And if you have to carry a gun to keep your fragile seat at number one ...

Greg O'Connor thinks the shootings in Ottawa, and the way this was ended, demonstrates the need to routinely arm New Zealand's Police. He's completely wrong about that.

What happened at Canada's war memorial and parliamentary buildings is a pretty Bad Thing. It should, however, be kept in some sort of perspective. 

There are always going to be individuals who pose a danger to others; that wavy line where ideology blurs into mental illness is a fraught place for us as a society. And yes - ISIS/ISIL/IS have provided a very high profile (and message savy) focus for such individuals. So I don't say they pose us no risk of harm or that we should discount the possibility of similar attacks in New Zealand completely.

It seems to me, however, that the greater danger to us lies in overreacting to any threat that a potential "lone wolf" zealot poses by changing our whole social ethos. As John Key has said:

If you weren't prepared to do anything solely on the basis of that (increased risk) then you actually start losing your independent foreign policy because by definition you're saying that the actions of terrorists will stop you standing up to those terrorists and I think that's a dilution of responsibility that New Zealanders wouldn't want to take. 

I'd expand that out beyond foreign policy to a general statement - if we let increased risk start to dictate how we operate as a society in terms of access to our public institutions and the like, then we are no longer acting as an independent nation with our own values and ways of being, and ISIS/ISIL/IS win.

However, for the Police Association and its President Greg O'Connor, the Canadian crisis is just another word for opportunity. In a press release highlighting the fact that delegates at the Association's conference have voted unanimously in favour of allowing police officers to routinely carry firearms on their person, O'Connor is quoted as saying:

On TVNZ this morning, the new minister gave his view, that Police do not need to be armed,  while standing on the forecourt of parliament.  The dark irony was that the interview followed immediately after breaking news of a gunman running amok in the Canadian parliament in Ottawa. Police in that country are armed and were able to respond immediately.  That would not be the case here.

 O'Connor then reiterated that claim on Radio NZ's Morning Report this morning:

Mr O'Connor said having firearms locked up was not helpful in an unpredictable situation like the shootings in Canada yesterday.

OK, then - let's take O'Connor at his word and use the Canadian example as an exemplar case for whether or not routinely armed police officers is necessary. The first point we might note is that the offender in the Canadian attack was not stopped by a police officer at all. It was Kevin Vickers, the Canadian Parliament's sergeant-at-arms, who did so. Sure, he was an ex-Mountie, but the notion that having armed police on the streets of Canada was instrumental in halting the actions of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is plain false.

And how exactly did Mr Vickers manage to shoot and kill Mr Zehaf-Bibeau? Did he simply reach for his hip and pull out the ever-present glock/magnum/colt (I don't know much about guns) from its holster? No. No he didn't.

By all accounts, the white-haired grandfather, a decorated veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, kept cool amid the chaos as dozens of bullets flew in the corridors, went to his office, retrieved his weapon and with a firm hand and a steely eye shot a killer before he could kill again.

In other words, he did exactly what an officer in New Zealand would do when reacting to an armed offender - went to retrieve the necessary tools to deal with the situation from their secure location and then used them to stop the danger to himself and others.

So if Canada really is going to inform our debate, rather than simply be an convenient high-profile incident for Mr O'Connor and his Association to exploit cynically in order to advance their agenda, then the message it sends is that New Zealand's current approach is the right one to take

Oh - one more thing. If we're going to use indvidual cases like Canada (or, more relevantly this or this) to argue in favour of arming the police, then we also have to confront cases like the one just reported on by the Independent Police Complaints Authority:

An Independent Police Conduct Authority report released today has found that the use of a Police dog during the arrests of two young men was an excessive use of force and unlawful.


The officer and his dog tracked the man and found him hiding in a gap between a shed and a fence in the back corner of a Godley Road section.  The officer then deployed his dog and commanded him to bite and hold the offender.

“The officer’s use of his dog in this instance was an excessive and unlawful use of force.

“Given that the offender was standing still with both hands in the air and making no attempt to resist arrest the deployment of the dog was unnecessary. There were other, less harmful tactical options available to the officer which he should have used rather than deploying the Police dog,” Sir David said.

I assume that the only reason this officer is not being charged with assault using a weapon, as happens whenever a member of the public encourages his or her dog to attack the police, is that the victims of the attack are refusing to communicate with the Police at all. Because it would be worrying if the Police were applying a double standard here: that where dogs are unlawfully used against them, it's a serious criminal matter; but if they themselves unlawfully use dogs against the public, it's simply a matter of "employment actions reinforcing police policy and the importance of good decision-making around the appropriate use of dogs and other tactical options."

But to get back to my original point - any decision whether or not to give the police immediate and constant access to firearms when confronting any and all alleged offenders has to take account not only of the danger to police, but also the danger that the police themselves can pose. 

At the moment, a bad apple cop with pepper spray/taser/dog equals sore eyes/jolting pain and incapacitation/stitches and a tetnus shot. But a bad apple cop with gun on hip equals a dead person.