By Brian Robertson
Over the past few years, news headlines have left many Canadians with the perception that gang-related shootings are on the rise and that the police are less and less able to cope with this threat because gang members now routinely wear body armour. These perceptions may or may not be accurate. It depends on which statistics you use and how you interpret them.
By Brian Robertson
What is certain is that one of the results of all of this hype about
gangs, guns and body armour has been the ignition of a public policy
debate. The issue is whether or not various provincial governments
and/or the federal government should introduce laws prohibiting the
possession of body armour by civilians, or at least impose licensing
requirements on the sale, purchase, and/or possession thereof.
The pattern is familiar. Some new threat to the public pops up. Folks
feel insecure. Politicians demand to know why the government isn’t
doing anything. The police tell us it will require political will
and/or legislative reform, and/or bigger budgets, and/or more cops. In
the case of gangs/guns/body armour, what’s required, we are told, is
the licensing or even a prohibition on — body armour.
It’s hard to argue against what the police say. Day in and day out,
the cops stand a much greater risk of being shot by gang members than
most of us do, and it’s hard to vote against any measure that might
reduce by even one the number of cops who have to give their lives in
order to protect ours. It’s hard to argue, unless the reason for
arguing against the new law being proposed is that it won’t actually
save the lives of any cops, because it won’t actually do anything to
solve the problem it purports to solve.
Here’s why. There are, for the purposes of this discussion, four groups of people in the world:
1. Those who are carrying around loaded firearms for lawful purposes (police, armed security, etc).
2. Innocent folk who are not carrying around firearms.
3. Guilty criminals who are not carrying around firearms.
4. Guilty criminals who are carrying around firearms.
The first group should have no restrictions whatsoever imposed on their
ability to protect themselves from harm by wearing body armour. Neither
should group two. Some would argue that ordinary law-abiding citizens
don’t need body armour. Maybe not. But it is not the state’s job to
keep people from doing things that they want to do to protect
themselves just because the state thinks that they don’t need to.
Group three is problematic, but our law is clear. The police can’t gun
down criminals just because they are criminals. Lethal force can only
be used against those who present lethal force. We don’t like
criminals. but in a free and democratic society we don’t want police
shooting unarmed criminals. No public policy is going to be achieved by
preventing unarmed criminals from wearing armour.
Which leaves only the fourth group, and the core of the argument. If
an armed criminal points his gun at a police officer or a civilian, the
police need to be able to shoot him quick and have the result be that
he stops shooting his gun. Body armour can keep that from happening, so
it would be good if armed criminals didn’t wear body armour. Agreed.
Is there anyone who actually believes that a gang member who is
prepared to wander around in public carrying a loaded gun and fire it
at people is going to change his practice of wearing body armour
because the government has passed a law that he needs to have a licence
to wear it? Really?
Body armour can save the life of someone who doesn’t deserve to die.
Proposed laws won’t peel the body armour off of even one single armed
criminal out there. So have we come up with a plan to reduce
gun-related deaths, or to increase them?
Brian Robertson is the president of Diligent Security Training and Consulting.