Chart: Deaths from Police Shootings

I do not have a lot to say about the following at the moment, but it is still worth a look (via The Economist):


Yes, one comparative stat is not sufficient to tell the whole story (as was true when I posted on the death penalty and the US in comparative perspective).  I will say this:  even if anyone wants to pull out a per capita rebuttal, note that the per capita number for both the UK and Japan are the same as the absolute numbers.

So, while one may wish to argue that the chart is not, in and of itself, sufficient to reach a lot of conclusions, I do think that the data in questions do, in fact, indicate that we have a problem in the US (and one whose time is past due in terms of attempts to solve it).

FILED UNDER: Crime, Police, Quick Takes, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. An Interested Party says:

    Who would be shocked by these numbers? We have a unique set of circumstances in this country that cause problems like this and for far too long these problems have not been dealt with, much less adequately addressed…

  2. Marc Zifcak says:

    My only question is, for the same countries, how many police homicides in the same time period?
    My theory is police in those nations are safer, too.

  3. PJ says:

    In 2011 German police fired 85 bullets against people, or rather 36, since 49 were warning shots. That year they killed six.

  4. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    My favorite of these conclusions is that these numbers show that the US is better at law enforcement because our police have more ability to deter violent crimes.

  5. Slugger says:

    We have too many cops shooting civilians; we have too many civilians shooting cops; we have too many men shooting women; we have too many women shooting men; we have too many tall guys shooting short guys, and yes we have too many short guys shooting tall guys. I don’t have any glib answers, but I do want America to remove this blot on our honor and standing. Some honest discussion and leadership by both political parties would be a start.
    Years ago Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote, “America, the stars on your flag are bulletholes.” I was angered when I first read that line. I am saddened now.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Guns, duh. Guns.

    I mean.. . seriously. . . how much mental gymnastics does one have to perform to avoid the screamingly obvious conclusion that our gun obsession leads directly to 458 police shootings?

    More guns = more dead people, both cops and perps.

  7. Kari Q says:

    One thing to keep in mind: these numbers are not complete. There is no requirement that police departments report their use of force, so the 458 number represents only those agencies which voluntarily report them to the FBI. The actual number is anyone’s guess, but it’s certain to be higher.

  8. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The solution to all this of of course, yet more guns. For the gun cultists, that is always the solution.A century from now, our descendants will look at Americans’ obsession with guns the same way we look at medieval society’s obsession with witches-a horrible pathology thankfully out grown. In the meantime there will be lots of needless deaths while we wait for a whole generation of gun cultists to die off.

  9. Matt says:

    @Slugger: We have too many violent people in general. Hell in California alone last year there was 500 murders committed with hands and feet. This doesn’t include knives, swords, blunt weapons etc.

    You could magically remove every gun in the USA and you’d still see a higher murder rate here.

    It’s never been safer to be a cop according to the statistics..

    I’m convinced the drug war is the leading driver of most of these problems.

  10. CS says:

    The one I’m always surprised they leave out of these comparisons is Switzerland. It’s a truly gun crazy country only a couple of places behind the US in gun ownership – US has about 89 guns per 100 people, Switzerland has about 46 (Yes, I know it’s a big number drop off, but that’s 1st to 4th in world ranking). The only two in between are Serbia and Yemen. Switzerland is therefore the closest truly 1st world equivalent to the US for gun ownership. Do they love their guns? Hell yes- biggest shooting festival in Switzerland gets 200,000 attendees each year, they have shooting contests that have been going for decades, and their kids are taught to shoot pretty young (12 year olds have formal competitions at a local level – Zurich has one in September for 12-16 year olds that gets 4000 shooters).

    Switzerland has a homicide rate (any method) of 0.6 per 100,000 population, a gun homicide rate of about 0.5 per 100,000. Couldn’t find any numbers for deaths at police hands, but I’m betting it’s pretty low.

    The US homicide rate is 4.7 per 100,000, gun related homicide rate of 2.83.

    Another interesting case is Iceland, which has a gun ownership rate of 30.3 per 100 (14th), a homicide rate of about 0.3 to 0.9 per 100,000 (relatively sharp variance due to small population), a gun homicide rate of between 0 and 0.3 per 100,000 (depends on the year) and their police shot and killed their first person EVER in late 2013. The response, incidentally, was national horror.

