The Washington Post studied how those who killed 511 police officers by firearms in the U.S. since 2000 got their guns. The Post was able to track how the suspects obtained their weapons in 341 of the deaths. This kind of analysis is made more difficult by a 2003 federal law that bars federal law enforcement from releasing information that links guns used in crimes back to the original purchasers. To penetrate that secrecy, the Post interviewed more than 350 police officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, gun dealers, gun buyers, suspects, and survivors.
In 107 slayings, the killers acquired their firearms legally. In 170 deaths, the Post could not determine how the shooters got their guns. Stolen guns turned up in 77 deaths. Separately, guns obtained or taken from relatives or friends who legally owned them were used in 46 killings. Fifty-one officers were killed when their department-issued firearms or another officer’s gun were turned against them. In 41 instances, guns were illegally obtained on the streets through sale or barter. Sixteen times, someone bought a weapon for a person prohibited from having a gun, an unlawful transaction known as a straw purchase. The straw buyers were federally prosecuted in fewer than half of those cases. Three were illegally purchased at gun shows or from private sellers. The two deadliest situations for police are traffic stops and domestic disputes: 91 officers were killed while making traffic stops; 76 were responding to domestic disturbance calls.