Most Americans believe that the typical officer fires their weapon “on the streets” at least once in their life. According to a Pew Research Center self-reporting study, only 27 percent of police officers report that they’ve discharged their firearm while on duty. What’s more interesting: the specific population of police officers who fire their guns the most often. They’re white male military veterans who support gun rights.
At first blush, one could conclude that white male veterans are more trigger-happy than their other co-workers. A closer look at the demographics of the law enforcement profession put that proposition into its proper perspective.
According to the FBI, women account for roughly 11.9 percent of uniformed police officers, Female officers are not likely to be placed in “beat cop” roles where officers are most likely to draw their weapon. In short, more male police officers discharge their weapon simply because there are more male police officers in “beat cop” roles. Whether that’s “right” or “sexist” is up for debate, but them’s the facts.
Police officers also tend to be less racially diverse than the population, as the New York Times points out. The larger percentage of white officers than non-white officers skews the results in that direction.
The smallest difference in the results was between veterans and non-veterans. Those with prior military experience were 50 percent more likely to fire their weapon in the line of duty than LEOs without a military background. The unspoken implication: police officers more likely to fire because of their military training.”
An equally plausible hypothesis: military veterans work in the higher risk areas of law enforcement. The scrawny nerd in the computer forensics lab and the former Army Ranger beefcake in the SWAT team are both police officers, but the vet is far more likely to see incoming rounds than the other.
A similar calculus might apply when considering the pro-gun rights leanings of those who reported discharging their firearm, compared with those who did not. Again, it’s likely that police who told Pew they’ve fired their weapon on duty are patrol officers — cops who see the reality of the world every day and the impact gun control laws have/don’t have on individuals.
Bottom line (as always): correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Until and unless Pew repeats this study using better methodology the idea that white male pro-gun military vets are somehow dangerous is dangerously misleading. For both the police and the communities they serve.