No more complacency: kill this gun culture
The shooting in Nottingham of a probationary woman police officer, Rachael Bown, reinforces the impression of a loss of control by the authorities over illegal handguns.
Her wounding comes just three months after the murder of another policewoman, Sharon Beshenivsky, during a robbery in Bradford.
The irony of the epidemic of gun crime in Britain is that it comes at a time when those who legally hold firearms are more policed and regulated than ever before.
The heavy-handed approach many police forces take towards licensed owners contrasts with the increasing, and lethal, incidence of unlicensed ones.
Before the shooting of police officers becomes any more habitual than it already is, the Government needs urgently to consider what might best be done to tackle the problem at source.
Many of the illegal weapons in this country come from eastern Europe. Tough airport security means they enter the country through seaports or the Channel Tunnel, smuggled in via the boots of cars, the backs of vans and hidden in lorries.
Customs officers have boasted various triumphs in preventing the illegal importation of alcohol for re-sale. They have clearly been less successful with guns, and might like to reconsider their search procedures.
There seems to be a basic failure of intelligence on the part of the police about the black market in these guns. That needs to be rectified, whether by good, old-fashioned policing, or by officers going undercover in inner-city areas where the trade is rife. Above all, though, the punishment for possessing an illegal firearm - irrespective of whether it is used - needs to be severe.
The offence carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. It is rarely applied. That must change if society is to be protected.
The police have finite resources. It might be as well if officers spent less time checking up on licensed gun owners and channelled resources instead into catching unlicensed ones.
Every time an officer is shot the argument starts up about whether police should be armed. There is a respectable case to be made for this, but not yet a convincing one. Paradoxically, arming the police might make them more rather than less vulnerable.
An armed criminal confronted by an armed police officer is more likely to kill, before he is killed.
The de Menezes shooting last July, like that seven years ago of a man armed only with a table leg, shows that even highly trained officers can make awful mistakes.
Arming the police must be the very last resort. Stiffer punishments, ending official complacency about the rise in gun crime, and using all means to take the gun out of society must be tried thoroughly first.