Background

In a country with similar demographics to Switzerland, the gun ownership is high for the population (60 - 70 guns per hundred people) while the police force are not armed on a regular basis and have small armed police units (armed response) that will tackle gun crime.

There is a low level of crime at this point due to the ban on firearms recently being lifted (all weapons are allowed under the law in this fictitious country, with the exception of explosives).

How would a country such as the one described police this country where there is high gun ownership?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – L.Dutch Sep 21 at 3:29
  • As you are using Switzerland as an example: I'm quite sure that you could police Switzerland with a police force that isn't armed by default (something like the British system maybe). Shootings in Switzerland are really quite rare, most of them will make national headlines... – fgysin Sep 25 at 16:12
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    You can't take your guns home with you in Switzerland. They stay locked up and must be used only in case of national emergency. Also: "there is a low level of crime at this point due to the ban on firearms recently being lifted". Travel around South America. You will see that this train of thought does not hold. It is actually the opposite that is true. – Renan Oct 10 at 11:35
  • @Renan I think he means that crime at this point is low, with the high possibility of an increase very soon after the ban is lifted – Sydney Sleeper Oct 11 at 1:16
up vote 45 down vote accepted

Domestic Disturbance

Most police occurrences are not violent crimes, your cops would be trained to descalate situations, act as a mediator between the people, and know how to administer first aid.

Forget the idea of the armed, armored military police kicking doors and shooting at suspects, you will have the friendly cop next door, they guy that should know everyone on his patrol route and is always ready to lend a helping hand.

There will be some cops trained to respond to violent crimes, but those will be a small force of highly trained specialists, maybe even attached to the armed forces.

Free Drugs

Lots of countries have showed the positive effects of having legalized drugs avaible to the population, besides this would allow your police force to avoid wasting time with teenagers that decided to smoke some weed.

Guns, not ammo

If you are following Switzerland style, you could have citzens allowed to have any weapons they desire, but ammo is highly regulated and most people would be able to have ammo only in shooting clubs.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – L.Dutch Sep 20 at 11:10
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    I'm not sure you can count domestic disturbances as a safe bet for unarmed officers to deal with. At least in the United States, domestic disturbances rank among the most deadly calls an officer can respond to. Emotional/abusive situations and readily available firearms can make for a rather dangerous combination. – Serlite Sep 20 at 16:07
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    When you say "domestic disturbance", you mean to say "noise complaint" and "fence location disputes". You absolutely do not mean domestic disturbances. An unarmed person walking into a domestic disturbance trying to "deescalate" is a fantastic recipe for at least one person to end up dead. EMTs, for example, regularly get hurt when trying to take an abused person to hospital for treatment, and they're literally objectively just helping. If you have someone trying to force a compromise with the authority of the state behind them, it's going to go badly. – Nic Hartley Sep 20 at 16:30

Deputize the citizenry.

deputized! http://mayberry.wikia.com/wiki/Goodbye,_Sheriff_Taylor

A police officer can deputize citizens for extra help.

http://thelegalgeeks.com/2015/08/11/bat-jim-is-the-hero-we-deserve/

Private persons may assist law-enforcement officers in effecting arrests and preventing escapes from custody when requested to do so by the officer. When so requested, a private person has the same authority to effect an arrest or prevent escape from custody as the officer making the request. He does not incur civil or criminal liability for an invalid arrest unless he knows the arrest to be invalid. Nothing in this subsection constitutes justification for willful, malicious or criminally negligent conduct by such person which injures or endangers any person or property, nor shall it be construed to excuse or justify the use of unreasonable or excessive force.

In your world, if a law and order matter requires firearms, there is fortunately a large body of armed private citizens that the unarmed officer can deputize to help in the matter. Carrying a weapon means consenting to be deputized to use it in time of civic need.

If you deputize a number of individuals this might be equivalent to raising a militia.

