Should British police officers carry guns?

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Being an American, it is not my place to suggest that a foreign country with a long-standing tradition of not arming its police officers -- mainly patrol or beat officers known as "bobbies" after their style of hat -- should reverse that position and begin routinely arming those officers. Britain's policy of deploying unarmed police to patrol city streets goes back almost two hundred years, and the overwhelming majority of its serving police officers would like that tradition to continue. The policy of deploying unarmed officers was born of the liberal democratic notion of enforcing laws with the consent of the public it serves. To routinely carry firearms, they argue, would send the wrong message to the public and would seriously detract from law enforcement's acknowledgement that it enforces laws with the consent of the public. Therefore, most officers support maintaining the status quo arrangement.

It is important, when discussing the British practice of policing its city streets with unarmed officers, to note that, relative to levels of violent crime in the United States and many other countries, the British have less of a problem in this regard. Additionally, and significantly, the British have security agencies that are armed and that specializing in dealing with violent crime as well as with the perennial problem of terrorism. Decades of experience combating the Irish Republic Army terrorist organization, as well as infiltrating and prosecuting Britain’s sometimes-violent organized criminal gangs, have provided the British internal and external security establishments with considerable expertise in dealing with violent groups. In short, when they need to put firepower on their streets, the British are capable and prepared to do what they deem necessary.

There have been instances over the years in which the death of British law enforcement officers has caused some to question their existing policy regarding unarmed police officers. As the attached articles note, the recent Paris terrorist attacks have placed a particularly onerous burden on British law enforcement and security organizations, and the changing demographics of British population centers – in effect, far greater numbers of immigrants from Islamic nations that reject the liberal British culture to which they have emigrated – have changed the calculus with respect to the issue of arming police officers. Again, however, the British have a great deal of experience monitoring and containing subversive elements within their society. Britain’s MI5 internal security service is among the best in the world at protecting its nation against internal threats without unduly infringing the population’s rights, and the Metropolitan Police Service, known popularly as New Scotland Yard, is equally effective at investigating all matter of violent crime.

The day may come when the British attitude regarding its police forces changes and officers are issued firearms on a routine basis. For now, however, one should heed the advice of those closest to the issue, the police officers themselves, and retain the current policy. When the British determine that a situation demands the use of deadly force, they are quite proficient at executing such a mandate.

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