Security Theater Scare Mongering

We need more security in hotels and churches:

First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, had a security plan in place when a gunman walked into services Sunday morning and killed Pastor Fred Winters, said Tim Lawson, another pastor at the church.

Lawson told CNN he was not prepared to disclose details of his church’s security plan on Monday.

But Maryville police Chief Rich Schardam said Winters was keenly aware of the security issues, had sought out police advice and had identified police and medical personnel in the congregation who could help in an emergency.

“They did have plans on what to do,” Schardam said Monday.

Schardam said neither of the men who subdued the gunman had a law enforcement background.

“Those parishioners were just real-life heroes,” Pastor Lawson said.

Sounds like those plans didn’t make much of a difference.

And does anyone really believe that security checkpoints at hotel entrances will make any difference at all?

Posted on March 10, 2009 at 7:52 AM77 Comments


Noble_Serf March 10, 2009 8:08 AM

Just an observation:

A few weeks ago, we passed by a very large church. A man stopping traffic to allow church-goers to cross the street was wearing a pistol on his belt. I noticed another near the front steps, also wearing a visible pistol.

I don’t understand the fear. This is in a suburban area of Alabama, USA.

Musashi March 10, 2009 8:20 AM

The hotels are more worried about getting sued for not having one, rather than any real benefits to having one.
As with all theater, the security checks will be in the lobby where they can inconvenience us – not in the staff entrance…

Bill March 10, 2009 8:22 AM

Sure, I think that security checkpoints in hotels will make a difference.

No, they won’t stop insane people. No, they won’t stop people with personal vendettas. No they won’t stop determined people.

They will redirect the efforts of some petty criminals and opportunists. They may even redirect a person or group that’s wanting to make a statement – assuming that person or group isn’t after a specific target rather than a general one.

So why not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year per hotel inconvieniencing customers on the one-in-million chance that they’ll be the target of random violence sometime in that year. Why not spend that money when there’s a one-in-several-billion chance that a terrorist group will randomly choose to target a given hotel in a given year.

John H March 10, 2009 8:23 AM

… and how many millions of churches have done just fine? I suspect burglary is more of threat than gunmen for these places.

As for London hotels: I think they’ve been discreetly dealing with the threat of terrorism since long before 9-11, let alone Mumbai.

jdw242b March 10, 2009 8:38 AM

there is always a back door, and regardless of how nice or kind you are, some people are hell bent on killing; for whatever delusive reason they have created.

My family’s church has no less than three entrances to the main hall, but they don’t think about dangers like this as a habit, especially since that mindset creates more problems than it solves.

Tim March 10, 2009 8:51 AM

Yes, I think the hotel security checkpoints will make a difference–at least to me. It will make me look for a different hotel.

There are ways that hotels can make security more hidden but still work. Why do you think you can’t see your favorite actor or rock band staying in a hotel? Security is working, that’s why–helps keep things safe, including the celebrities.

noah March 10, 2009 8:54 AM

@Noble_Serf Many churches hire an off-duty cop to manage traffic and things like that, since there are a lot of people coming and going at once. Might have been that.

Andre LePlume March 10, 2009 9:01 AM

“Sounds like those plans didn’t make much of a difference”

So? Maybe the idea was to be able to quickly deal with an emergency such as someone having a heart attack, a fight breaking out, part of the church collapsing, and the like. Knowing who among the congregants has medical, emergency response, or police training could be important under these much more likely scenarios.

The linked article was full of terrorist hype, but also mentioned much more common risks which it makes sense to consider.

havoc March 10, 2009 9:03 AM

What really scares me….

What really scares me is that my church has a “security committee.” I had no idea such a committee existed until I noticed that the building the childrens’ service is held in was locked when we went to get our child after church one day — a huge annoyance at best. Some weeks later I noticed some of the men locking the exterior doors of the main building when the services started.

I asked and was told “it is for security reasons.”

I’m pretty sure that none of the persons on the “security committee” have any real ideas about security, but many ideas about the perception of security — “security theater” at it’s worst.

Now, I sit comfortably in church knowing that if anything happens during the service, emergency personnel not in our congregation will be greatly hindered in coming to our aid.

…. and it get worse from there. Anyone reading this blog can easily fill in the blanks.

Wayne Conrad March 10, 2009 9:03 AM

noble_serf, A sidearm worn by the peaceful citizen is the most direct and useful way to both prevent and stop these shootings. It’s not a sign of fear, but a rational response. What hasn’t been said in the press is that the state where this shooting happened prevents citizens from arming themselves in their own defense. There have been other church shootings stopped quickly by armed citizens in the pews. How many church shootings never started because the shooter knew the parishioners were potentially armed, in places where it is allowed, we will never know. “Gun free zones” are feel good measures of the first order.

bill March 10, 2009 9:08 AM

The armed and irrationally fearful converging on centres of supernatural superstition.

‘Reason’ has not got a snowballs chance in hell with those people.

HJohn March 10, 2009 9:22 AM

Insofar as Maryville goes, part of it may be to reassure members that it is safe to go back to church. Members were understandably traumatized, especially the ones there.

