San Bernardino Terrorist Attack

The day after Nine-Eleven, had someone offered to bet me that we would not have another major terrorist attack in the United States for the next seven years, I would have mortgaged the house, hopped on that wager – and lost!  It might have been luck; it might have been skill (and as a military strategist I would add it was because we took the fight to the enemy where he lived;) it was probably a combination of both, but we essentially had a multi-fatality terror attack-free Homeland until 2009.  Today, however, we have a much more serious situation.  Not only has the frequency of terrorist attacks increased, the attacks now include the heartland in places like Chattanooga, San Bernardino, Dallas, Little Rock, Boston and Fort Hood.

I read an article the other day about the development of humans and it discussed the response to danger, such as immediately trying to run away from a saber-tooth tiger by a caveman.  There simply was not enough time for our early ancestors to ponder the situation (fight or flight) unless they wanted to become cat food.  So far, so good, but the article went on to say that today humans have no predators out after them.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  I would argue that we have more physical violence predators looking to harm us (I am not talking about predatory loan officers, computer scammers and the like) since the Middle Ages – and some might say the Dark Ages.  You may not think there are predators out there, but there are and, more ominously, they look at you as a “meal.”

We are talking about two basic forms of predators: common criminals (such as serial killers, robbers, rapists, drug dealers and the mentally unstable) and terrorists, who today are the soldiers of one group or another that espouse the tenets of violent Islam.  Certainly other terrorist affiliations and attacks have flourished in the past – Protestant/Catholic sectarianism in Northern Ireland comes to mind, but the current 800-pound gorilla in the room (although some refuse to see him) is militant Islam, be that Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, or any other of the dozens of splinter groups.  One might think there is no similarity between regular criminals and terrorists, but there is one commonality – they both prefer to attack soft targets.

A soft target has many characteristics: it is slow to react to an attack or does not react at all (commonly called the deer in the headlights look); it is not likely to be armed or to pose a physical threat to an attacker; it is often in an area that is unfamiliar to it; it is often alone; it has something that the attacker wants, be that notoriety achieved by attacking it, perceived money or valuables, or religious/ethnic/racial/gender hatred toward the target.

Criminals and terrorists avoid what we term hard targets, where the likelihood of the target capturing, wounding or killing the attacker is high.  The hardness of the target can be measured by the presence of weapons, the defensibility of the architecture (walls, blast resistant glass, sensors [such as remote cameras]) and the correct belief that the humans composing a hard target are quite willing and able to respond quickly with lethal effects.

Self-defense is a human right.

You could become a hard target by building a castle, spending millions of dollars for bodyguards and sensors, and never leaving your fortress.  That would be expensive and stupid unless you just like being a paranoid hermit.

You are by birth a soft target, but the following suggestions can help you become a hard target.

1.  Limit your out-of-home activities late at night.  Most hunters in the wild stalk their quarry at night, often late at night.  And remember, these hunters are stalking you.  If you are going to be out after 11:00 pm, you really need to ask yourself why.

2.  Avoid high terrorism and high crime areas.  Do you really want to take that summer vacation to Beirut?  Whether you are motoring through Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan or most other places in the Middle East, you will stick out like a sore thumb, when actually you want to blend in and not appear as a target.  We also know that certain areas of every major town, and city (here and abroad) are more dangerous than others.  Simply don’t go into those.  If you are unsure about that, go to the local police station and ask them frankly, “What areas should a person like me avoid?”  They’ll tell you.

3.  When you are moving, ditch the headsets, palm-held electronics (I-phone, I-pad, I-pod, Blackberry or anything else) and concentrate on staying alive, whether that is actually checking for traffic when you cross a street (never assume you have the right of way on anything), you are driving, or you are observing people moving toward you.  Look in their eyes; you can often spot some uncomfortable intent in a person’s “window to the soul.”  All this is called situational awareness.  PS. Alcohol, prescription drugs and recreational drugs diminish situational awareness.  Targets that are high get killed easier than targets that are not and bad guys know this.

4.  Humans are social animals.  Your chances of being targeted by a criminal go down if you are with a group.  Unfortunately, the converse is true with terrorism; terrorists normally want a big score of dead and dying victims.

5.  Now is where we get into arguments.  Buy three firearms if you do not already have any.  Even if you hate firearms, or are afraid of firearms, just buy them and put them away in a vault or safe deposit box.  One day, things may deteriorate so badly that you, or your kids, or your grand-kids (when they are adults) just might have a need for them.  There are plenty of trigger locks for safety; there are even some now where the safe doesn’t open unless a scanner reads your own fingerprint.  If you are so inclined, use a safe deposit box at the bank to store it, unless there is some law or rule that doesn’t permit this. 

