Schneier on Security
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December 21, 2012
This Week's Overreactions
Schools go into lockdown over a thermometer, a car backfiring, a bank robbery a few blocks away, a student alone in a gym, a neighbor on the street, and some vague unfounded rumors. And one high-school kid was arrested for drawing pictures of guns. Everywhere else, post-traumatic stupidity syndrome. (It's not a new phrase -- Google shows hits back to 2001 -- but it's new to me. It reminds me of this.) I think of it as: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it."
I'm not going to write about the Newtown school massacre. I wrote this earlier this year after the Aurora shooting, which was a rewrite of this about the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. I feel as if I'm endlessly repeating myself. This essay, also from 2007, on the anti-terrorism "War on the Unexpected," is also relevant. Just remember, we're the safest we've been in 40 years.
Posted on December 21, 2012 at 12:12 PM
• 54 Comments
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when i heard the school had a 'state of the art' security system but the gunman simply blasted his way through the glass doors i thought about when bruce wrote about installing a dozen locks on your front door but the intruder just breaks a window
I'm beginning to think Eric Frank Russell's novel Wasp should be required reading in regard to security and safety.
The war has raged for nearly a year and Earth desperately needs an edge to overcome the Sirian Empire's huge advantage in personnel and equipment. That's where James Mowry comes in. Intensively trained, his appearance surgically altered, Mowry secretly lands on one of the Empire's planets. His mission: to sap morale, cause mayhem, tie up resources, and wage a one-man war on a planet of 80 million--in short, to be like the wasp buzzing around a car to distract the driver...and causing him to crash.
CNN's story on increasing sales of Kevlar armor for kids made me groan. 125,000 or so schools in the US did not report a mass shooting this year. People are so poor at evaluating risk. Kids are far more likely to die in a traffic accident on the way to school than being shoot at school. Of course the media never covers stories this way.
Breivik is also living proof that all the security safeguards you come up with wont always stop such attacks. He easily navigated strict Norweigan gun control, he got fertilizer even though it was on a watch list for terrorism, and by dressing up as a cop he was able to get past armed security on the island he rampaged.
These guys are all too calculating to be able to stop every one. Thankfully they caught a Breivik copycat in Czech the other day but the next nut will just learn from his mistakes and prob not be caught.
Interestingly, there was not a lot of paranoia or kneejerk reactions in Norway afterwards. I guess their society has much less fear than ours
While I do see a lot of stupidity in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook, and previous shooting, I have one concern. Why is it that as security professionals we adopt a concepts like 'No security thru obscurity" and "Defense in-depth" but can't seem to apply those idea in this type of situation? Saying that we are safer because the homicide rate is akin to security thru obscurity. And that is no plan at all. It certainly didn't protect those kids, or the people in that theater, or any of the other victims. I am not a fan of arming teachers or having cops in every school, but it seems like we are not really planning for how to deal with a more and more common threat (yes, mass shootings have increased since the 1980s).
Missed this one: http://www.kens5.com/on-tv/kens-reporters/...
"Police did locate the man, who, they said, was actually a falconer dressed in camo and carrying a stick. He was looking for his missing bird."
And by locate, I think they meant tackled and arrested, from what I've heard, but I don't have citations for that...
What happens if you encrypt an image of guns, then post it on the bb? No one knows what it is, but it's actually the same thing. No one does anything.
Then, post an image of the encryption key next to it. Full disclosure, but still, no one reacts. Same information.
While I can agree that most of those are overreactions I'm not sure I agree that a lockdown after a nearby bank robbery is unreasonable.
Of course, that may be personal experience speaking. At a former job we were evacuated from the building after a man who showed a gun at the nearby social security office slipped into the building past two employees exiting our building. We had no connection other than proximity to the social security office.
> Saying that we are safer because the homicide rate is akin to security thru obscurity.
No it isn't.
Security through obscurity would be removing schools from google maps so that nobody would know there were schools.
Saying these events are rare is intelligent risk assessment. The same reason people in Colorado don't sleep in lifejackets when they hear a story about rising sea levels
Are you collecting these incidents? Because here's another, where two schools went on lockdown because a teacher asked a student to give a package to another teacher: http://newsflash.iusd.org/2012/12/...
Human's natural reactions are emotionally driven to see the nasty side of things as the left over traits from our ancestors who have to live in constant fear. In this modern era, we are no better than who we were thousands of years ago. The same human symptoms and ailments of the mind.
So what happens when the number of automobile deaths equal the number of deaths occuring in terrorist attacks or mass shootings? This may never happen, but would it justify the attention in the news?
As to django's comment, it should be said that the attacks indeed were "news" in the Schneier sense as well. I believe that makes the lack of kneejerk reactions more remarkable.
As undergrad I got a research grant to study murder rates across countries.
What I learned was there are not really any useful data available.
There are tremendous methodological issues.
What inspired me was I had read that in Japan that male head of household might kill his family and himself, if he lost face.
While not legal, it was part of the culture, and they didn't record that as a multiple murder.
I wasn't able to find an answer to that question with time and money available for that research project.
Because, though I found data on crime, at least back then, there weren't really national crime statistics for most countries.
There were for US, the UCR (Unified Crime Report) http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr but other countries didn't have anything like that, at least not available to the public.
So the best you could do academically, with a LARGE project with lots of money, was form your own team and compare specific cities in various countries to each other.
Like say London vs Tokyo vs Washington DC, but that present obvious sampling errors.
I didn't have that large of a grant.
There are also victim surveys, but that doesn't work so well for homicide, and there are many known issues with surveys.
There are also problems with definition of crimes.
They vary in lots of ways between countries, or even in US between states.
How are suicides counted?
Sometimes they are included in homicide stats, sometimes in murder, sometimes they are excluded, and often their is a mix in the same data (ie some suicides are included and some aren't).
Consider your previous article, that links to page showing OECD data. http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2012/07/...
Not sure what that truly means, never seen that specific term "Assault Deaths" used for national data sets.
But if you look at this page, that is using OECD data as well http://micpohling.wordpress.com/2007/05/17/...
it shows US at top for Homicides, on first graph "1. Homicide", but that probably includes suicides.