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    "Carrying a weapon means consenting to be deputized to use it in time of civic need." - There is no need for that (also that is sudden stroke of unreasonable coercion). People who care about something dangerous or criminal occurring in their neighborhood are likely to voluntarily go or join and resolve the issue. I for one am somebody like that, and yes, recently something occurred and I grabbed a weapon to ensure that I have the option to act according to the situation if needed. And I wasn't there alone either. Force me however, and consider me your enemy instead. – Battle Sep 20 at 8:47
  • @Battle I wouldn't consider it unreasonable coercion. You have tools that can be used to help society; it's not evil to demand that, when the time comes, you use them for that purpose. That said, yes, you could probably count on citizens voluntarily helping, but then it'd be like the draft (in theory): Used when it's absolutely necessary, but in all other times it's disabled and entirely voluntary. You'd also need "reasonable refusal" provisions (you can ask someone to tackle someone else, not clear a house with armed domestic terrorists room-by-room) – Nic Hartley Sep 20 at 16:35
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    @NicHartley It is absolutely unreasonable to demand a private citizen be required to risk life and limb as a normal, daily requirement. Submitting every moment of my life to the commands of a ruling class is serfdom at best, slavery at worst. We should seek to minimize what citizens are required to do, not maximize it for what rulers believe is "good." To be clear here, that "demand" is backed by the threat of government punishment; it is not merely a statement of your desire that could in practice be refused. – jpmc26 Sep 20 at 18:53
  • @NicHartley - jpmc26 pointed it out well. "tools that can be used to help society" - That's a collectivist term, how do you want to know what the "higher good" of society is? What if coercion and violence used against individuals for whatever purpose is actually bad for the society? History proved that the societies most concerned with the "higher good" of society (communism, fascism) were the most terrible, warmongering and genocidal ones. Maybe we should be more considerate about what is good for society... what if individualism and voluntarism is the best (which capitalism proved to be)? – Battle Sep 21 at 12:29
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    @Battle I like how you took my point about "you can use things to help people" and equated that statement with mass murder. That's, obviously, not at all what I wrote, so I'd suggest re-reading my comment and trying again. – Nic Hartley Sep 21 at 19:03

In a "Switzerland like nation", there might be a cultural way of explaining this.

In the real Switzerland, there is a universal draft for all male citizens. If you are not a conscientious objector (can't remember the proper term in Switzerland), then you receive standard military training and are issued an automatic rifle. Once you complete your term of service, you are released to the Reserve and take your automatic rifle home with you. I'm not clear if this has changed, but it also used to be common for each citizen solder to have 200 rounds of ammunition at home. They were encouraged to go to the local range and practice, and could purchase replacement rounds at a low cost to keep their stockpile at home to 200 rounds.

The Swiss Citizen Militia means the population has an almost 100% availability of automatic firearms among the population (even the United States has nowhere near that availability of automatic firearms, so called "assault weapons" is a scare term to describe semi automatic firearms derived from AR-15 platforms), yet some of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world. This is largely because each citizen has been carefully instructed and drilled in the proper use of firearms through military service.

When the United States was more rural in nature (really up until the 1950's), most homes had firearms of some sort, hunting rifles or shotguns. Proper use of firearms was a family responsibility, with fathers, uncles and grandparents teaching their children and minor family members (usually through taking them hunting). In fact, this can be found in other places and times, if you read Conan-Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" stories, Watson is routinely armed, and there are some occasions where they actually access firearms or armed help from other people in London, England. Try doing that now and it will be a different story.

So an armed population does not necessarily equate to a dangerous one, so long as firearms owners are trained and educated in the proper use of firearms. The police in Switzerland are not alarmed in any way that any house they visit has an automatic rifle (they have one too), because they have a virtual certainty that the owner is a responsible citizen.

