The killings in Dallas are one more reminder that guns are central, not accessory, to the American plague of violence. They were central fifty-plus years ago, when a troubled ex-Marine had only to send a coupon to a mail-order gun house in Chicago to get a military rifle with which to kill John F. Kennedy—that assassin-sniper also fired from a Dallas building onto a Dallas street. They are central now, when the increased fetishism of guns and carrying guns has made such horrors as last night’s not merely predictable but unsurprising. The one thing we can be sure of, after we have mourned the last massacre, is that there will be another. You wake up at three in the morning, check the news, and there it is.
We don’t yet know exactly by whom and for what deranged “reason” or mutant "cause" five police officers were murdered last night, but, as the President rightly suggested, we do know how—and the how is a huge part of what happened. By having a widely armed citizenry, we create a situation in which gun violence becomes a common occurrence, not the rarity it ought to be and is everywhere else in the civilized world. That this happened amid a general decline in violence throughout the Western world only serves to make the crisis more acute; America's gun-violence problem remains the great and terrible outlier.
Weapons empower extremes. Allowing members of any fringe of any movement to get their hands on military weapons guarantees that any normal dispute—political or, for that matter, domestic—can quickly lead to a massacre. Our guns have outraced our restrictions, but not our imaginations. Sometime in the not-too-distant past, annihilation replaced street theatre and demonstrations as the central possibility of the enraged American imagination. Guns allow the fringe to occupy the center.
The seeming breakdown of normal expectations about violence and public life reminds some of 1968, a terrible year—although, if you think this is like 1968, you weren’t there, since that year was marked by a generational breakdown far more extreme, a continuing foreign war far more violent, and a departing President infinitely more unpopular. But then, too, gun violence wasn’t just incidental but instrumental—pointed, causal—to the breakdown of social order. If Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., had not been so easily killed with easily available weapons, 1968 would have had a different shape and meaning.
Once again, it needs stating because it can’t be stated too often: despite the desperate efforts of the National Rifle Association to prevent research on gun violence, the research has gone on, and shows conclusively what common sense already suggests. Guns are not merely the instrument; guns are the issue. The more guns there are, the more gun violence happens. In light of last night’s assassinations, it is also essential to remember that the more guns there are, the greater the danger to police officers themselves. It requires no apology for unjustified police violence to point out that, in a heavily armed country, the police officer who thinks that a suspect is armed is likelier to panic than when he can be fairly confident that the suspect is not. We have come to accept it as natural that ordinary police officers should be armed and ready to use lethal force at all times. They should not be. A black man with a concealed weapon should be no more liable to be killed than a white man with one. But having a nation of men carrying concealed lethal weapons pretty much guarantees that there will be lethal results, an outcome only made worse by our toxic racial history. Last night’s tragedy was also the grotesque reductio ad absurdum of the claim that it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. There were nothing but good guys and they had nothing but guns, and five died anyway, as helpless as the rest of us.
Once again, the difference in policy views is clear, and can be coolly stated: those who insist on the right to concealed weapons, to the open carrying of firearms, to the availability of military weapons—to the essentially unlimited dissemination of guns—guarantee that the murders will continue. They have no plan to end them, except to return fire, with results we know. The people who don’t want the regulations that we know will help curb (not end) violent acts and help make them rare (not non-existent) have reconciled themselves to the mass murder of police officers, as well as of innocent men and women during traffic stops and of long, ghostly rows of harmless civilians and helpless children. The country is now clearly divided among those who want the killings and violence to stop and those who don’t. In the words of the old activist song, which side are you on?
The severe terrorist threat facing Britain has reignited one of our fiercest debates.
The Metropolitan Police Federation will ask its 30,000 officers if they want to be armed.
Currently most UK police do not carry guns.
Just a small, specially trained minority volunteer to be armed although the number is higher after the November 2015 Paris attacks which killed 130.
Officers will also be surveyed over their wish to carry a Taser.
Here, ex Met officers speak for and against arming police .
Tony Long, ex Met Police Team firearms
Your job is to protect the public. How you can do that if you cannot first protect yourself?
A US colleague once summed it up for me when he asked: “What do you train your officers to do at an armed robbery ?”