I suspect that is based on same data as page you linked, though differing time periods.
However, if you look at the second graph, "2. Violent Crime", you will see US isn't the top, instead UK is number 1, followed by New Zealand at number 2, and Canada at number 3.
Also note, all three of those are about twice the rate as US.
There are also a lot of political questions with the statistics, that can lead to skewed data.
Do "terrorist" crimes get included in main stats or not?
It is really hard to find answers to questions like that when looking at violent crime data.
I don't have any answers to offer, really complex problem, there are *not* any easy or simple answers.
I do agree with you that mental health issues are not handled well in the US.
I think raising standard of living in combination with active education & support to reduce domestic violence, child abuse, addiction problems, and such would help.
But I am afraid, that just like computer security, you can't ever making anything completely *safe*.
According to the OECD (wwwDOToecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/safety/)
The assault rate for the USA is 1.51% with 5 homicides per 100000
The assault rate for Canada is 1.31% with 1.8 homicides per 100000
The assault rate for the UK is 1.93% with 1.2 homicides per 100000
The assault rate for New Zealand is 2.23% with 1.5 homicides per 100000
Canada has less assaults than the US and even New Zealand is not "...about twice the rate as US."
All of them have a MUCH lower rate of homicide (defined as "...the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought" and includes terrorist-related deaths but not suicides) than the US.
All the current OECD statistics are clearly presented and easy to understand, and the methodology used is readily available, so I'm not sure why you had so much trouble finding "...answers to questions like that when looking at violent crime data."
On the story about the kid who was arrested for drawing pictures of guns: I'm going to assume until otherwise stated that "several electronic parts and several types of chemicals that when mixed together, could cause an explosion, police say." means ordinary electronics as found in any house, and a completely mundane assortment of cleaning chemicals under the sink.
all that being said, condolences to the families that are grieveing for loved ones. May your government have the wisdom to do the right thing, such that, when something like this happens again, they do what matters and not what shows. Someone said, Life is a hard, and then you die.
now i wonder in how many of these stories somebody could have been only stopped by a good man with a gun.
Cliff, Britain has a violent crime rate five times that of the U.S., and twice that of South Africa. Canada's violent crime rate is twice that of the U.S. Violent crime includes more than just "Assault", it also includes aggravated robbery and burglary, car jackings, sodomy, rape, attempted murder, etc. Assault itself doesn't even require physical contact as defined in many state codes of the U.S., because when it does it is usually defined as aggravated or battery (In states that I am familiar with in the U.S., you can be charged with assault simply for hurling a threat at someone).
Do you have any references to back up your assertion?
Dead is dead, not much scope for disagreement. But what consist assault is ground for endless debates.
Read Our better angles by Stephen Pinker. Gives a very good overview of violence over history.
Conclusion, we are more safe than ever in history. And the USA is not the safest region on earth. The safest places are Japan, New Zealand, and Western Europe.
Read Our better angles by Stephen Pinker
I may be obtuse but I have an acute need to point out a typo.
I guess there will now be an escalation of the modern day witch hunts...any boy or young man who exhibits the slightest non-standard behavior will be under suspicion. Non-standard behavior, not by any professional definition, but as deemed by common people. I'd imagine kids will be snitching on rival kids all the time now, it would be easy to take any odd activity, claim it was suspicious and that you felt potentially threatened, and call it in. The purpose being just to hassle another kid you didn't like. As with any witch hunt, the proper tactic to use is to snitch first and snitch often, thereby deflecting suspicion from you and ensuring the mob is busy with someone else. School was tough when I was there, I can only imagine how bad it is now.
It amazes and frightens me that so many in the US feel the only resolution to violence is even more violence.
The overreaction reached new hieghts of absurdity in the past few days... the NRA and its lemmings are calling fow all schools to have armed guards, and a Texas school has even instructed its teachers to carry concealed weapons...
...maybe we would have been better off if the world actually had ended last week rather than slipping further into this lunacy!
Here is an interesting homicide chart.
NYPD To Start Searching Internet For Pre-Crime Shooters
Big brother just gets bigger and bigger. They take advantage of any event to grow.
The NYPD intends to create algorithms that scan the text of conversations in chat rooms, social media and emails for clues on potential ‘apolitical or deranged killers’, according to NYT. NYPD Police Chief Raymond Kelly said in a statement.
. . .
This is particularly bizarre since it appears that Adam Lanza, the shooter at the Sandy Hook Elementary Schoold, didn't leave any kind of Facebook or twitter clues. What algorithm would have spotted him in advance
read the whole thing at
After 9/11 airports were guarded by soldiers with (loaded?) weapons.
You defended this overreaction as necessary to give the traveling public the confidence to 'carry on'.
Do these overreactions, while every bit as silly from a coldly clinical point of view, give parents the confidence to 'carry on'?
@dot tilde dot
Really, you wish there was a good man with a gun? Good in which respect? Having a gun and being able to use it under highly stressfull conditions are two different things (ask trained cops). This was discussed after the theater shooting too: what if the people there had a gun each? Well, it could have actually caused more death and injuries, because people might have not been able to identify the first shooter and might have actually killed each other. People are not the law enforcement. Yes, they can carry weapons in the US, but that is not for personal protection. This is not the old far west when you can make your own justice.
@Sky: Well, a MAN would not be necessary. I suspect that ANY of the unarmed women that attempted in one (gallant though ineffective) way or another to save the children in their charge would have done quite nicely with a pistol. They did not panic as far as we know and had time to get half their class (in one case) hidden in an attached restroom, staying with the remainder to face the killer. One can assume that that teacher, at least, might have had time to draw a concealed pistol and use it to some effect.
Must we continue to waste the courage of our fellow citizens to your preconceived notion that "it won't work, anyway?"
Isn't some chance better than no chance?
One can assume that that teacher, at least, might have had time to draw a concealed pistol and use it to some effect.
Yes, let's give guns to millions of people employed in high-stress low-paid jobs where they daily restrain themselves from physically assaulting annoying brats in their classrooms. Brilliant idea.