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    Yes, the obvious answer is "the way Switzerland does it"... – RonJohn Sep 20 at 11:25
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    Most rural homes still have several firearms in them. I have family who live on a ranch; they have a short-barreled AR-15 to get coyotes out of their fields (usually the loud noise is enough, but some refuse to take the hint and need to be shot to stop killing livestock, and you definitely can't safely and easily do that with any other weapon from a car). They also have a high-caliber hunting rifle, an old lever-action for fun target shooting, and two .22LR rifles to train kids on how to safely and responsibly handle firearms. That's not a large number, either, compared to their neighbors. – Nic Hartley Sep 20 at 16:42
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    I was commenting on the fact your situation described the majority of American households even into the 1950's. The large number of gun owners and the multi generational teaching of firearms safety and use meant that the United States was also generally safe, and indeed when you look at very detailed statistics, you discover that the high rate of American gun crime is actually concentrated in a few urban areas (and indeed a few neighbourhoods of these cities) – Thucydides Sep 20 at 17:09
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    Why does every discussion of Switzerland in regard to armed crime focus exclusively on the "armed" part with not even a mention of the "crime" part? Isn't the latter going to be where we find the larger and more significant differentiating factors? – HonoredMule Sep 20 at 20:55
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    Note that this answer has some basic facts about gun ownership in Switzerland wrong: most of firearms in possession are actually semi-automatic; getting your service weapon after training is just an option that still requires obtaining a permit first (which are not granted to those with mental illness, criminal record, known alcohol or drug abuse); the practice of handing out ammo has ceased (and it was in a sealed box and subject to inspections), etc. Disqualification factors for gun permits are probably the most important reason here (and that you keep the weapon at home, not carry around) – Denis Sep 21 at 12:00

The country could be policed just like any other country.

Police: Hey you, stop right there!

Pedestrian: What is the problem, sir?

Police: That was an illegal jaywalk you just performed. Do you have a license to perform illegal jaywalks?

Pedestrian: Why yes, sir, I do. Here you go, have a look at this.

Police: This license is expired! You are under arrest for "jaywalking with an invalid license." Put your hands behind your back.

Pedestrian does so.

Police cuffs and jails the heinous criminal.

Just like that.

A high percentage of gun ownership among the populace does not change anything that just happened. Most of the time, the firearm possessed by police does not even enter the equation and has no part in an event.

Potential problems?

Now let us examine the other extreme, where someone might think this could actually be a problem.

Assume a violent criminal possesses a firearm and that the law enforcement officer does not. This is the scenario in which trouble could arise. But think about that statement for a moment... "a violent criminal possesses a firearm." If this person is a violent criminal, then the fact that firearms are entirely legal is irrelevant. This person very well might have a firearm even if they were not legal.

So the exchange which could be problematic is not unique to a country where a pedestrian has a gun but police do not. In fact, this situation actually happens in reality. I recall an event, in London if I recall, a few years back in which two criminals were armed with a knife and a gun, and the local police, being unarmed, could do nothing but shout at them until the armed police unit arrived. The criminals were free to shoot at everyone until that time.

Potential benefits?

Now let's look at this from a different angle, about the possible benefit.

In the situation I mentioned in London, if a nearby pedestrian was armed with a gun, they could have helped the defenseless police instead of waiting and risking more lives. Or, if it is illegal in your hypothetical country for a pedestrian to do this, they could hand their gun over to the unarmed police to use in this life threatening situation, expecting it back after.

In fact, armed civilians have helped police in the past. There are instances of criminals attacking police and having them pinned down, where some nearby pedestrian has shot the criminal and saved the police.

Also, in a famous case where a pair of robbers wearing heavy full body armor were in a shootout with police, the police shots were not harming the criminals because of their heavy body armor. The police needed something better, and a local gun shop nearby handed over higher powered weapons for the police to use in the fight.

Also, in countries where firearms are illegal, the crime rates are generally not lower. Some people claim otherwise, pointing to gun-specific crimes being down, but the violent crime rates overall are generally not lower. In some such places, the crime rates are even higher, and interviewed criminals in prison have stated that they feel safer committing their crimes in those areas because they know the populace are not armed.

Conclusion

So how could they police the country? Well, they could allow civilians to take part in the policing. Or there could be a law that anyone who is armed and not in immediate danger must surrender their weapon to the police to use against a nearby threat (or it could just be a voluntary thing).

