Thursday 20 September 2012

Why We Must Resist Calls for Armed Police

Some people are going to use the tragic shooting of two police officers in Manchester as an excuse to call for police to be routinely armed.

This is an extremely bad idea.

Even among criminals, there is still a strong feeling that shooting an unarmed person is an extremely cowardly act. Never mind the threat of an automatic custodial sentence for carrying firearms – people going out intending to commit a crime don't think they are going to get caught anyway. The reason why most criminals don't carry guns, is because the police don't carry guns. You don't shoot first. You just don't. Well, not unless you're the worst kind of sociopath. Or by accident.

Arming police would change all that in an instant. There would now be a very real threat of escalation. And it would legitimise the carrying of guns by criminals – you don't shoot first, but there's nothing wrong with returning fire. More armed police will mean more armed criminals. More armed people will mean more gunfighting. More gunfighting means more police officers – and more innocent bystanders – getting shot.

The ability to put real names and faces to real victims distorts things. It's much easier to lump together nameless, hypothetical victims that might or might not be as just so much "collateral damage" than it is to think of Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes as anything but individual human beings. Yet to do so would be to commit a kind of reverse stereotyping fallacy.

Two actual victims seems much worse than some unknown number of hypothetical victims. Until they stop being hypothetical and you start having to count them.

The simple fact is, very few British police officers are shot in the line of duty. That's why this is news in the first place.

And that is why we must resist calls for police to be routinely armed.

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