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To Stop Mass Shootings, Take Them Seriously as Terrorism

It’s become fashionable to dub the now-routine American gun massacres “stochastic terrorism,” as if that explained anything. I’m sure the six families who this morning are mourning loved ones murdered overnight in a rampage in the Chesapeake, Va. Wal-Mart could not care less what fancy label pundits have come up with. But the “terrorism” moniker does hint at some steps we could take to reduce the carnage, even though the MAGA Republicans have captured the House of Representatives, foreclosing any chance of new federal gun legislation for the next two years.

Starting in the mid-1990s, Israel reaped the “rewards” of its attempt to make peace with the Palestinians in the form of terrorist suicide bombings, the death tolls of which were comparable to those of “mass shooting” attacks. The first wave of these, starting in 1994 at the height of the Oslo Accords period, resulted in Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s first election as prime minister. I was living there at the time, and even though I was a passionate backer of what Israelis called the “peace camp,” I have vivid memories of how helpless the average person felt. I tried changing my commute to work, in order to ride a bus that was usually less crowded and so, I figured, a less “attractive target.” The second wave of suicide bombings during the so-called Second Intifada of the early 2000s (after I was back in the United States), was much worse and led to the end of any semblance of a “peace process” and the near-extinction of the “peace camp” and the Israeli left, which to this day is a political rump barely clinging to life. Likud’s Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister, and the suicide bombings eventually stopped, although not for want of would be murderer-“martyrs” on the Palestinian side. How did the Israelis do it?

I’m not an expert on counter-terrorism, just an interested observer, so take what follows with a grain of salt. The most important element is aggressive intelligence and preventive action. In Israel, this means that the Shin Bet (the Israeli FBI) has infiltrated Palestinian society within Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and can head off many plots before they get started. The means used can be ugly, including sexual blackmail. This won’t translate exactly into the American context, since the population of potential perpetrators is so much larger — essentially, all young men in their teens and twenties, and to a lesser extent middle-aged men (the perpetrator of the slaughter at the Las Vegas country music concert a few years ago was in his late fifties). It will be necessary to ramp up the “if you see something, say something” reminders to the public. Law enforcement will have to take social media threats much more seriously, surveilling and investigating as many as possible, since so many perpetrators turn out to have boasted of their plans in advance. New federal legislation should mandate that social media companies do much of this tracking and reporting to law enforcement themselves. This is emphatically not a free speech issue, since violent threats have never been treated as “protected speech.”

Another key element is armed security at all “soft targets,” such as schools and shopping centers, coupled with “profiling” of a kind that Americans find objectionable. But this should not lead to targeting African Americans! To repeat, the population of potential perpetrators is all young men in their teens through their twenties, and to a lesser extent middle-aged men, and if anything, White men more than African Americans and Latinos. It will be a salutary experience, I think, for White men to learn what it’s like to be the object of suspicion! The disproportionate numbers of these people who believe their “Second Amendment rights” outweigh everybody’s right not to be gunned down at random might even be led to reconsider. As for the armed security, if Americans don’t like that, it’s just tough luck. Israel is far from the only country to have gun-toting guards at every entrance to every mall; you see it in Latin America, too. Congress should pass a law mandating all malls and all retail establishments above a certain size pay for this security (all Wal-Marts and every supermarket should be included).

Other Israeli measures, such as the much-maligned separation barrier, won’t work at all in the American context. (It’s curious, isn’t it, that the same people who demand Israel “end the occupation” immediately also violently object to Israel creating a border barrier with those selfsame occupied territories? It’s almost as if what these people really want is for Israeli Jews to be the helpless and defenseless targets of attempted genocide, wherever they may be.) And it’s essential that the Democrats get workable majorities in Congress in ’24, along with Biden’s reelection, so that we can finally begin the gun buybacks, regulation of gunmakers and gun “shows,” and other measures needed to stop providing an endless flow of arms for the ceaseless American bloodbath.

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