Don’t shoot David Swedler. He’s not trying to take your guns, he says. But the University of Illinois-Chicago professor spearheaded a recent study that isn't making a lot of friends with the gun lobby.
The occupational health researcher and three other smarties found that cops are more likely to be shot and killed in states with higher gun ownership rates.
“This is not a study where we said, ‘Hey, let’s figure out how else we can take people’s guns,’” Swedler says. “I’m interested in what’s killing American workers, and what’s killing police officers in the U.S. is guns.”
Behind car crashes, guns are the second biggest cop killer in the nation. Swedler says previous research shows a connection between gun ownership and homicide rates among the general population, so he was curious if the same held true with police.
Using FBI data from 1996 to 2010, Swedler and pals did state-by-state comparisons of officer homicide rates and the percentage of households with guns. America’s gun-toting leaders, including Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, often had cops being killed at a higher clip. Meanwhile, gun-shy states including New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey had fewer guns and fewer deaths.
Minnesota landed in the middle of the pack. While our 44 percent gun ownership rate was 6 percent higher than the national average, that’s only the 20th highest in the country. With 6.4 homicides per 100,000 cops, Minnesota had the 23rd lowest rate — neither of which are too eye-popping.
“I guess this would be where we make a joke about unassuming Midwesterners being not noticed,” Swedler quips.
Yeah, prof’s got jokes and critics too, who are quick to point out that America’s most strapped state, Wyoming — 62 percent — had few officers killed during the 15 years of data analyzed. Conversely, Washington D.C., which was also included, was high in police homicides, but ranked the lowest with only 5 percent of households owning guns, according to the surveys they used.
However, Swedler says those numbers are skewed by the city and state’s small populations and low number of cops. “If Wyoming had had two homicides of officers their rate would have surpassed California,” he says. “That’s how small of numbers we’re dealing with in Wyoming and D.C.”
Admittedly, Swedler’s report was broad by design and didn’t consider how state-level gun laws — like Minnesota’s conceal-and-carry — impacted the numbers. However, states’ violent crime rates showed little correlation with on-the-job officer kills.
“We didn’t access any of those laws,” Swedler says. “We’re saying that if you are concerned about the lives of police officers in your state, consider the gun laws and consider how gun ownership is affected in your state.”