This could be a good thing as well, as it could help to reduce abuse by police. In most situations, the police are armed and those they are interacting with are not, so the police are able to easily bully people. This happens often. If you get too far out of line, they will draw their weapons. If they get too far out of line and you respond in your defense, they will draw their weapons. In your situation, people would be more free from the threat of police violence.

If you have a responsible populace, similar to Switzerland, this will likely be a more peaceful and safe place to live than what most of us are used to.

Some points to consider

Alexander asks,

"The problem here is not the legality of firearms, it's abundance of them. In day-to-day operations, police has to react to a number of incidents. Some of those incidents are involving guns. If number of those incidents are high (more than armed policemen can handle), should police dispatch unarmed officers to deal with them?"

That is a good question.

That depends on what you mean by "involving guns." If guns are being fired at people, then no, sending unarmed officers is just dumb. If by "involving guns" you mean "Police are responding to a non-violent crime, and the suspect just happens to have a pistol at their side or a rifle over their back," assuming you have a mature population, then yes, go ahead and send unarmed officers. The suspect is armed. So what? Police deal with armed suspects all the time without even knowing it in US states where open carry is illegal and everyone carries concealed; that has not been problematic.


Based on comments, I think there might be some confusion about my stance.

Obviously, it would be dumb to enter a dangerous situation while unprepared for it. I am often the first to say that we should be prepared for anything. I do not think it is wise to force the general police to be unarmed. The question states that there are unarmed police, so I am answering from that reality.

What I said is only meant to apply to people who have not been identified as violent. If you have any reason at all to believe that there could be violence, then yes it would be dumb to be unarmed. But the mere presence of a gun is not reason to believe that there could be violence. If the jaywalker in my answer's example had an AK-47 over their back but acted friendly, there is no reason to assume the worst. If they are known violent, or acting aggressive, or performed some worse crime that tends to lead to violence, I'd be concerned.

Similarly, if I was in Switzerland I would not feel in danger responding to a call where the suspect was armed but not deemed violent; but if I was in Mexico or certain Middle East areas or a known dangerous section of a major metropolitan area, I would feel in danger responding to any call, whether I knew a gun was present or not and I would not go unarmed.

Common sense is necessary. One of my points is just that the mere presence of a gun is not, in and of itself, cause for alarm. The appropriate response would be situational.

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    The problem here is not the legality of firearms, it's abundance of them. In day-to-day operations, police has to react to a number of incidents. Some of those incidents are involving guns. If number of those incidents are high (more than armed policemen can handle), should police dispatch unarmed officers to deal with them? – Alexander Sep 19 at 18:20
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    By "involving guns" I mean that suspect(s) is considered "armed and dangerous". Also, having a "mature population" can be a key to success here, but I am afraid that in the context of this particular question, country's population has no culture of gun ownership. – Alexander Sep 19 at 18:52
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    @Alexander I read the question as meaning that gun ownership was high, and now a certain weapon ban has been lifted, meaning that people will own even more guns and more types of guns. If it is stating that the country is shifting from an English style of "Guns are practically banned" to a Swiss style, then things might be different, though I would still stand by my answer in general and merely admit it's even more uncertain. Also, in that case OP needs to explain why gun ownership is already so high; did everyone already own guns, just illegally? I'll ask OP. – Aaron Sep 19 at 19:01
  • @Aaron: I think Alexander's point is more that knowingly sending an unarmed officer to deal with a (likely) armed suspect can be considered reckless endangerment by the police department. Simply put: how many unarmed police officers need to get shot by armed civilians before you (the police department/government) decide to no longer send unarmed police to their nigh inevitable deaths? – Flater Sep 20 at 6:48
  • @Flater If that were the case, it would require the false assumption that sending an unarmed officer to deal with an armed suspect is somehow inherently dangerous just because of the mere presence of a gun. I would disagree with that assumption, it is proven wrong daily, it's not "inevitable death". If you live in the US, you pass by armed civilians on a regular basis even if you are not aware of that fact. Alex did note though "armed and dangerous", so, assuming he truly means an irrational, violent person with a gun, I agree with you and stated that sending unarmed police would be dumb. – Aaron Sep 20 at 15:50

This is the non-USA reality (more or less)

Aaron has pretty much nailed it in his answer. Looking at Australia - an incident in which a police officer draws a firearm on duty is highly likely to make the national news and will definitely involve paperwork for the officer involved. An incident in which anyone is actually shot by the police (fatally or otherwise) always make national headlines. Given how often they are used, Australian police firearms are a psychological rather than a physical weapon.

