A recent op-ed by Heather Mac Donald in the Wall Street Journal claimed that homicides of police had increased dramatically from 2013 to 2014. The datum was cited in an article claiming that “Gun violence in particular is spiraling upward in cities across America” noting that homicides of police had increased by 89%. That is factually correct, but is a classic example of how to use statistics — particularly percentages — to mislead . . .
As she points out,
Murders of officers jumped 89% in 2014, to 51 from 27.
Sources can differ. But the numbers cited are close to those that appear in the Officer Down Memorial Web Page, odmp.org. The numbers of LEO homicides is, thankfully, extremely small and, as such, can and do vary widely from year to year. You can see from the chart above that the raw numbers of homicides of police committed with firearms rose from 63-64 in the middle 1960’s to 140+ in the early 1970’s, then gradually dropping down to the present numbers of about 47 per year. Before last year’s uptick, 2013 was the lowest number of law officer homicides committed with firearms since 1887.
You might wonder if the total homicides (by all means, not just firearms) of law enforcement officers changes the trend. The total is, of course, higher when the number of officers killed by various means including bombs, knives, and in vehicular assaults are added. But while those methods raise the overall numbers, the shape of the graph remains very similar, showing an continuing overall decline in LEO deaths since 1970.
The spike in 2001 is due to the number of New York City officers killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Interestingly, from the peak period of officers murdered in 1973 through 2012, we seem to have established a “new normal.” Coinciding with that sustained decline in LEOs murdered, the numbers of firearms owned in the United States has increased from 128 million to 347 million. So while homicides of law enforcement officers have fallen by close to two thirds, the stock of privately owned firearms increased by 171%…a percentage increase large enough to be statistically meaningful, unlike the one Ms. Mac Donald cites.
So the number of firearms in circulation has a negative correlation with number of officer homicides by firearms. It’s unlikely that there is any causal effect. One explanation is that the number of people who are willing to murder police officers is so small that it takes very few firearms to fill their desires. That demand can be met by a statistically insignificant number of stolen or illegally purchased guns. If the bucket (demand) is small, it matters little if you fill it at a small pond or at the ocean. It is easily filled in either case.
©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.