When Security Fails, Gun Rights Are The Last Line Of Defense

John Lott President, Crime Prevention Research Center
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These days, it isn’t even safe to get a cup of coffee. Australians just learned this the hard way. In the U.S., watching a movie can apparently be too dangerous. At least, terrorist threats by North Korea canceled the showing of “The Interview” in movie theaters.

With very little money, ISIS has managed to instill fear in countries around the world. Simply by using Internet posts, ISIS has encouraged “lone wolf” terrorists.

In May, four people were shot dead in an attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. In September, there were beheadings in Oklahoma and London. October proved even worse: a car attack in Quebec, a shooting in Ottawa, a hatchet assault in New York City, and a knife attack that left five dead at an Israeli synagogue. This is but a sample.

The Canadian government rushed to revamp its security agencies in the wake of the recent attack on Parliament. But lone attackers are unlikely to send incriminating emails that alert law enforcement. What do you do if security fails? How do we protect what seems like an infinite number of possible targets?.

The attacks in Brussels, Ottawa, and Sydney illustrate the limitations of preventive measures. In each case, the perpetrators had criminal histories that prevented them from legally buying a gun. Still, they all managed to obtain firearms. The Brussels killer, Mehdi Nemmouche, even obtained an illegal machine gun.

The Obama administration has responded to these attacks by increasing security at federal buildings. Yet, publicly announcing these strategies may cause terrorists to simply switch targets.

Terrorists have a strategic advantage in that they determine when and where to attack. For decades, Israel responded by putting more armed police and soldiers on the streets. Unfortunately, a mass killer can often either wait for officers to leave the scene or kill them first. No matter how much money Israel spent, terrorists could wait patiently until they found an opening for an attack.

In Israel, almost 15 percent of adult Jewish civilians are licensed to carry weapons. Potential attackers, therefore, must beware of seemingly defenseless civilians. Terrorists must resort to bombings and other more furtive means of attack.

Attackers seek out places where people are sitting ducks. Elliot Rodger, who killed three people in Santa Barbara, California this past June, explained why he picked his target. In his 141-page “Manifesto,” Rodger expresses concern that someone with a gun would intervene before he could kill enough people.

That June, there was another mass-shooter who also thought along these lines. Justin Bourque, who killed three people in Moncton, Canada, poked fun at gun free zones on his Facebook page. One comic depicted a completely defenseless victim pleading with a man pointing a gun at him. “But wait … there’s a GUN BAN in this city … you can’t do this, we passed a law!” The gunman is shown thinking to himself, “Great, another one of these fruit loops.”

With the threats against movie theaters, the attack in Aurora, Colorado comes to mind. The killer lived within a twenty minute drive of seven movie theaters showing “The Dark Knight” premier.  Instead of picking the theater nearest to his home or the largest one, he picked the only theater that posted signs banning permitted concealed handguns.

Since 1950, virtually all the mass public shootings in the U.S. (and every single one in Europe) have taken place in gun free zones.

In the US, at least 12 million Americans possess concealed handgun permits.  These Americans save lives. The September terrorist attack in Oklahoma is just one recent example. Concealed handgun permit holder, Mark Vaughan, stepped in before a second victim could be beheaded.

As in Israel, Americans should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own protection.

Unfortunately, in cities such as DC, Los Angeles, and New York, only wealthy, well-connected people can get concealed carry permits.  The terrorists have little to worry about.

John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission.  He is also the author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition).