After Orlando, Some Questions

Is there anything we can do to prevent another terror attack? Must we resign ourselves to a future where mass murder is the norm? Why can't our government protect us?

The answer to the first question is challenging, as it is dependent on an understanding of the actions and behaviors of the murderer. As is often the case, gun control legislation (or the lack of it, depending on your perspective) is a main topic of discussion in the immediate aftermath. In the days before the killing the terrorist purchased weapons and ammunition at a Florida gun store. He did so in compliance with existing gun laws in the state. Demanding that it be impossible for people "like him" to purchase a weapon is an understandable response, but it is not as easy as it sounds.

Two of the worst mass shootings, in San Bernardino and Newtown, occurred in states with strict gun laws. The guns were not purchased by the killers so no background check or watch list would have made a difference. The murderers found a way to get the weapons they wanted. This is an important point to remember. Individuals determined to commit mass murder are not going to be concerned with violating gun laws and will find some way to achieve their goal. We tend to forget the weapons used in the Boston Marathon attack were pressure cookers, nails and ball bearings. While gun control legislation may cause citizens to feel as if something is being done, little will be actually accomplished.

In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting discussion as also centered around the purported failure of the FBI to act on reports about the shooter. Two separate investigations of the killer were conducted. Apparently these were not insignificant investigations and included multiple interviews of the suspect, as well as co-workers and other contacts. One report indicated that the killer was also placed under some degree of surveillance for a period of months. While there was evidence that the killer had made threatening statements and expressed support for terrorist organizations there was no clear evidence that he was planning an attack. He appeared to be one of a number of Muslim Americans who verbally support terrorist views. As disturbing as this is, it is not a crime in America and the investigation was dropped.

Some might say that the FBI or other law enforcement officials should keep such individuals under ongoing surveillance and observation. Basic math illustrates the problem with such an approach. There are nearly 3 million Muslims in the United States. If 1/1000 of them are radicalized or potentially radicalized, that would amount to 3000 individuals. Counting support staff, it could take as many as 10 people or more to place someone under constant surveillance. That is 30,000 FBI agents. As the FBI only employs 35,000 people, and there is no way to clearly identify who needs to be watched and who doesn't, it is clear that the FBI cannot completely protect us. Identifying, monitoring and reporting individuals who sympathize with terror cannot be done by the government, it can only be done by citizens.

The people best positioned to help weed out the evil in our midst are the people who have ongoing contact with those who might wish to do us harm. As the terror problem is almost exclusively a Muslim problem any meaningful solution will have to include members of the Muslim community. It is time for Muslim clerics to speak out against not only acts of terror but against the ideology that breeds them. Leaders in the Muslim community need to work together to eliminate radicalism from their midst. Hateful acts begin as hateful thoughts borne out of hateful ideology. If Islam is truly a religion of peace it needs to go to war against the evil done in its name. 

The question of whether or not we must be resigned to mass shootings is dependent on many factors. Foremost among them is the duty of individuals to protect themselves. Every mass shooting reiterates the truth that law enforcement cannot save us. If we decide to rely on law enforcement alone we will continue to see tragedy occur. We need to be a society of vigilant citizens. We must also give consideration to being a society of individuals trained and equipped to defend ourselves. There is a reason that the majority of mass shootings occur in gun free zones. 

Finally, our government cannot protect us. Large entities are best equipped to defeat large threats. Massive bureaucracies are not nimble or quick enough to eliminate small threats and lone wolf attacks. We are not being attacked by uniformed armies landing on our shores. Individual enemy combatants are appearing on our doorsteps. Americans will need to rise up together to fight this. To do this will require us to speak the truth about the war we are in, the enemy we face and on how we all can contribute. This is not a war that will be won with hashtags or rainbow colored profile pictures. This one is on all of us.

 - Bart