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Police Weapons Around the World

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The following is a guest post by Nicolas Boring, a foreign law specialist at the Law Library of Congress.  Nicolas has previously contributed posts on French Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights, Napoleon Bonaparte and Mining Rights in France and How Sunday Came to be Established as a Day of Rest in France.

While for some people, especially students, the library might be the last place they want to be during the summer months, here at the Law Library of Congress we were busy researching many interesting legal topics related to countries around the world.  For example, we recently published a report on the types of weapons and equipment that police forces use in several jurisdictions.  This involved looking at the laws and policies of eighteen countries, as well as of the Council of Europe, regarding the arming of police officers, including rules about how they are supposed to use their weapons.

Latest news from the steel district - State troopers ready for a hurry call at Farrell, Pa. (1919). Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,
Latest news from the steel district – State troopers ready for a hurry call at Farrell, Pa. (1919). Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

Parts of this report were difficult to research.  While the relevant information was readily available for some countries, for others we needed to rely on a range of secondary sources.  Nonetheless, we found a great deal of useful information, from which some interesting conclusions could be drawn.

In the vast majority of the countries we surveyed, police officers generally carry a firearm while on routine patrol.  Only the United Kingdom, China, and New Zealand stood out as exceptions. Beyond this general trend, however, the types of weapons and equipment available to police agencies seem to depend to some degree on how the country’s law enforcement apparatus is structured.  In countries where law enforcement is highly centralized at the national level, local police forces tend to be relatively lightly armed, while the units that have a more regional or national scope have more heavy weaponry available to them. In contrast, countries where law enforcement is less centralized — which often seem to be federal states — tend to give local police authorities more leeway in acquiring powerful weapons.

It appears that questions about the types of weapons that should be available to police forces have emerged in a number of countries, particularly when it comes to military-style firearms and other equipment.  On that topic, it is interesting to note that several of the nations surveyed have a major law enforcement organization that is actually part of the military.  The French Gendarmerie and similar organizations in other countries are mainly tasked with civilian law enforcement duties, yet are actually a branch of the military.  As such, they have access to military weapons and equipment, even if their day-to-day outfits largely resemble that of their civilian counterparts.

Finally, it is quite clear that issues related to how the police are armed, and to when and how police officers can use their weapons, are controversial subjects in many countries.

We frequently publish reports on foreign, comparative, and international law topics on our website.  Some of our recently published reports covered very topical issues, including the regulation of bitcoin, laws criminalizing apostasy, and restrictions on genetically modified organisms.  You can be among the first to know when we publish a report by subscribing to email alerts or by reading this blog (the Global Law category).  You can subscribe to an RSS feed for specific categories on this blog, or get email updates whenever a post is published.

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