Must we continue to waste the courage of our fellow citizens to your preconceived notion that "it won't work, anyway?" Isn't some chance better than no chance?
Ummmm ... I thought that in all the recent shootings most people actually escaped? So your chances to survive without guns isn't 0, more like above 90%. What you are talking about is increasing the probability and that is not supported by fact, just a belief that most people with guns are courageous, level-headed and willing to risk death to save other people. In other words - pure fantasy.
For my work, I had to take an active shooter training after the shooting at the theater. It was made very clear that hiding or running were the strategies to adopt and that engaging the shooter had to be the last resort measure. One reason was that when the law enforcement comes in, they have the order to take the shooter down and you don't want to be the one holding a gun.
It doesn't work like in the movies, shooting someone is not easy, it's not just pulling the trigger. Giving out more guns it's not going to solve the problem. If we go down that road, will the people with one overreact to normal situations?
I found very interesting this comment:
@Tom: "Yes, let's give guns to millions of people employed in high-stress low-paid jobs where they daily restrain themselves from physically assaulting annoying brats in their classrooms."
Some questions arise:
1. How many teachers are there in this country?
2. What fraction of them do you suppose would consent to carry weapons of any sort? Firearms?
3. What is to keep them from assaulting the students now? If you really think this poorly of your children's teachers, you should consider home schooling though that also bears the risk of the teacher harming the students...
I am glad you like it. What is your brilliant suggestion?
"Ummmm ... I thought that in all the recent shootings most people actually escaped? So your chances to survive without guns isn't 0, more like above 90%..."
Hows many survived in nthe twio classrooms the shooter entered? Except for those hidden in the attached restroom, the reports I have seen thus far say ZERO. Again, isn't some chance better than none? Reports indicate they were instructed to hide themselves and their pupils in dark corners of the room with the shades drawn and the lights out. It is not much of a plan but it was better than nothing, if only slightly.
The theater was a significantly different situation in that there were a number of seat rows to hide behind and exits not directly blocked by the shooter. Still, four men died shielding their loved ones with their bodies.
I point out that I did not suggest anyone go in search of the shooter. Remaining in hiding and covering the likely avenue(s) of approach might have given the them the tactical edge they would need. Small chance (the theater shooter was armored from head to foot with the exception of his face, I think) is better than none.
@Sky: "...engaging the shooter had to be the last resort..."
Exactly, but that "last resort" must be present to be exercised. Those six women died trying the feeble plans they had been given and drilled in. Those plans failed them. Arming them or permitting them to arm themselves is not guaranteed to succeed but it is guaranteed to give them a better chance at success.
Let's try something that hasn't failed, yet...
"...It doesn't work like in the movies..." Correct; in the movies, those six heroic women would have prevailed, possibly with losses. Contrary to the movies, heroism does not make you bulletproof in the real world.
"If we go down that road, will the people with one overreact to normal situations?" I have more faith in and respect for my fellow citizens than you appear to have. The statistics from "Shall Issue" states do not support the more general dire predictions of the opponents of those laws. This proposal has one virtue even if it has no others: it has not yet failed. EVERY other proposal I have seen in the last 2 weeks HAS been tried and HAS failed. Try something new.
Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids mentioned an incident in 1927 where a school board official carried out a bombing attack on an elementary school in Bath Township, Michigan, causing the deaths of 38 students and two teachers, among others. At the same time, according to Skenazy, there is less sense of distance in modern times, and this affects the perceptions of danger and likelihood. Among other possible factors that reduce distance are the ability to travel more quickly to remote areas (i.e. an airline flight measured in hours versus several days of driving) and also modern media coverage.
@Its Me Again
You sound like a kid with a hammer; everything looks like a nail.
Except in your case, the only solution to any problem involving guns is more guns.
If there was a food fight in Mickey-Ds, you'd be the person agitating to give everyone more burgers to throw!
(please explain how that is any different to your ideas about making sure everyone is armed)
I live in another country and we are constantly amazed at the deliberate and foolish mis-interpretation of "the right to bear arms."
It was crafted as an amendment to your constitution rather like a raised middle finger to the British. They specifically denied the free settlers permission to carry arms (for a bunch of very good reasons, in their opinion!), your forebears specifically overturned that as a means to arm the militias. Not to permit every Tom, Dick or Mary to keep their own arsenal within close reach to blow the head off whoever slights them.
What is most interesting is the desire by your country as a whole (and this starts right at the very top) to respond to any threat (real or perceived) with the need to kill someone.
There is no other 'civilised' country in the world with this attitude.
I feel as if I'm endlessly repeating myself.
Which is quite a common feeling in religious debates.
Personally, I'm a bit sceptic about statements that the solution to gun violence would be even more guns. It sounds exactly the same as the solution to massive debt being even more debt, and can be expected from powerful lobbyist organisations such as the NRA. Just like oil, nuclear and tobacco industries they have in the first place their own commercial interests in mind, not the safety of the general population.
@Kaithe: Did you read what I wrote or did you imagine something and attribute it to me?
Did I advocate deadly force as a means of dealing with running in the halls, tardiness or talking in class?
Do food fights often break out at "Mickey-D's" in your so very "civilized" country? Here in the "wild west" that doesn't happen. (No, we don't shoot food fighters here. Instead, most of us teach our kids better manners than that.)
As for me being "...the person agitating to give everyone more burgers to throw!" all I can say is: Congratulations! You have lowered the debate to gratuitous personal attack.
BTW, a PART of the difference is that no one dies in a food fight. Use of a gun in the circumstance would be unwarranted.
Please point out where I advocated "...making sure everyone is armed" because I don't believe I did.
"I live in another country and we are constantly amazed at the deliberate and foolish mis-interpretation of 'the right to bear arms.'" So what interpretation do you favor? Does the Second Amendment guarantee a right to join the army? Our courts have tossed that one aside. As a "foreigner" what real understanding do you have of our Constitution and laws?
No, it was not "...rather like a raised middle finger to the British." Read the history.
"What is most interesting is the desire by your country as a whole (and this starts right at the very top) to respond to any threat (real or perceived) with the need to kill someone."
