San Bernardino Was Preventable, But at What Cost?

Even before victims’ bodies had attained room temperature Wednesday, or we knew the identity or motives of the attackers in San Bernardino, the metaphorical ambulance chasers were ghoulishly attempting to capitalize on the horrific event in the service of their long-time policy preferences.

The usual suspects were renewing their usual calls for more “common sense” (whatever that means) gun laws. The president once again talked about preventing people on the No Fly List from purchasing firearms, despite the fact that there is no due process in being placed on that list that would permit the denial of their constitutional rights. There were renewed demands for closing the (non-existent) “gun-show loophole.” Once again, the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which enshrines one of the most basic of human rights -- that of self defense -- was derided as a hoary relic of the age of musketry.

But (as is usually the case) none of the measures called for would have prevented this massacre.

While I don’t advocate them, there are in fact measures that, if taken, would have prevented this.

For instance, we could round up all Muslims, and deport them, or ship them off to camps. Farook and his wife were known Muslims, and this would have removed them as a threat.

Less drastically, we could outlaw the possession of firearms by Muslims. This would probably be less effective, though, given the known ease with which criminals obtain weapons illegally in even the strictest regions of gun control, such as the District of Columbia and Chicago.

We could dramatically increase domestic surveillance, allowing not just the collection of metadata, but the monitoring of content of phone calls and internet traffic for keywords, such as “Islam,” “Muslim,” “Allah,” “Jihad,” etc. This would have almost certainly tipped off the authorities to the murderers’ plan.

One measure that I actually would advocate is an end to political correctness, and allowing profiling (a technique that has saved many lives in Israel over the years). Reportedly, a neighbor was suspicious of the couple's behavior in the weeks leading up to this, including visitations from other apparently Middle Eastern men. If he had informed the authorities of his suspicion, it’s very likely that the plot would have been discovered and ended without any bloodshed. Why did he not do so? Because he didn’t want to appear “racist.”

I would in fact also advocate a change in gun laws. Those in charge of our security have been warning us for weeks that the jihadis will be coming after what they call “soft targets,” such as shopping malls, schools, hospitals, clinics (like those of Planned Parenthood), and movie theaters, which are in fact the sort of places that have been attacked over the past few years, by either the mentally ill or those with political agendas.

There is another phrase to describe a soft target; we have called them “gun free” zones. I use the scare quotes because it is obvious in retrospect that they were not in fact gun free. They were simply free of guns wielded by good people, in the delusion that those who would do harm would obey the rules or the signs. While private entities (such as shopping malls or theaters) can have whatever rules they want on their own property, however futile they may be, I would ban “gun free zones” on public property, including government facilities and state-supported college campuses. In the case of California, I would reverse the policies of the past decades, and make it easier, not more difficult, for law-abiding individuals to legally carry firearms, concealed and otherwise. Just a few armed people at that holiday party could have significantly reduced Wednesday’s carnage, if not prevented it entirely.

But I fearlessly predict that none of these policies will be supported by those calling for more ineffectual restrictions on our right to bear arms. They will continue to think that the problem is guns, and not the intent of those would use them for harm. For many, their goal is a disarming of the citizenry, not understanding that a society in which no one is armed except the police and military has never ended well.

We must recognize that shootings will never be eliminated from a free society, and that there is no absolute safety, this side of the dirt. Moreover, we must recognize that we are in a war in which we are all in the army now. Not everyone will have to arm themselves (and if they are uncomfortable in doing so, we don’t want them to be). But everyone should realize that they are safer in a society in which the good people are encouraged to be armed to protect the rest of us from those who wish to kill us. That should be the lesson of San Bernardino.