As Fatal Law Enforcement Officer Shootings Rise, Analysis Finds Most Killers Were Legally Barred from Owning Guns

May 11, 2011, 11:40 ET from Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Fatal Shootings of Law Enforcement Officers up 40 Percent Over Last Year

31 Law Enforcement Officers Shot in the Line of Duty in 2011 – at least 23 Murdered by Individuals who were Barred by Federal Law from Possessing Firearms

National Coalition of Mayors calls for Improved National Do-Not-Sell Database and Background Checks for all Gun Sales

NEW YORK, May 11, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As thousands of law enforcement officers meet in Washington for National Police Week, they confront new data showing a sharp rise in fatal shootings by criminals and other dangerous individuals who should have been barred by under current law from owning firearms. Last year's trend of increased fatal shootings of officers is continuing, and accelerating. From urban shootouts to ambushes along rural highways, 31 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty so far in 2011, a 40 percent increase over the same period in 2010.  In 2010, 59 law enforcement officers were fatally shot – a 26 percent increase over the 47 who were shot to death in 2009.  If this trend continues, 2011 will have among the highest rates of fatal officer shootings of the last ten years.  

The Federal Brady law requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks on buyers, and has blocked more than 700,000 illegal sales since its inception in 1995. But unlicensed, private sellers can sell guns without conducting background checks. Private sales account for an estimated 40 percent of all U.S. gun sales. In addition, millions of records are missing from the National Instant Criminal Background Check Database, enabling thousands of prohibited purchasers – including Tucson shooter Jared Loughner – to slip through the system.

The evidence that these gaps are directly fueling violent crime, including fatal shootings of law enforcement officers, is overwhelming. According to an analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, at least 23 of the 31 officers fatally shot this year were killed by individuals who were barred by current law from possessing guns. A few examples:

  • Tennessee:  On April 2, 2011, Jesse Matthews, a fugitive wanted in Colorado, allegedly shot and killed Sergeant Tim Chapin in Chattanooga with a stolen handgun.  At the time of the shooting, Matthews was also in possession of an assault rifle he obtained without a background check at a nearby gun show.
  • Missouri: On March 8, 2011, Carlos Boles, a convicted felon, allegedly shot and killed Deputy U.S. Marshal John Perry when law enforcement officials arrived to arrest him on charges that he assaulted a law enforcement officer and possessed drugs.  Boles had been in prison several times since 1992.
  • New York: On February 18. 2011, Lee Welch allegedly murdered Detective John Falcone in Poughkeepsie.  At the time of the shooting, Welch was under a restraining order for domestic abuse and had been arrested on felony charges.  
  • Florida:  On January 24, 2011, Hydra Lacy, Jr., a convicted felon, allegedly shot to death Sergeant Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz and wounded a Deputy U.S. Marshal in St. Petersburg.  Lacy was released from prison in 2001 after serving 10 years for felony kidnapping and rape convictions.

In March, Attorney General Eric Holder convened police chiefs from across the country to examine the problem of increased violence against police officers and launch a new Officer Safety Initiative.  The initiative will focus on identifying and prosecuting the "worst of the worst" gun offenders, enhancing access to officer safety training materials, improving communication between federal and local agencies and requiring officers to use bullet-proof vests.

While these efforts are necessary to prepare officers and protect them when they are attacked with a gun, Mayors Against Illegal Guns believe that Washington must do more to prevent those shootings in the first place.  

"The President and Congress owe law enforcement officers a serious effort to fight cop killings by keeping guns away from criminals in the first place, and today, they're failing," said coalition co-chair Michael R. Bloomberg. "The Justice Department's response is necessary, but far from sufficient.  Washington needs to collect the courage to insist on a background check system that's instant, accurate and comprehensive."

"Every mayor in America worries that one of their city's police officers might become part of this horrible new pattern of fatal shootings," said coalition co-chair Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "Washington should ensure that cops wear bullet-proof vests, but they need to do much more than that. They need to take real action to keep guns away from these killers, many of whom have records that should prohibit them from having firearms in the first place."

The data on officer shootings was obtained from the Officer Down Memorial Page,

The Fix Gun Checks Act

Senator Charles Schumer and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy have introduced legislation that would make critical improvements to the national gun background checks system – the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 (S.436/ H.R.1781).  Based on a proposal first developed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the bill would take two critical steps to stop prohibited purchasers from slipping through cracks in current law.

First, the Fix Gun Checks Act would impose tougher penalties on states that do not comply with laws that require them to send their records on prohibited purchasers to the NICS system. Federal agencies would also be required to certify to the U.S. Attorney General twice every year that they have submitted all relevant records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check Database.

Second, the bill would require a background check for every gun sale. The legislation would require private sellers to verify, either with local law enforcement or through certified gun dealers that the person they are selling to is not on the national do-not-sell list. 

About Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to more than 550.  The coalition has united the nation's mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable, demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking, and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.


Mayor Bloomberg's Press Office

(212) 788-2958

Mayor Menino's Press Office

(617) 635-4461

SOURCE Mayors Against Illegal Guns