When I said they were trained to get behind a wall and call for back up, he replied: “So you train the police to do exactly what the public would do.”
We put officers in body armour, accepting they may be shot at. To me it shows a lack of trust and respect for our officers that they are not allowed to carry a firearm.
I did around six years unarmed before I trained in firearms. But that was in the 70s, when times were very different.
Now, police are facing teens on BMX bikes with access to automatic weapons.
It is rubbish to suggest more criminals will carry guns if police do. We now train far fewer firearms officers than when I started, yet gun crime has not slowed.
I don’t believe arming our police will reduce the threat of terrorism. But I absolutely believe officers carrying guns could help stop an attack in its tracks more quickly.
If the Nice attack happened in London how far would that lorry have travelled before it could be stopped with no armed officers?
The perpetrator of the Berlin Christmas market attack would not have faced armed police had he escaped through Britain.
We may have been facing dead officers – and a terrorist still on the run.
I do not believe it is possible for us to deploy our trained firearms teams to the scenes where they are needed quickly enough.
I understand that police enlist now under the belief they will not be carrying a gun. It is not for everyone.
I realise facilities are not in place to train thousands more officers.
But I do believe we should offer a stop-gap approach so capable, heavily vetted officers wanting to be trained can be and then can carry a handgun on duty.
This would not rip away the approachability of our officers.
- Lethal Force by Tony Long, published by Ebury Press is now available to buy.
Dai Davies, ex Met Police Chief
We have a severe terrorist threat hanging over this country.
But, in my view, arming police would not make the slightest difference to the threat’s severity or to keeping the public and police safe.
In France, Turkey and Germany, which have tragically suffered the most recent terrorist attacks, police on the streets are very visibly armed but this did not deter those attacks.
It did nothing to stop Anis Amri driving a truck into a Berlin Christmas market at speed.
A terrorist bent on attacking, who does not care if he lives or dies, will not be stopped by the knowledge local police are armed.
And there is a far greater chance we will face a domestic abuse incident or a road traffic accident than a terrorist attack.
Training and arming police would put a huge strain on the force – taking resources from where we need them, in daily protection.
Firearms training facilities are not there for 20-30,000 officers, it would be impossible operationally and structurally.
Most senior officers have not been firearms trained and we don’t have enough instructors.
I’m proud of our policing tradition. The belief that we do not arm our officers means each of us feel able to approach them, to see them as equals, and to trust them.
I feel uneasy seeing armed officers where they are not needed.
We have officers trained in firearms who are used when and where intelligence says they are required.
I’m all for reinforcing those numbers if statistics and safety say you should. But no one has shown me, statistically, they are currently not able to cope.
It is investment in intelligence and specialist training for our firearms teams which will help keep us and our police safe.
Not every officer is physically and psychologically able to handle a firearm or live with the guilt of using it.
We do not want officers who are trigger happy, the unnecessary loss of lives and a lengthy investigations process.
There’s also the fear of accidental blue on blue shooting. Firing a gun is a huge responsibility to place on our police.
Violence can escalate violence, meaning there is a danger that if our police carried guns, more criminals would do so too.
Then our officers would be at greater risk.
Brit cops use guns just seven times in a year
The closest a British police force ever came to being routinely armed was in 1884 in London, following the murder of two officers.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner gave officers permission to carry revolvers on night patrols.
This ended in 1936 when guns had to be kept in a locked cupboard at police stations.
In England and Wales, in the 12 months to March 2016, British police discharged their firearms on just seven occasions — the highest since 2009.
By contrast, 613 people had been killed by US police in 2016 up to last summer, a study found.
The US’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high-income countries.
Meanwhile, the number of police officers authorised to use firearms has also been falling in a long-term trend.
In 2009 there were 6,906 in England and Wales compared with 5,639 in March 2016.
US officers faced riots in Ferguson, Missouri, in a series of police shootings in the town and across the country.
These also led to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US.
The majority of countries, both in Europe and around the world, have police officers carrying guns.
As well as mainland Britain, other countries which do not routinely arm officers are Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and Ireland.
Should all police officers be armed?
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