On Wednesday morning, WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot and killed in the middle of recording a live report from a strip mall. The suspect is their former coworker Vester Lee Flanagan II, known on air as Bryce Williams.
Parker and Ward are the latest Americans to be murdered while on the job, a relatively common occurrence in the United States. Of all the incidents in which someone died at work in 2013, 9 percent were due to homicides, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data. In total, 397 people were murdered while at work. That’s more than were killed by fires and explosions, getting caught in equipment or machinery, and exposure to harmful substances combined. The total number of homicides was down from 2012, when there were 475 work-related homicides.
Guns are by far the most common instrument that kills people at work. In 2013, there were 316 fatal, intentional workplace shootings. They made up 80 percent of homicides at work.
Women are far more susceptible to being murdered at work than men. While women have a lower workplace fatality rate — there were 302 fatal workplace injuries involving female workers in 2013 — 22 percent of them involved a homicide, making it the leading cause of death. For men, just 8 percent related to a homicide. That’s thanks to the fact that for victims of domestic violence, who are overwhelmingly female, the workplace is an ideal target for an abuser, given that it’s often a public and easy-to-find place. A woman is killed by an intimate partner at work about twice a month.
These workplace killings fit into the nation’s broader gun violence problem. There are far more gun killings in the United States than other countries. Among developed nations, the U.S. has by far the highest rate of homicides by firearm. It also owns most of the world’s guns: the country makes up 4.4 percent of the global population but almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns. This leads to more violence. The largest study to look at the issue found that in the U.S., an additional 1 percent increase in the proportion of gun ownership in a given state results in a 0.9 percent higher firearm homicide rate. States with looser gun laws also have higher rates of gun deaths and injuries.
Yet the National Rifle Association has been working on a legal and legislative campaign to undo workplace policies than ban employees from bringing guns with them to the job. The gun lobby’s effort has been by and large successful. In 2002, at the NRA’s urging, Oklahoma passed a law barring employers from disciplining workers who bring guns to work and leave them in their cars. Now, 22 states allow employees to leave their guns in their cars when they park at the office.