Following the recent terror attacks in the United Kingdom, social media has been ablaze with comments about how it is now time to fully arm the British police.
As a former armed London police officer, I couldn’t disagree more. In the past few weeks there have been three significant terror attacks in England – Westminster on 22nd March, where 5 people including a police officer were murdered; Manchester on 22nd May resulted in the killing of 22 people; and now London Bridge and Borough Market where 7 more innocent victims were slaughtered.
However, there is little evidence to suggest that a fully armed police force would have stopped these incidents from ever happening. Indeed, the attack on Westminster, where a man ran down and killed pedestrians before stabbing a police officer to death within the confines of Parliament itself, was an attack on one of the most heavily protected places in the entire country.
Yes, the attacker was shot dead by armed police but only after he had killed and inured scores of people.
It is also unlikely that armed police could have done anything to stop the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester – where the attacker simply slipped in unnoticed, amongst concertgoers before detonating his bomb.
At London Bridge, a vehicle was used again to run down pedestrians before the three attackers randomly attacked people with knives. Having a fully armed police would not have stopped this attack from happening.
I am not suggesting that there shouldn’t be armed officers. Having armed officers is absolutely right and necessary – they are needed now more than ever.
Armed officers responded to the London Bridge attack and shot the three terrorists dead within 8 minutes of the start of the attack.
I also strongly believe in increasing the number of armed officers on the streets of Britain so that incidents like the recent attacks can be responded to as quickly as possible.
There are areas of the UK that would have struggled to respond as quickly as the police did in London, and I recently heard about one city that had just two armed officers on duty. (In England and Wales, there are around 6,000 fire-arm trained officers out of a total of 124,000.)
However, more armed officers means finding people willing to take up firearms training and willing to carry the weapon along with the huge responsibility that comes with it.
Not all police officers are willing to do that. I know of officers who have said they would rather leave the force than be forced to carry a gun.
Why? Some officers fear being treated as scapegoats or criminals should they be required to fire their gun, whereas for others it simply goes against what they believe British policing is.
Unlike places such as the US, guns are simply not part of the UK culture – police or otherwise. Most people will never handle a firearm in their life – and that includes most police officers.
When people think about the police in the UK, guns are not part of that image and that goes for many of the people that look to join the force to begin with. The day may come when this has to change but I don’t believe we’re there yet.
How about the way that the terrorists were armed? The attacker in Westminster and the attackers at London Bridge were armed with knives. Their choice of weapon was still devastating and people were killed, but it was a choice that was likely forced upon them due to the extremely strict gun laws in the United Kingdom.
Most firearms are banned in the UK and those people who do own rifles or shotguns (handguns are totally banned), are closely monitored by the police. If even terrorists are struggling to get hold of guns, something must be working.
Following the attack at London Bridge, President Trump tweeted how there would be no debate in the UK about gun control. That’s correct- the UK doesn’t need to have that debate for the very reason that they have gun control.
Imagine if the attackers had been armed with guns. As terrible as these attacks were, it is highly likely that the fatalities and injuries would have been many, many times higher. Yes, there are guns in the hands of criminals in the UK – but even so, it is the country’s strict gun laws that have prevented far higher death tolls.
Following the terror attack, others tweeted how the UK now needs to have Second Amendment rights, like in the US, so that civilians can arm themselves. They do not seem to grasp that it would also mean the terrorists would be able to arm themselves too.
The simple truth is that more guns mean more gun deaths. Attacks happen in other countries around the world where the police are armed. Often these attacks result in the death of many innocent people before police are able to stop or kill the attackers. One of the worst, recent attacks was in Nice, France. It resulted in the death of nearly 90 people before the attacker was shot dead by police.
In the US literally thousands of people are shot dead every year with tens of thousands wounded. Mass-shooting incidents happen regularly. There have been a number of high-casualty terror attacks. Having a fully armed police didn’t stop these things from happening.
Of course it should be noted that two brave police officers – both unarmed – were injured in the London Bridge attack, after attempting to tackle the terrorists. One was an off-duty officer and one was an on-duty officer. I accept that had the on-duty officer been armed, there is a chance that he could have shot the attackers earlier, though we will never know.
However, I believe that all police officers should be armed with Tasers which they are currently not. I believe in an increase in armed officers- if they can find the volunteers to take on the role.
But still, and call me naïve, I do not currently believe in the routine arming of the British police.
No terrorist should be allowed to change that – we should not forget who we are.
Michael Matthews is a former police officer, and writer of ‘We Are The Cops’ and The Riots’.