It won’t do much good other than that, but bringing there fears closer to the actual risk my be a good investment for the ministry.

Anonymous March 10, 2009 9:23 AM

Being a bouncer at a (usually) very peaceful club, there’s one thing I’ve learned: If nothing happens, it doesn’t take long and you’re no longer sufficiently prepared for a real emergency.

I expect that churches or hotels are a lot more peaceful, and thus security personnel probably is not able to react adequately to an exceptional situation, unless they have regular training to compensate.

Anon March 10, 2009 9:25 AM

And does anyone really believe that security checkpoints at hotel entrances will make any difference at all?

Most of the security threat probably isn’t from Mumbai-style attacks, so I’d judge a hotel checkpoint by whether and how well it prevents normal crime. If it keeps out folks with no reason to be there, it could do some good.

Considering the decision from a hotel’s perspective, it could be worth having a checkpoint just because attackers tend to go for the least-defended target, even if it doesn’t increase the security of hotels in the aggregate at all.

Nomen Publicus March 10, 2009 9:38 AM

It’s your country and apparently the people want to be armed against some kind of threat that isn’t very obvious to me. The result is about 30,000 gun related deaths a year, 10 times the number of people killed in 9/11; 240,000 people since 9/11.

The armed society is as much security theatre as putting security checkpoints at church doors. The odds of actually being in the area of such an attack never mind being injured or killed are so small as to be insignificant. More people are probably been killed driving to or from church than have ever been killed at church.

Grahame March 10, 2009 9:39 AM

I was in Turkey late last year, and the hotel had a security scanner machine inside the reception. So what good is it inside the reception? Add to the shrapnel that gets blasted around reception? I could not figure it out. But Turks don’t much go for security theatre. They do stuff that works, was my overall impression in other regards

Sam Greenfield March 10, 2009 10:00 AM

In New York City, hotels frequently check IDs of people entering the hotel and ask to see an ID or a room pass when you go up the elevator. I don’t quite understand the point of this since they don’t do any sort of real checks and don’t appear to turn anyone away.

Rich Wilson March 10, 2009 10:11 AM

@Wayne Conrad

I’d love to see a study of the # of shootings in states that allow sidearms vs. those that don’t. I suspect that someone who is so angry that they want to shoot another person isn’t going to be deterred by the fact that they themselves are likely to get shot aftereards. They genrally don’t have well thought ‘life after the shooting’ plans.

JN March 10, 2009 10:16 AM

DOJ: Statistics of Firearm use by Offenders

Unfortunately, the sources for most of these statistics are from the previous decade.

I was hoping to find statistics that described the violent crime rate among conceal/carry registrants vs the violent crime rate among the general public. If there is a substantial difference, that could go a long way towards developing a justifiable public policy.

JN March 10, 2009 10:23 AM

@Rich Wilson

Do you realize that this man was carrying a Glock .45 and 4 clips of ammunition? Did you notice that the gun jammed at the end of the first clip? (a Glock jammed? Divine intervention?)

Concealed-carry does not directly prevent these shootings from occurring. Rather, it is meant to limit the assailant to one clip. Texans are particularly good at publicizing shootings that were stopped when grandma pulled a Smith & Weston out of her handbag.

Vox March 10, 2009 10:33 AM

@JN –

I have collected some studies related to CCW and crime.

I’m a bit disorganized, but will post as soon as I find.

Chris March 10, 2009 10:38 AM

@Nomen: Physical security ultimately consists of two things: Armoring up to prevent access and firepower sufficient to repel attackers.

It’s great that you can call the cops. But it will take them half an hour to respond in a major city. Out in the country, it’ll be a lot longer.

For those first 30+ minutes you are on your own.

Look sometime at the crime statistics for areas that don’t have guns vs the areas that do. Criminals migrate to prey on the unarmed populations. It’s safer for them.

You mention 30,000 gun related deaths. You gloss over how suicides accounted for over half those deaths. I might as well mention the often reported fact of civilians using guns in self-defense against offenders something like 2,500,000 times each year.

Vox March 10, 2009 10:47 AM

1) Crimes rates among CCW holders in Florida:

In Florida as a whole, 315,000 permits had been issued by December 31, 1995. Only five had been revoked because the permit holder committed a violent crime with a gun.

Permit holders are not angels, but they are an unusually law-abiding collection of citizens. In Florida, for example, permit holders are about 300 times less likely to perpetrate a gun crime than Floridians without permits.

2) Crime rates among CCW holders in Texas:

-Licensees were 5.7 times less likely to be arrested for violent offenses than the general public – 127 per 100,000 population versus 730 per 100,000.

-Licensees were 14 times less likely to be arrested for nonviolent offenses than the general public – 386 per 100,000 population versus 5,212 per 100,000.

-Further, the general public is 1.4 times more likely to be arrested for murder than licensees, and no licensee had been arrested for negligent manslaughter.

(Burnett, 2000).

