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Arming the police – be careful what you wish for (1919 Magazine - September 2021)

It seems obvious. As society becomes more violent and more guns fall into the hands of criminals, we need to arm our police. After all, most police forces across the world are armed.

It would be a small step anyway; there are already more armed officers on our streets than ever before. Armed response vehicles are on duty 24/7.

Our policing must move with the times, and over half the officers recently surveyed agreed that firearms could be issued as part of their personal protection equipment.

But of course, it’s not that simple; arming our police would change everything.

We cross this threshold at our peril – there are threats as well as opportunities.

When the modern police service was formed over two hundred years ago, it was deliberately designed as a non-military unarmed force, based firmly in the community.

It was a vision that has served us well and made us the envy of the world.

Due to our policing structure and our strict firearms controls, shootings are still rare and the shooting of police officers, thankfully, rarer. How might this change if we routinely armed our police?

First it is reasonable to assume that more police guns would lead to more guns being carried by criminals. And the more guns, the more they would be used, and the more accidents there would be.

A look at police shootings in the US is highly instructive. Most cops who get shot are not gunned down in bank robbery firefights, but at very short range while attending domestic disputes.

A good number are also accidentally shot by colleagues – so called blue on blue. And, tragically, many die from self-inflicted wounds.

Routine arming of our police would raise the stakes and change our policing system forever.

I was an AFO (authorised firearms officer) for many years. I have held a personal firearms certificate for nearly fifty years. And for a decade, I was the authorising officer for the grant and renewal of firearms certificates in my force.

I have used and worked with guns for most of my life, but I would not have liked to have served in an armed police service.

Perhaps we are on a trajectory that will inevitably lead to the routine arming of our police, but we should beware: the consequences may make matters worse, not better.

So, a simple message to the officers who would be willing to see all police officers armed: be careful what you wish for.

Tom Wood

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