Posted in Opinions

Safe policing starts without handguns

Police officers who carry guns distance themselves from the communities they protect

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We hear about police brutality far too often these days. It seems like every day I read about another innocent civilian shot; often an unarmed black man who was complying with police orders. One of the best ways to prevent these situations would be to strip police officers of their service handguns, at least for standard duty.

Having a handgun changes the mindset of the carrier, making them see the world in terms of threat levels and potential targets. The bearer is also forced to carry with them the fear that their firearm may be turned on them. An unarmed attacker can become a deadly assailant if they seize an officer’s handgun; as such, officers are taught to treat every threat as a potential threat on their life.

A criminal with a gun can kill, if only because of a split-second decision. This, understandably, ferments fear and escalates situations. Fear and semi-automatic handguns do not mix well. This causes the police officer to think like a soldier, and to treat the streets they are meant to be protecting like a warzone.

Instead of carrying handguns, officers should be trained extensively in non-lethal methods of apprehending individuals, such as using tasers, and on de-escalating potentially violent situations. If a criminal does have a gun, however, there should still be a firearm that the officer can get from their cruiser, or a tactical team that they can call upon for backup. A firearm should not be the first solution to every problem though, simply hanging at the hip, ready to kill.

A firearm should not be the first solution to every problem, simply hanging at the hip, ready to kill.

Before you start arguing that “blue lives matter,” and telling me that I hate police officers, it is important to remember that my proposal is not revolutionary. In the UK, for example, most officers do not regularly carry handguns, and they are not having a big problem with officer safety. In the UK, they stress de-escalation tactics and proper non-lethal apprehension.

It is worth watching the video from the UK in which an incoherent man is brandishing a machete: the officers do not shoot him. They get the riot gear out, they make sure they have enough officers on the scene, and they subdue him by slowly advancing on and overwhelming him. No one gets shot, and no one dies. I have heard multiple reports of policing like this in the UK, and we in North America need to follow their example.

Officer safety still needs to be taken very seriously, but handguns for daily carry are not necessary. In many cases, having a handgun immediately accessible does not make officers any safer — such as the shooting of three police officers in Baton Rouge, where the officers were ambushed and were not able to react quickly, anyway.

Having easy access to a gun only escalates dangerous situations. If there is a chance to react in an instance that truly requires a firearm, then the officer should have time to get an assault rifle from their cruiser. At least that way, the officer is forced to think about whether or not a firearm is really necessary for the situation.

What makes officers less dangerous is if they develop a relationship of understanding with the communities they police, as well as having enough personnel on the scene. Handguns only create distance between the police and the public. If we truly want a police force that serves and protects, and if we truly believe that the lives of all citizens — including black citizens — matter, then we need to take guns off the streets, starting with service handguns.

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