3) Crime rates compared to CCW policy:

The main studies I am aware of generally have one of two findings:

A) Increased shall issue CCW = less crime (Lott & Mustard, Journal of Legal Studies, 1997) & (Moody & Marvell, Econ Journal Watch, 2008)

b) Increased shall issue CCW = more initial crime (Ayres & Donohue, Stanford Law Review, 2003) & (Ayres & Donohue, Econ Journal Watch, 2009) [Response to Moody/Marvell].

According to Moody/Marvell, even with Ayres/Donohue data crime goes down 5-6 years after shall issue policies:

“All crime categories except assault and auto theft show post-law benefits from the shall-issue laws. Murder, rape, robbery, and burglary show significant benefits across all states. The overall net benefit to the US is $450 million per year.17 At this rate, it will take approximately six years for the initial costs to be offset by the eventual long-run benefits. After that, the net benefits increase continuously. The breakeven point is the same as that implied by the Ayres and Donohue analysis.”

Shane March 10, 2009 11:22 AM

Gun-man in church. Knife-man on bus. Box-cutter-man, shoe-man, and liquid-man on airplane.

The more whackjob Megaman threats we strip away our freedoms to defend against, the more whackjobs we’ll create. I’m not afraid of Bubbleman, I’m afraid of Dr. Wiley.

The world is going mad over statistically infinitesimal crime, and for no reason save for media sensationalism and commentary from the Ignorance Sector.

If churches want to ramp up security, I’m all for it! Hell, it may even lower their conversion rates, since that is arguably a mind-wipe factory all its own (no offense, believe what you want, just leave the rest of us out of it).

As for hotels, I already stay at a friends place nearly everywhere I go, or a hostel, simply because hotels are extremely over-priced as it is, and garner you really no extra comfort save for your own bathroom. With the idiocy of most bellhops and clerks, just about anyone who knows how to say “Room 315” can get access to your room, and so far things have been less than globally catastrophic.

History has proven that (sadly in many cases) what’s terrible for business usually gets put out to pasture in the US, so I say let them ramp it up as far as they might!

People don’t go to church to shoot people, or ride the bus to knife people, or buy an airline ticket to blow people up, whackjobs do. Rather than create policies that arguably just create more whackjobs, why don’t we simply point out that they are statistically invalid, and generally caught up with while masturbating on the train, long before they get to douse the country in Anthrax or airplane debris. Granted, you have your Timothy McVeigh’s and Son of Sam’s and the like, but really… grow a pair. If they didn’t kill a few folks, an Earthquake would have. Death comes to us all, which is all the more reason to make sure we’re not preventing ourselves from really living while we can.

You cannot prevent crime with a metal detector or a camcorder, sorry to break it to you. You may stall it awhile, get it to rethink itself a little, but for my money, I’d rather not make the criminals think all *that hard, because frankly, dumb criminals are far less dangerous than calculating masterminds bent on skirting a system that gloats of its impenetrability.

I just can’t believe how systematically the US and the UK has completely collapsed in on itself, our cops get fatter and fatter yet our security gets tighter and tighter, paranoia rampant, freedom stripped to bare bones. It’s as though they struck a deal with ‘the terrorists’, something like “Okay okay, back down to $60 a barrel and we’ll strip away privacy completely, then get right to work on Freedom of Speech.”

MateFrio March 10, 2009 11:23 AM

Now you are going to say that they shouldn’t have bothered with security for Regan or JFK because the shooter got to them. Sounds to me like the security of those presidents didn’t make much difference either. How about the Pope?

Ricky Bobby March 10, 2009 11:33 AM

Every discussion here seems to be that the security in place did not operate effectively. I do not know why this is a surprise to anyone, especially if you follow the rule that no risk can be completely eliminated.

Since, no risk can be completely eliminated, does that mean we should stop all security practices because they are ineffective?

wiredog March 10, 2009 11:43 AM

Most, if not all, churches in the US have insurance. I suspect the insurance requires a “security plan”, and may even provide a standardized one.

JN March 10, 2009 11:53 AM


Thanks for the links. Unfortunately…

Hoover does not provide references. One of the authors has previously declared that gun control laws let Hitler kill millions of Nazis, which automatically disqualifies it from being used in a political debate.

The NCPA report cites a unpublished report for the assertions you listed above. The numbers are fantastic, but Bare Assertions make them useless.

The debate from the last two links may be useful, but only with careful analysis. But just browsing the abstract (and with a title “Yet Another Refutation of the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis”) I am expecting a 25 page Appeal to Ridicule. Not promising.

Shane March 10, 2009 11:56 AM

@Ricky Bobby

“Since, no risk can be completely eliminated, does that mean we should stop all security practices because they are ineffective?”

Not at all, but it sure would seem as though that very fact ought to make one think long and hard before spending any *additional time and money, or creating any additional inconvenience for your average (church|hotel|movie|airplane|bus|train)-goer, in the name of security.

Everything in the security world is a trade-off, but more and more people are quickly surrendering to irrationality and paranoia in the face of a rational discussion of policy and actual risk (as opposed to imagined).

Ricky Bobby March 10, 2009 12:25 PM

@ Shane

This surrendering also gives way to people giving up personal freedoms for security without thinking about the potential consequences of doing so.