    The number are drawn per Wikipedia (Number of guns per capita by country, List of countries by intentional homicide, list of countries by firearm related death rate), but seem reasonably well sourced.

    It ain’t the guns alone- if it was Switzerland and Iceland would be nearly as bad, but they aren’t even in the ballpark.

  11. Pinky says:

    @michael reynolds:

    More guns = more dead people, both cops and perps.

    Not across countries.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    America is a very violent place.

    While I find the number of police shootings to be disturbing, I find the near total lack of prosecutions of police for excessive force even more troubling. Our society has said to our police, “Do whatever you want, we will not hold you accountable.” This stat arises from that fact.

  13. CS says:

    @Pinky: Yes and no. Yes, it probably does push up the number of deaths, but it’s not the only factor, and from the looks of things not even the most important. All else being the same it’s true, however it’s just rarely that simple.

  14. bill says:

    We can cherry pick some facts from across the pond if we want, but we don’t want to be europe do we? I mean really, who/what prevents them from starting ww3?

    As for police shootings we must remember that 2-3 times more whites than blacks are killed- yet white folks aren’t burning down neighborhoods about it for the adoring tv crowd.
    And of the dead cops-“Twenty-five of the officers were male, and two were female. Twenty-five of the officers were white, and two were black.” (from 20012)
    10x dead white cops too- we need to improve on that.
    side note for the race baiters- england is just over 3% black, germany has far less than that.

  15. Rafer Janders says:


    As for police shootings we must remember that 2-3 times more whites than blacks are killed-

    Whites outnumber blacks in this country by about 5-1 — so that stat above means that blacks get killed by police at a far, far higher rate per capita than whites do.

  16. michael reynolds says:


    Switzerland is unique, very much an outlier. They are a small country with a gun culture built on genuine issues of national defense. (Although there’s some mythology at play there as well). And they have regulation of guns and central storage of ammo. An article:

    “I do as the army advises and I keep the barrel separately from my pistol,” he explains seriously. “I keep the barrel in the basement so if anyone breaks into my apartment and finds the gun, it’s useless to them.”

    He shakes out the gun holster. “And we don’t get bullets any more,” he adds. “The Army doesn’t give ammunition now – it’s all kept in a central arsenal.” This measure was introduced by Switzerland’s Federal Council in 2007.

    Mathias carefully puts away his pistol and shakes his head firmly when I ask him if he feels safer having a gun at home, explaining that even if he had ammunition, he would not be allowed to use it against an intruder.

    “The gun is not given to me to protect me or my family,” he says. “I have been given this gun by my country to serve my country – and for me it is an honour to take care of it. I think it is a good thing for the state to give this responsibility to people.”

    That is completely different than the huffy, belligerent, fantasy-driven NRA attitude on guns.

    Who is like the US? Canada, where gun ownership and gun deaths are way below us. Or perhaps Australia where gun deaths dropped dramatically when they started taking guns out of private hands.

  17. Slugger says:

    I would agree that if there were no guns, there would still be violence. However, guns do make it easier. I would like the US to have a homicide rate like most of Europe, Japan, and Korea rather than Brazil. God created man, Sam Colt made them equal, but who is going to make them smart?

  18. Pinky says:

    @michael reynolds: The US is an outlier, too. We need to figure out why. The NRA tends to be in the rural areas, and involved in hunting culture, but our gun crimes tend to be in urban areas.

  19. michael reynolds says:


    I wonder if that’s true when accounting for population density. Obviously you’re not going to see large numbers of gun deaths in Wyoming because no one lives there. And the notion that the NRA is rural is silly: they’re a lobbying organization and the laws they push affect the entire country.

    Here’s a map of gun deaths since Newtown and at a glance it looks to me like a population map.

  20. michael reynolds says:
  21. Rafer Janders says:


    The NRA tends to be in the rural areas, and involved in hunting culture, but our gun crimes tend to be in urban areas.

