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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 13:23 GMT
Should British police carry guns?
Britain has a long tradition of unarmed police officers walking the beat with only a truncheon for protection - so the decision to introduce armed patrols on some inner-city housing estates in Nottingham has caused consternation.
The days of Dixon of Dock Green may be long gone, but is this a symbolic moment in Britain's drift towards gun crime?
The police in Nottingham have downplayed suggestions that it is the start of a process that will end with all street patrols being routinely armed. They say move has been targeted at specific areas, with the intention of reassuring the public and sending a strong message to young criminals not to use guns.
But is the unarmed British bobby outdated? After all, armed police are a common sight in many other countries. Should British police carry guns to protect themselves and us? Or could this make it more likely criminals will arm themselves?
This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.
The Association of Chief Police Officers were at the forefront of persuading the Government to ban all legally owned handguns in UK. These handguns were used by target shooters who posed no threat to our society, yet the ACPO categorically stated that a total ban would reduce armed crime. So, why is there now a routine need to arm the police if the threat has been removed? Surely we should now expect less incidences of Armed Police, not more.
John Gant, UK
To carry firearms is not to say that police are obligated to use them everyday. It may however allow a police officer faced with deadly violence to protect him or her self, allowing them to return to family, loved ones and friends at the end of each working day
A better question to ask would probably be: Should only criminals carry guns? Steve, from England, posted that what is needed is a "Dirty Harry" style large handgun that will not over penetrate and will knock a criminal backwards. This dramatic "knocking back" of an assailant is a Hollywood invention, nothing more. If a shot is effective and hits the right organs, the target will merely crumple to the ground. Watch real world footage of shootings for the truth of this. I saw footage of a criminal being shot in South America at a range of two feet with a shotgun. It wasn't like the movies.
In some areas police are responsible for as much crime as they solve, while in others rearranged evidence locks up many for long periods unjustly. So far those who complain are fitted up and locked up, give them guns and they will just shoot us. Before any discussion of giving them guns can take place we need a major clean up on corruption.
Peter Pennington, USA
I am an ex New Zealand police officer of 13 years who was armed on a number of occasions. Like the English police we do not have a general arming of our police. However unfortunately the time has come where both the English and NZ police should arm themselves to protect a public who are becoming innocent targets/victims in driveby shootings (Manchester is an example I believe), South Auckland is a NZ example...and just as important so the police may protect themselves...we have rural police who carry a pistol in a locked metal box in the car - this at least should be done in England as well.
Good God, no! you can't command respect by intimidation. So far, the public feel at one with the police and the authority they have is based on public trust in their regulations entrusted to them. That is not only a credit to the police but to the whole British legal system, surely it would be a shame to forsake that for intimidation.
In reply to BJ in the USA -- I too live in the US, what good has arming the general public done here? This is a country riddled with crime, where innocent adults and children die every day because of gun ownership. The UK should never make the same mistake that the US has.
I think that the police should be armed as it is a deterrent. I was going to join the police force but thought that Britain today is just too violent. Maybe if I had been offered the protection of being armed I might have changed my mind.
Paul H, NZ
I feel that the issue is not whether the police should have guns. Instead we should look at what's happened to make the police need them in the first place.
It's a very bad sign when the Government doesn't trust its own subjects to have guns (knee-jerk handgun ban), and wants to arm its own civil forces more heavily. We're halfway there, let's not complete the journey.
Please don't arm the British Police! What Natalie from Australia has forgot to mention is the spreading American gun culture here. The average Australian policeman is unapproachable and sadly leans towards an "Us and Them" mentality. Armed police haven't reduced crime here, now criminals just shoot back or shoot first. Worse still the mentality is now dwindling down to security guards who are armed and we now see shopping centre security guards wearing flack gear and batons to look menacing - most of them are kids in their mid-twenties.
Let us hope that England doesn't drops to this level. The police there are the most approachable and respectable I have ever come across in my worldly travels, that show genuine concern for the public and can be relied upon to do the right thing. You do not need another force of "gun totting cowboys" whereby the public looses confidence in them. Guns are never the answer.