Like you said, there are always trade offs. Things will never be perfect, so people do the best they can. Unfortunately, most of these people are not educated in “real” security by calculating risks rather than just making blanket rules.

Clive Robinson March 10, 2009 12:57 PM

So what if the Church did have a security policy?

We don’t know what it was or what it was designed to protect against (or if it was anything other than CYA).

Most organisations where people congregate are required legaly to have a “licence to congregate” / “permit to assemble” / etc / etc. These usualy require plans in place for fire or other fairly common problem. This is usually further covered by “Health and Safety” legislation.

Insurance companies often require more extensive plans otherwise no liability cover. And without liability cover then in many places no “permit to congregate” or whatever your local Gov has in place for “public protection”.

Now add in that the US is a country that has a reputation of “reaching for a legal representative” for any slightest discomfort (hot coffee in your lap etc).

Terrorism no matter how rare (and I think most of us here think that it is rare) is “Big Headline News” and every nutter/whackjob is talked up by the press as “a person bringing terror and loss just like 9/11”.

This Banner Headline aproach puts in many peoples minds the “personal terror” that most people feel when a crime happens around or to them in the same class as “Terorism” which in 99% of cases it is not.

Once people have linked this up in their minds it’s going to take a heck of a lot more than cold figures to make them see what the rear probability is.

So due to the propensity of the citizens to litigate, and the press to over dramatise, ask your self a question,

“What jury will accept that not having plans in place was rational because of the negligable risk?”

Then when you add “Talking Head” shops on TV-News with “pocket experts” opinionating on how every time something happens it’s due to “not enough / right kind of security” is it any wonder the ball keeps rolling.

Remember the old advice that “bad news sells, and those selling it are making good money”.

Anonymous March 10, 2009 1:03 PM

My questions with regards to the viability of security check points are:

Can a metal detector detect a bullet fired through it?

Does anyone want to live in a society where it is normal to have police ready to stop (e.i. kill) a mad gunman (e.i. anyone) before he kills someone (e.i. intently at any time)?

Antimedia March 10, 2009 1:11 PM

“Sounds like those plans didn’t make much of a difference.”

1) You can’t possibly know that, because you don’t know what the plans were.
2) You can’t possibly know whether the plans were implemented in this case and failed or were not implemented at all.
3) You can’t possibly know whether the plans were implemented and prevented further bloodshed.

Yet you will pontificate anyway.

BF Skinner March 10, 2009 1:36 PM

@Bruce “security checkpoints at hotel entrances will make any difference ”

They keep people from using the rest room. I was in NYC for years (no public restrooms ’cause state law doesn’t allow charging someone to use the can) before a date clued me in.

Walk in like you belong there and use their restroom off the lobby.

Glad to see security is stop-lossing the toilet paper.

Sid Hatfield March 10, 2009 1:43 PM

@Noble_Serf we have the police auxilary directing sunday traffic as a special detail and it’s a rural(ish) county. These gun tote’n fellas may be that. OR the church has had problems. No trouble like local trouble.

Fritz March 10, 2009 1:51 PM

Re Hotel security and restrooms: I biked to a conference where I was a speaker and used the hotel lobby restroom to change my clothing. Two security guys followed me in to ask what I was doing there.

Willy Loman March 10, 2009 2:09 PM

Checkpoints at hotels? Ridiculous. Basic social engineering.

They can’t/don’t wanna keep the hookers out. As long as any gun carrying mad man could convince the doorman that he was a hooker he’d be in like flint…or even easier…he could just check-in.

Madrocketscientist March 10, 2009 2:13 PM

Sometimes a “Security Plan” is not about preventing an attack, but about how best to respond to one to protect people and minimize damage.

From the accounts I read, even if there was an armed police escort in the building, or if there were people carrying concealed, no one could have responded fast enough to save the pastor. Even if their brains processed the events fast enough to realize an attack was underway, it is unlikely anyone could have gotten a weapon out fast enough to save the pastors life. Maybe they could have prevent further death (if the gun hadn’t jammed), but the pastor was a dead man the moment that guy made the decision to shoot him.

As for security and checkpoints at churches and hotels? The economy is bad enough as it is. Too much security will discourage people from staying at hotels, and frequent guests will begin to insist on being allowed to bypass the security (which opens a hole). Churches are also suffering from a reduced membership. Installing security checkpoints will do little to make the churches open and inviting to new members.

NickFadz March 10, 2009 2:24 PM


I thought your main suggestion for improving security was to increase intelligence gathering and response preparation. This security plan sure sounds like it falls smack dab in the middle of the latter. The article you linked to is obvious theater but the concept shouldn’t be diminished by the delivery of the message so I’m pretty surprised that you’re against the idea of additional planning.

bob March 10, 2009 2:25 PM

He’s a martyr. He surely went to heaven. What’s the problem again? Oh yeah, that whole fear, mistrust, and hatred thing that shackles your soul to the worldly things.

Clive Robinson March 10, 2009 2:27 PM

@ Fritz,

“I biked to a conference where I was a speaker and used the hotel lobby restroom to change my clothing. Two security guys followed me in to ask what I was doing there.”

