April 18, 2011

The Deadly Political Correctness of Gun-Free School Zones

Terrorists attempting attacks on American soil have, of late, had a run of bad luck. An underwear bomber succeeds mainly in torching his “junk” on an airliner; a car bomber is thwarted by an alert citizen in Times Square; would-be bombers are stung by the FBI in Dallas and Baltimore, and no doubt, other plots have been thwarted in earlier stages of execution, plots about which most will never know so that the methods and sources of our police and intelligence agencies might be protected, unless Julian Assange, the New York Times or similar internet/media vermin get their paws on the information.

But such good fortune has not been universal. During the seven years of the Bush Administration following 9-11, there were no successful terrorist attacks on American soil. In the first two years of the Obama Administration, hope and change have produced multiple successful attacks, including the Fort Hood attack, which cost 12 deaths and 31 injured. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), commenting on the report on that act of domestic terrorism, observed that it was not only preventable, but was the result of a climate of political correctness. It is that particular kind of attack that is likely to be the wave of the future. Due to misplaced, misinformed good intentions and political correctness run amok, America is particularly vulnerable.

Consider the case of obscure Florida minister Terry Jones, leader of a small flock, who burned a Koran in early April, 2011. Around the world, a few days later, Afghan President Hamid Karzai decried the burning and his citizens went berserk, attacking a UN compound and killing seven UN workers, as many as five fellow Afghan Muslims, and injuring 20 or more.

In response, Senator Lindsay Graham was upset that he could not punish the pastor or anyone who would burn a Koran. President Obama likewise “deplored” the Koran burning, but also got around to expressing his disapproval of those who killed innocents. While the Florida paster is certainly unwise, and book burning is the act of a Luddite, the politically correct response, by an American senator and the President--among many others--should give us all pause. There is no moral equivalence between burning a book and the brutal murder of innocents, none. It is particularly ironic that one of those killed was a 33 year old Swede who, according to media accounts, “worked for human rights.” That the default position of so many of our civic “leaders” is to blame anyone but those responsible for inhuman crimes is a symptom of a dangerous strain of emotionalism and illogic abroad in contemporary America, of political correctness elevated above all else.

Many Americans give lip service to the idea that everything changed on September 11, 2001. For our schools, however, that process of change began on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado. Unfortunately, far too many, and particularly educators, have learned the wrong lessons.

School shootings and terrorist attacks on schools are notorious primarily because they are relatively rare. Students are, statistically, more likely to be killed in an automobile accident, struck by lightning or hit by a meteor than to be involved in a Columbine, Virginia Tech or Beslan-like attack. That is the good news.

The bad news is that intelligence agencies have, for some time, been developing information that indicates that terrorists intend to strike soft targets in America in the same ways that they have struck soft targets in other nations. And even if such intelligence did not exist, it wouldn’t take Nostradamus to forecast the likelihood of such attacks. Terrorists know that it will be difficult to again turn an American airliner into a flying bomb, and so they have resorted to tactics such as suicide bombers wearing binary liquid or semi-liquid explosives. The recent Russian sale to Venezuela of advanced, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles has opened up another possible avenue of attack, particularly since intelligence is also indicating that terrorists have been--and almost certainly are--entering America over our porous southern border. Of course, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano continues to claim that the situation on the border is better than ever. Thus, under the Obama Administration, is the future apparently to be won.

Mass, coordinated attacks originating from abroad are always possible, but perhaps the greatest current danger comes from homegrown jihadists who do not have consistent ties to foreign terror masters. Such neophyte jihadists have, to date, often made mistakes that have allowed law enforcement to intercept them, but as has already been noted, not every one of them has been so careless, and many will not be so careless in the future.

An allied danger is the disaffected citizen who, for whatever reason, decides to attack innocents and go out in a blaze of deranged glory, the Virginia Tech killer--who would certainly have liked me to mention his name--being only one example. For such killers, attacking undefended, soft targets like shopping malls, churches, theaters and schools will almost certainly become much more attractive. Unlike plots involving substantial amounts of explosives, or other military ordinance, such attacks require nothing more than a few pockets-full of ammunition and commonly available, non-military (not fully-automatic) firearms, and if the plots involve only one or two killers, particularly if they are closed-mouthed, they are virtually impossible to intercept and prevent.

