Sandy Hook School Shooting

To Prevent Mass Shootings, Forget Laws and Look to Airplane Security


Adam Lanza

There's probably no mystery in why politicians habitually propose new, ever-more restrictive laws in response to horrific crimes like the Newtown massacre. If there's any truth to the saying, "if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail," then everything looks to member of Congress like a target for legislation — especially in the panicked aftermath of a tragedy, when people are screaming for a response. But, historically, laws have proven useful for setting out the penalties people can expect to suffer if they are caught going beyond the limits of behavior considered acceptable within a society (or, sometimes, just by lawmakers); for actually changing people's behavior beyond the margins, they're impotent. They're also easily evaded by people who intend harm.

In his book, Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers, Thomas Szasz documented how the 17th century Ottoman Empire tried to deter tobacco use by its subjects by "beheading, hanging, quartering or crushing their hands and feet." Despite vigorous application of such penalties, tobacco use became increasingly popular. If torture and execution couldn't stop people from puffing on prohibited tobacco, is it any surprise that even lengthy prison time has proven unequal to the challenge of dissuading modern Americans from from buying and selling a host of forbidden goods and services, from gambling to drugs to commercial sex?

Matters become further complicated if  targets of restrictions are politically and culturally loaded. Firearms in American society are icons, to millions of people, of individualism and personal freedom. They also have become associated with political conservatives and opposition to them with political progressives, so that the passage of restrictions on firearms are treated as Team Blue victories, and loosened laws as Team Red victories. That some of the biggest proponents of tighter restriction apparently exempt themselves (Sen. Dianne Feinstein has or had a permit to carry a pistol) just emphasizes the partisan-duel nature of such legislative battles. Defiance of such restrictions is certainly seen by many as a principled stand for liberty — and a flipped bird to political opponents.

Worse, though, new restrictions wouldn't just exacerbate political and cultural divisions; they'd be ineffective in stopping another massacre. That's because restrictions are predictable obstacles that can be worked into the plans of a would-be mass-murderer. Anders Breivik did exactly that over a period of several years, bypassing Norway's relatively restrictive laws to acquire guns, explosives and a phony police uniform and identification on his way to killing 77 people and injuring many more. In a debate over airport security hosted by The Economist, former TSA administrator, Kip Hawley, made some points relevant to current concerns:

Publication of system rules and enforcing literal compliance is an approach better served to address safety issues where the enemy is gravity tugging predictably on wing assemblies, etc. A terrorist, even a dumb terrorist, does not behave according to peer-reviewed, scientifically certified patterns. In fact, terrorists adapt their attacks to evade security defenses. Predictable, overly rule-based security measures play right into their hands and are also dangerously ineffective if used alone.

The Adam Lanzas of the world have all too much in common with the terrorists Hawley described. They can plan around any knowable, predictable obstacles put in their way.That makes a knee-jerk legal response ineffective — and maybe worse, if it lures people into a false sense of security.

So, what can be done? Hawley and his frequent critic, Bruce Schneier, agree that just two responses to hijacking attempts have been effective: hardening airplane cockpits and psychologically preparing passengers and air crew to actively resist attackers. Forget the theater at the airports, which is the equivalent of the gun/video game/legal-whatever bloviating in Congress; it's those two changes that have mattered.

If hardening targets and preparing people at the scene to intervene if necessary works against terrorist attacks on airplanes, it just may work at schools and elsewhere. What does that mean in real terms? Well, that's where the real discussion should begin. Debates over new legal restrictions on people who didn't commit the crime are a pointless distraction.

NEXT: Sen. Boxer Proposes National Guard Troops in Schools

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  1. …former TSA administrator, Kip Hawley…

    Wow, there’s a name out of a Rand novel. Of course, what he said is actually correct.

    1. “what he said is actually correct”

      Hence, FORMER TSA administrator.

      1. Competence in government is dangerous. Voters might come to expect it.

  2. Debates over new legal restrictions on people who didn’t commit the crime are a pointless distraction.

    This needs to be the starting point of every reply to the gun controllers.

    “Why do you want to restrict the freedom of the people who didn’t commit any crimes? Why do you think that further restrictions on citizens who will never commit a violent crime will reduce violent crime?”

    1. I like “Why should one person murdering several dozen people mean violating the rights of hundreds of millions of others?”

      1. After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.
        William S. Burroughs

    2. This needs to be the starting point of every reply to the gun controllers government.

    3. Perhaps because the people who didn’t commit the crime are nevertheless doing things that make crime more likely.

        1. Don’t start this shit with her dude.

          She believes mere act of owning a firearm constitutes potential liability.

      1. Hazel, saddened to see what has become of you.

        Others: a cautionary tale that some former allies will jump ship. This will be the most disheartening thing about the coming struggle.

        1. Oh don’t worry. I still hate leftists with a burning passion and would love to see them pitted on spikes or (spitted on pikes).

          I just think it’s totally reasonable to say that gun ownership imposes risks unwillingly upon others. And they should be compensated for that.

