Feature

United Kingdom: Where your local bobby is now armed

Policemen in Britain have started carrying guns—“big, visible, frightening guns”—on the street, “and I don’t remember us discussing that,” said  Victoria Cor

Victoria CorenThe Observer

“Did I miss a meeting?” asked Victoria Coren. Policemen in Britain have started carrying guns—“big, visible, frightening guns”—on the street, “and I don’t remember us discussing that.” The last national debate on the subject, well over a decade ago, “was all about the pride we take in our unarmed British force.” Guns were for Americans. British bobbies were meant to be more of a help than a threat, their nightsticks “tucked discreetly” in their belts.

Lately, though, “they have been reborn as a tooled-up army of Schwarzeneggers.” Presumably this change has come about as a result of 9/11, the London subway bombings, and the whole war on terror. Yet while the terrorist threat may explain the guns, it doesn’t justify them. In the 1970s, we were all afraid of being blown up by the IRA. Bombs did, in fact, go off in public places. “But I remember how proudly people spoke about our unaffected lives.” We carried on as usual, refusing to be cowed. We did not insist on being surrounded by men in body armor brandishing automatic weapons.

Britain is “my home, and nobody asked me if it was okay” to turn it into a police state. “It bloody isn’t.”

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