For heavens sake no! I travel the world on a regular bases and have to say that our unarmed police force is an envy to the rest of the world. We already have special armed response units, do we really need more? Let us not be fooled by the fact that police carry guns in other countries that this means it is good thing.
I'm from Bucks, but have lived eight years in Green Bay, Wisconsin USA. Back in Britain in my youth, police only commanded respect (versus dislike) if they looked physically big enough to intimidate you. In the States, even the most diminutive female cop commands respect/wariness due to being armed. However, I have never witnessed a cop draw their weapon here yet. They are also very respectful (if a little direct) but that's the style of training.
Having a gun by your side is not confrontational if the right attitude goes along with it. I think it's time British bobbies are armed to get back a little respect.
I think the root of the issue is with the public. More and more the public in the UK are willing to turn a blind eye to neighbours who flaunt the law, carry knives, or guns. We are seeing a progressive acceptance that society is becoming more violent. This is partly due to the media increasing awareness and distorting reality. Violent crime is not the norm. Lets not make it seem as it is, so that people are not afraid of addressing it.
David, Australia, ex Met Police
The police should not be armed as a matter of course. If all police officers carry guns, then more and more criminals will resort to carrying guns for the most minor of crimes. However, I do agree with the specific placing of armed units - this is nothing new and certainly did not start with Nottingham. Just got to Northern Ireland or to any sizeable airport.
Some people are suggesting we should ask the Police whether they want guns or not; however, equally important, or even more important, is to ask those being policed. I live in the UK, I do not want a UK police force armed.
I am not in favour of the police becoming a paramilitary force, in the way they exist in some countries. The routine arming of the police would spectacularly increase the potential for miscarriages of justice. We are not talking about the rights of criminals (though unlike some writing to this forum I do believe that they do have rights), but the rights of each and every one. When police are armed we will see more police killings, which in turn will become more acceptable. With this increase, the rigour in which such killings are investigated will decrease, resulting in Britain not only have an unofficial death penalty, but also one applied in the heat of the moment without reference to any system of trial.
I think it's a good and a bad thing. It's good for their protection but it can be bad because they might be a bit to trigger happy at times...
If a police officer works
in a situation that benefits from him
having a gun, yes, he should have it.
But having guns just out of principle
is costly and unnecessary.
Tim Hale, England
Criminals are now armed . They know they cannot be executed for murder no matter what happens . How else do you discourage them from having a go, at a policeman or anyone else , with a knife or a gun ? You either bring back the death penalty or you give the police a martial edge by giving them superior weapons and training in their use . This of course means that inevitably , sooner or later , the wrong person will die on the street instead of at the end of a rope . If you don't have the rope then you have to have the gun .
Think about if the police are not armed with guns, how could they protect themselves and people while modern bad guys almost have weapons in their hand
One small point - the civil liberty brigade are not "one the side of the criminals" any more than defence lawyers are. In Western society we all have the right to be presumed innocent and we are all entitled to be treated that way. That goes for arming the police too. If I get drunk and wave a water pistol around on a dark night, I should reasonably expect to be arrested for be drunk and disorderly. Arm the police routinely and the first bobby on the scene will come over all John Wayne and I'll end up in the morgue. Leave it to specialist armed teams.
Don't we already have SWAT teams?
Anyway, when we need armed police, which is rare, do they fire their weapons? No.
I think the only time that there has been a proper need for the use of force requiring guns was the Iranian Embassy siege. Even then that wasn't all carried out by the police, it was the SAS, so do they need to be armed?
ONLY in areas that are of high risk and for specialist raids. Otherwise we will get trigger happy police and statistics like America, no thanks. This country is Americanised enough.
John C, SWEDEN
Living in a country where its police are routinely armed, I believe there is no definable increase in the incidence of violence toward or by police where firearms are involved. The difference is, Australian police are more likely to be going home to their loved ones after a confrontation that UK officers.
