Deadly Police Shootings Are More Likely In States Where Gun Ownership Is High, Study Finds

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Over the years multiple studies have shown significant evidence to suggest that carrying a gun or having a gun in your home actually increases your odds of being shot and potentially killed. But now, a new study has found that fatal police shootings are more likely to occur in states where gun ownership is the highest.

In examining data from 2015 to 2017, researchers at Northeastern University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found people living in states where gun ownership is high were more likely to see a fatal police shooting than those who reside in states with lower rates of ownership, ABC News reported. In fact, the study found that the rate of fatal police shootings was 3.6 times higher in states researchers identified as having the highest levels of gun ownership than it was in states were ownership was lowest.

"In the high-gun states there were 499 fatal police shootings, while there were 138 in the low-gun states," a press release from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health noted.

Researchers identified Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia as "high-gun states" or the states with the highest levels of gun ownership. Conversely, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York were identified as the "low-gun states," or states where gun ownership was lowest.

"Previous studies have shown that police in the United States are more likely to be shot and killed in states with high rates of gun ownership," the study's lead author and Harvard Injury Control Research Center co-Director, David Hemenway, said in a statement. "This study shows that civilians in these states are also more likely to be shot and killed by the police."

But as noted in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's press release, the researchers behind the study have been careful to emphasize that their work did not examine whether fatal police shootings were justifiable or preventable. Nor did the study's findings detail whether the civilians involved in such shootings were armed, unarmed, a threat, not a threat, or had committed a crime.

According to The Washington Post's Fatal Force database, police in the United States have fatally shot 756 people so far this year. And while that still sounds like a large number, data gathered by The Post shows that, as of last week, that's nine fewer fatal police shootings than had been recorded at this same time last year. However, by the end of 2017, 987 people were shot and killed by police, a slight jump from 2016, when police fatally shot 963 people.

"Police in the U.S. are at much higher risk of being killed on the job than police in other high-income countries," Hemenway said. "Virtually the only way U.S. police are killed is with guns. In states where more civilians have guns, police may have more encounters with people who are armed, or who police fear may be armed. In these situations, police, rightly or wrongly, may feel more need to protect themselves."