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No To Guns In Police Cars!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Today Police Minister Judith Collins signalled her support for armed police in New Zealand. This move should be opposed by all who believe in the need for a less violent society. Yes, some criminals are armed and dangerous but arming the police is a dangerous move. Arming more of those who are charged with dealing with violent offending is something that should be discouraged at all costs.

In saying this, yes, I do realise that there are arguments for arming our police. These include that police officers have been slain or injured down the years while on the job. This move would (supposedly) afford them some protection while on the job. It would give the police flexibility in dealing with violent offenders who are threatening other members of the public with guns as well.

On the contrary, arming front line police (outside of the specialist Armed Offenders Squads) would create a dangerous precedent. Offenders would be more likely to take up arms to commit offences. That is because criminals would be inclined to seek them out as a means of defending themselves if they knew that frontline police possessed them. This might also mean that in dangerous situations, innocent members of the public might be at increased risk of being shot in police/offender shoot outs than they already are.

In fact, arming someone increases their ability to exercise authority over another individual. The ability to misuse that authority on the part of a small minority of officers, under some circumstances, would be great. Remember the controversy surrounding the Steven Wallace incident in Taranaki back in 2000? The case around that has never fully been resolved. Furthermore, it increases the risk that more police officers will be shot or attacked while on the beat, not decrease it. Another factor that should be remembered is that while some officers have died on the beat since the force's inception in this country, there have been far more civilian deaths from firearms use and also more police have shot at offenders than been shot at by offenders.

Salutary lessons aside, there is a political philosophy which holds that the monopoly on armed force should remain with the state. To an extent that is true as we have seen what results from permitting private gun use and sales. But to extend that limited monopoly to everyday cops on the beat is a stretch too far. We need to be concentrating instead on ways to reduce violent offending in our communities and this is best achieved through not encouraging an unofficial arms race between the police and criminals.


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