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New Analysis of FBI Data Reveals That More than Half of Nevada Law Enforcement Officers Shot to Death Since 1980 Were Murdered by People Likely Prohibited from Possessing Guns

November 11, 2015

Nevada Background Check Initiative, Slated for November 2016 Ballot, Seeks to Protect Law Enforcement by Preventing Convicted Felons and Other Dangerous People from Getting Guns

Research Shows Background Checks Save Officers’ Lives

NEW YORK – A new analysis of FBI data released today by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, reveals that more than half of Nevada law enforcement officers shot to death since 1980 were murdered by people who were likely barred by state or federal law from buying or possessing firearms.

“This research reinforces what cops have long known, that the lack of criminal background checks on all gun sales endangers the lives of our men and women in uniform,” said retired Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley. “We now know that more than half of Nevada law enforcement officers shot to death on the job were murdered by someone who was likely legally prohibited from having a gun. These were preventable murders, and Nevada cops deserve better.”

The analysis of FBI data reveals that 19 Nevada law enforcement officers have been murdered in the line of duty between 1980 and 2015, of whom 15 were killed with a gun that was not their own. In 14 of these incidents, the perpetrator was identified. And at least eight of those murders — or 57 percent — were committed by individuals who were likely prohibited from possessing firearms. Law enforcement in Nevada face continuing threats to their safety: between January and October 2015 alone, at least four Nevada law enforcement officers were shot and injured—and one officer was shot and killed—in the line of duty.

Just this August, Carson City Sheriff’s Deputy Carl Howell, 35, was shot as he responded to a report of domestic battery inside a private home. As Deputy Howell approached the residence, the occupant came out of the house and started shooting, striking the officer. Howell was able to return fire, killing the shooter, but Howell later died at a hospital from his injuries, leaving behind a wife and four children. Public records obtained by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund indicate that Howell’s killer should never have been able to get his hands on a gun. The shooter was a fugitive from justice, which likely prohibited him from possessing firearms: court records indicate he had at least one active warrant for his arrest in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, arising from his failure to comply with deferred sentencing requirements related to pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated.

To conduct the analysis, Everytown obtained the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) database covering felonious deaths of law enforcement and updated it with additional information from press reports. For each incident in which an officer was killed with a firearm that was not his or her own, the researchers identified the assailant and then examined state and federal criminal records, where available, as well as contemporaneous newspaper accounts, to determine if the individual was prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms at the time. Details of those incidents are available in Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund analysis here.

Under Nevada and federal law, criminal background checks are required on all gun sales that take place at licensed dealers, and certain dangerous people are prohibited from buying and possessing guns – including felons, domestic abusers and people with serious mental illnesses. However, there is a dangerous loophole in the law that allows dangerous people to purchase guns without a background check through unlicensed sales through gun shows or on the internet. Research shows that criminals flock to these unlicensed sales to get their hands on guns.

Next November, Nevadans will get a chance to vote up or down on a ballot measure that would close a dangerous loophole in Nevada law by requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales – including those between strangers at gun shows and online. Research shows that in states that require criminal background checks for every handgun sale, 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are killed with handguns.

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