoke law-breaking gun dealers' licenses.
  • Stop Protecting Corrupt Gun Dealers.
    A small percentage of gun dealers are responsible for the majority of guns traced to crime. Federal legislation, such as the so-called "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" and the Tiahrt Amendments help to protect these corrupt dealers, allowing them to continue to supply the criminal gun market and avoid punishment. The law needs to be changed to hold gun dealers responsible for negligently supplying guns to criminals.
  • Reduce Trafficking with Limits on Bulk Purchases.
    Congress should enact a law similar to those enacted in California, Maryland, and Virginia, restricting handgun purchases to one-per-month per purchaser. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Virginia's law reduced crime guns trafficked from Virginia. Before the law, 38 percent of guns originating in the Southeast and traced in the Northeast were sold in Virginia, but after the law, Virginia's share was reduced to 16 percent. However, because gun traffickers can use new "source" states when a state law is enacted, a federal law is needed. Had this law been in place in Mississippi, the gun that killed Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham on May 19, 2010, likely would not have been sold to the gun trafficker.

For more policy solutions, view the entire report.

Brady United formerly known as The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative and grassroots affiliate, the Brady Campaign and its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence. We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.