It’s bad enough having armed cops in Parliament, airports and outside embassies (and the US ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park which I cycle past frequently. Now they are at London railway stations. The logic of this escapes me. I will expound on this further in a forthcoming Rail column, but the occasions on which they would be able – or need – to shoot seem rare indeed, and the risk to the public from a stray bullet extremely high.
The explanation given by the security lobby is that they are a deterrent. But to what sort of terrorist. IRA style (now largely defunct) is to leave suitcases or parcels, suicide bombers don’t give a damn and can detonate themselves wherever they want and those intent on a Mumbai-style assault with all kinds of weaponry would hardly be deterred by the odd aageing copper armed with a gun he has never fired in anger.
There is a big downside, too. These guns make us feel scared, intimidated, at risk – they are like the daft announcements about ‘take a minute to read the safety instructions’ on trains where the risk of being involved in an accident is in the order of 100 million to one, and even then the sfety instructions, if remembered, are likely to be irrelevant. Every time the security services make a decision in the intersts of ‘making us safer’, they take away a bit of the pleasure of living in a modern western democracy. Gun totting policeman are, in fact, quite the opposite. They make us feel more at risk and, crucially, they serve no purpose.