A southern England police chief’s modest support for civilian self-defense has become the latest lightning rod for what remains of the gun control debate in England.
Alison Hernandez, police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall (rural counties on the island’s southwest tip), appeared on BBC Radio Cornwall with host Lawrence Reed to discuss the police force, budget concerns and terrorism.
The “controversy” began 90 minutes into the show when a self-described firearms dealer named Sarah phoned in to inquire about repercussions if licensed gun owners used firearms to defend themselves against a terror attack.
“That’s a good question!” the commissioner allowed, and asked the caller to put the question in writing for her to address with her superiors. “This might be some of our solution,” she continued, adding she wanted to “officially have a look at that and see what would be the implications of it.”
“The reality is Lawrence, if your community is under attack, people would do all sorts of things to try to save the community.” — Alison Hernandez, police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall“You’re not seriously suggesting that people take to the streets with their own guns?” the incredulous host replied.
“We work with businesses to keep our community safe,” Hernandez replied. “I’d really be interested to explore that with the chief constable.”
Reed then challenged the caller’s abilities, asking “Would you be happy to take on a terrorist with one of your guns?” The woman’s unwavering “yes” left the host speechless as she cited her training and stated she was “spot-on with a pistol.”
“The reality is Lawrence, if your community is under attack, people would do all sorts of things to try to save the community,” Hernandez explained, pointing to community response in recent terror attacks. “People will do incredible things without thinking to protect themselves and people around them.”
Reed expressed doubt that the chief constable would entertain the idea of the public defending themselves with firearms. “I’m sure he wouldn’t want to entertain it,” Hernandez replied, “but these are times that are challenging, and I would like to have an official response on that myself.”
Ironically Reed admitted he owned long guns when he was a youngster on a farm, when “there was obviously a need” to be armed. (Apparently in Reed’s world, rabbits are more of a threat than terrorists.)
The emphatic response from higher-ups? Leave it to the government.
“Under no circumstances would we want members of the public to arm themselves with firearms,” Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton responded in a statement to the media, recycling the myth that “officers responding would not know who the offenders were” and reciting the official admonishment to victims: “Run, hide, tell.”
Hernandez has since taken fire for her remarks, accused of being unfit for duty and called to resign, simply for not condemning the pro-gun caller.
She has since qualified her remarks, stating “I am not advocating the use of firearms or other weapons by members of the public in the event of a terrorist incident. As I have said many times previously, the police instruction to 'run, hide and tell' is the appropriate action and that should be followed. The caller raised a question about what the large number of people who hold legitimate firearms licenses could do in the event of an attack on their community.”
Whether terror attacks or a new rise in acid attacks in the UK, criminals always find ways to achieve their goal.Hernandez added that she still wanted clarification about legal repercussions of civilians shooting terrorists.
Recent attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge have left 35 dead and 215 injured, adding to notable acts in Belgium, Germany and France. Over 700,000 UK residents are licensed to own firearms, with some 50,000 of them in Devon and Cornwall—some of the highest numbers in England. Handguns have been outlawed since 1996.
In January, Czech President Milos Zeman (a Social Democrat and former communist) called for citizens to arm themselves against Islamic terror, with Czech interior minister Milan Chovanec pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow armed civilians to fight back against terrorists, noting that police can’t always prevent such attacks.
Whether terror attacks or a new rise in acid attacks in the UK, criminals always find ways to achieve their goal. In a land where even arming police is a foreign concept, citizens who trust their government and its staunch gun control laws repeatedly find themselves unprotected, and yet frustratingly unwilling to consider allowing targets of these crimes to join the resistance.