An FBI report that 1990 saw the fewest slayings of law officers in any year since 1968 undermines the media campaign that the streets are becoming deadier for cops because of so-called “assault weapons.”

The FBI data show that military-style firearms are used in few killings of officers. And generally, no more shots are fired in these incidents than when bolt-action or semi-automatic rifles or handguns are used — one or two shots.

The point has been made in publications in addition to the FBI’s recently released Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 1990. Du Pont Corp., makers of the Kevlar used in vests to protect the lives of officers, recently analyzed police shootings to determine how effective the vests were, and how to increase their usage.

Sixty-eight percent of the incidents Du Pont studied were one-shot events, with the maximum of hits being four. “High-energy handguns” were involved in only 4% of the events, with one to three shots per incident. And during the 1980s, “four of the 801 (0.5%) assault fatalities involved submachine guns. Body armor was not relevant to any of these slayings.” Although officers were killed when bullets struck portions of the torso not protected by the armor, there were no deaths caused by failure of the armor to perform as expected, or due to water reducing repellency, or blunt trauma, or to bunching or balling of the armor, Du Pont also said.

Where officers’ lives were saved by vests, 90% were from “low-medium energy handguns, .22 rimfire rifles, and shotguns … Out of 426 firearms saves recorded from 1973-1989, it appears that 93% of these incidents involved a single shot,” the Du Pont study said, with only one five-shot event. Clearly, more lives would be saved if departments purchased more vests and perhaps made wearing vests mandatory. Du Pont estimates that using vests has risen from 14-19% five years ago to 21-26%.

Another study also has shown that today’s law officers are not unduly threatened by large-capacity magazines or other mythical media dangers. The New York Police Department’s annual Firearms Discharge Assault Report shows that between 1989 and 1990, the number of shots by criminals in shooting incidents fell from 2.55 to 2.41, while the number of shots per officer rose from 2.6 to 2.8. In actual gunfights, criminals fired 2.8 shots in 1990, down from 3.3 in 1989, while police officers shot 4.4 times, up from 3.9. Unfortunately, the number of persons other than the officer(s) and the criminal(s) hit rose, with seven killed and 14 injured in 1990, each category two higher than in 1989.

In the NYC report, just over half of the firearms used or possessed by criminals were revolvers, and just over one-third were semi-auto pistols, each year. Rifle use/possession fell from 8% in 1989 to 2% in 1990. Despite these data, New York City’s council recently banned semi-automatic long guns.

New York City may be expected to ignore fact and continue to blame guns for its failure to control criminals. Others, however, might learn that media myths about multi-shot threats to law enforcement are fabrications undercut by recent studies and the data collected by the FBI.

Source: Paul H. Blackman Ph.D., American Rifleman