Today it was announced that the MET police in London are to get a boost in firearm-trained officers. 600 more armed officers – a rise of 25%.
This might seem, at first glance, sensible. Attacks in Paris and beyond have raised the question as to when, not if, a terrorist attack on British soil will happen again. The obvious solution then, so the logic goes, is to arm London’s police in anticipation.
It is considered foolish – stupid, even – to challenge the assumption that more armed police results in a safer public from terrorism.
But is it an assumption, nonetheless. The unanswered question remains: will arming police result in less civilian casualties in terrorist attacks? And what are the wider consequences of having a police force that is increasingly armed?
Anyone visiting Paris in the years before the terror attacks of Charlie Hebdo and last December would have seen, plainly, armed French police throughout the city. But did their presence stop the attacks? No. Did their actions swiftly limit casualties? No.
This is not to say that the MET police should not have a responsive firearm unit. And this is not to say that key locations should have armed police. But there are already 2,200 trained MET marksmen. The question is, really, do there need to be more?
What, also, are the wider consequences of a more heavily armed MET police? Will we see a rise in non-terrorists incidents ending with a fatality?
The sort of weaponry – and quantities of ammunition – seen in the Paris attacks is virtually unseen among London’s criminals. AK47s are incredibly scarce – the seizure of one makes headlines. 7.62mm ammunition – or any large caliber rounds for that matter – is equally hard to source. London, when it comes to firearms, is not Paris.
Our island nation status, our effective ban on handguns, the efficiency of police ballistic services and the fact that criminals, generally, are not armed, all lends itself towards a situation where guns and bullets would not likely be the weapons of choice for would-be terrorists on British soil.
The IRA had highly developed networks that helped supply them with plentiful arms and ammo. ISIS or al Qaeda or Boko Haram do not have that sort of supply chain into the UK. This makes a bombing far more likely than a mass shooting, and there is very little evidence armed police can stop an improvised device attack that comes out of the blue.
So – the question that still needs to be properly answered is this: will arming more MET officers result in terror attacks being thwarted.
Or will it result in more shootings by police in other non-terrorist criminal incidents? Incidents that may never have ended with a gunshot or – even – a fatality.
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