          If you’re going to argue that dead children are the price of freedom, you should at least be willing to pay that price *yourself* instead of letting it happen to some stranger would doesn’t give a shit about owning guns.

    4. Sigh. RC and Nicole, you persist in the fallacy that these people are honest and rational. They are neither. They go through the motions of constructing semi-plausible arguments, but the goal of gun-grabbing is a foregone conclusion.

      Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t push back, because there is always that honest, rational segment of the population who we have to convince.

      But don’t get caught in the sticky ball of arguing with proggies. See any debate with Tony, PB, Shriek, et als.

    5. It’s for teh children! A few kids are accidentally shot every year you know.

  3. Greg Sargent at the Post (I know, I know) has story up on what Feinstein is up to.…..apons-ban/

    1. “This bill would name many more weapons than the original ban did,” the person familiar with drafting tells me. “It would name ones that would be specifically prohibited, including this Bushmaster in Connecticut.”

      I love the scare quotes throughout around “gun rights.”

      1. I used to be regular over there. It was fine, but I called them on the drone issue one to many times and it got somewhat ugly. so i quit

        and, yeah, the supposed “rights.” but, he’s pretty tapped in to what those idiots are thinking.

      2. I look forward to buying a new Busmaser BR17 in 2014.

      3. There go more American jobs.

  4. Turning school campuses into prison-like fortifications? I like it.

    The only thing a law can prevent is liberty. And Team Blue isn’t solidly anti-gun. I know a ton of rural, true-blue union types who voted for Obama, certain he would never try to take their guns.

    1. When all the shit goes down, I want to laugh in their faces and say “I told you so,” but I have to remember that my liberties are being crushed as well. The only solace I can take is that I voted against it.

    2. “certain he would never try to take their guns.”


      1. Absolutely. Scoffed at the idea. Mocked the very notion.

    3. Actually laws against the initiatory use of force preserve liberty.

      1. Those laws don’t prevent, only punish.

  5. “If hardening targets and preparing people at the scene to intervene if necessary works against terrorist attacks on airplanes, it just may work at schools and elsewhere. What does that mean in real terms”

    Megan McArdle mentioned basically the same idea in her recent column and was pilloried for it. The charge against her was led by Panicky Idiot #3 (Jonathan Chait)

    1. Yeah, I meant to mention this. It was pathetic.

    2. The charge against her was led by Panicky Idiot #3 (Jonathan Chait)

      “We’re looking for more of a ‘duh duh’ idiot.”

      1. Lol

        This was the worst one imo:…..-guns.html

        I actually only made it as far as ‘child-killing lobby’

        1. Actually this one went the ‘full retard’:

          “Yet for every ton of carbon we emit, we are firing a bullet into the air. We may not live to see it, but those bullets will rain down on the children of the future, and they will suffer for it.”


        2. Yeah, I didn’t get far into the few I tried to read. But their ability to see into the nefarious hearts and heads of their political enemies is impressive.

        3. Did you really expect anything different from the New Freaking Yorker? Srsly?

    3. Any mention of arming anyone on campus will make them scream like little girls. Mainly because schools are their last retreat, and they know that once teachers are successfully carrying and none of the standard dire predictions come true, gun control is as dead as this latest killer.

      1. I see a lot of practical problems with arming teachers:

        A lot of teachers will opt-out of this. So all it will take is one more dead kid and they’ll shriek that it didn’t work.

        The teachers will also demand more training, pay and status. And free guns. Maybe even police powers. The last thing we need.

        One day a psycho teacher will open fire on a kid, so again it will not have worked.


        1. If a CCW-licensed teacher is so unhinged that they would consider killing a student for any reason other than self-defense, they should be removed from the classroom long before they reach that breaking point. If the school has a list of the CCW holding teachers, they will rightly be more watchful of those teachers’ mental health.

          I can, however, imagine a scenario where a teacher wants to defend themselves FROM their students. Several examples of students killing teachers:


        2. I think they should at least have Mace and Tasers on campus.

  6. A bit OT, but I’m wondering where all the “NRA is fear-mongering, gun owners are paranoid, you can vote for Barack Obama because he isn’t going to take away your guns” posters went.

    1. They’re grieving for innocent (American) children, you heartless monster.

    2. Shriek has been going around assuring us that “Obama doesn’t really mean it”.

    3. To be fair, the thing about the NRA fear-mongering is kind of true. With some of the shit they send out, you’d think that the UN was about to come in and confiscate everyone’s guns.

      1. Yeah, some of that stuff makes me cringe.

        But then, I realize that most of the population doesn’t notice anything until it whacks them over the head. Whether or not the NRA’s mailers end up generating the emotional response needed to gin up political action in this democracy full of stupid people, I don’t know. I do know, however, that this technique is precisely what got Obama re-elected.

  7. I know that people will think that I am a crazy person, I’m fine with that. The other day I remembered a self-defense truism: Charge a gun, flee a blade.

