Brits Vs. Guns

From America’s 1st Freedom:

Will a society that has long turned its back on armed self-defense ever be able to find its way back?

This feature appears in the August ’17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.

For a while after Sept. 11, 2001, a hideous question would flit uninvited across the back of my mind. “If they can do that,” I would wonder, “what can’t they do?”

If I allowed it to, another inquiry would swiftly join the first: “If the Twin Towers were rendered as easy a target as they were, then what institution can truly be deemed to be safe?”

Or, put another way: If they could hit that, what couldn’t they hit?

America, to its immense credit, is a remarkably open society. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed all those years ago, this is a place in which civil society flourishes without the leaden hand of authority to guide or to constrain it. It is a place, too, in which individuals are secure in their rights. In the United States, we travel, we assemble, we debate, we protest—and we do so while reserving the title deeds to our elemental liberties. The risks notwithstanding, we expect to retain our privacy, to own our consciences and to maintain our right to bear arms. More than any other people in the history of this world, Americans have proven resistant toward those who would coddle them. Here, “But you have to,” has rarely been a persuasive argument.

This model does make us more vulnerable than most. For a long while, the answer to my implied opening question—“Why doesn’t al-Qaida just walk into a mall?”—was that al-Qaida simply didn’t want to walk into a mall. As it turned out, Bin Laden and Co. had a penchant for the spectacular and the grotesque, and, in consequence, they hoped that each successful attack would prove more egregious than the last. The downside to this approach was that it considerably raised the stakes—there was no body count, it seemed, that would have been deemed too high. But there was an upside, too, if one can call it that: The sort of routine, attritional guerilla warfare that can grind a people down was off the table. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco—these were all targets. That nursing home in the Poconos? Probably not on the list.

This, alarmingly, is no longer the case, for as al-Qaida has faded and ISIS and its acolytes have risen, the modus operandi of distributed Islamist terror has been dramatically reversed. As we have seen lately in the great cities of the free and democratic West, no event is now safe from barbarism; no location cordoned off from threat; no victim deemed innocent of perverted infidelity. In Paris, a rock concert, a soccer match and a Bastille Day party have been targeted. In England, terrorists have hit a pre-teen pop show, a much-used bridge and a pub. Here in America, we have seen attacks at a gay nightclub, on a Christmas party at a rural disability center, in a mall in St. Cloud, Minn. (stopped, mercifully, by a concealed carrier), at a military recruiting station, on a college campus in Ohio and at an art exhibition in Texas. In 2017, the answer to the question, “Why don’t they just walk into a mall?” is, “They do.”

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