Due to an unfortunate and outdated mix of social, academic and legal factors, schools are uniquely vulnerable to attack. The feel-good trend of the 80s and 90s to declare school zones “gun free,” to “make a statement,” may have impressed those who believe that statement making is a good in and of itself and would doubtless have unjustifiably raised their self-esteem to stratospheric heights. However such high-minded statement making has not served to provoke good will in those who have attacked schools or who are currently looking for a soft target.

For most schools that have considered the possibility of such attacks (most have not), response to an armed attack amounts to little more than locking classroom doors, and reminiscent of early Cold War duck-and-cover drills, overturning and hiding behind desks, relying on 3/4” particle board desktops for protection from bullets and bombs. Doors and desks don’t provide effective protection from either. Only coldly sober, rational tactical thinking, planning and action can prevent or ameliorate terrorist attacks. Hiding, particularly hiding poorly, provides no real protection. Unfortunately, tactical thinking remains off the radar of most educators, and only recently has any tactical thinking gone into the construction of school facilities.

Attacks by “active shooters,” whether Islamist terrorists or non-ideological, domestic juveniles or adults, have many elements in common. All have missions in mind, and for most, survival is decidedly secondary. Most expect to die, either through suicide or by means of the police (forcing the police to shoot them, AKA “suicide by cop”). Both types have no interest in negotiation, and on the rare occasions when they speak to the police at all, it is merely a means of obtaining greater publicity or playing for more time to rape, torture and kill helpless victims. Both care about police intervention only because the police might interfere with their plans. The police, who behave in legally proscribed and predictable ways, do not deter their attacks, and unlike common criminals, they have no reluctance in killing police officers. They plan their attacks with the goal of causing the maximum damage--usually in loss of innocent lives-- in the shortest time, which tends to produce the most and most lasting publicity and/or the greatest glory for their cause and themselves in whatever hellish afterlife they covet.

At the Virginia Tech attack in April of 2007, the killer, pausing after two initial murders, prepared and mailed a package of video, writings and photographs to NBC, which copied everything before bothering to call the police to turn over the originals, and blitzed the airwaves for days with the killer’s lunatic pronouncements. In short, the media gave him exactly what he wanted. In arrogantly and mindlessly defending their actions, NBC made clear to any and all future killers that their insane manifestos would receive a similarly warm welcome from the media. This was not lost on those considering similar atrocities.

LESSONS: All active shooter threats, regardless of ideology or motivation, are equally dangerous. It must now be assumed that those attacking schools will not behave as common criminals, won’t play by the rules of the criminal justice system, do not intend to survive and will kill as many innocents as possible as quickly as possible. Negotiation is likely futile. The press will be on the side of the terrorists in their publicity seeking desires.

The Columbine killers tried to kill as many teachers and students (15) as possible before they were stopped. Considering the time afforded them by the police, it is amazing that hundreds weren’t killed. The police were ineffective because they relied upon an outdated response model that assumed that the attackers were common criminals, wanted to negotiate, and that time was on the side of the police. A school liaison officer did trade a few rounds of gunfire with the shooters, but quickly withdrew, doing as he had been taught: contain and control, let the professionals--Special Weapons and Tactics--handle it. By the time a SWAT team assembled, organized and entered the building, the murderers had already killed their classmates and themselves, and a wounded teacher who might have been saved slowly bled to death over the course of many hours. The Columbine killers brought a crude propane tank bomb, hoping to set off an explosion that would kill scores, but were not able to cause a detonation. The Virginia Tech killer, who chained shut doors to keep victims in and the police out, also had more than enough time to kill 32 innocents before killing himself. He was armed only with two common handguns. The response of the police at Virginia Tech was many times faster than the Columbine response, yet they had no role in stopping the murderer, and their faster response mattered little to the victims or their families. In fact, the number of cases where the police have had any actual role in stopping an active shooter are vanishingly small.

LESSONS: In order to save lives, attackers must be immediately engaged and neutralized. Time is not on the side of the authorities and is absolutely not on the side of the victims. By the time a SWAT team--even if one is available--can be mobilized, arrive and formulate a plan, their only useful task will be in helping to remove the dead.

