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DETERRENCE = Unidentified Armed Defenders, In Unknown Locations.

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Concealed carry of firearms by school staff – or church cadres, or businesses, or even just broadening the right to legal concealed carry by civilians – provides the ability to defend innocent lives in the first seconds that they come under attack, when police are minutes away at best. While some in our society have difficulty grasping that simple concept, even more push back against the assertion that this capability actually deters attack, and that the deterrence is far more powerful when it is in fact concealed carry by unidentified persons, whose presence, location, numbers, and response cannot be predicted by a would-be offender.  Some people understand this concept implicitly, while others do not. We are asked, “Where’s your data?” We point to the absence of mass shootings where people are known or likely to be armed, and especially to public schools in districts across 24 states that allow concealed carry by non-law enforcement (under a variety of conditions and requirements, but the skeptics ask, “How can you prove that the absence of shootings there has anything to do with concealed carry by permittees in their schools?” Well, here’s the answer: there’s no definitive data. There’s no proof. This is not something that can be established statistically. It requires critical thinking, common sense, and some experience-based understanding of how humans think, plan, and act in the arena of violence.

In 2015, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Craig Broyles submitted his Master’s thesis at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Titled Military Maneuver Terrorism, it addresses the threat against the U.S. and the West of terrorist attacks involving multiple attackers using small arms, explosives, and other low tech, like those that occurred in Mumbai, India (2008), at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya (2011), and at the Beslan school in the Russian republic of North Ossetia (2004). He cites, among many other sources, a piece that I wrote as a research paper at the Naval War College in 2007 and published in Homeland Security Affairs in 2008: Paramilitary Terrorism – A Neglected Threat, which made several of the same points. We both applied similar concepts that are familiar to people schooled in risk management, threat assessment, intelligence, and the operational and strategic arts.

LTC Broyles recommends several potential remedies to this threat but points out that deterrence is the most important strategy against the threat of a large, organized armed group of terrorists attempting a mass casualty attack. If such an attack is executed, regardless of how well we respond, the consequences will be terrible. Better to keep it from happening at all.

One thing that terrorist organizations have in common with most of the apolitical psychopaths who perpetrate mass shootings is a penchant for planning, and especially a desire for their action to go off according to plan, without a hitch. They study their target, and if they don’t select a target because it is undefended, they have carefully prepared plans on how to circumvent or defeat whatever defensive element is there. Unpredictability is their worst enemy. They have one shot at it, either because it’s an individual who plans to die on site when he is done, or an organization that risks irreplaceable resources by coming out of the shadows to execute an attack.

The presence of an unknown number of unidentified armed defenders, in unknown locations, with response plans and specific training and rehearsals that the attacker cannot find out, is precisely the kind of thing that discourages or deters them from ever acting. “Beginnings are delicate times” as some sage said, and the chance of having your grand one-off final curtain event come apart in its first minutes, because of stout resistance you were unable to predict, is literally a show-stopper.

LTC Broyles points out the obvious – that, because of the unpredictability it creates, concealed carry of firearms by American citizens, everywhere they can (and therefore presumably do) carry, deters terrorists and other bad actors. The jihadist killing spree on the streets of Paris in November, 2015 has not occurred on the streets of any American city, and I can think of one primary reason why. We should be working to extend the distributed security provided by discreetly armed citizens into more locales, rather than fewer. Arm school staff, arm church security teams, arm business associates in the workplace. The police cannot be in these places to protect us – though we welcome and rely on their assistance – but we can.

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Bill Tallen is Executive Vice President – Tactical Operations of Distributed Security, Inc. Prior to joining the enterprise he had a 20 year career with the Department of Energy, where he served as a Federal Agent, team leader, unit commander, training instructor, and manager in the agency which provides secure transportation of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials within CONUS. He helped to found DOE’s Special Response Force program, developing and teaching urban and close quarter battle techniques to Federal Agents charged with recovery of lost assets. He has designed and conducted a variety of wargaming efforts in support of vulnerability assessments, security system design, and leadership training, and has taught a variety of crisis decision making models. Bill holds the degree of Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. 

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