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Cheers - AE

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

One rule for us and another for them.

The Age:
One of Victoria's top cops is carrying a gun for his protection after receiving death threats.

The Herald Sun said Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones had received threats at his home and carries a high-powered Glock pistol.
Okay, leaving aside The Age's meaningless and misleading labelling of the pistol as "high-powered" - Glock pistols are available to appropriately licensed shooters in Australia (modified for local laws*) and are roughly as high powered as any other 9mm pistol using whatever ammunition Ken Jones is using - let's get straight o the nitty gritty of this. Does anyone else have a problem with this? I don't mean a cop being allowed to carry a gun outside of work. Police are, after all, supposed to be both responsible, law abiding citizens and to be trained to handle firearms safely (unless of course the whole point of firearms use in a certain situation is to cause an aggressor to become very unsafe indeed). As I said back in June when commenting on Ken Jones's boss, Commissioner Simon Overland, getting into some trouble over inadvertently carrying some live rounds onto a domestic flight:
If the most senior officer in a state police force can't be trusted with a weapon on board an aircraft then seriously, where the fuck are we? The fact that he didn't even have a weapon when he flew back from Canberra, just some bullets for a gun he'd left locked away in Melbourne, makes it even less of a big deal. An official bollocking is more than sufficient if you ask me, and that only because it caused embarrassment to his office and his force. But what if he'd been a regular citizen?
...senior crime investigators and aviation experts have criticised the decision, saying any civilian making the same mistake would have been arrested and charged.
Obviously I'm not suggesting that Simon Overland should have been jailed or fined for what is in effect a pretty trivial error. Like I said, I wouldn't be concerned if he'd carried a gun on board as well, at least I wouldn't if he'd made it known to the AFP and airline people in advance. For the oversight of forgetting he had a few rounds in the bottom of his bag a reprimand seems about right. But, and it's a big but, the same should apply to any other law abiding citizen.
I certainly don't begrudge Sir Ken Jones the chance to defend himself against possible threats to his life but should we believe that he's the only person in Victoria, a state of about 5.5 million people, who has reason to fear for his life? Would any other citizen, and bearing in mind that cops are also civilians would any other police officer? And for that matter is Sir Ken even a citizen yet? I suspect that in actual fact he is not, unless I'm missing something here:
Australian Citizenship Act 2007 Residence Requirements

To satisfy the residence requirements you must have:

4 years lawful residence in Australia. This period must include 12 months as a permanent resident immediately before making an application for Australian citizenship
absences from Australia of no more than 12 months in total in the 4 years prior to application, including not more than 90 days in the 12 months immediately prior to application.
Lawful residence means residence in Australia on a temporary or permanent visa.
Sir Ken Jones was made the Deputy Commissioner of Victoria Police in May 2009 and took up the job in July. Even taking the earlier date and doubling it to allow for a very extended holiday around Oz while his application was processed he would still be a year from being eligible for citizenship. Either his citizenship has been fast tracked because of his job or he's being given rights as a Permanent Resident denied to those with full citizenship, even those born and bred in Australia. Even assuming the former he's still being allowed a gun for personal defence, a reason which objectively is perfectly fair but legally is insufficient for anyone else to be issued a licence.

Any way you cut it Sir Ken Jones is getting special treatment, and that's not on. His job may make him a target but he's not the only one. Do other police officers get this treatment? Do prosecution witnesses to serious crimes? Do people who've received threats of violence from society's lawless, the scum who ignore laws and rights equally, treat the police with contempt, and can commit murder in the knowledge that 99 times out of 100 they'll be gone before the cops arrive? Of course they don't. They're made to rely on the police for their protection - 11,000 or so officers, less than a third of whom will be on duty at any given time, and not all of them on the streets.

As I've said, I don't begrudge Ken Jones his gun, and since it might not even be enough to save himself against a serious and determined attack (though even then it would at least even the odds a bit) I don't envy the situation he's in either. But I do have a problem with special treatment. The gun sooks may not be able to face these facts but even though Victoria is a pretty safe place to live cops are not the only ones in danger, and this is illustrated by the fact that the state's murder rate was 1.88 per 100,000 (2008 figures from here, ironically given by Sir Ken Jones), which works out a little over 100 per year for the state as a whole (though no doubt some of these are criminals killing other criminals and I haven't found any indication of what sort of proportion that might be). Now compare this with police deaths: since 1853 when the Victoria Police was formed 157 Victorian police officers have been killed on duty. It does not diminish the tragedy of those officers' deaths to note that the long term rate of police deaths is about one per year, less than a hundredth of the current murder rate for Victorians in general.

While I have no wish for a handgun myself (not least because I do not feel in any danger, and also because I'm not a particularly good shot and they cost money I'd rather spend on other things) I certainly don't object to anyone else having one without needing to justify it. But the reality is that while the police face dangers the rest of us don't they're still 100 times less likely to be murdered. Even assuming that in 90% of murders the victims are themselves criminals that would still mean that Victorian police officers are ten times less likely to be killed than other law abiding citizens are.

So with that in mind can someone explain to me why Joe Average can't have the means to defend himself?

* I had to Google this. I was under the impression that the former PM and great modern liberal** John Howard had banned many handguns and before moving to Australia I assumed that this would mean anything beyond target pistols of the type which are also banned in Britain, forcing its own Olympic team to train abroad and making some of the events at the London games technically illegal. To my surprise this wasn't the case at all and so 9mm semi-automatic pistols are still available providing they're 9mm/.38" or under, hold no more than ten rounds and have barrels at least 120mm (4.72") long. Presumably on Planet Howard only the 11th round is ever lethal and the first ten are dangerous only if the barrel is 119mm long or less... /facepalm. Initially that did indeed mean that a lot of guns did become illegal overnight, including any Glock 17s which might have dealt with the capacity requirement by using smaller magazines but would always fall foul of the minimum barrel length. Sensibly Glock dealt with the problem by making a version with a barrel a few millimetres longer just for Australia. Functionally it's the same gun and has exactly the same safety requirements (except possibly inside John Howard's head) but I imagine the loss of economies of scale means it costs Aussie shooters more to buy one. Cheers, John, you tool.

** Sarcasm very much intended.
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