November 28, 2008


The Mumbai attacks represent a scenario that few Western police and security forces have dared envision. Fewer still have prepared for it.

The basic strategy: use a large number of attackers to overwhelm a target city’s ability to respond, and then suddenly switch focus to high value targets and seize hostages.

Of course, if significant numbers of citizens were armed, the response would be much harder to overwhelm.

UPDATE: Reader Andrew Samet writes:

So you think that ordinary citizens armed with handguns would slow down a surprise attack by trained paramilitary forces armed with automatic weapons, grenades and who knows what else? I’m curious how you see that scenario playing out.

The way I see it, if terrorists such as these could rely on a “significant number” (and I don’t know what that means, exactly – 10 percent? 20 percent?) of their targets carrying guns, they wouldn’t bother taking hostages. They’d just slaughter everyone in sight. They might take a few hits, but they’d have planned for that, just like any army would.

Well, let’s see. There were about 25 terrorists in Mumbai, according to the reports I’ve seen. I’m not sure how many people were at the Taj hotel but it’s a big place. Say it’s 2000 and 10% are armed. That’s 200 vs. 25 (and it’s really better odds than that, since I don’t think there were 25 terrorists at the Taj, but rather 25 overall; these numbers will likely turn out to be wrong, but probably not wrong enough to affect this analysis.) Now the 25 terrorists were practiced at working together, and probably fairly proficient (though I saw an Indian commando saying they were skilled because “most people cannot operate an AK rifle or throw a grenade” which isn’t, by itself, a stirring tribute to their military skills). Nonetheless, 1-8 odds, even with a weapons and training advantage, aren’t great. Would they take hostages? It would probably be a lot harder. Would that prevent raids like this? Maybe not, but if you’re just out to kill people and not take hostages, why not just use a car-bomb? Plus, when your “victims” are shooting back at you and killing you, they’re not really victims any more, are they? Kinda undercuts the whole terrorism game.

Meanwhile, reader D.A. Rodgers emails:

You wrote, after excerpting Thompson:

“Of course, if significant numbers of citizens were armed, the response would be much harder to overwhelm.”

Thus, Texas will be last place to face this kind of terrorism.

Seriously, this reminds me very much of the situation after the Rodney King verdict. In L.A., where no law-abiding citizen (Korean-Americans excepted) carries (or even owns) a gun, the rioters were able to “use a large number of attackers to overwhelm a target city’s ability to respond.” In Houston, attempts were made to start a similar riot in response to the Rodney King verdict. Would-be rioters shot from the freeway into the neighborhoods. The residents shot back.

End result? No riot. Not even one Ranger.

We saw armed Houstonians patrolling their own streets after Hurricane Rita, too. I’ll note that it hasn’t been that long — only a few generations — since people expected to have to resist brigands, etc., in all sorts of situations. Back to the future?

ANOTHER UPDATE: According to Reuters, there were only ten terrorists. That would make the odds 20-1 in favor of the good guys in the hypothetical above, which would seem to be quite a burden for the terrorists to overcome. But Reuters calls them “militants.”

Anyway, people don’t stop killers, people with guns do. Maybe we need a rifle in every pot?

MORE: Reader Peter Sterne writes: ‘Your reader, Andrew Samet, expressed skepticism about an armed citizenry’s ability to successfully fight a trained paramilitary force. I kind of remember something about an armed citizenry successfully taking on a trained military very early in the history of this country … it’s not a perfect analogy with Mumbai, and everyone was much better acquainted with firearms back then, but, you know, I’m just sayin.’”

STILL MORE: Dave Hardy comments: “I really wouldn’t give ten men attacking a few thousand Tucsonans much of a chance. About 2% of Pima County has a CCW permit; others carry openly or have one in their car (you don’t need a permit to have a holstered gun in the glove compartment). So an attack on 2,000 people means an attack on *at least* forty who have a gun on them, and more who will have one available in seconds. A fair number of whom will be behind the attackers’ backs.”

No guarantees on how it turns out, of course — but from the attacker’s point of view, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Because when you attack a bunch of unarmed people, well, the guarantees are a lot closer to hand . . . .

FINALLY: Reader Drew Kelley comments: “It seems a lot of people need to be reminded why the Japanese were very reluctant to launch an invasion of the United States proper. And then, after assimilating that information, they need to refamiliarize themselves with the basics of being a rifleman, and pistol marksmanship. It seems we are surrounded by crocodile feeders.”

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