FIREARMS police officers have defended wearing guns on routine patrols amid growing criticism from Scots politicians.

Officers said their patrols were helping to save lives and protect the public.

"It's in our DNA to help people", said one officer, who cannot be identified for operational reasons.

"Would some people really prefer us sitting behind desks, waiting for a firearms incident, rather than be out on the street helping the public?

"And the way we are portrayed is completely wrong. There is no outcry from the public on the streets, we just don't see it. The public support us."

Armed officers also believe Police Scotland's decision to deploy them to routine incidents is the best way to keep people safe.

One said: "Bringing out the firearm is the last resort. But it's not in our DNA to ignore a call simply because we are carrying firearms.

"We just couldn't, we are in this to help people."

There are only 250 officers qualified to carry Glock 17 semi-automatic pistols in the 17,000-strong Scottish force.

Three officers, who are based in Glasgow, told how carrying their weapons also save time - and lives.

Previously, firearms officers collected weapons from a locked safe in an armed response vehicle.

"It can take more than 15 minutes to receive the call about a firearms incident, pull over at the side of the road, unlock everything and finally kit up," said one officer.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins, who is in charge of the firearms division, said: "How would you feel if you were being held at knifepoint or gunpoint by someone and you knew it would still be another 15 minutes before the police arrived?

"It makes more sense for officers to have their firearms available, so they can react to calls quickly.

"Police Scotland needs to adapt, depending on the threat, and change with the times."

In the 1980s, armed response officers had to rush back to their locker in the police station to pick up their gun if they were called to a firearms incident.

Retired officers have since said the practice was "inadequate".

Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House says having armed officers on the streets is essential to protect his officers and the public.

He added: "We should encourage firearms officers to get involved in day-to-day policing activity because that keeps them real as police officers."

Armed response officers start and end each shift in what police say is a "controlled environment".

They will be asked a series of questions, including: "Have you had any arguments with your partner?" to ensure they are physically and mentally fit enough to handle a weapon.

As previously reported by the Evening Times, ACC Higgins believes people want armed police on the streets to keep communities safe.

He said: "The public support us and our firearms officers, who are trained to the highest degree.

"There has been no outcry from the public, we don't see it, and there has not been a tidal wave of complaints either.

Defending the decision to have armed officers attend routine incidents, ACC Higgins said it was the "right thing to do".

Questions have been asked in the Scottish Parliament about the routine arming of police.

Police bosses faced criticism last month when armed officers attended a bus crash in Glasgow city centre. Three passengers were taken to hospital after the incident in the city's busy Argyle Street.

Officers - who were wearing holstered weapons - went out of their way to help the three elderly women injured in the crash.