A few weeks ago, before the Christchurch massacre, there was a renewed discussion about the arming of the police, as in day-to-day arming, carried on the person as a matter of course.

This was something the Police Association has been calling for and resisted by everyone else. Police have firearms available in their vehicles as often as they need them, or close at hand at the police station, to be drawn on as and when required. The problem is you never know when you are going to need them till you need them.

Maybe the police station or even the police vehicle's glovebox isn't close enough at hand for the immediate danger.

I was asked on National Radio for my views as a former officer — now very "former", as I have been out of the police for 20 years, which is nearly as long as I was in the job, yet people frequently define me as an ex-cop. I always concede that times change and my experience is not current.

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But over the years police have gone from a notebook, whistle and short baton, to adding a radio, pepper spray, Taser and extendable batons, and now want to add firearms - all hanging off the belt or strapped to the thigh.

My thoughts are that if we keep providing more weapons, there is less imperative or incentive to talk. More people are likely to be sprayed, Tasered or shot – both police and civilian. This will often inflame a situation and not defuse it.

It is not just the outworking of the old catch-cry that if we arm the police the criminals will arm themselves; criminals are armed now.

Firearms have not been mandatorily registered for decades now, and as shotguns were never registered under the old law, we have no idea how many exist. Ex-army Lee-Enfield rifles made their way down civvy street with no records, and on close examination you'll find the serial numbers on breech, bolt and magazine are all likely to be different. So nobody can tell us how big the threat is. But we do know it is real.

The sentinel photograph from the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings, for me, is the female police officer in hijab and bulletproof vest, carrying a semi-automatic weapon and wearing a rose. The image has gone around the world and no doubt will end up on the cover of Time magazine some time soon. It marks an unusual phase in the evolution of policing history, as I am afraid that the photograph linked to the incident will mark a change in public sentiment.

There will now be less resistance to the full-time carriage of firearms on the person by police staff on general duties, because we are more afraid.

So much of public thinking on law enforcement is based on fear and not on safety. The one incident, as abhorrent and tragic as it was, will now shape our approach to events risk management well beyond the actual risk.

Chester Borrows
Chester Borrows

I heard this week that advice has been given that citizenship ceremonies in council chambers will now be attended by armed police. Large gatherings may now see armed police in attendance when they never were before. I wonder if this really takes account of an actual threat to life or a risk that becomes almost fanciful and based on the fear that nobody wants to be responsible for saying an armed presence was not needed.

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Like a health and safety issue where cones and fluorescent vests keep us safe, it may well be the justification for another huge recruiting programme ramping up police numbers to account for a new generation of perceived threat.

It will be a very sad state of affairs if the action of one accused murderer and its horrific outcome will forever impact the daily lives of New Zealanders on the basis that the same actions could be repeated by others. Every time we celebrate Waitangi Day in every location? Every time we celebrate occasions like Diwali or Chinese New Year? Te Matatini? Every A and P Show? Christmas Parade? Rugby test match?

My hope is that we will not rush to tool up police with more accessible weapons, because "that's not who we are" either.

Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government. He is chairman of the Justice Reform Advisory Group, a lawyer and a former police officer.