On Tuesday morning PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were ambushed and shot dead by a monster out on bail for another murder. This tragic event raises many questions, some of which are never asked and few are properly answered.
Falling in the first category are questions relating to the advisability of women discharging frontline police duties. I understand it’s all modern, progressive and egalitarian, but surely an unarmed 10-stone girl is at a disadvantage when trying to arrest a violent 15-stone thug? It’s not as if we were suffering from a dearth of able-bodied young men – just look at the unemployment figures for the 18 to 25s. I’m neither young nor particularly able-bodied, but even I’d fancy my chances against most WPCs one espies on the beat.
The presumption has to be that such girls will never have to find themselves in a mano a mano situation against men willing to perpetrate violence on them. I’m not going to argue against this assumption: the events of last Tuesday, and many similar outrages, have done the job for me.
This empirical evidence supports at least two propositions: one, policewomen should be confined to desk duty and two, police should be routinely armed.
Now the second proposition, unlike the first, has created a lively debate, in which people who agree with me are greatly outnumbered. This issue conspicuously leaves the realm of reason and enters that of superstition, something that lies out of reach for logical arguments.
Nonetheless I’ll try, if only because unarmed police is a totem attracting even such otherwise right-thinking worshippers as Stephen Glover. ‘An unarmed police is the cornerstone of our freedom,’ he writes, ‘and the key to effective policing.’
This is an astonishing thing to say when the bodies of two murdered WPCs are still warm. They are going neither to protect ‘the cornerstone of our freedom’ nor do any policing, effective or otherwise. They are dead.
Mr Glover’s arguments, and those of other likeminded sentimentalists, follow what seems to be a preset pattern:
1) Ever since Sir Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan police in 1829, ‘the British have been generally well disposed towards their police largely because they are unarmed.’ If they start carrying side arms, they’ll be despised and hated to a point where we’ll be terrified to ask them for directions for fear that they may shoot us.
2) If police carry guns, so will criminals, which will turn our streets into one giant OK Corral.
3) With the general increase in the number of guns, there will be more fatal accidents.
None of these arguments works. And Mr Glover himself unwittingly explains why: ‘Use of firearms by criminals has greatly increased over the past 50 years. Assault on police has become more widespread.’
How so? After all, our police have been properly and sanctimoniously unarmed all along. What has happened to that much-vaunted goodwill towards cops?
One has to come to the lamentable conclusion that today’s mores are as different from Victorian times as Dave Cameron is different from Robert Peel. Affection for police is obviously less fervent in the street than it is in the rarefied atmosphere of an editorial office or a Commons bar. I’m sure there one seldom hears our brave PCs referred to as ‘filth’ or ‘pigs’, which epithets are widely used even in the better postcodes.
In short, Point 1) is a figment of Mr Glover’s imagination. By way of trying to prove otherwise, he acknowledges that Britain is the only major country where police are unarmed. But, according to him, a holster dangling off a cop’s belt makes him ‘feared, or even hated’ in countries like France.
This is simply false. I spend half my time in France and I’ve never noticed any such thing among ‘perfectly ordinary middle-class people’. Also, as a young man I lived in America for 15 years, and I can assure Mr Glover that this demographic group is no more hostile to their police there than here.
Points 2) and 3) are both false because they are based on the belief that there’s a one-to-one correlation between gun crime and the number of legal guns in circulation. Alas, this isn’t the case.
For example, the gun-crime rate in Japan, where gun laws are among the world’s strictest, is very low. But among the large Japanese community in California, where handguns can be legally bought in any shopping mall, it’s lower still. In Switzerland, where every household is armed with automatic rifles and most with pistols as well, they don’t even keep murder statistics (‘once in a blue moon’ doesn’t qualify as such). New Hampshire has more guns per capita than any other state, yet the murder rate there is much lower than in Massachusetts, where guns are outlawed. And in Britain gun crime went up by 50 percent in the first year after handguns were banned.
This shows that propensity to do murder has nothing to do with the availability of guns. Moreover, it’s spurious to separate gun crime into a discrete category. Much more valid would be crime statistics in general: a man killed by a knife suffers as much as one killed by a bullet. As Glover correctly remarked, crime statistics, murder included, have skyrocketed since the Second World War. This points at a major cultural shift which is insensitive to the hardware carried by police.
One could offer extensive explanations, but they would be superfluous here. Let’s just say it’s a matter of empirical fact that police need to be armed now even if such a need didn’t exist in the past. As Americans say, it’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need it and not have it.
I don’t know if the poor girls could have saved themselves had they carried guns. One of them seems to have been able to pull out her Taser, but that’s not a serious counterargument to a semiautomatic pistol. Another semiautomatic pistol might have been, especially if it had been drawn before the girls stepped into the lethal trap. We’ll never know now.
I sympathise with Mr Glover, whom I recognise as a fellow conservative. Hankering after better, more gentlemanly times of yesteryear comes naturally to us. But this noble nostalgia needs to be leavened with hardnosed realism based on empirical data.
These show that frontline police, especially if they are women, are in harm’s way now as they weren’t in any discernible past. A gun on their belt may stand between their life and death, so they must have it. Especially since arguments against this are so weak.