Police without guns

We take it for granted in the US that police shootings of civilians are just the price we pay for the privilege of living in the gun murder capital of the industrialized world. It’s up there with school shootings, church shootings, synagogue shootings, mosque shootings, mall shootings, road rage shootings, and all the other neat features of American life. What can you do?

Well… what do others do? I started thinking about this when I saw a video of a Toronto cop dealing with a guy who’d just run a bunch of people over in a terror attack a few years ago. I watched and thought Holy shit, is Canada some weird alternate universe?

If that had happened in the US, there’s no way this would have ended without gunfire and someone (or everyone) dead.

So how do police in countries where the cops don’t regularly carry guns manage?

A police officer does not have to shoot to kill and, in several countries, a police officer does not even have to carry a gun. In Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Britain, and Ireland, police officers generally do not carry firearms. In one of these countries, Iceland, it’s legal for citizens to carry guns—and there’s an estimated rate of 30 privately-owned guns per 100 people.

But why not arm them?

Richard Hill, history professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, explains that New Zealand police were disarmed for routine work in 1886, following the principle of the British police that: “Constables are placed in authority to protect, not to oppress, the public.” For officers to carry guns would not just be unnecessary, he says, “but also antithetical to the values of civil society.”

Not American society, baby! Anyway, here’s a bunch of UK police officers dealing with a guy with a machete in the middle of the street.

The big difference seems to be training: how and how much. For example, in Norway, police get three years of training before they are fully certified (vs. an average of 19 weeks in the US) and a big part of that is learning to de-escalate situations. ]

Meanwhile here in America we have police ready to kill someone if they reach in their pocket.

I’m not knocking police officers. They do an essential, physically and emotionally demanding, and dangerous job. In many places they are not terribly well paid for it. They are doing it with the tools they have – the tools that we choose to give them – and it seems like in this country we are more interested in outfitting them like a military option than in helping them build strategies to avoid violence. Or dragging them into areas they don’t belong: for example trying to get them to act as an arm of immigration enforcement, which of course just leads to communities afraid to talk to them, which leads to crime going unchecked in those communities and spilling into other, and ultimately Tucker Carlson talking about sanctuary cities (which is the part where the rest of us are punished for bad policies).

But this just leaves us stick in a cycle of violent and sub-par policing: we don’t take the most basic steps to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands, so there are guns everywhere and the police are now in much more danger, so they have to have guns too, and we don’t train them well, so they’re more likely to shoot an innocent civilian, and we throw up our hands and say “well, what are we supposed to do?”

Maybe start by asking our neighbors about what they are doing?

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