It was a simple enough idea: to test whether the routine deployment of police officers with firearms necessarily makes the community and the police themselves safer. We compared four similar-sized jurisdictions, two where operational police routinely carry firearms (Toronto in Canada and Brisbane in Australia); two where they do not (Auckland in New Zealand and Manchester in England). As is often the case, there were many hurdles and complexities which separated the idea from its realisation, but eventually we set out a solid, evidence-based analysis in our book Do Police Need Guns? (Evans & Farmer, 2021). There is, we found, no clear, unambiguous evidence to demonstrate that deploying routinely armed police officers increases safety, either for the wider community or for police themselves. This conclusion came with a frank acknowledgement:
“We do not pretend that this book has done anything more than begin an important conversation. Our hope is that other researchers will look at the experience of policing in many different places, and in a range of ways, to build a body of empirically derived, testable knowledge which can be used to inform police, policy makers and the wider community.”(Evans and Farmer 2021, p. 140).
Genuinely international in its scope, Policing & Firearms: New Perspectives and Insights brings together contributors from Ireland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Venezuela, New Zealand, Australia and Canada explore issues around policing and firearms from a range of perspectives. The collection explores policing and firearms, and intersections with human rights, militarisation, risk and legitimacy.
One theme which quickly emerges is that the relationship between policing and firearms is complicated and varied. Even the notion of ‘non routinely-armed’ police is problematic, with any presumed binary distinction between routinely armed and unarmed breaking down under close scrutiny. Public perceptions and expectations of policing and police officers vary from place to place. Similarly, policing and the use of and attitudes to firearms vary enormously between and within communities. Much more research is needed to continue to explore the complex and nuanced relationship between policing and firearms, but we hope that this collection represents a fascinating and enlightening first step.
One of the chapter authors, Dr Vicky Conway, died unexpectedly just before the book went to press. Dr Conway was a highly respected scholar and passionate campaigner for social justice and police accountability. Her untimely passing has shocked her family, friends and colleagues around the world. This collection is respectfully dedicated to her memory.