Norwegian police officers and the country’s conservative government aren’t likely to prevail with their proposals to change the country’s long-held tradition of maintaining an unarmed police force. Police patrols were all heavily armed while Norway was under threat of a terrorist attack last month, but political opposition in Parliament is poised to block any efforts to let them continue to carry weapons at all times.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen is in favour of allowing police to routinely carry guns in hip holsters, as is the practice in most countries around the world. Sigve Bolstad, leader of the Norwegian police officers’ union (Fellesforbund), has also indicated that the union wants its members to be allowed to carry weapons. He told newspaper Klassekampen that he didn’t want to exploit the recent threat of terror, but claimed that “a higher threat level in the future is one of several arguments in favour of being armed at all times.”
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Wednesday, however, that spokesmen for both of the minority government coalition’s two so-called “support” parties remain opposed to arming Norway’s police on a general basis. Neither the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkepartiet, KrF) nor the Liberals (Venstre) will back any effort to let police routinely carry weapons.
“The government can just stop working on any change (in police regulations) right away,” Kjell Ingolf Ropstad of KrF, deputy leader of the justice committee in Parliament, told Dagsavisen. “We will instruct the government not to arm our police.”
‘A very bad idea’
The Liberal party also calls any proposal to arm police “a very bad idea” since the government won’t win a majority in parliament on the issue. Neither the Labour Party, the largest single party in Parliament, nor the other left-leaning parties support arming police.
Norway remains the only Nordic country with police who can only arm themselves upon orders from their local police chief. Sweden and Denmark, for example, have had armed police since 1965 and Finland’s police have carried weapons since 1918, although weapon use has been reduced in recent years.
Some disagreement within the ranks
The police themselves have been split on the issue but voted in 2012 to support being routinely armed. Debate has continued, with the former head of the police union, Arne Johannessen, still opposing routine arming. Members of the conservative government elected last year, however, support it on the grounds that Norway’s crime rate has risen, and that police should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to carry arms.
“I believe the police are the only ones who can best determine whether they should be armed,” Anders B Werp of the Conservative Party (Høyre), the other co-leader of the justice committee in Parliament, told Dagsavisen. “The threat picture and the crime picture are changing, and getting harder.” He thinks Norwegian tradition needs to change with them.