When Sacramento police officers confronted Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard, they believed he was holding a gun; it actually was a cellphone. Officers have shot people after mistaking wrenches and badges for guns. Cops have shot people thinking that they’re reaching for a firearm when they’re pulling up loose-fitting shorts and that a toy gun was a real firearm. Behind these incidents lies what seems to be a constant fear that a gun may be present.
Officers “need to be conscious of and are trained to be conscious of the fact that literally every single person they come in contact with may be carrying a concealed firearm,” says criminologist David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “That’s true for a 911 call. It’s true for a barking dog call. It’s true for a domestic violence incident. It’s true for a traffic stop. It’s true for everything.”
This is one potential reason that the U.S. has far more police shootings than other developed nations. Vox.com and John Roman of NORC at the University of Chicago, studied the data and found that weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership correlate with more killings by police officers. That suggests that it may be prudent to start thinking of police killings as inherently linked to the nation’s gun prevalence.
Vox and Roman used the Washington Post database of police killings to compare incident rates for each state with the state’s population, a composite score for state’s gun control laws (based on a National Rifle Association database), and gun ownership rates (based on a 2013 national survey). There is a correlation between killings by police officers and states’ gun control laws and gun ownership rates. The stronger the gun control laws, the fewer police killings. The higher the gun ownership rates, the more police killings.
According to the Post’s data base, as of April 5, 294 people have been shot and killed so far in 2018.