I will leave the international political analysis of this sort to you for today.
I was specific about the threat: an armed person in a public space offering immediate deadly violence.
Should the two of us find ourselves in the same venue where that is the situation, I suspect you would be happy to find an armed defender near by. Or would you rather throw a hamburger sandwich? negotiate? appease? what, exactly?
"There is no other 'civilised' country in the world with this attitude."
No, not today. Read your histories; America has been quite restrained compared to the Greek city states, Rome, Persia, Carthage, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, USSR, China or Japan in the days of their power. Today, as many of these once powerful states shelter under the power of the United States, they can pretend to be too civilized to defend themselves.
@Its Me Again
I've been reading and hearing comments of different people on the subject and some think that it works like the movie, that you'll be bulletproof and in the heat of the moment you'll play hero instead of shivering in fear (which is a totally possible reaction). You're point of view seems less Hollywood fueled. I agree, I'll bless the one killing the shooter because carrying a weapon will I ever be in such a situation. My question is: should we militarize all people in public services and train them accordingly (they'll need to learn at least the basics, as weapon maintenance and shooting accuracy)? I personally do not want to carry a weapon and, as me, other people might not want that responsibility (culture, moral values, knowing your own limitations, etc).
In addition, we need to talk about acceptable risk. You can't eliminate risk, only reduce it. So at which point do we stop? Which measure is the most effective?
I'd like to know your opinion on the other measures that have been proposed: having people checked for mental illness and criminal records, and having a federal database of arms related purchases (bullets, weapons). Why are people against them? If you're sane and use weapons for hunting/fun/anything else legal, there's nothing limiting your rights there. I know these measure alone won't magically solve all the problems, you can always steal a weapon, buy it on the black market, build your own, etc.
I'm not for banning weapons, I just don't think that giving guns to teachers will make a difference (the shooter can use tear gas and the guns will be useless, just for the sake of making an example of a scenario).
@Sky: Thank you for actually reading the comments here, including mine, and responding to what is actually there. Not everyone does. I hope that I fall within that group, myself...
You gave me a lot to think about and my response is long. I apologize, in advance.
“...in the heat of the moment you'll play hero instead of shivering in fear (which is a totally possible reaction).” Please notice that I have never said that I WOULD react bravely; I see myself as something of a coward. However, I HOPE that I would live up to the example of courage shown by six unarmed women suddenly confronted with deadly violence in confined spaces. That said, I would feel better with some effective means to fight back in a similar situation. I suspect that – properly trained in marksmanship and stress management – those six women would PROBABLY have fared better if armed. Had they fared better, fewer people – children and adults – would have died.
“My question is: should we militarize all people in public services and train them accordingly (they'll need to learn at least the basics, as weapon maintenance and shooting accuracy)?” I most emphatically do NOT want to “militarize” public service personnel. I am very uncomfortable with the level of militarization currently in our actual police forces. I want to see people permitted to defend themselves as they are the ones guaranteed to be on scene when they are attacked. Two of the common features in all these incidents are:
1. the police were not on scene during the attack
2. the police arrived after the killing was done.
“I personally do not want to carry a weapon and, as me, other people might not want that responsibility (culture, moral values, knowing your own limitations, etc).” OK; you are within your rights to accept the risk inherent in being unarmed. No one wants to force you to carry, or even own, a gun. I simply request that you not require me to also accept that risk because you would otherwise be uncomfortable.
“In addition, we need to talk about acceptable risk. You can't eliminate risk, only reduce it.” Agreed.
“So at which point do we stop?” I would suggest that we stop at the point where the risk imposed by adding more law-abiding armed people equals the risk imposed by the lawless among us. Do I know where that point is? No but the lawless are clearly the bigger risk at present. We need to counter that risk.
”Which measure is the most effective?” Because police have arrived on-scene in as little as 2.5 minutes at Northern Illinois University (2008) and the immigration center in Binghamton, New York (2009) to find the killers had already done their deeds and killed themselves, we clearly cannot rely on the police to protect us in these situations. In most cases, the police arrived after 5 or more minutes. We will either defend ourselves or no one will.
Thankfully, after Columbine, the authorities stopped assuming these incidents were “hostage situations” and began to treat them as what they are: “mass murder situations.”
“I'd like to know your opinion on the other measures that have been proposed: having people checked for mental illness and criminal records, and having a federal database of arms related purchases (bullets, weapons).” The “mental health” aspects are, I believe, covered by existing law. There are currently arguments raging about the adequacy of those laws. As the CT school shooter and the more recent upstate NY shooter were already apparently disqualified from gun ownership, are we going to arrest people on predictions of crimes they have yet to commit because they are “unstable” in some way? I have seen this “Minority Report” suggestion offered seriously and it terrifies me. Aside from the fact that it stands our entire legal system on its head, we need to decide how much we will allow the authorities to data-mine our medical records.
Here, in Illinois, you need a license to own a gun. They call it a “Firearm Owner Identification Card” (“FOID” for short) but – because it is a felony in this state to possess a firearm or ammunition without one – it is a license in effect. The Illinois State Police receive your application, fee and photo then take up to 60 days (by statute though it sometimes takes longer) to do the required background check. I have read that they actually do background checks on ALL FOID holders every 30 days. Your card can be invalidated at any time. Years ago, a Decatur city police officer in my Poli Sci class told me earnestly that it was illegal to TOUCH a firearm without a FOID IN YOUR POCKET.
Besides, what counts as “mental illness?” Why would this only count for guns though it has already started there? Do you really want your qualification for various civil liberties placed in the hands of the members of the board of the American Psychiatric Society (or whatever the correct name is) through them being the authority on what does and does not constitute “mental illness?”
“Why are people against them?” Registration and databases (registration provides the data for the databases, after all) are not preventative which is how they are “sold” to the uninformed. They just give law enforcement additional charges to level and be bargained away by District Attorneys. They are not much use, in my opinion.
“If you're sane and use weapons for hunting/fun/anything else legal, there's nothing limiting your rights there.” Does the Second Amendment mention hunting? Target shooting? No. It mentions “militia.” There has been argument about what constitutes this militia, but the debate has NEVER been about hunting.
