It’s a frequent joke about British police that they don’t carry firearms. It seems kind of counterintuitive, particularly since police, you know, often deal with violent people who may or may not have firearms.
However, the fact that British bobbies don’t carry guns is one of the most British things ever. What can you say about a country that prefers tea to coffee and once thought Depeche Mode was pretty hardcore? Of course the police don’t carry firearms. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if their nightsticks were those rubber gag models you can get at Party City.
Alaska is a bit different. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of the United Kingdom. It’s the great frozen north. The setting of “Call of the Wild.” The last great American frontier.
I picture your average Alaskan law enforcement officer as the kind of guy with huge muscles and an unkempt beard, surviving on beef jerky and coffee so strong it’d be illegal in the lower 48. He probably drives a 1989 Ford F-150 and flies a dilapidated old Cessna between towns separated by glaciers. Oh, and he has two Glocks, one for each hip. He was thinking of a third with a shoulder holster but his wife talked him out of it.
So imagine my surprise when I found out police officers in the village of Kwethluk are totally unarmed and almost had a mass shooting on their hands — until an armed citizen stopped the alleged shooter.
Kwethluk is a small community in the far west of the state, pretty far away from almost anything — including backup help from major cities such as Anchorage and Juneau. Granted, not much happens in a village of less than a thousand people.
That said, it can happen, which is why you give police officers guns.
According to Alaska Public Media, Kwethluk was almost the scene of a mass murder May 23. The only reason no one was killed was that a resident — not a police officer — was armed and able to put a stop to the shooter’s plans.
“According to state troopers, a 19-year-old man, Brian Nicolai, broke into the village public safety building dressed for combat. He staged rifles inside, and activated the fire alert system. When village police officers responded, the officers say that Nicolai shot at them. But no one was hurt, largely thanks to an armed resident who got Nicolai to give up his weapon and lie on the ground,” Alaska Public Media reported.
So now, Kwethluk is debating — debating — whether village police officers ought to carry firearms.
In fact, the only reason police officers aren’t dead is that the mass shooter was completely inept. Village Police Officer Tiger Lee was one of the first to respond when Nicolai apparently pulled the fire alarm at the village public safety building. When he responded, Nicolai tried to shoot him with a rifle.
“I believe he wasn’t aware that the rifle was empty, and I could have been shot,” Lee said.
Thank God for that, but Nicolai eventually figured out how to load the rifle, and Lee hid behind a shipping container as backup began to show up.
Thankfully, someone finally got Nicolai to surrender. It wasn’t a police officer.
“That resident was Casey Thompson, according to the trooper’s report. Thompson, armed with a rifle, was able to get the shooter to drop his weapon, the report said,” Alaska Public Radio reported.
To be fair, one of the reasons Kwethluk VPOs don’t have guns is that training costs money. That’s a problem that could be solved, however, especially in the wake of an incident like this.
It won’t happen, though, when officials are somehow still not sure they need the guns. Take Deputy Chief David Berezkin, who seems to be of two minds on the subject.
“Sometimes that show of force helps,” he said, regarding the deterrent effect of guns.
But then, just a few lines later, we get this: “But Berezkin is not rushing to change the way things are in Kwethluk. He said that incidents involving guns, like the one on Saturday, are rare.”
“We don’t deal with this every day, you know?” he said.
Yes, well, here’s the thing: Most people who buy guns for personal protection will never have to use them. If they do — if a Brian Nicolai comes across their path — the gun has served its purpose.
In this case, a Brian Nicolai almost became a mass shooter, according to police. Thankfully, an armed citizen made sure his plans were thwarted.
For his part, Lee believes the VPOs need guns.
“If we had access to firearms, we’d be able to handle more of these scenarios on our own,” Lee said.
Agreed. And it’s not just that. This is Alaska. It’s not Devonshire, England. Police officers need guns, period. They need the funding and they need the training.
So maybe they won’t have the two Glocks and the Cessna. They’ll still have the necessary tools to deal with a mass shooter — and that’s what’s important.
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