The 9-11 terrorists had no short-term goals save killing as many Americans as possible. There were no demands, no negotiations, nothing to contain or control. It was the passengers of Flight 93, the airliner the terrorists intended to crash into the White House or Congress, alerted by cell phone to the terrorist’s intentions, who changed the response model independently of the authorities. Crying “let’s roll,” they overwhelmed the terrorists, forcing the plane to crash in a Pennsylvania field, far short of the terrorist’s target. Terrorists now know that American airline passengers will not meekly wait for the authorities to save them. As positive as this development is, it tends to focus terrorists on softer targets.

Few are as soft as schools, as the world learned at Beslan, Russia during several days that began on September 01, 2004 when Islamic terrorists blew up a school, killing more than three hundred and wounding hundreds more as the culmination of three days of rape, torture and murder. This tactic should not have been a surprise, and would not have been a surprise had the mainstream media honestly done its job in the past. Israel has suffered the threat and reality of terrorist attacks on schools for decades. These attacks have been, at best, underreported in the American media, but one particular aspect of these attacks, and the most effective response to them--in Israel and potentially in America--has been ignored, even suppressed by the MSM: the use of firearms by school staff to deter and stop school attacks.

LESSON: Terrorists have been attacking schools and students, throughout the world, for decades. Domestic active shooters have been doing the same in America for decades. The threat is real and is already present. What is new is the potential for an escalation in the number of attacks and in their deadliness.

Living with terrorism in a way that is, for the moment, foreign to Americans, the Israelis have adopted practical responses to terror. For decades, Israeli teachers have been armed, even with true assault rifles (there is no such thing as an “assault weapon,” which is an anti-gun/MSM invention) and submachine guns, changing soft targets to hard targets, deterring attacks and preventing or minimizing the loss of life when attacks occur. As a result, school attacks are rare.

A January 25, 2008 attack on an Israeli High School by two armed terrorists ended with only slight wounds to the two school counselors who used their handguns to quickly kill the terrorists. That’s right: two armed school counselors protected their own lives and the lives of their students. They were not police officers, commandos or action heros, but school counselors. This story received scant attention in the American press, which continues to downplay or ignore Israeli, and many similar American, success stories, and routinely ignores the one to two million (or more) times each year that honest citizens use firearms to stop criminal assault, usually without firing a shot.

In Pearl, Mississippi on October 01, 1997, a crazed adolescent armed with a rifle shot nine students, killing two and wounding seven. Who has heard of Assistant Principal Joel Myrick who stopped the rampage, saving untold lives? Virtually no one, because he used a gun to overcome the shooter. Myrick ran a quarter of a mile to his car, which was parked off school property to comply with the federal law then in force (but since overturned) prohibiting firearms within 1000 feet of a school. Retrieving his handgun, he ran back to the school and confronted the shooter, disarming him and holding him for police. Media accounts, when they mentioned Myrick, virtually all failed to mention the presence and role of his handgun.

On January 16, 2002 at the Appalachian Law School in Grundy, Virginia, a crazed student went on a shooting rampage, killing three and wounding three. He was stopped by two fellow students, Mikael Gross and Tracy Bridges, who ran to their cars to retrieve their handguns. At gunpoint, they ended his killing and held him for police.

Dr. John Lott, in his book “The Bias Against Guns,” recounts how he conducted a Lexis/Nexus search of the news stories surrounding this event. Of 208 news stories throughout the nation in the week following the attack, only four mentioned that the attack was stopped with the use of firearms. Only two reported that Gross and Bridges actually pointed their guns at the shooter. In his book, “Arrogance,” former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg wrote of his surprise, upon reading Lott’s research into the incident, that the MSM would leave out such a noteworthy and essential detail. Conducting his own research, he discovered that Lott was correct. Goldberg wrote: “Only a tiny handful of reporters in the entire country were willing to report an essential part of the story: that it wasn’t just the killer who used a gun on campus that day, but two of the rescuers too.”

Considering media treatment of the issue, it is hardly surprising that so many Americans buy into the false and deadly promise of safety of the “gun-free school zone.” It is unsurprising that most Americans do not recognize the very real threat of school attacks by terrorists. In the two most deadly American school attacks--Columbine and Virginia Tech--the police had no role in ending the killing, another fact which has gone unmentioned by the media. For school attacks, this is overwhelmingly the rule, not the exception.