6.  The three to purchase (and I’m not going to start an endless argument over caliber, make and model) are a pistol, a shotgun and some type of smallish rifle that is more than a single shot bolt action.  Some call that a carbine.  Each of the three is better at some types of defense than the others; you can read opinions all day long about which type of weapon is better at some tasks than others.  None of these will be fully automatic weapons no matter what the media tells you.  To get a fully automatic weapon you have to first get several permits that cost so much and have such lengthy and detailed background checks that almost no one has them (I have met only two people in my life who have one.)  What you want is a carbine type weapon that when you pull the trigger, one bullet is fired; pull the trigger a second time and the next bullet is fired, and so on until the magazine/weapon is out of ammunition.  Make sure you comply with all local and state laws as to how large a capacity that may be.  California, for example, allows much less capacity than most other states; it’s an ineffective law as witnessed by what happened when two Islamic terrorists attacked in San Bernardino, but it is on the books none-the-less.  If you are uncomfortable with a semi-auto action, consider a pump action or a lever action that will be a bit slower but effective anyway. 

7.  A firearm in a safe deposit box is not going to protect you at home or on the street and you or your descendants will figure that out, so have someone competent show you how to use it.  Then find a shooter-friendly range to practice safely.  Then practice, practice, practice; not for a month, but every month, every year.  Shooting skills erode over time, but if you keep at it you will get better and stay better.  Remember, you aren’t looking to become an American Sniper here, shooting hundreds of yards or more.  The distance at which you will consider shooting is that distance that a reasonable person is afraid that an assailant will kill them.  And remember, the court gets to decide that reasonable distance, if you kill an attacker and go on trial.

8.  Sign up and fulfill your state requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit.  As with all of these recommendations, the first imperative is to obey the law.  None of us know at this moment whether we will decide tomorrow night that the dog needs to be walked around the neighborhood.  If we own a pistol and do not have a concealed permit, dropping that weapon into our pocket when Sparky wants to go outside just might be an illegal act.  Having a concealed carry permit makes it legal, even if we never have to carry a weapon.

9.  Get in shape.  Ha!  Easier said than done, I know, but people in better overall condition can do things that people in poor condition cannot do: think quicker and clearer; run faster; traverse uneven terrain (stairs, up and down slopes) without falling.  If you are so inclined and physically able, try learning some unarmed combat.  I contemplated recommending getting a knife that can do some damage in a self-defense role, but that means that your attacker is really close, the odds are you could cut yourself if you don’t know what you are doing and it adds in a whole set of other laws you have to follow on blade length and how it opens; so I won’t.  A more expensive, but effective deterrent for a close-in confrontation and home defense is a German Shepherd.

10.  Visualize potential attacks – criminal and terrorist – against you and mentally prepare options.  There are several categories of a response to an attack and you need to rehearse in your mind what response provides you the best chance at survival.  In general you can: move away from danger; hide in place; attack your attacker; comply with your attacker’s demands; or create some kind of diversion.  No one size will fit all and what works one time may not work during another situation.  You visualize by asking questions: if something bad starts happening right now, what direction am I going to run?  Where was the last place I saw a police officer and how do I get back there?  Maybe I shouldn’t run at all if there is a great place to hide within a few feet of where I am or I can blend in with the surroundings.  What do I do differently if there is more than one attacker?  If I have a gun, where is the nearest position that will provide me some protection from the bad guy’s fire?  What if one or more attackers open fire before I sense their presence?  What if the room or building I am in catches fire?  Where are the fire exits?  What do I do if a car bomb down the street explodes?  If my family is out and about and we get split up, what is the plan to get back together if the cell phones don’t work? 

This may all seem like complex stuff and law enforcement and the military practice this all the time.  You won’t, and don’t want to become, a Rambo, just increase your odds that you and your family can survive in an increasingly dangerous world.  But remember, these punks — be they common criminals or Islamic terrorists — are not particularly good shots nor are they invincible.  They may be appear tough when they are dealing unarmed victims that are already tied up and waiting to be killed.  But against an armed enemy, who has mentally prepared how to defend and react — you — they are beatable.  They do not do well during the few seconds when you have the initiative and achieve surprise by doing something they do not expect — and they expect you to most often freeze and do nothing.  Our active duty military can only do so much taking the fight to the enemy.  Our National Guard can only do so much in responding to massive emergencies.  Our police and intelligence community can only do so much trying to defend the homeland.  The rest of us need to become hard targets and be the goal line defense of last resort to stand up to those who would do us harm.

Your only other approach is to say, “None of this bad stuff is ever going to happen to me”…

…until it does.

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Books by French L. MacLean