By Vincent Rinehart
If you are ever faced with extreme violence, you will have to make the decision to act. Make it now. You must decide what is worth fighting for, never forgetting that the question involves the risk of both dying and killing. You must decide now. Taking damage in the middle of a shitstorm of fists and boots is the wrong time to agonize over the moral dimension of conflict. There are things worth fighting for. List what they are.
Once you have made the list, these are your “Go” buttons. You must commit that if one of them happens you will act ruthlessly and decisively. You cannot second-guess yourself in the moment.
– Sgt. Rory Miller in his book, Meditations on Violence
Two spree killings in one week is enough. Americans need a new “Go” button, and people who are are prepared to put it all on the line in defense of innocents. In his book Meditations on Violence – A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence corrections officer Rory Miller pleads with his readers to make this decision ahead of time; before they are under attack. What is worth fighting for? The lives of strangers? Of children? Your children? When shots echo through a shopping mall or a school hallway, how are you going to react? Decide now.
Nick Meli may have made that decision when he decided to legally carry a concealed handgun into Clackamas Towncenter Shopping mall on Tuesday, December 14th where he reportedly confronted Jacob Tyler, the masked gunman who murdered two people before killing himself. Meli pulled his handgun on Tyler, but did not take a shot because of bystanders who may have been hit if he had missed. Still, the shooter was confronted by an armed citizen on the scene; something that we didn’t see in the Aurora, Colorado shooting last July, in the Connecticut shooting on Friday, or in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. We can speculate all we want about the body counts of these various spree killings. Did Meli’s confrontation of Tyler put an early end to the shooting? We won’t ever know for sure, but Meli said, “I know after he saw me, I think the last shot he fired was the one he used on himself.” Commentators have noted that Meli at least brought the fight to Tyler; that Tyler would have known that he was no longer the only person in the mall with a weapon.
What drives these murders and spree killings? With Obama’s recent speech and a “National Conversation” on gun control happening, we might look for answers. I think The Onion has it right in their headline: “Authorities Not Even Going To Bother Looking For Motive Behind Oregon Shooting ‘He Was An Asshole, How’s That?’ Officials Say.” And now we are left to ponder what to do to prevent further attacks.
Soon after the Aurora Colorado shooting, iconoclast security guru Bruce Schneier warned us to not over react to rare, spectacular events. Don’t let fear cloud your judgement, and certainly don’t let it drive policy. In discussing the debate around terrorism and national security in a post 9/11 environment, Schneier had this to say in his book Beyond Fear:
Sensible security does not result from fear. Just because anomalies happen doesn’t mean security has failed. The risk of a terrorist attack before 9/11 wasn’t appreciably smaller than the risk of a terrorist attack after 9/11.
This is a precarious position to take politically, which is why I believe most politicians have steered clear of it. It’s safe for a political leader to make dire predictions about the future and recommend an extreme course of action. If another terrorist attack happens, then she can say that the event proved her right. And if nothing happens, she can claim that her security program was a success. (And that it keeps away the vicious purple dragons, too.) A politician is on shaky ground when he says, “Don’t worry; it’s not that bad.” He looks ineffectual compared to his colleagues who are trying to do something to make us safer (even if the “something doesn’t really make us safe); worse, he looks as if he doesn’t care about his constituents. And if another attack happens, he looks even worse. The public’s difficulty in assessing risks plays into this. Many people have been frightened into believing that terrorism is a far greater risk than it is.
After the horrible tragedies in Oregon and Connecticut this week, America is certainly gripped with fear and the debate around gun control has begun yet again. But before we make hasty, politically expedient decisions, we need to have a calm look at the risk these sort of spree killings represent and what we have to give up in return for proposed security measures. What is the chance of dying in one of these attacks? The likely hood must be extremely small. Realistically speaking, what are we trying to protect? With 20 dead school children, the politically expedient answer is simply, “the children,” which, as we all know, excuses the trade off of any and all liberties for even just the slightest bit of security, right? A clearer answer to this question, unloaded with emotion, is simply, “everywhere.” A crazed gunman has his pick of thousands of targets. Anywhere that draws large crowds into publicly accessible places is at risk. How do you draft a national level policy to protect “everywhere?” Many have proposed more gun control at a national level; but there are already 200 million firearms in the United States; approximately 2 for every 3 people in this country. Would tighter controls on firearms stop a determined killer from acquiring a firearm? Even if he couldn’t get his hands on a gun, might he just mix up some fertilizer and gasoline instead as Timothy McVeigh did in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people including 19 children? How much would we reduce the incidence of mass killings through tighter gun control? What would we have to give up in return? The price would be the liberty of law abiding citizens. We see a similar trade off with the security theater that ostensibly protects our air travel from terrorist attacks. Law abiding citizens give up a great deal of liberty and endure groping, and potentially dangerous and ineffective body scans. Meanwhile, the best improvements to air travel security have been locking cockpit doors and a common understanding among air travelers that an attempted hijacking is a “Go” button. If someone tries to take over the airplane you are on, you fight to the death to stop them.
If we are trying to protect “everywhere” from extremely rare (albeit tragic) attacks then we shouldn’t be willing to give up the liberties of all law abiding citizens. As a friend said, there’s never freedom in a place were someone has the right to take your life without consequence and you don’t have the same right. Just as important, we need to depart with the idea that the federal government can even do anything about these attacks. It’s unrealistic to look to them for answers (they have none.) So instead of investing in even more security theater than we already have, I propose that we add a new “Go” button to our personal lists. I propose that we citizens realize that the government can’t be everywhere; the security that they provide you is an illusion, a mere after thought. They can only assure that they’ll try their best to catch a bad guy after the fact. They certainly can’t stop a crazed killer who commits suicide at the scene of the crime. So we citizens must take security into our own hands; we need our own list of “Go” buttons. What is worth fighting for? What is worth potentially dying or killing for? My “Go” buttons include imminent threats to myself or my family in situations where there is no good outcome. A home invasion is certainly a “Go” button. If a lone armed threat puts down his weapon and either the threat or the weapons is within arm’s reach is one of my “Go” buttons. If I see an exit and a threat is not focused on me is another. These are some of my Go buttons. I am adding one. If a mass murderer is methodically killing unarmed civilians then I will act ruthlessly and decisively. If I can escape and take my family to safety, I will. If I can disable, maim or kill the attacker, I will. In the words of Sgt. Miller:
If the “Go” button hits, I will fight or run… I will do something. The plan may be made in the instant or in the moments leading up to the precipitator, but the “Go” button is the trigger.
For the record, someone trying to kill you had damn well better be one of your “Go” buttons.