“I know these measure alone won't magically solve all the problems, you can always steal a weapon, buy it on the black market, build your own, etc.” Not only will these measures not “magically solve all the problems”, these measures have not solved ANY of the problems associated with guns and/or violence. For that reason these measures should be rejected and something else tried.
I prefer self-defense. That said, I have followed several cases related to police officers who shot – and killed – people that should not have been shot at all. They were represented by the city attorney (NYC, in the cases that occur without research) and had the resources of the city used in their defense. They were all acquitted. If I am a licensed carrier, can I expect the same “courtesy” from the city or state should I mistakenly kill someone? No; I would actually need to be more careful than a police officer or I will go to jail for a VERY long time.
“I'm not for banning weapons, I just don't think that giving guns to teachers will make a difference (the shooter can use tear gas and the guns will be useless, just for the sake of making an example of a scenario).” Any measure has a counter-measure; that is the same argument used to “support” all the failed gun control proposals ever made. It works both ways.
That said, there are some things about tear gas... I know the purpose of such gas is to incapacitate the intended victim(s) – and it WILL to varying degrees. As it is essentially smoke, intended victims MAY be able to flee under cover of that smoke. Everything has unintended consequences. In addition to directly obscuring the shooter's vision, it forces the shooter to align his sights through a gas mask which distorts his vision.
Would I hope a shooter brings tear (or other) gas to a venue where I am? Definitely not; I am just pointing out that its use has drawbacks for shooter, too.
I guess it all comes down to whom would you rather trust to protect the lives of your children: people at the scene (school, in this case) at the time of the attack or the police who cannot arrive in time?
@Its Me Again. No problem with long answers, they clarify your ideas, which is the point of having a discussion, and help seeing things from other angles.
"I simply request that you not require me to also accept that risk because you would otherwise be uncomfortable.". I do not want to limit you. I know many people that own guns, even tried shooting, no problem there. Just don't want them in my house or being forced to carry one. If you agree there, then we're on the same page. For the record, I'm planning to teach my child to learn how to use firearms at the proper age, so he won't hurt himself or anybody else if in presence of one, since it's common for kids to go shooting where I live. Many other parents around here use this approach even without owning a single weapon.
When I speak about mental health I'm thinking to people that are clearly unstable, not at Minority Report scenarios. Absolutely. I never dealt with the mental health system, so I have no idea about how it works, but there should be someone we can trust to make this kind of evaluation. Maybe if you have a history of violence it's better if you don't own a weapon. Illinois in this respect is closer to my idea than where I live: New Mexico. Here you can buy guns at Wall Mart while shopping for groceries. You can even buy them at the gun-fair. It's a bit different from what you describe. Probably our point of view differ also for this difference, you live in a state where there is already some control in place and, if I interpreted correctly, you judge that to not be enough. I do agree, a crazy person and strong will can cause a lot of trouble anyway. I'd like to have some of those regulations extended to other parts of the country.
I think there should be some kind of control on sales, not to build a case against you if you actually violate the law, but as a preemptive measure. Of course, nobody wants big brother poking into your life for buying two bullets, but if you buy 20,000 I'd like law enforcement to question you. And if nothing is wrong, you can keep going on with your life, my apologies for wasting your time. Yes, the system can be abused (as for any forms of control), so it needs to be designed correctly. I'm not a policy maker, so I'll let them discuss the how.
"Any measure has a counter-measure". Agreed, it was only an example, don't take it literally. I'd rather not elaborate what can really be done to improve mass murder success, they learn fast enough from their peers! I'm just worried someone will start distributing weapons to untrained people thinking they'll figure it out and morph into a special op force.
“I do not want to limit you.” There are many that do and I am afraid I thought you were one of them.
“I know many people that own guns, ... Many other parents around here use this approach even without owning a single weapon.” I think that is a good approach. Be safe. Carry on.
“I never dealt with the mental health system, so I have no idea about how it works, but there should be someone we can trust to make this kind of evaluation.” Would these be the same people that run Parole Boards in the various states? They seem to have a hard time identifying the prisoners that can be “rehabilitated.” I am just not sure there IS such a person or group of persons to trust completely in this matter.
“Maybe if you have a history of violence it's better if you don't own a weapon.” If I recall correctly, there was a federal law passed that barred persons with orders of protection and/or domestic violence convictions (maybe it was just charges, I don't recall for sure) from owning firearms. Because police officers are relatively frequently targets of orders of protection or have been charged with domestic violence, an exception for police officers was sought. I don't know if it was granted or not. I do know that the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA-68, as it is often referred to) made it illegal under federal law for a person with a prior felony conviction to purchase a firearm of any sort. It also made sale and delivery through the US mail illegal.
“Illinois in this respect is closer to my idea than where I live: New Mexico. Here you can buy guns at Wall Mart while shopping for groceries.” You can buy guns at WalMart in Illinois, too. You have to have a FOID to do it and there is a waiting period: 24 hours for long arms, 72 hours for pistols of any sort. The buyer's FOID information is taken down at the time of purchase. There is an “instant background check” mandated by the 1993 federal law that contained the “assault weapons ban.” The ban was written with a sunset but the background check is permanent.
“You can even buy them at the gun-fair.” We have gun shows, too. Again, you have to have a FOID and the waiting periods apply. If the seller is a gun dealer, the instant background check is done. If the seller is a private individual (not a gun dealer), the instant check is not done. As I understand it, the difference is that the state police did not want the line tied up by private transfers, so it is not available to private individuals.
“It's a bit different from what you describe. Probably our point of view differ also for this difference, you live in a state where there is already some control in place and, if I interpreted correctly, you judge that to not be enough.” I am afraid you misunderstand me. All the regulations I spoke of in my earlier message apply throughout Illinois. Chicago, the current violent crime capital of the nation, is in Illinois; all the previously mentioned regulations apply ALONG WITH a licensing scheme so difficult to comply with that it was thrown out by the US Supreme Court (McDonald v Chicago). Gun owners in the city of Chicago must report all purchases, transfers and dispositions of guns. Chicago has the tightest gun control in the nation. Is it the safest city? No. There are nearly 40 murders in Chicago each month. Most murder victims in Chicago are young men and teenage boys but they range from about 2 years old to octogenarians in the extremes of the range.
