Survey: Fewer police officers fire their service weapons than Americans think

Many Americans believe it’s rather common for police officers to fire their service weapons, but reality paints a different picture, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.

About 30 percent of U.S. adults estimate officers fire their guns on duty a few times a year, and more than 80 percent estimate the average cop has used their weapon at least once in the field, according to a national survey from the Pew Research Center conducted last year.

In reality, only slightly more than a quarter — 27 percent — of officers say they’ve ever fired their guns on the job, according to another survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform.

The survey was conducted from May to August of last year. A representative sample of nearly 8,000 officers working in more than 50 police and sheriff’s departments with 100 or more officers were the subjects of the survey.

“Male officers, white officers, those working in larger cities and those who are military veterans are more likely than female officers, racial and ethnic minorities, those in smaller communities and non-veterans to have ever fired their service weapon while on duty,” says the report.

Breaking down the numbers, 30 percent of male officers said they’ve discharged their weapon on duty, aside from training or time at a gun range — compared to 11 percent of female officers. Along racial lines, 31 percent of white officers have fired their gun, compared to 21 percent of nonwhites. And those who’ve served in the military are more likely to use their gun in the line of duty — 32 percent of veterans have done so compared to 26 percent of non-veterans.

The authors of the report point out that just because the officers surveyed fired their weapons doesn’t mean they necessarily shot someone. They also note that factors associated with an officer having fired their weapon on duty doesn’t mean those factors caused the officers to do so.