However, there are relatively few incidences of firearms violence, despite:

  • the average beat cop being a mediocre marksmanship (trust me - I used to compete against them in inter-services pistol competitions)
  • the vast majority of privately owned firearms in Australia are rifles or shotguns, meaning that if firearms ever are involved the average beat cop is outgunned and definitely outranged

While the laws regarding gun ownership became relatively draconian following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, private firearm ownership (both legal and illegal) continues. The key differences with the United States are:

  • Firearms are socially unacceptable in most locales. No one openly carries firearms in public except for police and security guards for armoured cars. (Most private security are not allowed to carry firearms.) Even the military keep their weapons out of sight most of the time outside of training areas.
  • Firearms ownership laws are not the same as firearms carriage laws. Laws can allow the populace to own rifles, but this does not stop laws requiring those rifles to be securely locked in a safe while stored or in a locked container while in transit and only brought out for cleaning or actual use on a designated range or permitted hunting area.
  • Massive police response. As stated above, most civilians with firearms (legal or illegal) will have firepower that outguns what the poorly armed, indifferently trained beat cops or (mostly) unarmed security guards have available. So police and private security training is focused on calling for backup immediately. If the threat cannot be talked down immediately, this means that almost any firearm threat will result in a special response group being called out. In extreme situations (terrorism or something that looks like it) the police can call on special forces - no constitutional rules against that in Australia or most other countries. The criminals know that open possession of firearms will draw down more heat than they want, so they generally avoid it.
  • Police culture. Australian police officers do not go for their guns except in extremis. As Sasha noted, police are trained to de-escalate situations by talking people down. If force is necessary it is far easier to justify use of pepper spray or a baton at the inevitable subsequent enquiry. (Australian police are not all saints and there are abuses, but firearm involvement in those is very rare.)

In fact one positive aspect for police in the proposed country with widespread private firearms ownership would hopefully be a more educated populace. The majority of Australians have knowledge of firearms based on what they see in Hollywood productions, leading to ridiculous criticisms when police do use firearms. ("Why didn't the policeman shoot the gun out of his hand instead of killing him?" "Why did they shoot someone who only had a knife charging them at short range?") Better education would hopefully alleviate at least some ignorance in the media and their audience.

In summary - policing a country with widespread firearms ownership is quite feasible with low levels of police armament with the right cultural foundation.

