Do British police carry guns?

This is a simple question about a complex and controversial topic. Historically, use of firearms was dependent on the current situation and the nation’s temperament. In the late nineteen hundreds, night patrols were armed. By the turn of the century they were retired. Various conflicts led to officers being armed, but only those trained and the arms had to be issued by a Sergeant. During the Second World War, firearms were issued to those who protected 10 Downing Street and the Royal Family. Also officers were issued arms in case of invasion by German forces. These could not be used on the public for any reason. Post the Second World War concern was raised about the police’s role and use of arms. Over time the number of officers authorized for firearm use dropped from 17% (post-1966) to around 7% (2005). Heavy restrictions on firearms are not just for the police – there are numerous weapons available for purchasing in the US that are illegal to own in the UK. The list in its entirety may be seen in the Firearms Act of 1968.

The increase of registrations by officers is seen in the 1960s due to the high amount of police killings. One of the most infamous examples is the Massacre of Baybrook Street (i.e Shepherd’s Bush murders). Three officers and two others were killed by three criminals after the men were questioned about the lack of a taxi disk. However, after a number of people from the public were killed by police in the 1980s led to the increased restrictions and the drop in officers licensed leading to the low numbers seen today.

Unfortunately, there will sometimes be a need for armored police action. There are Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs). Molded after a system developed in West Yorkshire, they were first introduced to London in 1991. ARVs are clearly marked, specially adapted, and modified for their tasks. Each member carries a Glock handgun and the boot holds two 9mm Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic submachine guns and a Heckler-Koch GC36C assault rifle. However, these are the exception, not the rule. As a standard (excluding Northern Ireland) most UK police do not carry firearms of lethal capacity. According to government figures in 2009 there are 6, 868 officers authorized to use firearms in England and Wales.

Officers do have alternatives to shooting suspects with lethal rounds. These are called “less lethal technologies”. The first is the taser. The Taser X26 has been in use in the UK since 2004. It has a 94% rate of effectiveness and is considered a stun weapon to be used in final resort. The second category is impact rounds. L60A1 Attenuating Energy Projectile (AEP) is in use and has replaced the L21AI baton round and “rubber bullets” (first used in NI in 1973). AEPs are used “to dissuade or prevent a potentially violent person from their intended course of action and thereby neutralise the threat” according to Acop guidelines. These are known for their heavy use during riots, but have also be used on suspects carrying “carrying knives, swords and even firearms”. Finally, chemical incapacitants (CS spray and PAVA spray) are used, but the range is quite limited.

Due to the about of other effective and non-lethal options available to the average officer, I do not think that the use of firearms will become widespread. Currently there is little interest by the police and the public. Overall, the officers do not want to carry arms as they want to “”polic[e] by consent”.




“Firearms Act 1968.” Firearms Act 1968. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014. <;.

Keating, Joshua E. “When Are British Cops Allowed to Carry Guns?” Foreign Policy. N.p., 10 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 May 2014. <;.

National Police Improvement Agency. “Manual of Guidance on the Management, Command and Deployment of Armed Officers.” Association of Police Chief Officers, 2009. Web. 15 May 2014.

Effective from 1 November 2009

“PFOA – Police Firearms Officers Association.” Police Firearms History. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014. <;.

“Q&A: Armed Police in the UK.” BBC News. BBC, 06 Aug. 2010. Web. 15 May 2014.

Rohrer, Finlo. “Is There a True Alternative to Shooting?” BBC News. BBC, 09 Nov. 2008. Web. 15 May 2014.

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