Warning: This post was published more than 11 years ago.
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Following on from yesterday’s post about the suggestion that capital punishment should be brought back, today I thought I’d comment on the equally silly suggestion that all police officers should carry guns.
Before I make any argument, let’s look at the figures. 11 police officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty in the UK in the last twenty years. 30 civilians have been shot and killed by police officers in the line of duty in the UK in the last twelve years. That means that about one police officer is shot dead every couple of years, while the police shoot dead five civvies in the same amount of time. To the best of my researching powers, every single one of the police officers shot dead in the last twenty years have resulted in prosecution of the civvy with the gun. Of the thirty civvies shot and killed, not one has resulted in a police officer with a gun being prosecuted – even in the cases where the civvies were completely innocent.
To me, that alone suggests that arming every police officer is not a bright idea.
Figures aside, let’s think about this. The suggestion is that every police officer should be given a two-day training course, then sent out on the street with a gun. Frankly, after a two-day training course, they’ll be lucky to be able to hit a guy at six paces without some ‘collateral damage’. Then there’s the medical aspect – you don’t need great eye-sight to be in the police. I could be in it. But I have a squint. Should I ever try and fire a gun, I’ll miss the target by a mile. What are you going to do with police like me? Not arm me, so I become the obvious target in a force of armed officers? Or kick me out, despite loyal service?
People claim that the police would only use the guns in the most extreme circumstances. To be frank, I say that’s bollocks. You see a guy coming at you with a knife. You’re unarmed, so, with heart thumping, you try to negotiate. Worse case scenario, you fail. You’ve got a knife sticking out of your abdomen, because you weren’t wearing your knife-proof vest. That’s not a good state to be in, but you’re pretty certain to survive, and get over it, returning to complete health. Yes, it would take time, but you put yourself on the front line, that was your choice. Now consider that you’re armed. Before the guy gets to you, you pull out your gun. He keeps coming towards you. Luckily, you’re quite talented at shooting, avoid the rest of the people on the busy street, and shoot and kill the guy. He ain’t going to recover. He’s dead. No court will ever be able to decide whether he was guilty, psychiatrically impaired, in need of help, or whatever. He’s dead. He’ll never get a chance to tackle his problems.
I’m by no means suggesting that all attackers would continue to lunge. But some would, and those would die. And that can’t really be too good.
All police being armed raises the stakes of the game significantly, and means that much more premeditated crime will involve guns. If the police have them, the criminals will have to match or even beat them. Gun crime soars, the streets become inevitably more dangerous. And then there’s the issue of the guns falling into the wrong hands, or even new, inexperienced police officers being attacked for their guns. Not a healthy prospect.
And the final point… It completely changes the relationship between the public and the police. For example, I’m quite heartened to see the (very) occasional police officer on the beat now and again. Would I be so heartened if I knew he was carrying a gun, and capable of lethal force? I think not. And I think some in the police would let that power go to their heads, and imagine (even more-so than now) that they are an untouchable, greater class, rather than public servants policing by consent.
So, as far as I can see, there are many more arguments of greater power for keeping the police unarmed than there are for routinely arming them. So it’s not something I’d support.