Why do police officers carry guns in the first place?

Very quick—and potentially crazy—thought. A simple question, without getting into all the details and emotions of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson:

Why is it that most (all?) police officers in the United States carry guns in the first place?

The first time I realized that perhaps police officers didn’t have to carry guns was on a trip to Montréal in 1996, when I was in eighth grade. A tour guide pointed out, with perhaps a bit of pride, that the police didn’t carry guns.

A friend of mine from the U.K. remembers when police there started carrying guns. It happened during her lifetime—and she’s a few years younger than I am.

And I was reminded of it the other day riding the subway with my ten-and-a-half-month-old son. An NYPD officer boarded our car and stood by the door. In my line of sight, when I looked at my son in his stroller on that ride, just above his head was the officer’s gun, in its holster. It struck me that literally inches from my son was an instrument that, used in a certain (and wrong) way, could kill him. Was it really necessary for that officer to have a gun as we sped our way through darkened subway tunnels?

And in the wake of stories like this, how much violence are heat-packing police really preventing the first place?

Just a thought.

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