LESSON: If the goal is saving lives--and where school children are involved, what more important goal exists?--force must be met, immediately, with equal or greater counter-force. The police virtually never arrive in time to make a difference.

Please keep in mind that I am not denigrating the police. I was a police officer for nearly two decades. That is why I understand the reality of police response time. The police love to catch dangerous criminals in the act. It’s what they live for, but in the real world, unlike television, catching bad guys in the act, or preventing their crimes, is uncommon precisely because most bad guys take pains to avoid being caught and because there are, relative to the size of any community, few police officers.

In installments two and three of this three-part series, I’ll elaborate on the difficulties the police face in responding to active shooters, and on the realities of time and distance that frustrate their response. I’ll also propose a means to harden schools, and address the arguments against that proposal.

Posted by MikeM at April 18, 2011 05:34 PM

"During the seven years of the Bush Administration following 9-11, there were no successful terrorist attacks on American soil." What happened 31 days after Mr. Success was told point blank, "Bin Laden determined to strike in US?"

Posted by: Call2Arms at April 18, 2011 08:38 PM
Posted by Call2Arms at April 18, 2011 08:38 PM

You need to go back to the Sesame Street forum. You wouldn't understand adult conversation.

Posted by: iconoclast at April 18, 2011 09:26 PM

Well, I'm thinking out loud here, but the argument to allow guns on school grounds is a tough sell.

I can see the bumper stickers already, that students should be carrying books, not guns.

(Not that getting hit over the head with a calculus book wouldn't hurt).

Posted by: Muckdog at April 18, 2011 11:30 PM

Dear Muckdog:

I agree that it will be a hard sell, but the question is not whether our students are in danger--they are. The question is what we can and should do about it. Fortunately, the results from the states regarding concealed carry are uniformly positive. I'll be interested to see your views after reading all three parts of the series.

We need to start somewhere, and this may be a good time to begin.

Posted by: mikemc at April 18, 2011 11:34 PM

Part of the costs of an open and free society is that you have the risk that crazy people are going to take advantage of it and do some damage.

So, do you close the open and free society? Do you place limits and "regulations" on the open and free society? We're doing the latter, and it can be a slippery slope for more and more regulations and control.

Posted by: Muckdog at April 18, 2011 11:37 PM

Many of our most accomplished employers found success for themselves and their employees by innovating in fields that didn't even exist as few as a handful of years ago.

Posted by: patent lawyer at April 19, 2011 05:00 AM

"During the seven years of the Bush Administration following 9-11, there were no successful terrorist attacks on American soil" is not true.

I can't find the details immediately, but a Muslim immigrant drove his car through a bunch of college kids out on the commons in the name of his religion.

Posted by: dustydog at April 19, 2011 07:08 AM

There is a common misperception that every time a moslem man kills someone it is a terrorist attack. That is not the case in the same way that serial killers and psychopaths are not terrorists. A terrorist is acting as part of a larger group, using tactics to achieve the golas of that group. THe car bomber in NYC and Hassan were part of somethingn different that I call "sudden Jihadi syndrome". THe SJS guy is acting alone. He acts with a sense of purpose provided by his religion and maybe even with teh encouragement of others in his sect. But his violent outburst is a randomly targeted event that is not calculated to advance any groups higher agenda. It is just violence for the sake of violence. Just like Charles Manson.

Further, the NYC bomber did not fail because he was caught by an alert sitizen. He failed because he couldn't compentently construct a bomb that would go off when he wanted it to.

Posted by: Professor Hale at April 19, 2011 08:51 AM

There is a common misconception that every use violence and threat of violence to terrorize isn't automatically terrorism. Terrorism, by definition, is the use of terror to intimidate.

The goal, as communicated by the terrorist to society at large, is what defines terrorism. A single guy murdering kids is just as much a terrorist as terrorists backed by countries or drug cartels.

Posted by: dustydog at April 19, 2011 09:58 AM

I cannot say that you are entirely wrong, because the definition you are using is certainly a common one. But taken to its reasonable extremes, every act of violence includes some element of terror and intimidation for the victim. All forms of violent civil crime would then be included. A definition that includes everything is not really useful to distinguish specific behaviors. It would be counter-productive to blanketly assign the term "terrorist" to every criminal with an Arab name.

