Guns have killed more preschoolers than police officers in the line of duty

New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof made waves with a single sentence in a recent op-ed on how the US could reduce gun deaths:

In America, more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013), according to figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI.

Kristof wasn’t wrong.

While the number of police officers feloniously killed with a firearm in 2013 was actually 26 — the 27th was killed by a vehicle — Kristof highlights a troubling data point.

What’s more is that 2013 wasn’t an outlier. From 1999 through 2013, preschoolers — children aged zero to 4 — have been killed by guns in greater numbers than police officers in the line of duty, with the exception of 2004, when the groups were tied at 58 deaths.

Children aged 5 to 9 also outnumber police officers for gun deaths for every year in that period.

Here are our findings, drawing on data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI’s “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” reports, and the FBI’s “Crime in the United States” reports:

Gun graphs2

When examining cumulative deaths from 1999 onward, the results are the same. From 1999 to 2013, 1,120 children zero to 4 and 1,047 children 5 to 9 were killed with guns compared to only 766 police officers.

Gun graphs2

Readers can also access interactive versions of the above graphs: yearly and cumulative.

It should be noted that the population sizes for these groups are different.

In 2013, the CDC estimated a population of 19,868,088 children zero to 4, meaning that the 82 gun deaths in that group constitute a rate of 0.41 deaths per 100,000. In comparison, the FBI counted 626,942 full-time law-enforcement officers in the same year, so the 28 gun deaths in that group constitute a rate of about 4.5 deaths per 100,000, just over 10 times the size of the preschooler rate.

Some might argue that police officers should be safer from gun violence because they carry firearms. It is difficult to estimate how many officer killings were prevented by an officer’s use of his or her firearm, but in the data we analysed, nearly half of officers feloniously killed in the line of duty didn’t use their weapon at all.

In fact, 7.8% of officers feloniously killed by a firearm were killed with their own weapon.

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