I used to be a keen cyclist up until recently. A friend likewise was bike mad and would cycle every where including 200 miles to a very very luxurious hotel he had booked for him and his wife for their 10th wedding anniversary.

Well due to traffic he arrived some time before his wife who was driving with the luggage, and the Hotel staff had great difficulty in beliving he had booked the wedding suite, turning up some what sweaty on a bike with no luggage and on his own.

Luckily he eventualy sorted it out.

Nick Lancaster March 10, 2009 2:37 PM

I dislike the idea from a security standpoint because it’s foolish to post part-time ‘guardians’ at the doors and think this is going to make a difference. A member of the congregation can go off the rails just as easily as a complete stranger, so unless you’re going to give everyone a pat-down before the service, it’s entirely security theater.

From the perspective of faith, I’d have to ask serious questions of my pastor and/or the vestry. Why are we doing this? Are we that fearful that a stranger is going to come in the doors and open fire? Heck, this could happen anywhere in public, are we going to arm ourselves with Berettas and leave the Bibles at home?

So, for me, this doesn’t work as a security solution OR as an appropriate response from a community that is supposed to be gathering to hear Christ’s teachings.

Ricky Bobby March 10, 2009 2:54 PM

What is security theater about it? They may have had a plan that failed. At least, the thought process went through their mind at one point.

Honestly, all is security is a theater to an extent. There is always a way to get around security, if you have the time and the resources.

Petréa Mitchell March 10, 2009 3:17 PM

Looking at public parts of the Web site of the “Christian Security Network” from the CNN story, they seem to be more about emergency preparedness than what would traditionally be called security. Perhaps “security” is easier to get people to pay attention to (or spend money on) than “emergency planning”.

Their site:

Clive Robinson March 10, 2009 4:32 PM

I know the Moderator does not like “Gun Nutter’s” -v- “tree hugger’s” arguments as they quickly become polarised beyond reason, so I will try to tread lightly.

The two end cases of gun ownership are “nobody has a gun” and “everybody has a gun”.

Guns exist so one end point is unachievable currently. Due to a persons age and economic constraints neither is the other end point.

However there are various places around the world where the end points are aproximated.

One such place that often gets quoted is the Swiss in their Alpine homes, and the fact that every man within a certain age range is effectivly part of the standing army and has a state issued weapon and amunition “in the closet” at home. However they have a relativly low gun crime rate.

This is often bandied about as proof that universal gun ownership reduces gun related crime.

However what gets left out of it is that those who have been issued with the guns have undergone military training and usually have few illusions about the pros and cons of holding and using a gun (ordinary civilian training tends not to go into much other than safe handling and targeting sighting).

Likewise there are other places where a “first look” tends to show that universal gun ownership has benifits.

The problem with all of them, is that when you actually look into them in more depth you will find there are more compelling reasons than just the simplistic “many guns in many hands = deterant”.

For similar reasons it is not wise to make comparisons with those who have a permit or right to carry as part of their proffession to those who don’t when looking at likleyhood of offending (either with or without a gun). The two groups have many many other differences that would also account for those figures besides “carrying”.

When you look at different states within the US you will find not just different gun laws and different property laws different policing laws and different environmental and economic issues. All have more of a bearing on motivation / deterant than simple numbers of guns owned.

The causes of crime be it with or without a gun are many and the deterents different for different people. Drawing ideas from observations is the first step in the process of science, stopping at the first convieniant idea for your argument is not.

We see exactly the same problem with CCTV cameras but thankfully CCTV cameras tend not to have leathal effects to the same extent as guns.

Unfortunatly with societies it is generaly difficult to measure “defence / deterant” and engineering situations to make the process easier are generaly held to be unethical (which I suspect most would agree with).

Roger March 10, 2009 4:41 PM

It certainly sounds as if this church did need a security plan; they had a real, murderous enemy. As to whether or not it worked to reduce risk, it’s impossible to say, but I note that the assailant brought 52 rounds of ammo and a knife, but only killed one person (and stabbed two people.) Certainly, it could have been much worse.

Their security expert the reporter interviewed didn’t seem to be all that wacky, either; he was recommending such off-the-wall precautions as a lost child plan and an evacuation plan (if you organise a large community group and don’t have an evacuation plan, your local fire safety inspector may like to have some words with you!)

The list did include a response plan for a violent intruder, but apparently US churches are now dealing with violent intruders at the rate of 70 per month, so it isn’t all that rare.

As for security theatre: the spokesman didn’t even want to discuss their plans, which is surely the exact opposite of security theatre, which by definition musty be deliberately conspicuous. Or have we started using the term “security theatre” to denigrate any policy with which we disagree? (Even if we don’t actually know what it was!)

@John H:

I suspect burglary is more of threat than gunmen for these places.

The more traditional problem for churches has been arson and vandalism. Burglary isn’t much of an issue because there is very little to steal.

Moe March 10, 2009 4:45 PM

Is having a plan for people to get medical aid really security theater? No, it won’t stop gunmen, but boring medical emergencies have to be a lot more common than crazy gunmen. And it certainly will help for those.

