Armed Citizens Can Defuse Terrorist Threat
Armed citizens can defuse terrorist threat
By John R. Lott Jr.
Armed private citizens in some heavily Jewish areas of Brooklyn, N.Y., started patrolling their neighborhoods this past weekend. Some carried baseball bats or cellphones. Others had concealed handguns or shotguns.
Why such unusual behavior?
Many Brooklyn Jews were alarmed by a CBS 60 Minutes report on June 2 that the terrorists who targeted the World Trade Center in 1993 first planned to blow up Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The terrorists apparently switched to the trade center only because they believed that most of its occupants were Jewish. A terrorist interviewed by CBS gave the impression that Brooklyn Jews were still a prime target.
Rabbi Yakove Lloyd, founder of the Jewish Defense Group, which helped organize the armed patrols, says they ”will be a very effective deterrent against terrorism directed at American Jews and other targets.” But to many Americans, such behavior is more frightening than the threat of terrorism.
The FBI conducted almost 470,000 more background checks for gun purchases during the six months after Sept. 11 than during the same six-month period a year earlier. These new gun owners, claim columnists such as Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times, were not only useless in stopping terrorism, but probably would cause more deaths with their guns.
Lessons from Israel
These Brooklyn Jews can point to Israel to counter such criticism. Israeli Police Inspector General Shlomo Aharonisky has repeatedly called on all concealed-handgun-permit holders to carry firearms at all times. In March, Israeli police announced they wanted to increase the number of Israelis carrying handguns by 60,000.
”There’s no question that weapons in the hands of the public have prevented acts of terror or stopped them while they were in progress,” Aharonisky says.
Examples this year:
* A woman shot a terrorist twice in the head before he could set off a bomb in a supermarket.
* A man at a disco shot to death a Palestinian who had started firing a machine gun.
* A private security guard saved hundreds by shooting a terrorist before he could drive his car bomb into a disco.
* A grocer fatally shot a terrorist armed with grenades, ”explosive devices” and a machine gun.
Police won’t step up protection
Some New York City Jews, concerned about civilians running around with guns, are not supporting the patrols. Their reaction would be more understandable if the police were willing to provide additional protection. But despite concerns voiced by Lloyd and local politicians that there is not adequate protection, the police have not publicly offered more help. Instead, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said last week that police would not tolerate people ”brandishing weapons under the guise of protecting others” and that ”anyone attempting to patrol the streets armed with a weapon” would be arrested.
The biggest practical problem with the patrols is that they will not operate on Saturdays, the Sabbath. Except in emergencies, Orthodox Jews are banned from even touching guns on holidays and the Sabbath. But everyone recognizes that synagogues could be targets of terror attacks. The unfortunate irony is that to the extent that the armed patrols deter attacks on other days, being disarmed during the Sabbath actually encourages attacks to take place then.
Recognizing this problem, Israel’s rabbis this year agreed to allow some armed worshipers in synagogues there during Passover and on the Sabbath.
Given New York City’s stringent gun-ownership rules, those who carry guns during the patrols are surely among the most law-abiding citizens. It takes six months or more to get a gun; so they hardly ran out and bought one right after 60 Minutes. Those who have a permit to carry a concealed handgun have had extensive police scrutiny. And despite Kelly’s warning, it is lawful for city gun owners to carry their unloaded shotguns in enclosed cases.
City police seem more concerned about monitoring law-abiding citizens than in protecting them. If the Second Amendment means anything, surely it applies in such a case as this.
John R. Lott Jr., an American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, wrote More Guns, Less Crime.