You would not expect the plumber to turn up to fix a flooded bathroom without the tools of his trade, so why expect the police to continually become involved in violent situations with "one hand tied behind their backs". Being a tool of last resort, and given proper training, we don't seem to have any gung-ho police.
I believe the time has come that all police should be armed. As a student at the LSE, I have learned that the rates of robbery, assault, and theft, are more than double the rate in America. This is a sad state of affairs. Police must be able to defend themselves, and therefore must be armed.
There were over 4,000 registered gun crimes last year in the UK. That's not a small number given the illegality of firearms. Criminals already have access to guns and the reason they have them is because it gives them the "bigger stick" mentality. At the moment it doesn't matter if you have 20 unarmed police officers, they are all useless against one criminal with a gun. Forget comparisons with the U.S., we're not talking about the general public's right to bear arms, we're talking about allowing the police to protect themselves and members of the public. Unfortunately the liberals and left wingers will be dismayed about their darling criminals having to face police with firearms but I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that the potential victims should have the greater rights not the criminal on the other end of the shotgun.
Why do the British police need to carry guns?
I thought that that the British Government had banned all gun ownership.
So if the guns have been banned the police do not need them
I am a Division Commander in a Police agency and served my first 20 years in a tactical division. A police officer must hold the line in society. If the criminals are armed the only response is to not only be armed as well but to hold superior fire power. At the end of the day a police officer must be alive to go home to his family and the public must be protected. No society can allow thugs to hold the high ground advantage. Arm the UK police forces before you are playing catch up to a better-armed criminal element.
Verne Schoonover, USA
I am a British citizen living in the USA. I moved here 1991. While I lived in England I held a firearms certificate and at one point owned 18 firearms. Amongst the membership of several shooting clubs I was a member of, there was always a healthy respect for the police. None of us wanted to live in a country where we had an "armed police force". Since my arrival in the USA I have lost my interest in shooting, because firearms are mostly common household items, along with knives, forks and spoons. Firearms tend to be the first resort of the police not the last. In their defence I will say that there is a trend away from this. However, they have a long way to go. In conclusion I am proud to say that Britain does not have an armed police force on the beat, and hope we never have the need for one
Please don't arm the British Police, they are possibly the most approachable police I have met anywhere in the world, along with perhaps unarmed the New Zealand and Australian police. The more you arm the police the more likely there is to be a shoot-out, just look at the appalling US statistics and the dreadful accidents and mistaken shootings of innocent civilians that have occurred. Arming the police will only add fuel to the cycle of gun violence.
Chris Murphy, UK
Has anyone here thought of asking the police
what they want? After all they are the ones
in the front line.
Guns kill people, including police.
Yet, there are those who think
that a 'gun' is as necessary as a telephone.
And, that is disturbing. I say 'NO' to Police
carrying guns and stricter 'gun control'. It will
I don't like the idea but I think it's inevitable. We do have to consider what they will be armed with. The machine guns we see the police with at airports and, occasionally, railway stations are overkill. What is needed it a heavy duty handgun of the 'Dirty Harry' magnum variety. The bullet stops in the target expending all its energy there and throws the criminal backwards and doesn't present the same collateral danger to the public.
B Maguire, UK
There are already police forces in the UK that routinely carry firearms, has everyone forgotten about Ulster? If you believe Thatcher's line that the IRA and the UVF are just "common criminals," then why is it fine to arm against common criminals in one part of the country and not the rest?
The financial pressure that the service is under will probably lead to officers not being trained in procedures to a high enough standard and this will lead to accidents.
As a holder of a shotgun certificate and a section 1 firearms licence, I know how dangerous these weapons can be but in the right hands - trained hands - they can be an effective tool.
FACT: No matter how many gun laws you pass, criminals will always have access to, and use guns.
The police should be armed in places where crime is high or there is a known drugs problem in the area. Arming every officer in the country is not a good idea. If an officer has to patrol an area which is rife in crime, it makes sense for him to be armed for his own safety and that of the law-abiding people caught up in these areas.
