Gun owners could help fight terror attack, says police commissioner
Steven Morris www.theguardian.com 12/06/2017
A police commissioner has caused alarm among rank and file officers by suggesting that members of the public who own guns could help defend rural areas against terror attacks. Alison Hernandez, the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner, said she was interested in having a conversation with the chief constable about whether ordinary people with gun licences could assist in a terrorist crisis.
The comments have caused alarm within the force and prompted a stern warning from a senior officer that citizens should not arm themselves.
Hernandez, a former Conservative election agent, made her comments during an extraordinary exchange with a caller to a phone-in programme on BBC Radio Cornwall. The caller, from Bude in north Cornwall, said she was a gun owner and a former firearms dealer and asked: “If there should ever be a terrorist attack, what happens if I and other people try to defend themselves using those guns? What would be the repercussions?”
Hernandez replied that it was a “a very good question” and asked the woman if she would put it in writing so that the chief constable, Shaun Sawyer, could consider it. But she then added: “This might be some of our solution to our issues.”
When challenged by presenter Laurence Reed if she was advocating vigilantism, Hernandez replied: “I’m just saying, let’s officially have a look at that and see what would be the implications of it. Let’s unpick it a little bit.
“We work with businesses to keep our communities safe. I’d really be interested in exploring that with the chief constable.”
The presenter asked the caller if she would be happy taking on a terrorist. She replied: “Yes,” prompting Hernandez to remark: “She’s not messing about. Don’t go down to Bude.”
The presenter said he could not believe the chief constable would entertain the idea of the public defending themselves with firearms. Hernandez replied: “I’m sure he wouldn’t want to entertain it, but these are times that are challenging and I would like to have an official response on that myself.”
The official response came swiftly from the deputy chief constable, Paul Netherton, who said: “Quite obviously, a marauding terrorist is the most challenging of circumstances. The police response requires significant professionalism and training as well as firearms capability. During these incidents, highly trained police firearms officers and special forces will be deployed to protect our communities.
“Under no circumstances would we want members of the public to arm themselves with firearms, not least because officers responding would not know who the offenders were, and quite obviously they would not have the time to ask. Our message to the public is a simple one: to run, to hide and to tell.”
Rank and file officers also made it clear that they did not believe it was a good idea for members of the public to take up arms. Janice Adam, from the Police Federation, said reacting to and dealing with any such incidents should be left to highly specialised firearms officers. There was no reply from Hernandez’ office on Monday evening.
Owl’s comment at the time:
When your local newspaper runs articles like this, you know that there is a serious problem. It really is time for this incompetent and rather witless person to be replaced.
“Devon and Cornwall Police Commissioner Alison Hernandez has been embroiled in controversy ever since her appointment to the post last year.
She caused consternation yesterday when she said members of the public with guns could form ‘some of our solution’ to terrorism in isolated rural areas.
I gather Ms Hernandez is calling for someone to be disciplined over the Keyham tragedy-but not her.
These 2017 comments gave us a great insight into what sort of Commissioner she might become. Sadly she was plainly ignorant in a number of areas that she should have mastered.
Her job is to support the police and fire service, to equip both with adequate staff and the resources needed to perform their duties.
Is it not common sense to have some knowledge of the police roles that one overseas, especially topical serious issues?
In relation to her giving consideration to Firearm Certificate Holders (FAC) perhaps having a role alongside the police response to terrorism, she demonstrated how dangerously little she knows about firearms law and police practices. Thankfully senior officers dismissed the notion-and far more gently than she deserved.
The Firearms Act ’68 is one of many Acts that lays down duties but does little or nothing to enable those duties to be supported with funding the appropriate resources. The Act, and to my mind this is one of its greatest failings, effectively requires a chief officer (or now a nominated deputy) to issue a FAC unless he/she can show it is inappropriate. It does not require the individual to prove he/she is an appropriate person . I think it’s time to reverse that onus from the police to the applicant.
When certificates are issued there are inevitably conditions attached as well as restrictions from other laws that may apply in certain circumstances. For example you cannot simply take a firearm anywhere to use it, its use will be limited to say a particular shooting club or specified farmland. Unless a FAC holder had an additional condition allowing him/her to use when assisting police (an absolute non-starter), to do what Ms Hernandez contemplates, and all other issues aside, it would in itself be a criminal offence resulting in a court hearing, likely conviction and seizure of the firearms held. That is a measure of how naïve she is on the subject.
Davison may not have been processed properly but we all know from history that people can change and quickly become dangerous. I was loosely connected with the Hungerford incident in 1987 when 16 innocents were killed by a man, Michael Ryan, who held firearms 100% lawfully under the law as applied at that time.
Managing the response was immensely challenging and I dread to think how much worse it would be if civvie armed FAC holders had also been present. And, like it or not, the police must consider the shooter and in GB terms, so very differently from that seen on US TV. The force sniper on that Hungerford occasion, now sadly no longer with us, had Ryan in his sights but didn’t shoot him. Asked why he gave a powerful reply revealing what an expert and remarkable man he was, ‘I am not an executioner. At the time he was in my sights but he was not a threat to anyone else”. Can you imagine any civvie FAC holder being so well-informed and so disciplined to properly assess and apply the law?
The Keyham case has made plain, again, the need for sufficient resources to apply the Act (as it stands today), and that such resources have not been available for many a year. Ms Hernandez must bear a good deal of responsibility for that.
The PCC says she has given more resources to the department but are we are not entitled to ask what additional resources she made available to the D&C FAC dept before Keyham?