Norway has long been one of the relatively few European countries where police officers do not routinely carry firearms. In November 2014, this changed: The country’s police officers were ordered to be armed at all times. However, that order ran out this Wednesday, and Norwegian police officers have now disarmed.

So, after roughly 14 months, Norway’s experiment with permanently armed police officers is over – for the time being, at least.

What lies behind this experiment? According to Jørn Schjelderup, deputy chief of police at the Norwegian Police Directorate, the answer is simple: Norway’s police had only armed themselves after a threat assessment made in October 2014 found that a terror attack was “likely to happen” in Norway within the next 12 months. In October 2015, a new assessment was made that suggested the threat was no longer likely, but after the attacks in Paris in November a decision was made to temporarily extend the arming of police.

Now, with a lowered threat assessment, the police are returning to their normal policy, which involves keeping weapons locked inside their vehicles.

Historically, the use of firearms by police officers in Norway has been remarkably rare. Officers only began keeping weapons locked in their vehicles in 2013, Schjelderup says, though some departments have kept weapons in their vehicles since around 2000 or so.

While Norwegian police officers were armed for the past year, Schjelderup says there was no increase in the number of incidents involving police firearms over the year. “Police use of weapons, and threats of use of weapons is very similar to the same level as before the armament,” he told The Washington Post.

There were some accidents involving the more widespread use of firearms, Schjelderup explained, though not as many as you might expect.

“We have experienced cases of accidental firing, both as result of disarmament after duty, maintenance of weapon, loading and when officers have been doing weapons training,” he said. “However the total amount is considered relatively low compared to the total amount of weapons handling being done every single day.” (Most accidental discharges came when officers were disarming themselves, Schjelderup says.)

Schjelderup credits the high levels of training the Norwegian police officers are given for their restraint when using the weapons. Every officer in service must undertake weapons training and tactical training involving firearms for at least 48 hours every year. For the Police Response Units (the Norwegian equivalent of SWAT teams), the expectations are higher: 103 hours a year.

It’s worth noting, too, that gun ownership is restricted in Norway. But a culture of hunting and sports shooting means there is a relatively large number of firearms among the general public in the country (academic studies have suggested that Norway is just outside the top 10 in the ranking of countries by firearms per capita).


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.