In fatal shooting of Virginia cop, a tale of two divergent trends

Army staff sergeant Ronald Hamilton fatally shot his wife and a police officer over the weekend, offering a glimpse of one of the most and least common forms of gun deaths in America.

Jose Luis Magana/AP
Prince William County Police Sgt. Jonathan Perok displays a picture of Officer Ashley Guindon before a news conference at Western District Station, in Manassas, Va., Sunday. Ronald Hamilton is being held without bond in the Prince William County Adult Detention Center on charges that include murder of a law enforcement officer. He is accused of shooting and killing Ms. Guindon after she and other officers answered a domestic violence call at the Hamilton home Saturday evening.

A high-profile fatal shooting of a civilian woman and a female police officer in northern Virginia this weekend offers a glimpse into one of the most common, and one of the least common, forms of gun death in the United States.

Army staff sergeant Ronald Hamilton has been charged with killing his wife and Prince William County police officer Ashley Guindon, who was on her first day on the job. Mr. Hamilton, who worked at the Pentagon, has been charged with capital murder, first degree murder, and malicious wounding. Prosecutor Paul Ebert said he will likely seek the death penalty. 

The incident began on Saturday night when Hamilton got into an argument with his wife. She called 911, he fatally shot her, and he then began firing on the officers who responded to the call. Officer. Guindon died from injuries sustained in the shooting, the police department said, and two other officers were wounded.

Within the larger national debate over gun violence in America, the case encapsulates two of the higher-profile forms of fatal shooting: that of an intimate partner, and that of a police officer. 

From 2006 to 2014 an average of 554 American women where fatally shot by romantic partners, according to an Associated Press analysis of FBI and state crime data, roughly one every 16 hours. Seventy-two percent of all murder-suicides in the US involve an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, and 94 percent of the victims in murder-suicides are female. In 2015, the most common type of mass shooting involved the shootings of family members, according to a recent Monitor analysis.

Meanwhile, some law enforcement officials have claimed that police officers are increasingly targets for violence. Citing FBI statistics showing that the number of officers "feloniously killed" jumped from 27 in 2013 to 51 in 2014 – the year the Black Lives Matter movement rose to national prominence protesting fatal police shootings around the country – some officials have blamed what they describe as anti-cop rhetoric from the movement for an uptick in violence against police.

"At any point where the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated cold-blooded assassination of police officers happen[s], this rhetoric has gotten out of control," said Harris County (Tex.) Sheriff Ron Hickman, after Darren Goforth, one of his deputies, was shot and killed in an ambush attack in August.

But a broader look at statistics reveal that the increase in police deaths isn’t that alarming in context. The 23 officers murdered in 2013 made it the safest year for police officers in recorded history, said Seth Stoughton – a former police officer and an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina – in an interview with NPR.

In fact, 2015, the same year Officer Goforth was killed, was the second safest year for police officers, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks all police deaths.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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