We're having the wrong discussion regarding "soft targets"

Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post is rightly horrified and disgusted at the fact that a terrorist would select a soft target like a night club for massive murder and mayhem. He also reflects on the propensity of attackers to favor guns over more complicated weaponry such as bombs.

In the land of soft targets, we live shadowed by the potential for violence, all too aware that it can visit us without warning, remorse or logic. In America, the threat in recent years has been from domestic terrorists and deranged gunmen, often seeking notoriety in a blaze of gunfire in which the innocence of the victims is irrelevant to them. For the mass shooter, like the jihadist, body counts are all that matter. There is no such thing as a collateral fatality.

There has been a slow evolution in tactics toward greater use of firearms and away from building bombs, said William McCants, author of “The ISIS Apocalypse.” “The big worry is that more people will decide to attack using handguns and rifles and not focus on bombs. That sounds counterintuitive, but when you’re building the bomb, there’s usually a lot of people involved and you have to buy material that the government has monitored, so it’s easier to identify and disrupt a plot that involves a bomb,” McCants said.

There’s nothing off base about either of those paragraphs aside from the intentional choice to juxtapose the two in that fashion. So called soft targets are optimal for those seeking to perpetrate evil because of the minimal risk to themselves when launching an attack combined with the probability of the highest body count and greatest impact. Attempting to take down a police station or National Guard armory might be seen as more of a political statement, but the odds of success on the part of the terrorist drop drastically.

It’s equally true that a gun is easier to obtain (in virtually every country if you have access to the black market) and harder to trace or locate once it’s in your possession than a bomb. You require far less training to operate a gun than to build a bomb. The list of components required for bomb construction leaves you open to more potential government snooping. The list goes on.

The real question left unaddressed is what to do about it. You can’t eliminate soft targets without forbidding significant numbers of free people from gathering together in public spaces. It’s not just night clubs, but shopping centers, concerts, movie theaters and public transportation hubs. We wouldn’t want to do that even if it were possible. And since you’re never going to find every person with evil in their hearts before they strike, the only rational choice remaining is to make those soft targets less soft.

We don’t have the resources or the desire to station armed military units or even police SWAT teams around every single place in the nation where significant numbers of people congregate. But what we can do is make it easier for the crowds of innocent civilians to include a reasonable proportion of them who are not only armed but thoroughly trained in how to respond to a crisis situation and take down a bad guy before a tragedy turns into a mass tragedy. Simply allowing concealed carry in more places isn’t enough. We should be encouraging anyone who is willing to take part in publicly supported, free or low cost training in safe engagement and crisis response. And then we need to let the rest of the world know we’re doing it.

If you plan to go into a crowded area and start shooting, you should know in advance that you’ll probably run into multiple people who will quickly be shooting back and doing so with deadly efficiency. Terrorists are not heroes. In fact, their actions define them as cowards. More of them will think twice before launching an attack if the cost of doing so rises significantly. Stripping more law abiding citizens of their ability to defend not only themselves but their fellow citizens is pretty much the opposite of a solution.


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David Strom 9:21 PM on March 24, 2023