Criminals and Guns – Why Cops Are Concerned



A very high percentage of violent offenders use or carry firearms per federal sources.

What this means for police-involved shootings and public policy.


It seems impossible to have an honest discussion about guns. It’s all about emotion, not facts.

But a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the US Department of Justice is simply too important to ignore. It states that very high percentages of offenders use guns during crime or have access to firearms.

It’s a survey of offenders in prison thus questionable as to accuracy; the incarcerated are not the most trusting of individuals.

An Undercount

When you compare previous data stating that the great majority of homicides (68 percent) involve firearms compared to the findings below (43 percent possessed a firearm-37 percent used it during a homicide), an undercount exists, National Institute of Justice.

Thirty-one percent in the survey stated that they used a firearm during a robbery when other federal sources put the figure at 41 percent, National Institute of Justice.

Regardless, you can meaningfully suggest that firearm and deadly weapon use by offenders is common.

Cops and Shootings

There are police shootings or arrest-related deaths that have caused endless controversy. I wrote several articles sympathetic to cops and the endless abuse they took when, upon examination, the charges were unfounded.

I have also clearly stated that there have been unjustifiable shootings. The law enforcement community understands this and the damage done.

Some ask why cops are so quick to shoot? There are suggestions as to “pausing” during a confrontation without resorting to firearm use.

Per the report below, “about 29% of state and 36% of federal prisoners serving time for a violent offense said they possessed or carried a firearm during the offense.” That number increases to 43 percent for homicides and robberies. Yes, as stated, it’s an undercount.

The number of criminals “using” guns at some point is presumed to be much higher.

Per Frontline, “In fact, more than half the arrestees say it is easy to obtain guns illegally.” Responding to a question of how they obtained their most recent handgun, the arrestees answered as follows: 56% said they paid cash; 15% said it was a gift; 10% said they borrowed it; 8% said they traded for it; while 5% only said that they stole it,” Frontline.

And we’re not addressing the endless variety of additional weapons offenders carry from knives to chemical spray to blunt objects.

So cops have no choice to assume that when stopping someone for a violent crime, or any crime for that matter, a firearm or other weapon is within reach.

When you consider the high percentage of offenders who are mentally ill or suffering from emotional disorders, and the fact that most arrested are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, any stop becomes potentially deadly, Crime in America.


Possession of a weapon doesn’t justify a shooting, and the vast majority of cops withhold fire in the vast majority of encounters, but there isn’t a person on the planet who would not presume that you are risking your life stopping any offender, especially those suspected of a violent act.

Even when pausing to access the situation, if things go wrong, it happens in seconds with little time to react. The media and public will take months to criticize something that involves an instantaneous response. It’s impossible to get it right every time which is why courts provide a benefit of doubt to officers.

We are losing cops and recruitment is becoming more difficult than ever, Crime in America. The endlessly negative publicity of police shootings and deaths while in custody is causing people to rethink their commitment to a law enforcement career. In many cases, upon investigation, the harsh coverage was unfounded.

An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in one year. Among people who had contact, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics. A 90 percent approval rate in the rough and tumble world of policing indicates that most officers are conducting themselves responsibly.

Only about a quarter (27%) of all officers say they have ever fired their service weapon while on the job, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform, Pew.

If the potential for firearms or weapons of any kind during police stops is as high as federal and other reports document, as a cop, I’m going to be extremely wary of the encounter. That’s going to have an impact on my demeanor. If circumstances warrant, I’m going to display my firearm.

Most of those circumstances will be innoxious like the metallic flash of a cigarette lighter or a driver reaching under his seat. Some may be potentially deadly. Citizens and the media need to understand this.

When I was a new cop, I arrested a man for assault. I conducted a search before bringing him into the station. Upon arrival, a fellow officer asked if I was going to remove the knife strapped to his bottom leg.

I nearly fired on a man who reached for the butt of a handgun in his glove box during a traffic stop. He forgot it was there. It was a starter pistol. Had I fired, I would have been exonerated. But I would have had to live the rest of my life with the knowledge that I killed a man in error.

While on a shoot-don’t shoot computer simulator, I had to run a scenario (bad guy holding a gun to a woman’s head while she held her baby) stating that he was going to kill. It took me multiple times to get it right. You don’t get multiple times during a real event.

It’s a right in a democracy to criticize. It’s the mandate of the media to question. But we are awash with guns held by people with criminal and mental health histories who are probably under the influence during the stop. Some of these encounters will go south.

An automatic assumption that the officer is wrong or acted improperly will continue the exodus of cops and end recruitment.

Bureau Of Justice Statistics Report

Based on the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, about 1 in 5 (21%) of all state and federal prisoners possessed or carried a firearm when they committed the offense for which they were serving time.

Handguns were the most common type of firearm possessed by state and federal prisoners during their offense (18%), and 11% of all prisoners used a handgun during their offense.

Less than 2% of all prisoners obtained a firearm from a retail source and possessed (1.9%) or used (1.3%) it during their crime.

Offense Characteristics

About 29% of state and 36% of federal prisoners serving time for a violent offense said they possessed or carried a firearm during the offense.

Violent offenders were much more likely to have possessed a firearm during the offense than property (5% state, 3% federal) or drug (8% state, 12% federal) offenders.

Source of Firearms

Overall, an estimated 287,400 prisoners possessed a firearm during their offense. Among prisoners who possessed a gun during their offense, 90% did not obtain it from a retail source.

More than half (56%) of prisoners who possessed a firearm during their offense had either stolen it (6%), found it at the scene of the crime (7%), or obtained it off the street or from the underground market (43%).

Fewer than 1% had obtained the firearm at a gun show (0.8%).

Demographic Characteristics

In state prisons, males were about 2.5 times as likely (22%) as females (9%) to have possessed a firearm during the crime for which they were imprisoned.

In federal prisons, males (21%) were about three times as likely as females (7%) to have possessed a firearm during their crime.

Among all prisoners, blacks (29% state, 29% federal) were more likely than whites (12% state, 17% federal) and Hispanics (21% state, 13% federal) to have possessed a firearm during their crime.

In general, the likelihood of state and federal prisoners having possessed a firearm during their crime decreased with age.

Firearm possession was highest among inmates ages 18 to 24 in both state (32%) and federal (30%) prisons.

State prisoners with no military service were more likely to have possessed a gun during their offense (21%) than those who had served in the military (16%).

Use of Firearms During Crimes

About 1 in 5 state and federal prisoners who possessed a firearm during their offense obtained it with the intent to use it during the crime.

Among state prisoners who possessed a gun during their offense, 27% killed someone with it, another 12% injured someone with it, 7% fired it but did not injure anyone, 22% showed or pointed it but did not fire it, and 32% did not use it.


Criminals and Guns - Why Cops Are Concerned

Guns and Crime


Bureau of Justice Statistics


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected]

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