    Think what a totally different country we would have if we taught people, yes, even children, that if a crazy gunman shows up to swarm him instead of cowering in fear. Would people get killed? Yes, they would. And we would legitimately mourn them as heroes – not that trying to shield children with your body isn’t heroic, it just isn’t effective. Would it work? I don’t know. It depends on the circumstances, but it’s not like he was sniping from long distance, he had to be in school rooms and halls which really aren’t that big.

    1. That was the point airline safety. Stand up and announce a highjacking on aircraft today and half the passengers will immediately swarm. Certainly by High School kids should have the same reaction to a shooter.

    2. And I agree that this is a good idea, but children, particularly the younger ones, may run screaming despite all the training.

      I read that one teacher at Sandy Hook told the kids in her classroom to hide in the storage cabinets. Some did, and survived; at least one came out of the cabinet, ran and was shot. So this will be a hard sell.

      Anyone know what type of training the Israelis give their schoolchildren about this?

      1. “children, particularly the younger ones, may run screaming despite all the training.”

        Not if they’re subjected to a sufficiently harsh training regimen.

      2. And I don’t see that harsh training regimen being practical here. Think of all those precious little snowflakes who can’t be ordered about because that’s culturally insensitive or othering or whatever.

        1. Early selection paves the way.

          See Sparta.

  8. cont.

    Why did Lanza go to an elementary school? I suspect it was so he could finally be the big bad monster he wished people thought he was. From that sociology article (which I wish more people away from this site would read) IIRC it was emphasized how often these spree killers stop when confronted (notice the media has been silent about how the Oregon mall shooter stopped when a concealed pistol carrier drew on him – didn’t shoot [there were people behind the shooter he feared hitting – gosh, that doesn’t fit the grabbers’ narrative of how trigger happy CCW holders are, does it?], just drew on him and he stopped). They’ve been losers all their life, using a weapon for their courage. Think of the way a wasp invading a beehive gets covered by bees until they literally drive the wasp’s temperature up too high for it to survive. Imagine children and teachers tackling Lanza, coming at him, throwing things at him, and tell me the numbers of the dead would be as high.

    Is it wrong of me to want a nation of badass children who don’t lie down and die for any nut with a gun?

    Granted, the notion of Progressive teachers getting children militant does worryingly evoke the Cultural Revolution in the back of my mind, but I submit that it truly is better to die on your feet than on your knees, at any age.

    1. I think you are probably right. If everyone had charged at the guy, a lot fewer people would have died.

      I hear that the principal did try to charge the guy, and got killed. But if there had been even 3 or 4 more adults charging him from different directions, he probably would have been knocked down and stopped.

      1. He certainly doesn’t look the type to win a wrestling match – even against middle-aged women.

    2. Is it wrong of me to want a nation of badass children who don’t lie down and die for any nut with a gun?

      Reminds me of the Fremen women and children. The women throw their children at their attackers before closing in with knives to fuck shit up.

    3. See my 4:33 above, Neon. The proggies are neither honest nor rational. So even evidence from their cherished academy will not sway them.

      1. Friend, telling me at this point that proggies are neither honest nor rational is like telling me the sun rises in the east. The evidence is compelling and overwhelming.

        And I know it won’t fly because every child is a delicate flower who must be preserved from anything resembling danger. It would be a Herculean effort to break through parents’ heads that through cosseting their kids they are harming them.

    4. I posted that link originally, and will repost it here because I think everyone needs to read it.

  9. First off, let’s let states try different solutions so that eventually we’ll have a better of what works and what doesn’t. Change or dump the “gun-free schools” nonsense to allow the next steps in the states that want to try them. Have training programs for principals and teachers and janitors etc. in firearms and self-defense. Allow them to carry concealed if they want. Install locked gun safes in principal’s offices, even if there is nothing in them. I’d say there should be, but the point of all this is to send a message to homicidal nuts that schools are not necessarily soft targets.

    1. Oh, and teaching the kids to swarm a gunman is not a bad idea.

      1. It worked for the Viet Cong.

  10. Sometimes dude, you jsut gotta smack dat ass!

    1. Talking about smacking dat ass in a thread about elementary school kids?

      God you never stop, do you, you fucking pedo-bot.

      1. You think spammers actually read anything?

  11. “Hardening targets” sounds like you want to make schools into fortresses. Not the smartest idea. And anyway, this massacre is a statistical blip. It’s a tragedy, but it’s foolish to over-react.

  12. I’ve noticed on FB that folks are claiming that arming teachers wouldn’t work because ‘look at what happened when Abu Nidal went off at that army base, where there are lots of guns and everybody’s armed’
    But I’ve also heard (but can’t substantiate) that in fact army bases have very strict gun control regs and most people aren’t armed except gate guards. Since I can’t seem to find the cites, I’m not answering.

    1. Military bases are quite gun free generally. There are weapons ranges for practice, and of course the military police/security forces are carrying, but they are generally doing gate security. Concealed weapons are not permitted on military installations, and personal firearms must be kept in a secure location.

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