June 5, 2017 / 3:12 PM / 3 months ago

Stricter gun laws tied to fewer fatal police shootings

U.S. states with tighter restrictions on the purchase and use of guns and ammunitions may have fewer fatal police shootings than places with more permissive firearm policies, a recent study suggests.

The U.S. has more citizen-owned firearms than any other country in the world, but also some of the most relaxed gun laws, researchers note in the American Journal of Public Health.

For the current study, researchers examined data on citizens fatally shot by police or other law enforcement agencies to see how state laws on things like background checks for gun purchases, restrictions on carrying guns in public places and enhanced child and consumer safety policies might influence the odds of fatal police shootings.

Compared to states with the most permissive gun laws, states with the strictest firearm policies had 51 percent lower rates of fatal police shootings, the analysis found.

“Three types of laws in particular emerged as particularly important, including laws aimed at strengthening background checks, promoting safe gun storage, and curbing gun trafficking,” said lead study author Aaron Kivisto of the University of Indianapolis.

“Taken together, our findings suggest that background check laws appear to be associated with fewer shootings by law enforcement to the extent that they reduce the number of guns in the community, whereas laws aimed at promoting safe storage and curbing gun trafficking appear to reduce rates of police shootings by keeping guns already in the community from falling into the wrong hands,” Kivisto said by email.

The research team analyzed data from The Counted, a website that tracks police shootings using news reports and other sources, and from the Brady Center, an advocacy group for gun laws that tracks state firearm policies.

During 22 months in 2015 and 2016, there were 2,021 fatal police encounters in the U.S., and roughly 91 percent of these deaths involved firearms.

States ranged from a low of two fatal police shootings in Rhode Island and North Dakota to a high of 312 in California, with an average rate of roughly 3.5 fatal police shootings each year for every 100,000 people.

Nearly all of the victims were male and from racial or ethnic minority groups. About 53 percent of the victims were armed with guns at the time of the fatal police shooting, while 10 percent were unarmed.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove how or if specific gun laws might directly help prevent fatal police shootings.

It’s also possible that states with stricter firearm policies might also have more rigorous training for police officers or more stringent hiring practices, or that states that are already safe are more likely to pass strict gun laws, the authors also note.

“However, based on the research literature, contrary to the common notion that people often talk about, reducing gun availability through more restrictive gun laws is actually a crucial step in reducing overall gun death including crime death,” said Ziming Xuan, a researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Not only comprehensive background checks reduce gun death, certain laws intended to prevent prohibited high-risk individuals from accessing guns - including strong oversight and regulation of gun dealers, rigorous permit-to-purchase, and requirement of gun owners to report stolen or lost guns - provide added benefits of reducing diversion of guns to criminals,” Xuan said by email. “Specific prohibitions and procedures for high-risk persons including those under restraining orders due to domestic violence are associated with reduced rates of violence.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2sJ0jSG American Journal of Public Health, online May 18, 2017.

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