I would GLADLY trade sets of gun laws with New Mexico and so would many Illinoisans living south of Interstate 80.
“I'd like to have some of those regulations extended to other parts of the country.” If they worked, I would, too. They don't. Chicago has the toughest gun laws and worst rates of criminal use of guns in the nation.
“I think there should be some kind of control on sales, not to build a case against you if you actually violate the law, but as a preemptive measure.” I am not sure what I think on this one. Perhaps we should leave the federal laws in place as they are the ones that prohibit addicts, the mentally ill and felons from purchasing weapons. As well as making “straw man” purchases illegal. I would like to get the federal form 4473 (you fill one out whenever you purchase a gun AND some other times) which was 4 pages long the last time I filled one out trimmed back down to the postcard size it started out in 1969.
“Of course, nobody wants big brother poking into your life for buying two bullets, but if you buy 20,000 I'd like law enforcement to question you. And if nothing is wrong, you can keep going on with your life, my apologies for wasting your time.” Why does anyone really care? The numbers look scary but how does the quantity of ammunition really affect public safety? In case of fire, it will “cook off” round by round rather than detonate as a single mass. If exposed to water (or just high humidity) for a long enough time, the cases will just oxidize to the point the rounds cannot be chambered. I am not certain what the concern is with ammunition.
“Yes, the system can be abused (as for any forms of control), so it needs to be designed correctly. I'm not a policy maker, so I'll let them discuss the how.” Even “correctly designed” system will be abused. I believe it was Jefferson who said “He who governs least governs best.” The American system is designed to trust the people. We need to do that.
“... it was only an example, don't take it literally. I'd rather not elaborate what can really be done to improve mass murder success, they learn fast enough from their peers!” TOO LATE!! I already took it literally, though I suspected I should not...
“I'm just worried someone will start distributing weapons to untrained people thinking they'll figure it out and morph into a special op force.” You can relax on this score. No one is thinking Seal Team 6 needs to worry about concealed carry permit holders replacing them. Besides, I don't know of anyone wanting to start "distributing weapons to untrained people."
Most precautions will change the risk of mass murder (or whatever we're worrying about today) in some way (hopefully reducing the risk). They will also have costs and other consequences. Which in turn will have a range of further consequences. You can't ever do just one thing!
If you consider increasing the supply of firearms in schools (to "responsible teachers who are good shots"), one risk might be that a previously unarmed nutter may obtain one of these weapons, and go on a shooting spree of his (usually it is "his") own.
Or there could be accidental discharges - as too often happens with privately held (or any) weapons.
Or a teacher could "go postal".
Guns and kids may not be an ideal mix - even if the kids are told VERY CLEARLY they must not touch the nice teachers' guns.
Of course guns COULD be used to interrupt a shooting - but is that REALLY more likely on the whole than any of the ways such a scheme could go wrong?
I'm still confused over what exactly a good guy with a gun is. It's a good piece of rhetoric, but it sounds inherently impractical. This isn't me being critical - this is the engineer in me asking 'ok, so how do you make this actually work?'. Surely it depends where they're pointing the gun? How exactly will you know until it's rather too late to do anything about it?
All the rhetoric suggests that good guys are robots who only shoot the bad guys. What if they're surprised? What if they're having a bad day? What if they genuinely think someone is attacking them and turn out to be wrong? Accidents happen. They happen rather a lot more than the actual event that is being prevented in theory.
More to the point, who are these people that need to have guns issued & be trained? Every teacher? Should every building have armed guards? How do you secure access to weapons in every environment? When can they use them? What about escalation - are pistols enough, or do the good guys need automatic rifles?
Furthermore, if my building has armed people and someone else enters with a weapon because they are also a good guy with a gun, how do you tell whether you let them through, or get your gun out because they might be hostile? When does that change?
This is why it feels impractical to me. It is essentially asking every single member of the gun-carrying public to become a trained police officer & insisting that with enough training and education, nothing will go wrong. Does nobody remember how the Cold War wasn't renowned for making people feel safe that both sides had nukes? Imagine that repeated a million times over your populace.
Worse, the recent larger scale shootings haven't exactly been predictable events. This isn't terrorism per se, where there is a calculated desire to inflict terror, premeditation for a long period, etc.
Bruce has always made a good point that preventing terrorism is about intelligence. How will you gather that on your own people in the land of the free, to try and decide if one of them one day will be unstable enough to go around shooting people?
All this talk of bad guys and good guys. Who are they? How will you know? What will you do when the system has failures?
@ Jeff H,
I'm still confused over what exactly a good guy with a gun is. It's a good piece of rhetoric, but it sounds inherently impractical
+1 for common sense reasoning.
What is the real difference between a "good guy with a gun" and a "bad guy with a gun" simple answer "little or nothing".
It all poils down to "morals", "viewpoint" and "intent" as the differences. In both the good/bad guy cases they are holding and pointing a tool that is designed to project kinetic energy to a sizable distance. The method chosen is a bullet the design of which controls it's range and how it transfers it's energy into the target and in what way.
It does not matter the slightest bit if the bullet that hits you comes from the gun of a good guy or a bad guy, your hit, your probably down and your chance of surviving the shot is realy not determined by good guy / bad guy considerations.
Whilst various forms of protective clothing can reduce the effects of being hit by a bullet the reality is they are far from perfect both in the coverage of the body and their ability to actually prevent damage to the persom wearing them. They are further very uncomfortable being heavy and hot to wear whilst also significantly reducing the ability to move
The statment of the NRA about a good guy stoping a bad guy is compleat nonsense for very many reasons some of which you have mentioned and all that solution will do is raise the unnecessary injury and death toll due to the increase of available guns an amunition.
The reality of reducing the casualties and is also the safest way of dealing with the issue of guns is to not have them in a given area in the first place. This requires putting measures in place for keeping guns and amunition out of the area, which although difficult is likely to be a lot more effective for lower cost and risk, than the NRA solution of turning people that probably don't want to be, into armed guards, without sufficient training or other support.
