Gunning for the truth: Guest lecturer talks guns, cop killers

Jane Groseclose / Sun Star Reporter
Oct. 25, 2011

As part of the Snedden Guest Lecture Series, Washington Post’s investigative reporter Cheryl Thompson did a public presentation about her investigative work on Wednesday Oct. 26, and to UAF journalism classes during the week. 

“Guns in America,” the title of her lecture, draws from Thompson’s work from the Washington Post’s series, “The Hidden Life of Guns.” The series focuses on several aspects of gun crimes, including Thompson’s Emmy-award-winning piece, “A Cop Killer’s Remorse.”

Part of the investigation she performed involved analyzing data on “traced” guns, provided by the National Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. “Traced” guns are guns that have been used in violent crimes and seized by police officers, such as murder weapons. The National Tracing Center tracks down as much ownership information as possible of a gun, by serial number.

During the investigation, Thompson tracked down information about 511 shootings of police officers in the last decade. Information she gathered included how the suspect confronted the police victim, the type of gun, demographics of suspects, how the suspect acquired the gun and the sentence outcomes of the suspects.

“I didn’t know anything about guns, I didn’t have any preconceived expectations, because I knew nothing,” Thompson recalled. “I had never even touched one.”

Thompson grew up in Chicago, and shared many anecdotal stories of the area. Once, she wanted to interview the owner of a gun shop that had been the top seller of “traced” guns in the country. The owner and employees were not particularly cooperative. She then said to the owner, “look, I’m from here,” and proceeded to tell him about herself, hoping it would make him feel more comfortable. “What’s your last name?” he replied. Turns out he went to the same school as her brothers and knew one of them from football. He spoke with her for an hour and a half.

“My father was an elementary school teacher,” Thompson recounted to the class, “he owned a shotgun, but my brothers and I knew not to touch it.”

Thomson reports for the Washington Post, and served as adjunct professor at the University of Florida, and Georgetown and Howard universities. She has a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and a master’s degree in journalism, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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