Dozens of French towns to arm local police as mayor says non-lethal weapons not enough

© Pascal Rossignol
The terrorist attack in Nice which killed 84 people when a truck plowed through crowds celebrating Bastille Day has prompted several French mayors to arm local police. Non-lethal weapons are incapable of stopping a “crazed attacker,” one mayor said.

"Along the Promenade des Anglais [in Nice] the municipal police and the national police had the same mission – to stop a crazed vehicle or murderer,” said Francois Bayrou, the mayor of Pau.

“Our weapons against incivility, such as the Taser or the flash-ball, are obviously worthless in stopping a vehicle," he added, according to franceinfo.fr.

The Pau mayor has decided to give guns to some 35 municipal police officers. Bayrou noted that 75 percent of those who will be given the arms “were either in the police or in the national police or in the army, and are therefore trained in handling the weapons.” All the officers are required to undergo 57 hours of training to obtain authorization.

The mayors of the small French towns of Belfort and Thonon-les-Bains also earlier decided to allow local law enforcers to carry guns – joining municipal police officers in the towns of Romilly-sur-Seine, Saint-Quentin and Puy-en-Velay, who were previously authorized to carry arms, BFM reported.

The law allows for the municipal police in France to carry arms, but the decision has to be taken individually by each mayor. The mayors of Nantes and Besancon have decided against arming local police.

As things stand, of the approximately 20,000 municipal French police, "fewer than half are armed," Cedric Michel, the national president of the municipal police defence union (SDPM), told Le Figaro last month.

In June, France relaxed gun rules for its police force, allowing officers to carry firearms while off-duty. The policy change came just days after a police couple was murdered by a jihadist in a Paris suburb.

France is currently under a state of emergency, first declared by President Francois Hollande hours after the Paris attacks in November last year. It was renewed for the fourth time following the Nice attack last month.

Human Rights Watch has slammed the French parliament’s decision to prolong the country’s state of emergency for six months, saying the move “undermines human rights and the rule of law."

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“A rolling state of emergency risks trampling rights and eroding the rule of law and sets a dangerous precedent for abuse elsewhere,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“While the French authorities have a duty to protect people from heinous attacks like the ones in Nice and Paris, they should use these powers in the least restrictive way and for the shortest time possible.”