The feelings of the people being killed are the least important element in terrorism. Key elements include:
1. State sponsorship
2. Group identity
3. Terrorist actions are intended to advance the agenda of the group, not just kill people.
4. The primary goal of terrorist attacks is to make the government forces look weak, not to make them afraid.
5. Terrorists intentionally target civilians.

By using a more narrowly restrictive definition of terrorist and terrorism, the term then becomes useful in classifying certain groups. Such classifications then teach you how to counter those behaviors.

Specifically, as has been pointed out, there is no countering a psychopath. Some such people await good opportunities and extensive planning but others plant a knife in the chest of a random stranger. They are different by definition than terrorists like Atta. The real difficulty we are having now is that a whole lot of Moslems seem to be nuts.

I could go into greater depth but I didn’t mean to divert this thread. I agree with the central points. My daughter will be heading off to college next year. Her most likely threats are rape and robbery and, by law, she will not be permitted to defend herself, nor will she be in the company of other people who are inclined and prepared to defend her (my job now). This annoys me greatly.

Posted by: Professor Hale at April 19, 2011 11:08 AM

While not related to school zones, I recently had need to dial 911 in response to a potentially violent confrontation among a large group of individuals near my home. I spent a total of 3:30 on the phone, being switched from one 911 operator to another. With each switch, the phone rang and rang and rang before being answered.

The first operator could not find my address (I was calling on my mobile phone and gave my address verbally, spelling it phonetically). He switched me to the county operator and that individual eventually switched me to the city. The city operator immediately dispatched units.

The units took an additional 10 minutes to arrive.

Imagine if this had been an incident at a school. An armed assailant would have -- at minimum -- 13 to 14 minutes to do whatever he wanted without interference. And once officers arrived, additional time would be required to assess the situation and call for backup/SWAT.

Unfortunately, it will most likely require additional school tragedies before attitudes about firearms on campus can be changed -- if ever.

Posted by: Just Sayin' at April 19, 2011 08:19 PM

Dear Just Sayin':

Unfortunately, what you describe is all too common. You'll want to be sure to read the third installment of this series which features a school shooting scenario where everything pretty much goes right for the police. The results, particularly if you're a parent with a child in a school under attack, are less than encouraging.

Posted by: mikemc at April 19, 2011 11:21 PM

Dear Dustydog:

I recall the case about which you speak. I was my intention to outline and separate the several times of terroristic activity we face in schools. Obviously there are organized terrorists of the type that attacked on 9-11. There are also home-grown jihadists inspired by and at least partially supported or encouraged by organized Islamist movements. I suspect that Major Hassan's upcoming trial will reveal links of that kind. A third category is the young man you mentioned who took it upon himself, without outside support, to try to run down Americans. Then there are the disaffected adolescents and adults who shoot up schools who virtually never have any kind of islamist relationship or motivation.

In making my assertion that there were no successful terrorist attacks on American soil during the Bush years, I was obviously referring to the first two types. It is difficult or impossible to detect and thwart the others, as I pointed out.

But I thank you for the chance to clarify the issue. Politically speaking, when Janet Napolitano, after the underwear bomber failed by dumb luck, said the system worked perfectly, most Americans were not convinced--particularly those on the plane with the bomber--and do indeed miss President Bush.

Posted by: mikemc at April 19, 2011 11:44 PM

The limited number of attacks since 9/11 can be attributed more to terrorists choosing not to attack than anything we've done. Perhaps it's a an assessment that another attack would provoke a shedding of our political correctness handicap and result in real changes to security- actually securing the southern border, going after illegals within the country already etc. It may reflect an assessment they will achieve their aims politically through dhimmitude and deception. It may reflect waiting to build up a sufficient force, but I believe we're fooling ourselves if we believe our current posture and actions taken is the reason for the lack of major attacks.

Posted by: styrgwillidar at April 20, 2011 11:32 AM

And all I'M saying is: "SUPERB!" Boiled it down to the letter.

Posted by: cmblake6 at April 20, 2011 12:03 PM

Ruling class?
I have seen no class displayed by the current lot.
I think they mean caste.
I think they are fools.

Posted by: Odins Acolyte at April 21, 2011 11:39 AM