  • "Even the military keep their weapons out of sight most of the time outside of training areas." This needs to be standard across the world. This is somewhat off-topic, but in Italy, the military keep their weapons not only out but held horizontally, flagging everyone who walked by. (Also, it's good to see ridiculous "in the moment things were clearly as easy and obvious as they are now, two weeks after the fact, talking about it in comfy chairs" isn't just an American thing) – Nic Hartley Sep 20 at 16:48
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    "Massive police response" -- it doesn't matter what the individual police have. It matters if they can escalate faster than the criminal organization at any scale. If the police has a gun and the criminal doesn't; satisfied. If the police has 3 friends with guns but the criminal is alone. If the police have a swat team and there are 5 armed criminals. If the police have a squad of 100 armed officers and the criminals have 20. If the police call in the local guard militia and the criminals have 1000 armed people. If the police call in the entire army vs a city in revolt. – Yakk Sep 20 at 19:31
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    @NicHartley Agree sweeping everyone you walk past would make me cringe. As for keeping weapons out of sight, not so much. In general, out of sight doesn't make anyone safer, and it leads to the mistaken idea that nobody is carrying firearms. People who call the police because "I just saw a guy with a gun!" don't seem to realize they walk past people with concealed guns all the time. So it gives people the mistaken notion that a person with a gun is inherently dangerous. – Aaron Sep 20 at 20:08
  • @Aaron Please re-read my comment. I said the military should keep their guns out of sight, not everyone. It's uncomfortable enough having uniformed military personnel patrolling the streets; they don't need a fully-kitted-out, presumably fully-loaded, fully-automatic rifle in their arms, too. Also, in retrospect, "weapons" is probably broad -- it's more the big, overpenetrating-caliber rifles I don't want in the middle of a densely populated city. – Nic Hartley Sep 20 at 20:14
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    @NicHartley I understood the first time; agree horizontal is not acceptable, but I'm fine with public display in a reasonable manner (eg: not sweeping everyone with every turn). That goes for everyone: military, police, civilian, otherwise. Slung vertical over the back is preferable. I also agree with your statement about "overpenetrating-caliber rifles". I'm fine with friendly neighbors walking around town with ak47, or 50-cal, or a shotgun over the shoulder in the country, but that is a bad idea in the city where you'll hit the target and put holes through the next few buildings behind it. – Aaron Sep 20 at 21:50

Assuming you're looking for a fictional answer, here's one from a near future.

Assume:

  • Everyone well-identified (RFID or equivalent, plus facial recognition and biometrics)
  • Internet everywhere (perpetually tracking the location of every identified person)
  • A cashless society; with transactions permitted/authenticated based on "who you are" (and not so much on "what you have" -- so that unlike cash and so on it can't be stolen)

The penalties for being a criminal are then higher, IMO, almost insurmountable:

  • Easy to show that it was you who done it
  • A court order or arrest warrant could cut you off from any and all social commerce (shopping, food, lodging, public and private buildings and transportation vehicles) -- and dispatch a SWAT team to your location whenever you show up on the grid, if you were a fugitive

This could be especially so if you were a violent criminal (using a "gun" to resist law enforcement).

An outlaw would have to, I don't know, maybe, live in the woods like Robin Hood or some kind of cave man -- that's not really feasible IMO, especially given modern surveillance tech.


Another option (is this one even more utopic?) might be to ensure that the entire populace is wealthy, healthy, fairly happy, well-educated, fairly drug-free, treated for mental illness, and civic-minded (is that Switzerland again?), maybe they'd be mostly law-abiding of their own accord.


Hurry up with self-driving cars. Nearly half of the criminal convictions in Switzerland appears to be for "Major Violation of Traffic Laws"; if people stopped driving maybe that problem would go away.

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    Excellent, particularly if the penalties for provable murder via gun are quick and decisive. Any killing of any person with a gun is automatic and immediate. If they were shown to be robbing you, you might get some level of leniency, and if they were threatening you with a gun, perhaps you just call it even. In the highly monitored future we are barreling towards, this kind of thing would be very possible (and you said not all cops had guns, meaning an enforcement team DOES have guns and ways to subdue offenders quickly). This society must value life above belongings though or it won't work – Bill K Sep 20 at 21:45

I don't see how such a situation would arise in the first place.

If you look at the world ranking of estimated civilian guns per capita, you'll note that it's the United States and then everyone else. Switzerland, incidentally, which is frequently brought up has a lower rate than Canada, which some people (ie, Americans) overestimate when it comes to gun control. Anyway, if you're talking about a modern country, the majority of people would live in cities and quite honestly owning a gun in an urban is more bother than it's worth, especially if, as stated, a gun ban was recently lifted. Some people may rush out to get a firearm just because, but the majority of people in cities would not. So it's difficult to see how the ownership number would get so high.

Moreover, there is no way in hell there'd be freedom to own everything save explosives. Again, the United States (or at least some components of it) are very much the exception in the breadth of firearms allowed on the civilian market. For essentially everyone else there'd be restrictions on firearms in place, and I don't see how your country would be any different.