One major limiting factor is of course "gun and amunition availability" the less available they are then the harder a person has to try to get them to use. Further the use of metal detectors at the entrances to buildings is known to have a further deterant effect.
In the UK we do get gang shootings and occasionaly bystanders and other innocent persons get hurt. However whilst the UK has between a sixth and a fifth the US population our gun crime and other figures are very tiny fractions of those in the US (if the crime reports can be 'apples for apples' compared).
At the end of the day in by far the majority of cases people injured or killed by guns is because somebody squeased the trigger on a loaded gun. If you vastly reduce the number of guns then the number of available triggers to be squeased will be likewise reduced. This should certainly reduce the number of accidental shootings and in all probability domestic gun murders as well.
As for other gun crimes well the reduced supply of guns should cause basic economic theory to apply with the price for illegal weapons rising thus pricing out the criminals and others at the bottom of the food chain.
Most precautions will change the risk ... other consequences... ” True. One unintended (?) consequence of declaring some places “gun free” has been to mark them as hunting preserves for the bad actors among us.
'If you consider increasing the supply of firearms … a shooting spree of his (usually it is "his") own.' The beginning of this sentence is simply disingenuous. No one has suggested placing a box of loadede guns on a table with sign saying 'Take one and have a nice day.” The remainder, if likely in schools, should also be happening in states where carriage of firearms is fairly common. This is not happening in those locales, so I think we can call this a “movie plot” (at best) rather than a serious concern.
'Or there could be accidental discharges - as too often happens ...' I have been following the literature on firearms for over half a century and have yet to read of an AD occurring when noting is touching the trigger. As the point of “concealed carry” is concealment, the pistol(s) should safely be in the concealed holster(s) until needed. Again, not a real concern unless you think these otherwise sober, respectable teachers are going to play with their (loaded) pistols at school.
'Or a teacher could "go postal".' Do teachers “go postal” now? I don't think so. Why would they start?
'Guns and kids … nice teachers' guns.' Again, you are apparently presuming that the firearms will be stored in an unsafe manner – laying about on a desk, perhaps? On the other hand, I am assuming the weapons will be concealed on the person(s) of the authorized staff member(s) and, therefore, not readily available for pawing by pupils. Perhaps knowing some of their teachers are armed will even dissuade the delinquents in the student population from assaulting their teachers? If so, would that count as an 'unintended benefit?'
'Of course guns COULD ... scheme could go wrong?' Will there be accidents of some sort? Yes, though I expect they would be rare. Will the accidents in schools carry the same degree of lethality as the purposeful shootings in schools? No. AN accidental discharge will pretty much be AN accidental discharge incident: one BANG and an 'oh, shit!' Not being aimed, that one AD is far less likely to produce injury or death than an 'active shooter' though it still may. The accidental shooter will most likely be prosecuted, as is proper.
'I'm still confused over what exactly a good guy with a gun is.' The 'good guy with a gun' would be the one attempting to protect the unarmed from the 'bad guy' (active shooter).
'... it sounds inherently impractical.' Would that be 'impractical' compared to hiding from an intent murderer in the 'dark' portions of a confined space (such as a classroom) during the day? How 'practical' is THAT? (Hint: It did NOT work very well at the school last month.)
'This isn't me being critical...' OK; how would THAT look?
'How exactly will you know until it's rather too late to do anything about it?' In the case of armed school staff, we have no past performance of the specific task, so we would look at the general level of responsibility displayed by the current candidate. Or are you looking for a crystal ball gazer to assure you that 'everything will be alright?'
'All the rhetoric suggests that good guys are robots who only shoot the bad guys.' No, it suggests that they can tell the difference between people going about their routine business wearing their normal work attire and a stranger (possibly) wearing body armor and (definitely) firing a weapon at unarmed people. Why is that so difficult to grasp? Would you not be able discriminate between the shooter (wearing an armor vest and firing a carbine) and the teachers and kids at the school? I could and I don't think it would be difficult: the shooter was the guy who looked 'out of place.'
'What if they're surprised?' What if one is? Are there more on site? If so, surprising each should become progressively more difficult... The staff at Sandy Hook did not appear to have been surprised. They were definitely in the “unarmed victim” category, though.
'What if they're having a bad day?' Is “Falling Down” a true story, then? Movie plot...
'What if they genuinely think someone is attacking them and turn out to be wrong?' I would assume they will stand trial for some charge involving serious jail time. That is the price of faulty judgment in other cases involving serious injury or death, is it not?
'Accidents happen. They happen rather a lot more than the actual event that is being prevented in theory.' To date, firearm discharges in schools and theaters have not been accidents, they have been deliberate actions of bad actors. Sadly, they were also unanswerable by those on scene trying to protect others.
'More to the point, who are these people that need to have guns issued & be trained? Every teacher?' That would be my preference, but a random number > 1, the identities of which would not be published would be good.
'Should every building have armed guards?' The expense makes this impractical.
'How do you secure access to weapons in every environment?' If the weapons are concealed on the persons of those authorized this appears to be handled. We are not, for example, authorizing teachers to bring guns – loaded or unloaded – for “show & tell.” Neither are we authorizing them to brandish these weapons in a moment of pique.
'When can they use them?' When an armed person presents lethal violence would be a good time, don't you think? That would be regardless of whether the teacher has finished the previously prescribed methods of darkening and locking the classroom...
'What about escalation - are pistols enough, or do the good guys need automatic rifles? As a practical matter, these guys do not come to a school or other place people are guaranteed to be unarmed 'to be shot at' but, rather, 'to shoot' at others to maim or kill them. The attackers are cowards, after all; many seem to shoot themselves when they think the police have arrived but before they can engage the shooter. A defense the attacker sees as significant should do; I would think a pistol or two on scene would be enough if wielded by determined staff members.
'Furthermore, if my building … might be hostile?' When you go to a tavern/pub, can you tell the difference between someone approaching you because they are simply moving around the room (to/from a restroom or whatever) and the guy coming toward you to attack you or someone near you? If so, you know the answer to your question. If not, I hope you don't go out much.
