portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting global

police / legal

5 countries where police officers do not carry firearms

In Britain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland and New Zealand, officers are unarmed when
they are on patrol. Police are only equipped with firearms in special
circumstances. It's a strategy that seems to work surprisingly well for these
countries. Police officers there have saved lives -- exactly because they were
unable to shoot.
Note: As a child in Canada in the 1950's, before coming to the United States, I
recall my first introduction to knowledge of weapons. My father was in the
Canadian army during WWII. He never left Canada during the war but served in
northern Alberta as a dentist. He was given a gun, however, that was licensed
and that he kept after the war.

In Edmonton, Alberta, one day, there was a
knock at the door of our house. Before me were 2 members of the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police checking on my father's licensed gun. They wanted to see it and
discuss with my father about its use. This was quite remarkable oversight by
the Canadians and it was my first awareness of my father having the gun. While

I would prefer there was no gun at all in the house, having it, I learned from
this experience, was both a community and individual responsibility. Later in
the 1960's I moved to Australia where the gun laws were incredibly strict. No
one had guns that I was aware of. It made me feel remarkably safe.

The tragic shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston is yet another killing
of an unarmed Black male. All of us bear responsibility in this. It is our tax
dollars after all that are paying for these armed police. At the very least, if
Americans choose to arm their police then we need to make sure that before the
police carry a gun they receive proper training that includes anti-racist and
on-going sensitivity training. Otherwise none of us are safe with having armed
police. Perhaps we should also look at the policies of other countries where
the police are not armed as referred to below in the article by Rick Noack.

Heather Gray

5 countries where police officers do not carry firearms - and it works well By
Rick Noack February 18. 2015 Washington Post

In the United States, it seems obvious that police officers carry guns and are
allowed to use them.

In other places, however, this would be considered a provocation and a
violation of law.

In Britain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland and New Zealand, officers are unarmed when
they are on patrol. Police are only equipped with firearms in special
circumstances. It's a strategy that seems to work surprisingly well for these
countries. Police officers there have saved lives -- exactly because they were
unable to shoot.

"The practice is rooted in tradition and the belief that arming the police with
guns engenders more gun violence than it prevents," Gumundur Oddsson, an
assistant professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University, told The
Washington Post.

As the U.S. grapples with its own debates over gun control and better policing,
these five nations could teach some crucial lessons.

In Iceland, one third of all citizens are armed -- but police officers are not
most of the time

When police shot a man in Iceland in 2013, it was the first time cops had used
their firearms and killed a person in the history of this country, according to
the Christian Science Monitor. Granted, Iceland is a tiny country with only
300,000 inhabitants.
However, one third of the country's population is armed with rifles and
shotguns for hunting purposes, making it the 15th most armed country per capita
in the world. Despite this, crime is extremely rare.

Are Icelanders simply more peaceful than Americans? "Iceland's low crime rates
are rooted in the country's small, homogenous, egalitarian and tightly knit
society," sociologist Oddsson said.

When asked what struck him most about crime in Iceland, Richard Wright, a
criminology professor at Georgia State University, said: "Once, during a
presentation, an Icelandic police officer kept referring to 'poor people with
problems' -- and it took me a while before I realized that she was talking
about offenders. She considered every citizen precious because 'we are so few
and there is so much to do,' she said."

Wright also thinks that the powerful standing of women in Iceland's politics,
as well as within the police force, has helped to maintain low crime rates --
something the U.S. should learn from. Both Oddsson and Wright agree that low
inequality and a strong welfare system have also contributed to Iceland's
success in sustaining its unarmed police.

Most of Ireland's officers are not even trained in using firearms

Ireland has gone a step further: There, most police officers would not even
know how to use a gun if they were threatened. According to the U.N.-sponsored
research site GunPolicy.org, only 20 to 25 percent of Irish police officers are
qualified to use firearms. Despite that, Ireland has much lower crime rates
than the United States.

In Britain, 82 percent of the police do not want to be armed

"Sadly we know from the experience in America and other countries that having
armed officers certainly does not mean, sadly, that police officers do not end
up getting shot," Greater Manchester Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy was quoted
as saying by British media outlets in 2012, after two of his officers were shot
dead.

The practice of walking unarmed patrols is an established fact of police life
everywhere in the U.K. apart from Northern Ireland: Since the 19th century,
British officers on patrol have considered themselves to be guardians of
citizens, who should be easily approachable. There are far fewer incidents of
deadly clashes between police and suspected criminals. While there were 46
"justifiable homicide" committed by U.S. police in 2013, according to the FBI's
Uniform Crime Report, there was not a single one in the United Kingdom the same
year.

In a 2004 survey, 82 percent of Britain's Police Federation members said that
they did not want to be routinely armed on duty, according to the BBC. At least
one third of British police officers have feared for their lives while being on
duty, but remained opposed to carrying firearms.

In New Zealand, a professor argued that it's more dangerous to be a farmer than
an unarmed police officer

In an essay, Auckland Technical University Senior Criminology Lecturer John
Buttle calculated that it is in fact safer for police officers not to carry
weapons. "[In New Zealand], it is more dangerous being a farmer than it is a
police officer," he wrote in a paper, published 2010. Arming the police would
inevitably lead to an arms race with criminals and a spike in casualties.

"Only a dozen or so senior police officers nationwide are rostered to wear a
handgun on any given shift," Philip Alpers, Associate Professor at the Sydney
School of Public Health, told The Washington Post.

Norway has stuck to the tradition -- despite a shock in 2011

In 2011, Norway suffered through a tragedy which exposed the dangers of unarmed
law enforcement authorities. Back then, far-right gunman Anders Behring Breivik
attacked a Norwegian summer camp and killed 77 people.

Murders are extremely rare in this Scandinavian country -- but many blamed a
delayed and flawed police response for the horrifying carnage Breivik was able
to inflict. So far, though, the tradition of unarmed police officers has proven
to be stronger than the fear of terrorism.

There are other places, too.

Twelve out of 16 Pacific island nations, for instance, do not allow police
officers to carry weapons, either. "Their regional bumper sticker now reads: An
unarmed society is a polite society," says Alpers of the Sydney School of
Public Health.

Most experts agree, however, that it would be counterproductive to suddenly
disarm U.S. police officers without addressing the origins of crime. "Any
attempts to roll back the militarization of the American police would need to
be accompanied by policies that increase economic and racial equality and
legitimate opportunity for advancement for the poor," sociologist Oddsson
said.

Rick Noack writes about foreign affairs. He is an Arthur F. Burns Fellow at The
Washington Post.