Domestic Security Implications of Las Vegas: Cold Takes

I’ve waited a few days to write. Nothing sensational here or grand theories. No hot takes.

First, the terrible events in Las Vegas cannot, at this point, be described as terrorism. They may be terrible and terrifying, but the Federal definition of terrorism includes a social or political objective. So far, there is no evidence that this event had a political motive – that could change if new evidence comes to light. While everyone seeks some kind of explanation, it will bring at least a tiny amount of coherence to the horror and in a time like this we take what comfort we can.
While the event was not terrorism, it was a security crisis and raises new issues for consideration. I will leave tactical response issues to others with the appropriate expertise. It did appear that the new procedures for integrating police and fire units during the incident were effective and allowed the extrication of victims during the incident. This allowed the wounded to receive more timely medical treatment, saving lives.
Geron-Terror
The classic terrorist is a male between late teens and early thirties. Dylan Roof and Omar Mateen are classic cases, there are of course outliers. Years ago, working on a very different project, I was examining the files of violent incidents kept by the Southern Poverty Law Center. While many of the perpetrators were the classic disaffected young men, I also noted a lot of much older men involved in incidents as well. This was not the purpose of the project, but the information stayed with me.
I do not have hard data, but it is worth noting that – particularly among right-wing extremists – there are a fair number of much older perpetrators. The 2009 attack on the Holocaust Museum in which a security guard was killed was carried out by 88 year old James W. von Brunn. Glenn Frazier Cross, who killed three at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas in 2014, was 73. On the left, James T. Hodgkinson, who attacked the GOP Congressional baseball team practice, was 66.
The Vegas gunman was also in his sixties.
More study is needed. These incidents might simply be outliers. The vast majority of terrorists and violent criminals will continue to be between their late teens and early thirties. But those are also the populations most likely to be monitored. Even a small uptick in violence from a population generally assumed to be non-violent could have a significant impact on public safety.
Guns
It is not my intention to wade into the question of gun control. People who are passionate about gun ownership know the law back and forth. I don’t. I cannot accept either mass tragedies such as Las Vegas and Orlando or the steady and endless stream of deaths and injuries by firearms. I don’t know what policies would necessarily be effective in achieving this. But I will make two tentative observations.
First, plenty of people make good livings spinning out dramatic terrorist attacks scenarios. It is kind of fun, and if you can sell it, you can become a consultant and/or peddle technological solutions. Drones are the nightmare du jour. Let’s be clear, drones are being used by state and non-state U.S. adversaries on battlefields. But terrorists using drones to strike within the U.S., such as described in this article, is actually not that easy. The scenario is a drone dropping a thermite grenade on a gas tank. This might be very bad. But the focus in these and other scenarios is on how terrorists would use drones to deliver explosives or toxins. Putting aside that – as I’ve written elsewhere – this may not be that easy, the assumption is that the terrorists have explosives or toxins. But in fact explosives and toxins are not that easy to obtain. The chokepoint in preventing these attacks is not the drones, it is the weapon.
So while experts are obsessing about hard to pull off drone attacks, tools with proven death dealing capabilities are easily and readily available.
Second, there is a question of broader politics. Lobbyists for firearm ownership have been extraordinarily successful. Politics changes. Public opinion is shifting against them and eventually politics will follow. When they start losing, they will start losing big – sliding down the slippery slope they worry so much about.
The vast majority of gun owners, who are law-abiding and safety conscious will accept these new inconveniences. For a small number, gun ownership is about much more than a hobby, it is about identity in a very profound way that sometimes aligns with radical causes (do I really need to say more about this?) Overall smart policies (not necessarily laws) could reduce gun violence substantially. At the same time, it may spark a violent counter-reaction.

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