We’re going to take a break from Congress to take a closer look at what went down in Palm Beach Gardens earlier this week. By now, we’ve learned that an ISIS-inspired attack has gone down. The perpetrator, 17-year-old Corey Johnson, killed a 13-year-old boy and wounded a woman and her son.
The first of the old lessons is that the police, firefighters, and other “first responders” are really the “first reinforcers.” The real first responders are whoever are on the scene when the terrorist attack starts. This is the same for other events, whether it’s a pedestrian bridge collapse, a mass shooting, a car accident, or someone’s having a heart attack in a restaurant. I’m not putting down those who serve as paramedics, law enforcement officers, or firefighters, but the reality is, when seconds count, they’re minutes away in all but the most extremely rare scenarios.
The second “old lesson” this terrorist attack drives home is that terrorists don’t need guns to carry out their attacks. The Nice attack using a truck left more people dead than the combined death tolls from the Pulse nightclub attack, the Fort Hood attack of 2009, and the San Bernardino attack – all of which used guns.
In this case, the weapon of choice was a knife. FBI crime stats over the 2012-12016 timeframe show that knives were used to carry out 7,882 homicides. Rifles of all types were used to carry out 1,473 homicides – that is less than the 2013 total for knives. Odds are we will not see a major walk-out of students from school demanding knife bans. We also re-learn that once effective armed response arrives, the attack is over. In this case, SWAT hauled the ISIS devotee out of a locked room.
The deadly pattern of Parkland is also seen here. In this case, the attacker was on the FBI’s radar since 2016. Local media reports that the attacker was known to have made threats to a British school and had reached out to ISIS online. The initial response? A “redirection approach,” which didn’t work. Thankfully, this was being investigated, but it took over a year, and charges were still not ready when he struck. See something, say something, only works when authorities decisively DO something. They had the online threats – a clear crime by any standard – and failed to act. I’ll be waiting to see how they blame the NRA for this one.
It should also be noted that as is the case with many terrorist attacks and mass shootings, there were plenty of warning signs. Whether it was Parkland, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Orlando, Newtown, there is a pattern that usually asserts itself. The warning signs are ignored or dismissed. Nobody wants to say anything for fear of being labeled racist or Islamophobic. Then when it happens, we get into a big nation-wide screaming match over our Second Amendment rights.
Let’s face it, if you want to stop the bulk of terrorist attacks, you need early intervention. When someone is sending online threats to kill all the infidels, we’re way past “redirection” as an option. Hardening targets via armed guards and concealed carry, among other measures, can only mitigate the attack. Similar logic applies to mass shootings – the bulk of these can be prevented if we can address the issues surrounding mental health in this country. The daily drip-drip-drip of killings in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and elsewhere can best be handled by bringing back Project Exile.
This takes us to the one new lesson to be learned from this: Perfect is the enemy of good when it comes to preventing terrorist attack and mass shootings. The FBI was probably trying to “polish the cannonball” to get an air-tight case on big charges. However, the online threats and the outreach to ISIS could have resulted in a less-spectacular set of charges that still would have been effective in preventing an attack – if only because the attacker would have been in jail. It only takes indictment on one felony count to trigger the provisions of 18 USC 922(a).
The fact is, the Palm Beach Gardens attack was preventable, as are so many of the tragic events we see in our headlines. But prevention requires a cold, hard look at the facts, and not spouting off the usual proposals that will get you glowing coverage from some media outlets and Hollywood celebrities, but which doesn’t address the actual problem.