Why Police Should Never Use Firearms


957 Americans were killed by police officers in 2016, a staggering figure and one that is wholly unacceptable. Police shootings have become so normalized that they are no longer treated with the same degree of public shock as they deserve. Analysts and reporters continually speculate over how better training or increased community engagement could prevent police shootings, but no one seems to ask the obvious question. Why do police even carry firearms? A sidearm has been a standard piece of American police equipment since the 1890s, but that time period saw firearms in a much different light. Derringers and small arms were fashion pieces, carried by many businessmen. In addition, mafias and bootleggers frequently engaged in shootouts with police. With so many civilians armed on a daily basis, police officers needed their firearms. But today, the vast majority of shots fired by police officers are aimed at a single subject, not a mafia or a gang. If your average patrol officer was armed with all of his other weapons (baton, mace, taser, handcuffs) they would likely be able to disable the vast majority of assailants. The types situations that truly demand the use of firearms by law enforcement often present enough time, even a mere 10 seconds, to retrieve a shotgun or assault rifle from the trunk of a police car. It is the easy access to a deadly weapon that a hip holstered sidearm provides which makes it so easy for deadly force to be used on American men and women who present a non-lethal threat to police officers. There is precedent for a firearm-less police force. “In Norway, Iceland, New Zealand Britain, and Ireland police officers generally do not carry firearms,” and Icelandic citizens are fully allowed to possess and carry firearms. While the per capita rate of gun ownership is 3 times higher in the United States, Icelandic cops manage to police effectively without the need for every officer to have immediate access to deadly force. American cops receive almost no training in how to deescalate confrontations in a non-violent way, so it is not surprising that far too many encounters with police end negatively. Of course officers, departments, and police unions will argue that taking their weapons will result in more police officers being injured in the line of duty. However, nearly 3 civilians are murdered every single day by cops in this country, so that line of argument seems pretty thin to me. They’ll say their pistols keep them safe, but when those same pistols constantly endanger to public it is a matter of the lesser of two evils. Police officers know they have a dangerous job, if they are not willing to accept some risk at the benefit of society that seems to directly conflict with their job description. Perhaps this is a strong proposal, to disarm the police, but there are some other actionable steps that would reduce the threat posed by armed officers. The most obvious is better training. One study revealed that cops who had completed academy pistol training were only 13% more accurate with their weapons than complete novices. When cops are discharging weapons in the real world, a stray shot could maim or kill a bystander. Accuracy matters. Another step would be to change ammunition. Almost all police departments issue hollow-point rounds to their officers. They mushroom on impact with flesh and cause much more internal damage than a traditional FMJ or ball round. Hollow points are the same type of bullet you’d use to hunt with because they are “one shot-one kill” and they’re actually banned from international warfare because they are so destructive to internal organs. And yet, they’re being used on American civilians on a daily basis. These rounds are not designed to maim an assailant and disable them, they are designed to kill you. Using regular FMJ rounds would allow officers to disable subjects without always killing them. Finally, a change in weapon is needed. Officers typically carry pistols made by Glock, Berretta, or FN. These pistols use magazines with space for 13-17 rounds, a wholly outrageous number for the average cop. No trained person needs 17 rounds to disable an assailant, 2 or 3 well placed rounds would be plenty. Even with some room for error and a contingency for a second assailant, an 8 round magazine is more than enough to protect an officer. If police departments issued weapons with smaller capacity magazines, we would likely see fewer instances where a single unarmed man is shot 15+ times and given no chance to survive.






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