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    Something probably worth considering is that the United States likely has a very high, relatively, number of guns per gun owner, with many gun owners having quite a few. I think that Switzerland has a lower number of guns per gun owner, and therefore a higher percentage of gun owners. That is, a higher percentage of people in Switzerland own guns than in the United States, with each gun owner owning fewer guns on average than a United States gun owner. – Aaron Sep 19 at 23:55
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    Concerning explosives, interesting to note even explosives are not necessarily illegal in the United States. Some states require licensing, but my understanding is it is legal in some US states to own some types of explosives without any permits or licenses. I have seen YouTube videos of ordering materials sold with the explicit purpose of making explosives and using it to blow stuff up on their property. If you think about it, it's not as insane as it sounds: bombs are actually easier to make than guns, so why bother outlawing? Anyone holding a full gas can is holding a potential bomb. – Aaron Sep 20 at 0:00
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    @Aaron That's correct! Fireworks, for example, are explosives, and not even very carefully regulated, and gunpowder can be bought online IIRC (to be fair, that's not technically an explosive, but it's close enough to make no bones for most). That's not to mention gasoline, which you can go to any gas station and buy large quantities of without even showing an ID; all it takes is an air pump and a perfume bottle and you can make a gigantic fireball. – Nic Hartley Sep 20 at 16:46
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    From a historical POV, Americans were once able to own full arsenals of military equipment. One of the early battles which triggered the American Revolutionary War was the British coming to confiscate people's cannons. Weapons are inanimate objects, and a sufficiently provoked or deranged person can commit mass murder with a baseball bat, a car, a can of gasoline or other readily available implements, so the issue should focus on people, rather than objects. – Thucydides Sep 20 at 17:14
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    No dice. Almost all of the mass murders here in Canada have been committed by implements other than guns (@ 35 people were killed by an arsonist using a can of gasoline to set a fire at the entrance of a Montreal nightclub, for example). You are trying to conflate the act of murder with the tools used to commit the act. – Thucydides Sep 20 at 17:36

Note that the sentencing from criminal offences is likely to affect how even relatively dangerous criminal react to police. If you are already going to face decades in prison for, let's say burglary, shooting a cop is basically nothing on top of that. After all, humans live relatively short time, longer sentences after a while are all basically just the same for the criminal.

So if we compare two situations: Caught criminal is either likely to be shot by an armed cop or face very long sentence or caught criminal is not going to be shot by cop and will face more manageable sentence, the criminal in first example has high motivation to actually shoot the cop. In the second example, there is not much to win for the criminal by shooting the cop, especially if that crime is still punished relatively strictly.

That in addition factors mentioned in other answers can make the situation feasible.

  • This answer is very good. Guns are tools, the human behind it is the problem. Our legal system often gives the criminal such a Hobson's choice. Violent crime should be vigorously prosecuted... Nonviolent crime should be handed leniently in comparison. This would probably resolve much violent crime as the cost for using a gun compared to not would be very high. – Zoey Boles Sep 21 at 17:17

During the preceding years, the populace became overwhelmingly law-abiding, which means that the police also became overwhelmingly law-abiding (because getting the former without the latter is a trick nobody has been able to pull off).

So now even though anyone who took it into their minds could mow down the first few cops who tried to restrain him, very few people will.

I cannot point you to a reference—and therefore this tale may be fictitious—but I did read an anecdote in which a group of buddies were riding around town (in Africa, IIRC) in a convertible, drinking and yukking it up and being generally disruptive. A policeman approached them and told them that their behavior was unacceptable and that they were to settle down and be quiet if they knew what was good for them. The buddies complied and during the entire exchange spoke to the policeman with all of the courtesy they could muster.

The policeman was the only person in the encounter who was not armed.

That's the picture of a law-abiding nation.


Addendum

I'm going to go out a bit farther and say that policing a state with unarmed police requires a populace that is highly law-abiding whether the regular citizens have guns or not. This is because the populace in general outnumbers the police by one to two orders of magnitude. You could say that a society can dispense with arming their police only if they are almost able to dispense with their police entirely.

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