But I’m biased. I’m a 1st aid provider at work and I’ve had to use my training at home. If I had been slower or if I hadn’t known what I was doing, my grandmother might be dead right now.

Ricky Bobby March 10, 2009 5:41 PM

@ Roger

“Or have we started using the term “security theatre” to denigrate any policy with which we disagree? (Even if we don’t actually know what it was!”

That is the case in my opinion. You can always point the finger after the fact.

John P March 11, 2009 12:42 AM

Are concealed carry permits issued in Alabama?

10 people were just shot dead in the streets of Geneva County.

The gunman shot and killed himself.

I guess there were no concealed carry heros around…

André March 11, 2009 4:09 AM

@ Ricky Bobby
In case of the hotel-security I can’t see what you call “after the fact”. So far nothing has happened in “secured” hotels yet, at least as far as I know.

And if people say, it is bad security because it doesn’t work, they do not say: “Do not put in place security at all!” but: “Put in place security that works!”
Bad security simply doesn’t work – as a house without a roof doesn’t. But we’re not telling people to live in the street. We tell them to build a proper house!


PS: and a Fort Knox without a roof still is a bad house …

Anonymous March 11, 2009 4:16 AM

Did you not read your own post?


“This is in a suburban area of Alabama, USA.”

Doesn’t that say it all? 🙂

Smith March 11, 2009 5:22 AM

The convenience of victims, sorry, guests queuing at the security checkpoints for the attacker to either go wild with his weapon or to detonate a bomb. I’d assume those people would be elsewhere in the hotel without the “security” “enhancement” in-place.

It just makes me think of the lobby scene in The Matrix. A perfect place to funnel victims.

Outcome is – same or more victims but, thankfully, less damage to property is likely (lower insurance premiums, perhaps?).

And of course less need for the attacker to be well prepared, less need to work in a team and less need to have real “weapons”.

I’ll be down the road at a crummy Holiday Inn or something….!

Clive Robinson March 11, 2009 6:15 AM

The Radio News has just anounced that 10 people have been shot in Germany by a “gunman” dressed in “black combat fatigues”.

I wonder how accurate this brief news item is when you here the para-military sounding description.

It will be interesting to see what the actual details are later when they have been confirmed by the police on the ground (ie is it a actualy a man or a woman / teenager / etc and is it a uniform or just dark clothing).

BF Skinner March 11, 2009 6:31 AM

@Ricky Bobby “What is security theater about it? They may have had a plan that failed”

Someone once told me that plans are a waste but that planning is everything

No they had a plan. It was irrelevant to the event.

Instead of activating thier plan other people there simply acted to subdue the gunman.
Same thing happened on the shoebombers flight and United Airlines Flight 93.
Amanda Ripley makes the point that the real first responders are the people involved in a disaster – not the fire/police/ems professionals.

BF Skinner March 11, 2009 6:39 AM


If in fact ordinary people, not professionals, are the first responders it is an argument in support of conceal carry.

I don’t make the argument because the more people carrying the lower the overall quality of judgement and I have little enough trust in people’s judgement.

There are some other factors on different countries low crime/gun ratio’s. But I thought Moore got to the point in Bowling for Columbine. We in the US are afraid; a lot. I don’t like the idea of people loaded with fear adrenline making decisions with lethal outcomes.

Ricky Bobby March 11, 2009 7:21 AM

@ André

Security will never be foolproof, so your point is moot.

@ BF Skinner

You may be right. The plan may have been something different all together, but they called it security to sound impressive.

You cannot have plans for everything though.

Rupert H. March 11, 2009 11:06 AM

Poking into this a little more, it appears the shooter was diagnosed as mentally ill at least as far back as 2003. He also suffered from Lyme disease. There are claims by his family and lawyer, disputed by others, the Lyme disease caused his mental health problems.

Could this be a movie? Ticks infect hikers, hunters, birdwatchers, turning them into perfect zombie killers. Lovely post-grad doing internship at CDC figures out the answer. DHS spends $1e15 to fingerprint all ticks.

Seriously, there’s not much you can do to defend yourself against random nutcases, except stay at home. And that didn’t help Lizzie Borden’s family.

HJohn March 11, 2009 12:39 PM

@”Seriously, there’s not much you can do to defend yourself against random nutcases, except stay at home. ”

I remember the Virginia Tech Massacre in April 2007, there was a battle cry as to his history and how someone should have stopped him. Of course, they overlook the fact that you can’t lock someone up for things they haven’t done, or just because they have a history of being troubled. Could you imagine the outcry if we started throwing people in institutions for the “crime” of being anti-social, playing violent video games, having trouble dealing with getting clobbered in divorce court, or any other of the so-called “red flags”, etc.?

Even with this tragic situation, the odds of a church shooting are very small (sure,there are victims and witnesses, but has anyone ever been present twice when this happened). I suspect more people have won the lottery than pastors who have been shot during their sermon (much less people who won the lottery twice). I’m not saying it’s not a big deal, nor am I saying that people shouldn’t be prepared any number of unlikely events to occur (after all, the odds of a specific event is small, but the sum of a long list of rare events means something strange is possible), such as dialing 911 if they can, knowing CPR, trying to get a description of perpetrators, etc.

