Should all UK police officers carry guns?

The Westminster terror attack sparked a range of debates, including whether more frontline UK police officers should be armed.

Earlier this year a survey of all Met Police officers by the Metropolitan Police Federation (MPF) revealed nearly half wanted more firearms specialists and 75% believe they should all be issued Tasers.

In plenty of other countries, armed police officers are an ordinary site, with many arming their frontline officers as a matter of course.

Is it time for the UK to join the ranks of those who arm policemen and women routinely? We ask two former officers for their views.

Norman Brennan, a former police officer of 31 years and a leading campaigner on police protection, thinks it’s time the ‘romantic image of the unarmed UK bobby’ is consigned to history.

‘We are the only unarmed police service in Europe bar Southern Ireland. The dangers that UK police officers face now compared to 40 or 50 years ago are far more violent. The 24,000 assaults in the past year more than proves this.

‘Police face daily those armed with knives and sadly, too often, guns. Police now also face both international and homegrown terrorists who have no qualms of murdering a police officer.’

The falling number of frontline police – 21,500 lost since 2010 – puts a heavier burden on those remaining, he says.

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‘Whilst on occasions we can deal with threats of assault by use of our batons and CS spray and occasionally tasers, if someone has an intent to murder a police officer as they did at Westminster with a knife, only a firearm could effectively deal with such a threat.

‘If those who carry firearms know that every police officer is armed,  they know that the officer has a far greater chance of defending themselves and dealing with the imminent threat of being shot.

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‘My colleagues tell me that some officers have to wait up to 40 minutes for armed back-up. If an officer has to wait even for one minute when they are confronting someone armed with a knife or a gun, to them it seems like a lifetime.’

Whilst some officers may not want to be armed, he said, it is now more the need and requirement.

‘We are living in some of the most dangerous times since World War Two and if society is to be fully protected surely it’s only right that their protectors have all the tools in the toolbox to ensure that both the public and themselves are protected.’

But former Met Inspector Bob Morgan, who also now blogs on law and order, says arming all frontline officers is a slippery slope with downsides as well as upsides.

‘A lot of people will assume that there’s no downside to more policemen being armed and my argument is there is a big downside and it would outweigh the upside.

‘The upside would be having all police officers armed and they would stop a terrorist getting away with committing an act of terrorism. That is questionable.

Police on patrol in the wake of the Westminster attacks in March. (Rex)

‘The downside of arming everybody is that there would be thousands of extra guns on the streets. The dangers are that everything an officer deals with is then potentially a firearms incident.

‘Very often officers will deal with violent or semi-violent situations where they end up grappling with somebody. If an officer has a gun that changes the dynamic.’

From an offender getting hold of the gun to an innocent party being injured in the process, there are lots of scenarios that would result from police officers regularly carrying a gun, he says.

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‘There are lots of scenarios which over time would happen with thousands of officers with thousands of guns, thousands of interactions with the public. And all because we hope that some officer somewhere will stop an act of terrorism.

‘And there’s no going back. Once you arm police, there’s no going back.’

But while he does not advocate arming all police officers on a regular basis, Mr Morgan said having trained firearms officers is still important in the right context.

‘The Westminster attacker was stopped, yes, by an armed officer, somebody in a place that is under the greatest threat and that’s right,’ he said.

‘They should put firearms in the right places as often as they can and that’s the right way ahead but not everyone in my view.’

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