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Guns in France: Now security guards could be armed

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Security guards searching spectators at a football match in November. All photos: AFP
16:08 CET+01:00
After local and off duty police were encouraged to carry guns, now security guards in France could be given the right to bear arms, as the government hopes more weapons may be the answer to the increased terror threat.

France's Interior Ministry will create an ‘enhanced’ security officer status, giving private security guards the right to carry weapons around sensitive sites, according to a report in Le Figaro on Wednesday.

The move is expected to apply to hundreds or possibly even thousands of private security guards across the country who patrol sites including theatres, nuclear plants and sports grounds.

In fact, French law currently allows security guards to be armed “under certain conditions with the approval of the prefectures”, but in practice it is rare for prefectures to issue gun licences - a process the new legislation would make much easier.

The few private security guards who currently carry weapons include those charged with protecting the Charlie Hebdo officers, those working at some Parisian housing estates - who have been authorized to use batons and defence sprays - and those who escort vans carrying cash.

But after last year's twin terrorist attacks in Paris authorities have looked at possibly making it easier for some security guards to have the right to carry guns.

The Ministry of Interior, the police,  the Directorate of Civil Liberties and Legal Affairs (DLPAJ), the National Council of Private security activities (CNaPS), which has long called for security guards to be given the right to carry guns have been looking at the possibilities.

France to allow off-duty police to carry arms

Now the Interior Ministry is working on the official text, Le Figaro says, to define the conditions for approval, training and checks of the guards.

This move, if it goes ahead, would be just the latest post-terror attacks measure taken by the French government to get more officers of law and order carrying guns.

"It's surprising for a country like France because we don't have a trigger happy culture," French terror expert François Bernard Huyghe told The Local.

"It obviously doesn't come without a certain amount of risk and there would have to be strict controls on these people," he said.

"What are the chances of them actually using one to kill a terrorist? It's more for reassurance and the government wants to be seen to be acting," he added.

Another French terror expert Jean-Charles Brisard said it makes sense to arm security officers if it frees up under pressure police to do other work.

 In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, France began moves to arm all police officers even when off-duty.

“We must have the means to be able to fight back,” said Denis Jacob, a police union leader.

“We cannot be telling off-duty police officers not to carry their weapons when at the same time the president has declared a state of emergency because there is a high risk of terrorism,” he added.

“I don’t understand the claim that if police officers are armed 24 hours a day then the streets will be full of cowboys,” he said.

And the government has not only allowed off-duty cops to carrying their guns, they have also been encouraging of the country's 3,900 municipal police to be armed.

In France the national police and the gendarmes are armed but it is left down to local authorities in towns and villages whether or not to arm the municipal police.

Currently only around 45 percent of the 3,900 municipal police carry weapons, but given the heightened terror alert and the changing nature of their role, the president wants that number increased.

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Hollande told a meeting of mayors that the government will finance certain equipment and that municipal officers would be able to access the stocks of arms held by the national police. 

Paris police to be equipped with assault rifles

The government's efforts to improve the armed response of the police was also evident when the Interior Minister announced on Monday that Parisian police would for the first time be given assault rifles and Kalashnikov-resistant shields.

"It's a surprising that a Socialist government is taking these steps, because they are normally hostile to arms," said Huyghe. "However we are still very far from a scenario of every Frenchman carrying a gun like in the US," said Huyghe.

READ MORE: How France plans to boost police powers


 

 

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