Unfortunately, whenever a nutjob does something crazy, the government tends to respond by further regulating the innocent. Basically, they respond to perpetrators by disarming victims. That’ll teach’em, won’t it?

Noble_Serf March 11, 2009 1:36 PM

Thanks for the viewpoints to my comment about people with guns outside a church in suburban Alabama.

I still fail to understand the fear that a grown man (or woman) must have that prompts them to carry a gun.

I don’t mind them doing it. I support the 2nd Amendment fully.

I just think an element of fear prompts churchgoers to have armed escorts. A churchgoer shouldn’t fear anything, should they?

I suspect it will get worse. It seems a guy went nuts and killed a bunch of citizens down in south Alabama last night. As an outsider and casual, cynical observer, the men I saw looked like Blackwater “wanna-bes” protecting the weak. Good for them.

bob March 11, 2009 1:47 PM

Maybe the pastor should have worn a bullet-proof vest.

And maybe the fearful congregants should wear them, too. Or change churches.

The rest can do nothing at all and probably make the same difference to their actual risk from church-invading gunmen.

SS March 11, 2009 3:11 PM

Security theatre is an old, tried and tested concept that serves a purpose. The use of that term (apparently originating with Bruce) to describe practices that isn’t to one’s liking is wrong, and will be misunderstood by actual security professionals (and whomever used the term will be left looking pretty foolish).
Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of so-called security field authorities who do nothing but, to steal Roger’s word – denigrate practices without even hinting at what they think would work better.

BF Skinner March 11, 2009 4:44 PM

@Rupert H. “Ticks infect hikers, hunters, birdwatchers, turning them into perfect zombie killers”

Simpson’s did it! No really it was a 1993 B film called Infested.
Problem teens in Los Angeles join an inner-city wilderness project in and attempt to get back in touch with life’s priorities, led by do-gooders Holly and Charles. When they get to the campsite, they begin having problems adjusting to the wild life, particularly local marijuana growers using herbal steroids to accelerate plant growth, and the mutated ticks that the leaky steroid system has created.

@HJohn “the fact that you can’t lock someone up for things they haven’t done”

Sure you can. Typhoid Mary was confined for her entire life due to a disease she carried. (and the fact that she kept getting work as a cook and giving it to people)

The public health / psychiactric model both have processes (lawful) in place to confine people against their will if it’s demonstrable that they are a threat. Usually is a 96 hour hold but wait until bird flu we’ll see how the system works under strain.

This was proposed as a model for handling terrorists if there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them of crime.

BF Skinner March 11, 2009 4:47 PM

@HJohn additional…

There was a case in California recently (last summer?) where a family declined to innoculate their child against measels then took a trip to Europe where the child was exposed.

After they came back parents of the childs schoolmates were quarentined for months at home and the child wasn’t allowed to leave the property. The health department checked.

Anselm Lingnau March 11, 2009 5:55 PM

@Clive: According to the evening news today here in Germany, the shooter in question was a 17-year old youth who went to his former high school on a killing spree before hijacking a car. He was finally run to ground 20 miles away from the original location before he shot himself. The body count is 15 — mostly girls as well as three (female) teachers, several bystanders in the street and a car salesman and a customer in the car dealership that he ended up in at the end. More people were injured, including various members of the police who tried to stop him. There was no mention of attire (combat fatigues or other).

The guy’s father is apparently a member of a marksmanship club and owns 15 guns, one of which (the nightstand piece) the guy filched to go on his rampage. The other 14 were kept in the statutory locked weapons cupboard. According to the police, the guy left so many spent and unspent (?) cartridges in his wake that one wonders at the amount of ordnance his dad must have kept near his bed when you’re really not just required to lock your guns away but also the ammo. I can just about see somebody wanting to keep a loaded gun handy to deter burglars (or whyever), but enough ammunition to fight a small war?

moz March 12, 2009 12:08 AM

The US sacrifices about 4/100,000 each year to the Second Amendment. In NZ it’s 0.2/100,000 and very few people own guns, let alone carry them around (pistols are basically illegal unless you’re a cop or hired killer). Total gun deaths are 9 vs 2 per 100,000 if you prefer that.

I’m convinced that banning pistols and making long guns hard to get hold of works. I realise it’s not the only factor (social democracy is a huge one, probably bigger than guns), but it is important. I’ve yet to see credible statistics showing that the US is safer than countries that outlaw guns, but I’ve seen a lot that show the contrary.

On the social democracy front, the US could radically improve its social welfare system and save money (as well as lives). Prisons are expensive, social workers are cheap…

Clive Robinson March 12, 2009 8:01 AM

@ Anselm,

So as I suspected not a “para-military” stye attack by an adult, but probably a very unhappy teenager.

Without other information it does tend to suggest that guns and amunition should not be left around.

I must admit the use of a gun by a person who is not the owner appears to be getting more prevalent. Not just of personaly owned weapons but also by those taken from LEO’s.

