Firearms, no debate

I generally agree with r0b’s reasoning on the police need — or lack — for firearms. This is a mostly-empty moral panic.

But how things have changed for Greg O’Connor of the Police Association. This from 1 June 2009:

Mr O’Connor, who is currently studying policing in Scandinavia, did not support all police carrying guns but said the matter had to be looked at. […] “We said the debate should take place outside the emotion of Len Snee’s death and it’s disappointing to see that now there’s not going to be any debate there needs to be.”

A year ago Greg O’Connor was careful to frame the Police Association response in this way. He repeatedly said he didn’t want to arm all officers, he just wanted “a debate”, and one which would take place in the cold light of reason rather than as a knee-jerk in the aftermath of a police shooting. That’s a mature and responsible position. But even though the debate has not really occurred in the intervening year, his position has congealed — or perhaps he now just feels more at liberty to express it — into “all guns, all the time”.

What’s changed in the past year? The agenda has changed, that’s all: how firearms are framed in the public discourse about policing. Any time a firearm is used — regardless of the outcome — it’s a big media deal. Recent events such as the Urewera Terra raids of October 2007, the retrial of David Bain, the story of a large number of dogs being “massacred” using a firearm, and of course a number of police shootings have imprinted the prominence of firearms as public menace on the public consciousness. This has progressed alongside a police and crime-reporting discourse which has as its basic theme the notion that our plucky boys and girls in blue are under constant attack from all sides. Contrary to O’Connor’s noble aim, there has been no meaningful debate about arming police. This fact suits his arm-the-cops purposes, and it’s now clear that those cries for a debate, and the appearance of a debate within the Police, were made with the primary purpose of simply keeping the issue primed and on the public agenda. It’s lurked there, undebated, for a while, and with these most recent events it’s moving rather rapidly closer to actually happening. That’s a dangerous way to set policy.

Although I accept this is a contentious position, I generally believe that we need to trust the operational discretion and instincts of frontline police staff, as long as we have tough and independent disciplinary oversight as to their policy, and conduct in implementing that policy. On this basis, I’m not categorically opposed to the notion of police vehicles containing a lock-box with firearms in it, which police can use in accordance with firm and well-documented policy in light of the tactical circumstances in which they find themselves. But I would say that this isn’t very different to the current status quo, and the use of firearms must not be left to the sole discretion of an individual officer. The deployment policy and tactical decisions to deploy must be matters for which police command can be held accountable, for which the police as an organisation are responsible.

But what I’m more interested in is a public debate on this, and other policing matters. We really need one.


6 thoughts on “Firearms, no debate

  1. On hearing about the latest shooting I cannot see how being armed would have helped. I assume that any gun would have been in a strapped down capped holster* rather than the ‘gunfighter’s’ open sheath and could not be drawn quickly to counter the person with the rifle suprising them ready to shoot. Likely the second policeman shot in the leg would have been shot in a more vunerable place as he ‘stayed’ and tried to draw his weapon instead of hightailing it off the scene.
    *As I thought I saw on a policeman the last time I visited an airport to farewell freinds, maybe it was a tazzer, my freinds didn’t believe me when I commented on it.
    If ‘grass’ was legal this event wouldn’t have happened.
    [I gave up tobacco in 1974 and have never tried ‘grass’ or anything else.]

  2. Successive governments have done little to address the drivers of crime. Rather than implementing policies to (actually) reduce crime they demand more and more from an already under-resourced police force.

    If Labour and National want to continue to pursue the neoliberal agenda then its only a matter of time before police need to be armed to continue to clean up the growing mess its creating.

  3. *As I thought I saw on a policeman the last time I visited an airport to farewell freinds, maybe it was a tazzer, my freinds didn’t believe me when I commented on it.If ‘grass’ was legal this event wouldn’t have happened.

    Police in airports are often permanently armed due to different standards of international security protocol.

  4. Given the constant flow of police-chase-related deaths, and concerns over police following their own policies in this respect, how are pistols going to be any better?

  5. But what I’m more interested in is a public debate on this, and other policing matters. We really need one.

    I’d prefer a more detailed review of the various options ( European v USA ), new technology, punitive penalties, improved control of firearms, etc..

    Arming leads to a very different style of police – citizen interaction. There’s no way a policeman can safely move into close proximity to citizens when the officer has a holstered gun. The risk of being shot by their own gun would require more USA-style interactions, and the path is one-way.

    My concern would be the car chase response. Police seem to report discontinuing the chase just before any big splat. Adrenaline will flow, and innocents will be shot. I’d definitely want greatly-improved independent reviews of all firearm incidents.

    I think all deaths of bystanders should be treated as manslaughter, with no exemption for police.

    The 2007 Porirua situation – where police fired 12 shots at a rottweiller involved in a standoff, with none hitting the dog, doesn’t fill me with confidence.
    I don’t want police improving their accuracy by practising on innocent citizens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *