Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando Shooting and What Not To Do

Over the weekend, the deadliest mass shooting in US history took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The perpetrator was Omar Mateen, a US citizen who was from Florida. Latest reports indicated that 50 people were killed and 53 were injured. The suspect was killed in a firefight with police.

The motivation for the attack depends on who you ask. Initially, it sounded like it was primarily a hate crime. The suspect's father indicated that his son had expressed outrage somewhat recently when he saw two men kissing in Miami. However, the suspect was Muslim, and reports later emerged that he pledged allegiance to ISIS when he called 911 after the shooting had already begun. ISIS has also reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack--though it's likely they would do so regardless of whether they knew about it in advance or not.

Whatever the precise motivations were, one thing is certain: this tragedy will be used to advance bad policy ideas, on gun control, the War on Terror, and likely on expanding the surveillance state as well. However, the details of this incident, at least as known so far, do not offer a compelling case for any of these ideas. In fact, they show exactly the opposite.

This latest event doesn't change anything.  Up is still up, down is still down, gun control is still a bad idea, and the War on Terror is still demonstrably futile (in addition to being morally indefensible).

To make these points, we're recommending two exceptional articles.

The Futility of the War on Terror
The first is from Justin Raimondo at Raimondo makes the obvious, but sadly necessary, point that there's no conceivable way that being "tough on terror", could have prevented this tragedy. Here's Raimondo response to the inevitable policy proposals of expanding attacks against terrorist groups in the Middle East.

There is no doubt that the War Party is going to make the case that this incident means we have to launch new attacks in the Middle East in order to wipe out the terrorist base established by ISIS. And yet given what we know about Mateen, this make absolutely no sense – for even if we nuked ISIS tomorrow, and even if Mateen was motivated by their ideology, you can’t kill an ideology with bombs. As Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman put it: “Fighting the terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here doesn’t seem to be working too well.”
Similarly, on the even more extreme proposals of banning Muslim immigrants, previously floated by Donald Trump, Raimondo's take couldn't be better.

Although Mateen’s parents came from Afghanistan, he was born here in 1986 and was an American citizen. Unless Trump and his followers are saying we have to deport all Muslims – a proposal that not even The Donald has floated – Trumpism appears to offer no solutions. The San Bernardino shooter was also an American citizen, born and raised here. And as I have pointed out before, there is no way to establish a religious test for entry into the US for the simple reason that there is no way to tell who is a Muslim: does it really need to be said that a potential terrorist isn’t going to answer truthfully? (emphasis added)
Raimondo also notes, as has been reported elsewhere, that the FBI actually interviewed the shooter three times before this shooting and found insufficient cause to pursue him further. This doesn't necessarily mean that the FBI is incompetent, though they may be. But it does suggest that additional surveillance powers wouldn't have helped. This individual was flagged for further scrutiny by the systems that already exist, multiple times, and authorities weren't able to predict or prevent what happened next. And it shouldn't be hard to see why this is the case. The FBI surely interviews thousands of people on such concerns all the time, and an infinitesimal portion of them actually end up doing something like terrible. So they're trying to find a needle in a haystack, and it doesn't work. The asymmetry here is too large to overcome. The FBI and company is charged with finding and preventing every possible threat; meanwhile any potential threat just has to find one weakness to succeed.

All of which is why Raimondo concludes with a sober but accurate reminder:

What this means is that we are going to have to live with this – the probability of future horrific attacks equal to if not worse than the Orlando incident – for the indefinite future. This is the new normal, and it will persist regardless of how many Muslim countries we level to the ground and no matter how high we build our walls. And it is sheer fantasy to imagine otherwise.
No, Gun Control Is Not The Answer
Obama appears to be pushing gun control as his proposed solution in response to this tragedy. This makes sense for him politically because then he doesn't have to acknowledge that the ongoing bombing in the Middle East, miraculously, doesn't seem to have worked. Meanwhile, if he blames it on gun control, he can implicitly blame Republican obstruction as the root evil. Frankly, this is good news. Expanding the War on Terror and expanding gun control are both terrible ideas. But the first idea would face almost no opposition while the second policy is likely to be dead on arrival in Congress. Whatever Obama's motives, this is a preferable outcome.

But this should not be confused with suggesting stronger gun control would be a real solution. And to make that case we recommend a new article out at FEE. The author, Daniel Mitchell, notes that this is another mass shooting in a long line that occurred in a gun-free zone since firearms are not allowed in alcohol-serving establishments in Florida.

It's an old argument, but a decidedly logical one. If you disarm law-abiding citizens, you just ensure that when someone tries to cause harm, no one has the means to stop them.

Incidentally, I was reminded of this argument in a general way when I flew home over the weekend. We had a corkscrew wine-opener in one of our carry-on bags, and it was confiscated as a potential weapon during the X-ray process. It was a minor inconvenience for us--the tool probably cost all of $9. But it was also amazing because it meant that the TSA believed the dull one-inch blade that comes on a corkscrew was now a lethal threat on the airplane. If somebody threatened you with a corkscrew in virtually any other context, you probably would just laugh, since almost anything else you could randomly grab would be equally effective as a weapon. But on a commercial airline, after law-abiding citizens have been systematically deprived of any means of self-defense, the one person with bad intentions that manages to sneak any weapon past security, becomes a mortal threat to everyone else.

The same dynamic is at work with gun control regulation, except it might actually be worse. In an airport, there's a major security effort trying to prevent bad people from getting weapons on--it's at least conceivable this could work. When you extend that principle to society at large, it becomes impossible. The left understands that banning marijuana didn't stop people from accessing and using marijuana. Why would banning assault rifles work any differently?

Ultimately, there's only one gun control policy that would work: uninvent guns. But since we can't do that, it stands to reason that we shouldn't only want bad people to be armed.

In the wake of a political tragedy, there is always a big demand to "do something". But, it goes without saying that that "something" needs to have at least a chance of improving the situation. When it comes to mass shootings, expanding gun control or the War on Terror are still nonstarters. So you can still think of the victims and offer condolences or prayers; just don't advocate policies that are likely to create more victims in the future, in America or elsewhere.

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