Which might explain the interest in putting fingerprint readers in the trigger grip of guns.

HJohn March 12, 2009 8:40 AM

@BF Skinner

I wasn’t speaking of illnesses where people must be quarantined for the public health, or even mental illnesses where people must be institutionalized. I was talking about how you can’t lock someone up because they have some red flags that indicate they might commit a crime. Sure, one could make a case for it based on the public safety, but that’s not what a free society should be about.

Apples and oranges my friend.

Vernon March 12, 2009 10:11 AM

I don’t know about hotels, but for Christian churches:

When one goes into the ministry, one accepts the so-called risks to oneself and to one’s family. I write “so-called” because the paradigm is different. Ministers put themselves out there, whether one-on-one or before thousands, as people who have already died.

The ones you are trying to keep out from a security perspective are often the ones who most need a place on the front row.

Brian March 12, 2009 7:09 PM

Actual police times in big cities can be under five minutes. I’ve been quoted about 7 minutes plus travel by friends/family working police in Seattle. In King county that means up to 15 minutes after “shots fired” for two units to arrive. with a few exceptions for rural areas.

A good best-case scenario was the Capitol Hill Massacre in Seattle (1) with six dead(2).
6:58-7:02 a.m …shoots one victim on the steps leading up to the house.
7:04 a.m. … arrives at the scene. Leonard confronts a man holding a shotgun on the house’s front porch.

He was actually close enough to hear the initial shots fired, dispatch was able to transmit information while he was in transit, he was willing to go against an armed opponent alone, and with very little information.

Only a concealed carry inside the building might have responded more quickly. Lethal situations need to be challenged instantly it’s physically impossible for the police to ‘save’ someone.

additional details:

BF Skinner March 14, 2009 5:51 PM

@HJohn “Apples and Oranges”

We disagree. I would say threat and control. The nature of the threat is a variable. The nature of humans refusing to control their behavior requiring state intervention is not.

Stephanie March 15, 2009 10:46 AM

I am sorry to learn about the tragedy. I think the fact that there is security, like for example, setting up human perimeters around a person, having ushers watch the exits, etc. distracts from the purpose of your religious gathering. I’m just wondering, what is the purpose of your religious gathering? Is it to guard against rare and strange events? How can you focus on the spiritual when you are concerned with these sorts of events? Is the person watching the exits, manning the perimeters losing something? Is that distraction from services taking something from the security committee. I would say what is being taken away (the spiritual purpose for the gathering) is a cost to consider when one weighs the costs and benefits of security in a religious gathering. We are never safe anywhere at anytime. So what are we surrendering to fear when we set up perimeters in our places of worship? The cost for that type of security, distraction from your religion is very high isn’t it?

Jonadab the Unsightly One March 15, 2009 2:49 PM

Fundamentally, if an assassin (or any kind of criminal really) is willing to be caught in the act, it is prohibitively difficult and expensive to prevent the attack, unless the asset being protected is of extraordinary value (e.g., the primary leadership figure of a major world power). Even then, there are still limits to what you can do. We’re going to lose a US President occasionally. We can and do do things to make it significantly less likely, but it’s still going to happen from time to time. That’s why we have a chain of command.

BlackSix March 17, 2009 10:22 PM


Let’s first imagine banning guns in the US with exception of Law Enforcement (LEOs).

Imagining Gun Control in America: Understanding the Remainder Problem – Nicholas Johnson

not to mention that you can build a pretty sophisticated, and reliable machine gun from bits of pipe at a hardware store…google it! Preventing people from having guns is like trying to un-invent the atomic bomb, or ban cryptography… It’s a fairytale. nuff said.

So… now that we’ve put that to rest: I’m a security consultant, former army officer and enlisted soldier, work a white collar job in a very safe community. I carry concealed most every day. Do I think I’ll have to use it today?… Probably not, but the security trade-off is worth it to me. It is of little inconvenience to plop my carry pistol in my pocket. I regularly train with it at the range, and safe handling / storage is a matter of course. I understand risk…remember, that’s what I do for a living. My family and I are safer armed than otherwise. Because I live in a state that does not allow me to carry in a church, bar, bank, or school; when I go to church, I have to leave the pistol in the car. Does that make other people safer by me leaving my pistol in the car… No it does not. Silly law…yes. If that happened in my church, I’d be pretty upset with our legislators. Watch the Suzanna Hupp Testimony to Congress on Youtube…

Thing 2: Remember 1 in 3 women will face sexual assault or rape in their lifetime. I want my wife to be armed and so does she for the same reason we keep a little first aid / trauma kit in each of our cars…it’s unlikely to be used, it’s very small and convenient to carry and the statistics say it’s just a good idea.

It is just crazy to me to listen to the few security people who think pulling guns, imprinting ammunition, or bolting a fingerprint scanner onto a gun will make it safer. Imagine it was software! It is a gun and ammunition, remarkably simple piece of technology that requires no very special tools, or chemicals to make either. You could make a 1911 pistol in your garage with some basic machine tools, the pistol that many LEOs carry today: It was invented in the year 1911.

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