Is it time to arm the Gardai?

Here’s a secret: Though the Gardai might try, endlessly, to appear cuddly and friendly, their entire role depends on you being afraid of them. We’ve seen much of that cuddly and friendly image in recent years, from pandemic tiktok dances to rainbow-bedecked patrol cars. But it’s all a myth. If you’re driving in the dark, at night, those blue flashing lights are supposed to inspire a bit of fear. Slow down. Stop. Pray to god your insurance is in date.

What happens when people are no longer afraid of the Gardai? Well, things like this happen:

Tell me, would a Garda be more, or less, likely to be set upon in this manner if they were known to be carrying, on their person, a handgun? And were it known that they are licensed to use it to defend their own safety?

That’s a rhetorical question. You know the answer.

The case against arming Gardai has always been the counterpoint: That armed Gardai are more likely to be on the receiving end of gunfire from armed criminals, who would feel more threatened by an armed Garda. This has always struck me, at least, as mainly nonsensical: Armed criminals already shoot Gardai. Tony Golden, Colm Horkan, and Adrian Donohoe all lost their lives over the last decade at the hands of a criminal with a gun. Several others have been shot at and lived to tell the tale.

We have, in this country, a problem with law and order. That is not in dispute: Look at the footage above, and tell me, with your hand on your heart, whether this kind of thing could take place in a community that fears and respects the police force.

This is not the kind of problem that can be solved with cuddles and outreach and more Garda visits to schools; In many ways the assault videoed above is less disturbing than the fact that it was videoed, and that no member of the public went to the assistance of those being assaulted. If your argument for an unarmed police force is that the Gardai command the respect of the public, the video above is exhibit A in the case that you are delusional.

A primary principle of the law is deterrence. Why do you watch your speed on the motorway? Is it because you think 130kph is too fast, or is it because you fear the speed cameras? Why do you not dodge your taxes? Is it because you think the Government deserves all that money, or is it because you fear the letter in the post bearing an audit?

Why do you not assault a Garda? Is it because you fear being shot?

Hardly.

People who join the Gardai are expected by the state to carry out some of its most unpleasant tasks. They are first on the scene of a murder. They cut young people who have taken their own lives down from trees. They witness scenes that would traumatise the average person. And they are expected to face down and confront drunken and abusive thugs who may be violent, armed with nothing more than the authority of their uniform. We can debate all day and all night about whether arming the Gardai would be best for society, but surely, given what we ask them to do, it is no longer tenable to expect them to face the kind of thing above with no protection for themselves?

As it is, one Garda is in hospital at the time of writing with serious injuries, having been kicked repeatedly in the head. Another is certainly suffering the mental scars of what happened. And a generation of gurriers is learning that the cops are soft targets who can easily be confronted, isolated, and beaten. All the condemnations in the world from politicians will not change that.

And you know what? Sending one or two of the assailants to jail will not change that. For some of these people, jail is an occupational hazard. It is not feared.

Until these people fear the Gardai, and until it is clear that messing with a Gardai has more serious consequences than a chat with Judge Martin Nolan, we shouldn’t expect things to change.

So if it was me, I’d give them glocks. With a licence to use them, in their own defence.

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