    I don’t believe that’s true at all on a per capita basis. There may be more gun crimes overall in urban areas, but that’s because more people overall live in urban areas. On a per capita basis, you’re much more likely to get gunned down in a small town in Oklahoma or Alaska or Florida than you are in, say, New York or Boston or San Francisco.

  22. Pinky says:

    I’m having trouble finding any good data on it (not that I’d necessarily trust online gun data). There seems to be data available by state, but that’s worthless for finding an urban/rural split. The few things I’ve found have a lot of gun homicides in cities and a lot of gun suicides in the country.

    Michael and Rafer, do you have numbers to back up your comments?

    My point about the NRA was that you can’t simply say NRA=guns.

  23. Pinky says:

    @michael reynolds: The map says that it only shows the 1000 top locations of gun deaths, so of course it’s going to look like a population map.

  24. bill says:

    @Rafer Janders: well the elephant in the room would be the vast amount of crime committed by such a small % of the populace. and it’s closer to 4/1 these days- hispanics like to avoid the badge so they say they’re “white” quite a bit. but what do you make of the cops killed on duty- 10/1 there, no justice for the black man…..

  25. CS says:

    @michael reynolds: I was aware of that, actually, though I didn’t want to comment on either Swiss or US attitudes in such things – too subjective. Nevertheless, it is definitely true the Swiss take a very different route with gun control, although I should state that the central holding of ammo is just for the stuff issued by the government for civil defence (with some exceptions)- other ammo can be purchased, and I believe held at home.

    Anyway, Switzerland, and several other countries, prove the point- if you have enough outliers, they cease to be outliers. Germany has quite high gun ownership, as does Sweden, Austria, France, Finland – all of them hover around the 30 per 100 level and none have comparable rates of homicide to the US. Hell, the number 2 country for gun ownership, Serbia (70 per 100 people) has a homicide rate of 1.2 per 100,000, a quarter that of the US, and only about half of those are gun homicides (0.62 per 100,000) per the data sources above. The US is the outlier, not Switzerland.

    Your initial statements was more guns = more deaths, which doesn’t seem to hold up- other countries have high enough gun ownership numbers that they should see somewhat comparable numbers, but they don’t.

    Yes, I believe the NRA resistance to legislation is a part of it, but it isn’t the only part – there is more going on then just one factor. Gun availability also plays some role, but only to a point – when you can honestly say that guns are ‘widely available’ it likely diminishes as a factor above that point. At that point if you really want one you can get one, and I figure even a third the US ownership rate is enough for that bar to be cleared. However, the non-gun homicide rate is also much higher in the US- if 4.7 in 100,000 is the homicide rate and 2.83 is the gun homicide rate, the non-gun homicide rate (being the difference of about 1.87) is still three times that of Switzerland’s total homicide rate, and even the NRA can’t be blamed for that.

  26. Pinky says:

    @bill: I know the rates have been changing both US and worldwide, but it used to be that US whites had about 4x the murder rate of Europe, and US blacks had about 4x the murder rate of US whites.

  27. Pinky says:

    @CS: I don’t know of any good rule for guessing the murder rate of a country (no “more x = more deaths” statement). It’s complicated by the number of suicides, and the different methods by country. US males are more likely to kill themselves with guns than in any other way; only Uruguay comes close to our percentage. I’m surprised how popular hanging is.

  28. ernieyeball says:

    Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
    We’re finally on our own.
    This summer I hear the drumming,
    Four dead in Ohio.

    Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest, and the other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths.
    May 4, 1970 RIP

    Don’t ever think that the Government can’t hurt you.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    …hispanics like to avoid the badge so they say they’re “white” quite a bit.

    Well, considering what happened to Freddie Gray, among many others, it would probably be wise for most people who are part of an ethnic minority to avoid the badge…

  30. Just Me says:

    One huge factor in gun deaths is the war on drugs. Many urban black on black shootings are drug related. I often wonder if the US dialed back/ended the war on drugs if gang gun activity wouldn’t go down. Hard to say since gangs now running the drug trade may just shift their focus into other illegal matters but when comparing gun deaths I wknder what role the US drug war plays.

    One other issue is in some countries (UK is one) most cops don’t carry guns. Pretty difficult to shoot a civilian if you don’t have a gun to shoot them with. I think Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where all cops carry guns.