'When does that change?' How about when someone's behavior becomes threatening or starts shooting?
'It is essentially asking every single member of the gun-carrying public to become a trained police officer...' No, it is not. The assertion is ridiculous UNLESS I get to arrest miscreants using my concealed-carry permit as authority. No state grants that authority with a CCW permit. No one wants them to, either.
'... & insisting that with enough training and education, nothing will go wrong.' This assertion is also ridiculous. We are dealing with people here, so no one is saying that nothing can go wrong.
'Does nobody remember ...repeated a million times over your populace.' Perhaps a little less faith that 'there are no bad people the world and, if there should be one or two, they are really just misunderstood or looking for help' would be in order, anyway. Perhaps we should all remember that the world is a dangerous place and something will kill you in the end. Being mindful of one's surroundings is a good thing. You don't need to nervous, just observant.
'Worse, the recent larger scale shootings haven't exactly been predictable events.' That is precisely why one must make plans and preparations before such things happen, so far as one can.
'This isn't terrorism per se, where there is a calculated desire to inflict terror, premeditation for a long period, etc.' Oh, but it IS 'terrorism' just not POLITICAL terrorism; these incidents ALL reflect deliberate planning. No one 'just shows up' at a theater or school with body armor, multiple weapons and a large collection of loaded ammunition magazines without planning and preparation.
'Bruce has always ... shooting people?' Because we are talking about people that take action outside the sphere of organized groups, traditional 'intelligence' is unlikely to discover them. The remaining method is to prepare for their arrival beforehand and hope they never arrive. Doing nothing has not worked. Various gun bans have not worked. In at least one case, the school resource officer, out of the building for 'other duties' was engaged while outside the building and denied entry. What's left? People in the building whose duties do not take them out of the building: staff.
'All this talk ... Who are they? How will you know?' Their behavior will allow you to know which is which.
'What will you do when the system has failures?' Change the plan to avoid the most recent mode(s) of failure. In any case, we will back here, discussing some new twist to the problem...
Your argument on this is poorly reasoned and even contradictory. This is uncharacteristic and well beneath the 'standard' for your postings here.
After saying there is 'little or nothing' different between the 'good guys' and the bad, you then state the obvious difference: intent. Action will follow intent.
Are you recommending kevlar (or other) clothing? That would be fine, except, in my state of residence, this type of clothing is not legal for 'civilians' such as myself.
It would appear that armed guards are considered acceptable at banks and government buildings of all sorts among others. Why not schools? Simply calling the NR statement 'compleat nonsense' does not make it so.
The previous posters' objections have been dealt with and are mostly nonsense themselves. You do not appear to make any new (never tried) suggestions, either..
'Gun free zones' are great in theory but do not appear to work in the 'real world.' As repeatedly demonstrated, once you create these 'gun free' areas, the only persons possessing guns within them are bad actors who have come there for the purpose of demonstrating just how bad they can be.
The NRA solution you decry would be far more effective than asking unarmed women to vanquish an armed and armored foe.
I notice you did NOT say you can make firearms and/or ammunition “... impossible to get...” Because it is not impossible to get them, someone will get arms into one of these zones periodically.
You suggest use of metal detectors at building entrances. The expense of the machines and operators will dwarf the expense inherent in allowing school staff members to arm themselves pursuant to permit requirements and - possibly - standardization of the weapons.
-1 for common sense reasoning.
You guys crack me up. On most topics, those not seen as directly 'political,' the posters here are quite intelligent and present well reasoned argument.
On the 'political' topics, posters here (like those elsewhere) put on a set blinkers and defend their political ideologies. Mostly you guys do so in good temper and with reasonably good humor but the odd personal attack DOES creep in.
When a topic involves guns, though, it's "Blah blah blah Skippy blah blah" as goes the old joke about what your dog, Skippy, really hears when you speak...
Every canard comes out and there is very little actual reasoning going on.
The case in point shows that nothing we have tried thus far seems to work reliably.
Maybe we should try something we have not tried before, like arming school staff members? NOPE. Not permitted and - besides - it wouldn't work, anyway... accidents, teachers having a bad day, etc...
Maybe improve something we HAVE tried, like armed guards? NOPE; Wayne LaPierre suggested it!! HEAVEN FORBID!!
Instead, you want the same old things that have already failed spectacularly.
YUP! That's just 'good common sense.'
@Its Me Again
Could it be that folks don't want to engage with someone arguing against "you guys"?
Or could it be that we've had this debate before? The proposal is that we spend billions of dollars a year ineffectively and inefficiently defending a single type of target. It's the TSA all over again.
LaPierre had gotten maximum distraction value out of this, but it's not a useful idea otherwise. For their next distraction, they're going to move the debate over to legalizing silencers.
"Salon" is your reference for NRA policy?
What is your concept of a useful idea?
@Its Me Again
You mean the Salon article that directly quotes the NRA? Yeah, that's my reference. Here is another if you need it. (And, seriously? You spend several paragraphs complaining about the quality of the debate, and then you throw out a juvenile ad hominem in a response?).
As for a useful idea, how about balancing the response to the risk? School shootings are, fortuitously, very rare, which means there are much better ways to spend six billion dollars than adding a bunch of static defense positions. Especially since, based on the experience at Columbine, they are not likely to be effective.
You can go ahead and arm some school personnel. They'll probably see as much action as armed pilots and sky marshals - i.e., not much. You're also just as likely to let somebody like this guy take a gun into a school without raising any suspicion, so it's not a plan without risk.
The state of Utah has permitted teachers to carry concealed firearms in classrooms for TWELVE YEARS without a mass shooting by an intruder or a mass shooting by a teacher that wigged out or a student accidentally shot by a teacher or an Accidental Discharge at school without injury.
Apparently the Harrold (Texas) Independent School District has also allowed this practice for a number of years.
In light of the above, I MUST ask: Why was the NRA suggestion that armed guards be stationed at schools OR allowing teachers to be armed reviled as it was?
During that same time period, there were no mass school shootings in Maine, Idaho, Rhode Island, and at least twenty other states.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.