Variation in Rates of Fatal Police Shootings across US States: the Role of Firearm Availability

David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, Andrew Conner, Matthew Miller in Journal of Urban Health
October 11, 2018

The USA has very high rates of homicide by police compared to other high-income countries, with approximately 1000 civilians killed annually. The overwhelming majority of these police homicides are fatal shootings. This study, relying on cross-sectional state-level analysis, uses data on the number of civilians shot and killed by police in the line of duty from the Washington Post’s “Fatal Force Database,” which assembles information from news reports and other sources, aggregated over 2015–2017. These data include information on whether the victim was armed, and, if so, with what weapon. The study finds that rates of police shooting deaths are significantly and positively correlated with levels of household gun ownership, even after accounting for other explanatory variables including the violent crime rate, the percentage of the state population that is non-White, the poverty rate, and urbanization. The association is stronger for the shooting of armed (with a gun) rather than unarmed victims.

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