Like one of the other respondents, I do not care for the well being of armed criminals (kids or adults) but, the police still need to be approachable by normal citizens.
This isn't the best solution. If there are increasing numbers of armed criminals, increase the availability and resources of armed response units. Look at America. More Americans than ever are questioning their right to bear arms.
Britain's bobbies are friendly and approachable. Anybody carrying a firearm instantly becomes intimidating and cannot blend with the community.
Britain is not a gun toting country and it should stay that way.
Special armed divisions for specific incidents etc.? Yes.
Surely the issue is to stop criminals carrying weapons in the first place? Choke off the supply of illegal weapons and make the jail sentence for carrying a weapon extremely severe. The police are only reacting to a threat that has got out of normal control. I don't think any policeman in his right mind would look forward to being routinely armed.
Until to Courts have the courage to sentence criminals to longer periods for their crimes and keep them off the streets crime will continue to increase and the police may have no choice but to carry guns
Police in Belgium, where I live, are armed - and feared. Most of them look like something out of an American cartoon, but that is beside the point. British police are trusted and respected by the public. Those in London and other cities who need an armed response vehicle can call one up. This works very well in Britain, and I hope it stays that way.
Here in Belgium, transport police in the metro also carry guns! Can you image? The most likely criminal they face is someone without a ticket (ok, there's a bit of fighting now then, but you don't need a gun to control that). The transport policemen and women are also a body apart - not the kind of people you'd asked where to change trains. Don't let it happen in Britain.
I wouldn't trust the majority of policemen with a water pistol, let alone a gun! Many just do not have the maturity. The best thing to do would be to increase the number of armed response units, staffed with the cream of the force. The rest should stick to stopping innocent motorists for no apparent reason, which seems to be the raison d'etre of the modern police force!
Most criminals within the UK are armed especially within certain areas (usually associated with drug wars). The police have the right to defend themselves. Armed units cannot respond quickly enough to most situations.
The reasoning that once the police start to carry guns so will criminals as proposed by Phil doesn't hold water as a lot of criminals are already armed.
Phil W, UK
I do not believe that British police should routinely carry guns, though they should obviously have access to them if the situation demands. Besides, most crimes in the UK seems to be carried out by out-of-control kids and as tempting as it might be, shooting them is not the answer!
I work across the road from one of the areas that is patrolled by armed police. I feel safer knowing that the armed criminals running these areas are up against armed police. Every other day in the local news shootings are reported so who (other than the civil liberty brigade on the side of the criminals) would expect the police to manage these areas, armed only with a truncheon and a few harsh words?
Russell Long, UK
Until police attitudes and competence improve a 1000 fold they must not be armed. Bearing in mind that the police are only good at targeting speeding motorists what do they need a gun for anyway, to shoot the tyres?
I believe that we indeed do require a stronger presence of police in this country, but it should be by numbers in force, rather than by force of bullet.
It's a shame, but being realistic guns are the next weapon we will see being strapped to our Bobbies! The crime rate is up and so is violence. It may well encourage the criminals to carry guns, but they do that anyway. The police force is no longer a popular job in England because of the possible dangers. So yes, why not protect our police and keep our streets safer. The only people who should be worried are the ones who are likely to break the law!!
There's no point at all in the police carrying guns unless the law is on their side if they ever need to be used. Currently if an armed criminal shoots a police officer their widow gets a pat on the head and pension and the matter is dropped. If an armed police officer shoots a criminal all hell breaks loose, the officer is suspended and the chances are the family of the criminal will get a huge compensation payout. Personally, I would like the police to carry guns and shoot on sight any person caught spraying graffiti, vandalising or spitting chewing gum in the street.
Natalie, Aussie in UK
And continue the Americanisation of the UK? I sincerely hope not.
It stands to reason that once the police start routinely carrying guns, then so will the criminals. Currently the police have access to armed units when they are required, and I see no reason why this should be changed.
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