Monday, February 29, 2016

Disarming Terrorists

Recently, a nearby community college proposed arming its guards.  Let’s suppose it wasn’t just to protect against ISIS, but against the locally grown dangerous and the locally grown insane.  One could claim that there is cause, since a few years ago a young individual brought an assault rifle into a neighboring elementary school and killed 20 small children and  6 adults. 

While arming the guards may perhaps make the students at the particular college safer, while they are at the college, it does not address the broader problem:  How to keep society safe, given the wide availability of weapons capable, from use by someone so motivated, of killing a fair number of people very quickly. But if we make that particular college safe, what of other colleges?  If we make the colleges safe, what of other schools?  If we make the schools safe what of the plazas, and the stores, and the factories and the hospitals, and the homes?  What of the water supplies and power grids?

It is clear that what ever we protect, what ever we do not protect will become the target.  And so we must protect it all.  The material cost would be stupendous, not just in capitalization, but in maintenance.  We cannot pay sufficient guards, so citizens must go armed.  And then how to tell, who among the myriad of armed citizens, is not a terrorist, armed and on his way to destruction.  Further, even if armed, how can the citizens be protected against suicide bombers.  Explosive fireworks, albeit of limited gunpowder content, are available in 26 states.  Will potential terrorists find these limitations to be insurmountable? 

The fact is, we cannot prevent any terrorist, of either foreign or domestic origin, once sufficiently determined, from inflicting damage on our society or our infrastructure. 

What can be done is minimizing the strength and power of the motivations behind the terrorist and his acts.

Two things must be done.  The first is to stop inflicting violence.  The second is to excite admiration, rather than to incite envy.


  1. I would think that getting guns out of circulation would help some, although as you point out, there will always be ways to kill people. If we could indeed heal the hearts of all men, that sidesteps the problem. I recommend Stephen Pinker's "Angels of Our Better Nature", which documents continuously decreasing levels of violence. This is more of that science / logic / data that the Right chooses to ignore with its constant fear mongering.

    I used to say when I worked on computer security that doing so made me want to be a Buddhist, because "There is no such thing as security, only the illusion of it."

    1. I have thought that guns make killing too easy, too casual. And I think the use of drones and other impersonal instruments of death is even less- admirable. I am sure our use of drones in the Middle East diminishes what respect we may yet retain there.

      Here in the US it is totally impractical to try and get rid of guns. Even reasonable policies to keep them out of the hands of terrorists and the insane seem politically unfeasible. However, my teleological self considers that there may yet be a purpose to all this.

      And if you' re going to hunt, use a bow and arrow.

  2. Good post. I like your conclusion. The second thing that must be done reminds me of a quote from Arnold J Toynbee -- but I can't find the quote.

    1. The only one I could find was this: "Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, with takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice."

      I think conflating envy with admiration is an American tradition, one that does not serve us well. As a civilization, we labor to make ourselves enviable, rather than admirable. Our powerful are enviable, but not so admirable. Owning a multi-million dollar yacht may be enviable, but it is not admirable, even if it was gainfully gotten, which it too rarely is.