The London riots have sparked debate about whether police should carry guns.
With crime rates in Australia on the decline since 1980, is there a need for our police to carry guns?
The answer is yes. With the recent London riots showing how easily violence can escalate in a society not dissimilar to our own, it’s evident our police need guns now more than ever.
Australia’s police have been equipped with firearms for decades for a number of reasons.
David Cameron says non-lethal weapons including pepper spray and truncheons are adequate, but when offenders resist arrest police often have no choice but to use guns.
Furthermore, it is important police carry firearms to protect themselves.
Far too few members of the public consider the very real danger faced by our police on a regular basis.
Verbal communication is best practice in any confrontation, but officers should be able to protect themselves in the event that a criminal can’t be subdued this way.
In some instances, police have no other option but to shoot an offender in defence of their own life, the life of a colleague, or to protect a member of the public.
The real issue is not whether police should have guns, but whether or not they can handle them with restraint.
Australia’s police are subjected to a training regimen by Australia’s state police academies that is second to none.
In addition to time spent in the study of police regulations and statutory restrictions on the use of firearms by police, recruits must become proficient in the elements of firearm safety, ballistics, and live firing.
The live firing phase is conducted by expert instructional staff and incorporates shooting from standing, kneeling and prone positions at varying distances from the target.
But the tragic death of Tyler Cassidy in 2008 is a reminder to us all that this training must be ongoing.
In this case, police officers were accused of failing to follow correct procedure during a confrontation with the boy.
QC Christopher Dane, who oversaw the inquiry, said the officers should have “cordoned, contained and waited for K-9 assistance”.
Instead they took Tyler’s life with semi-automatic pistols.
Tyler’s mother Shani Cassidy later said the officers “were not capable of managing the situation”.
The lack of remorse shown by Victoria Police in the wake of the incident led to accusations of “trigger happy” officers in the media.
As a result, the accused were subject to a two-and-a-half year coronial inquest that sought to prevent a repetition of this tragic event.
Ultimately though, we must recognize that police are human beings just like us, capable of error.
The Cassidy case was an uncommon occurrence – in fact the number of deaths by firearms in Australia has been steadily decreasing in recent years.
But guns are here to stay.
Lets just not forget that good judgment is our greatest weapon.