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The Views of Police Officers Toward Gun Legislation and Public Health Policies Driven by Firearm Safety Concerns

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Abstract

Gun violence is a principal cause of premature death in America. It has been suggested that solutions to gun violence may be found using a public health approach, which is broader than dealing with the problem via law enforcement alone. A component of a public health approach to gun violence is the implementation of policies or laws. Unfortunately, there is a serious gap in our understanding of how street-level police officers view proposed or existing firearms legislation. This is an important omission, because it is line-level personnel who are tasked with enforcing these policies within highly discretionary contexts. We surveyed police from three jurisdictions to establish a baseline understanding of officers’ views about potential gun legislation and identify possible resistance and implementation barriers of firearms laws. The findings suggest that those responsible for enforcing new laws show limited or mixed support for the same. Officers were most supportive of laws that increase the presence of trained gun owners within certain contexts and ensure that individuals with criminal backgrounds or mental health concerns do not have access to firearms. Most officers support prohibiting gun ownership following conviction of a domestic violence offense. However, officers generally opposed gun legislation banning assault weapons, large capacity magazines, and internet ammunition purchases. Finally, officers with the Buffalo Police Department—which recently had experienced an active-shooter event—were more supportive of almost all types of legislation. Respondents expressing greater concern about officer safety related to firearms were supportive of several types of firearm legislation.

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Notes

  1. However, a retired police officer working security at the site of the shooting actively engaged the shooter, firing multiple shots and striking the shooter once in the chest. The shooter was wearing body armor, and killed the police officer during the incident.

  2. We ran exploratory factor analyses, identifying a model with three factors and 18 ordinal indicators about firearm regulations as the most suitable, given model fit statistics and construct validity (Eigenvalue of 1.023, CFI = .994, TLI = .991, RMSEA = .065). We then applied confirmatory factor analysis, added officer safety items and the binary indicators, adjusting the standard errors for the nesting of police within their departments via complex analysis in MPlus. Model fit statistics were acceptable (CFI = .997, TLI = .997, RMSEA = .089).

  3. Table 2 provides composite reliability scores as recommended by Raykov [58] when tau equivalence is not upheld. Brown [59] explains that Cronbach's alpha misrepresents reliability when tau equivalence is not upheld (tau equivalence is achieved when the indicators have equal loadings, but different error variances). Raykov [59] found that when tau equivalence is not upheld and the item loadings of a factor differ by more than .2 and when one or more loadings fall(s) below .6, alpha does not perform well, seriously underrepresenting reliability (See also Cho [60]). We utilized a composite reliability calculator that applied Raykov’s formula (http://www.thestatisticalmind.com/calculators/comprel/composite_reliability.htm). The formula is \({\text{CR}} = \frac{{\left( {\sum {\lambda _{i} } } \right)^{2} }}{{\left( {\sum {\lambda _{i} } } \right)^{2} + \sum {Var\,\left( {\varepsilon _{i} } \right)} }}\) .

  4. Residents of all three cities voted predominantly Democrat in the last presidential election prior to the survey. However, Texas and Wisconsin historically favor conservative policies. Furthermore, in general, law enforcement personnel tend to identify as Republican [63]. We describe the political status of these localities because political ideology and views about gun legislation tend to correlate. However, we cannot control for political ideology in our study. Officers were not asked to identify their political affiliations.

  5. Again, we acknowledge that our study cannot discount the effect of officers’ political affiliation, which we did not ask about, but which may play a role in these city-level differences.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia (Buffalo Police Department), Assistant Chief Ronnie Morris (Grand Prairie Police Department), and Chief of Staff Nicholas DeSiato (Milwaukee Police Department) for their help with survey distribution and also all of the anonymous survey respondents in each of the three police agencies.

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Kochel, T.R., Phillips, S.W. The Views of Police Officers Toward Gun Legislation and Public Health Policies Driven by Firearm Safety Concerns. J Community Health 49, 415–428 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-023-01302-9

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