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The Best Defense By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, May 29, 2002


JAPANESE SCI-FI MONSTROSITIES have become the thing of national terror alerts, thanks to the relentless speculation and second-guessing of the McKinneycrats and their allies in the media.

These days, the Bush Administration publicizes every perceived "threat," whether credible or absurd. So last week, it warned of a possible attack on New York City landmarks after a suspected terrorist told investigators that his comrades were targeting "the bridge in that movie" that is, the Brooklyn Bridge, which ensnares Godzilla in his eponymous 1998 box-office flop. The warning prompted New York officials to cancel planned festivities for the bridge’s 119th anniversary celebration.

Chalk one up for the giant, fire-breathing reptile.

But the hysteria isn’t all bad. There’s a valuable lesson to be gleaned from the McKinneycrats’ relentless asking of who knew what, and the administration’s feeble response: The bureaucrats are not invincible; much of the time, they’re barely even competent. It’s a reaffirmation of what Sept. 11 made clear, that the government cannot and should not be expected to protect the public from all dangers. Average citizens must take some responsibility for their own self-defense.

Relying entirely on the state to identify, let alone weed out all credible threats to public safety is folly. Just consider Time magazine’s account of Coleen Rowley, the career FBI agent who, last summer, tried to get her agency to search the laptop computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, "the 20th hijacker." At every step, she was thwarted by timid bureaucrats more concerned with career advancement and process than hunting down terrorists. Nor did it help that the federal court that authorizes such searches began holding back warrants because an FBI supervisor had submitted improper information in his applications.

Most of the time, the bureaucratic alternative to the inaction that preceded Sept. 11 is the sort of overreaction that’s followed it like the Godzilla warning that spooked New York City last week.

Law-enforcement officials, well-intentioned and hard-working though they usually are, are finite in their capabilities. They face the daunting task of monitoring a clandestine movement of fanatics who are willing to die in pursuit of their objectives. Government agents must also work within the constraints of a legal system that precludes the reasonable use of ethnic profiling and preserves the privacy rights of terrorists to unsearched hard drives.

Even in Israel, where the government is far better equipped to deal with terrorist attacks, its severe limitations announce themselves with every bomb blast. When it comes to crime of all kinds, government is far better at tracking down and prosecuting offenders after the fact than in stopping them beforehand. For that, it needs the assistance of the law-abiding public.

On Sept. 11, terrorists who had eluded law-enforcement detection for months easily boarded and hijacked four commercial jetliners. After the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, the military scrambled, and failed, to shoot down the others. Two of the remaining planes would go on to strike their targets. The only plane that wouldn’t was United flight 93 the one on which passengers caught wind of what was going on, and took action. Three months later, passengers would strike again by subduing and detaining accused shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

But the demonstrated success of civilians in preventing and thwarting terrorist attacks (compared with the glaring failures of the national-security bureaucracy) have seemingly gone unnoticed in Washington.

Last week, while testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, undersecretary for transportation security John Magaw announced that his department had rejected appeals from the airline pilots’ union to let its members carry guns in the cockpit. Pilots, he said should focus on flying the plane (a difficult job when a thug is trying to slit your throat). Magaw argued that federal air marshals, who are too few and far between, should be the only ones allowed to carry firearms aboard planes.

In other words, let the government keep taking care of it.

Critics of the pilots’ plan worry that it might present its own dangers, such as a stray bullet hitting innocent passengers. It’s a reasonable concern, except that the government’s current "last resort" the Air Force blasts hijacked airplanes and all of their passengers clear out of the sky hardly offers more protection to the innocent.

And unlike shooting down planes, which still gives terrorists the victory of killing hundreds of passengers, arming pilots creates a real deterrent. Terrorists have little interest in taking up assaults with little prospect for success. If pilots or, for that matter, properly licensed passengers, were armed, terrorists would most likely seek out new targets altogether, just as they have long since stopped trying to hijack Israel’s El Al, which has armed, plain-clothes agents on every flight.

Guns stop terrorists, just, as John Lott has demonstrated, gun ownership reduces crime. Putting more of the responsibility for homeland defense into the hands of private citizens armed private citizens is the best defense against future 9-11s and other sorts of attacks.

It wouldn’t be fail-proof, but it would be an improvement.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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