I'm loathed to even write this post, as who really wants to hear from Donald Trump on the Paris attacks. However, like it or not, Paris will influence the Republican primary debates and candidates positions, and *shudder* Donald Trump is still a leading contender in that race.
So what do we learn here? How do we/should we respond to domestic terrorism that may involve your own citizens according to Donald Trump? If things were different, they wouldn't be the same.
If things were different, such as everyone who was targeted by the terrorists Friday night suddenly being armed and pulling out there own guns like some great Michael Bay Hollywood movie, then the bad guys would have been defeated and everyone would have been okay. Only in a Hollywood script.
We know from countless cases in the US that when shootouts occur because someone who isn't the original assailant opens fire in response to the threat it's more likely innocent bystanders are hit and killed than the assailant(s). What Donald Trump is talking about is having shootouts in crowded, and in this case confined, public spaces between people who quite possibly have had some military training and combat experience (again, we don't know much about the Paris attackers at this point, so this should be taken as speculation) and members of the general public who's training with a firearm would almost certainly be limited to experiences in a shooting range (if any at all.)
Further, because of the growth in both popularity and availability of larger and larger calibers of weapons, this shootout would almost certainly involve victims who would be injured and/or killed by the bullets going through walls/windows/car doors (don't believe tv and the movies on this)/etc as at least one group of shooters likely blindly fire in the general direction of the terrorist attackers. It has been reported that the terrorists had access to (if not used) AK-47 assault rifles, which means that the bullets being fired would have a significant firepower and would require a lot to stop them. If we assume that the French victims would use a firearm similar to those used by many Americans who practice 'open carry' and/or have a concealed carry permit, then we're talking about the victims supposedly returning fire with firearms that range in caliber from a 9mm to .44 and .45 (likely also some .22 as well.) While not as powerful as an AK-47's 7.62x39mm caliber ammunition, these bullets would still also travel with great force and likely cause unintended injuries after passing through walls, etc.
So at the end of the day in Donald Trump's scenario what do we have? Terrorists dead? Some of them probably, but it appears that was at least the majority of their aims to begin with. (Reports say that at least some of the terrorist involved in the Bataclan concern hall attack blew themselves up with suicide bomb vests. It's unclear if the restaurant attackers had similar equipment and if this was the intention of all involved.) In addition, it's highly likely that a number of the public would have been killed and wounded from being caught in the crossfire when the victims opened fire on the terrorists in Donald Trump's vision. Would there have been fewer deaths than what actually happened -- impossible to say.
The point is that the "if things were different then they wouldn't be the same" argument is a fantasy when it comes to this idea that the best way to protect against attacks such as the one in Paris or any number of mass shootings that occur on a weekly basis in the United States these days is to have everyone walking around armed. For one, there's no guarantee that at least a portion of those that you've just armed can't and won't flip from "good guy" to "bad guy" after whatever provocation. But in a greater sense, what you're then talking about is a society that's in a constant state of mistrust of your fellow residents, as you must be ever vigilant everywhere you go for the next potential shooter. It encourages people to shred any notion of a common societal fabric by which we achieve anything and replaces it with a social compact based on the notion "I'll only trust you (my fellow residents) as far as I can throw you." We've seen societies based on this before, and they inevitably disintegrate the moment that there's a significant challenge.
The "arm everyone" notion is, in part, based on the fantasies of the American Wild West and the stories that flowed east back to the great American cities of the time. It's absolutely romanticized notions of how a society operates and the codes by which everyone lived their lives (unspoken - often on pain of death) still inspires today concepts of American masculinity, property ownership and -- importantly here -- the place if firearms in society.
Yes, people point to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution as being focused on the threat of the potential return of the British and in response to previous British measures to maintain a lightly armed colonial citizenry, and that's all perfectly true. But current American concepts of the place of firearms in society are more based on the mythos of the American Wild West society than anything else. If someone crosses you, if someone threatens you, if someone breaks society’s “code” of acceptable behaviour, you have the right — neigh duty — to reply with mortal force in the form of a firearm. And it must be you who does it, not the police or any surrogate law enforcement force who does so, as they cannot be relied upon to a) arrive on time to address the situation; and b) render sufficient justice that’s warranted as you see fit under society’s “code”. (Usually this means the use of mortal force in punishment.)
Nowhere in this fantasy is an understanding of the realities of the ‘Wild West’, where settlers lived for a number of years in states of fear over attack from hostile Native American communities, nature, or each other, or the fact that the disarming of society (save for ‘long gun’ rifles, etc used more as tools for hunting and protecting agrarian stock from animal preditors (and the occational poachers/cattle rustlers)) is what made western societies viable in the long run. It might have been exciting to read/hear about the duels and shootouts of Western cowboys, but the places where those activities continued to happen weren’t communities in which people wanted to live. Eventually the famous ‘gunslingers’ who didn’t adapt to the times and hang their guns up for other pursuits were branded for what they were, killers, and were pursued accordingly by law enforcement.
So when it comes to understanding and translating an effective response to the horror of a domestic terrorist attack such as the one experienced in Paris on Friday night, Donald Trump and others once more trot out the “if things were different they wouldn’t the be same” Wild West solution of having everyone armed. It’s a fantasy. A delusion based in the American mythos of a heroic avenger/protector gunslinger. Shoot first and ask questions later, which is rather convenient because the questions are the harder part to deal with when it comes to the attacks on Paris. If everyone is armed, no one need worry about a nuanced response. The “code of the West” says that you’re doing the right thing, and that’s all that matters.
For Trump and those of similar perspective, they are forever playing the heroes in their own personal Michael Bay films. This would be fine, if they weren't trying to impose these films on real life society, putting us all at risk so they can prove their machismo.
Terrorism and counter-terrorism are tough issues requiring complex responses. Unfortunately, no one is 100% correct in their solutions to the issue, as it is fundamentally based in the human psyche. It only takes one person to create an act of terrorism that can have dramatic implications for our society. It is the fundamental truth of asymmetrical warfare focused (most often) in an urban setting. Which is why adult responses do not involve Michael Bay scripts, and adult societies don't spend their time seeking responses that belong in Hollywood movies. The best response to terrorism for any society is resiliency. Terrorists seek to affect change in how we live and what we believe in through asymmetrical aggression, often involving civilian targets. We have to show that their efforts will not be the cause of change to our societies. We will not be bullied into submission.
That may mean that events such as Paris will occur, and that we will have to decide what balance we will accept of police surveillance and intrusion into our lives versus freedom of movement, expression and personal privacy in determining what level of risk we are prepared to live with as a nation -- and even then, there still may be terrorist attacks of various forms. But we can't give in to the sort of fear that Donald Trump et al are selling. His chest thumping is only cover for a society based on fear, mistrust and violence -- one not too dissimilar from the ones that the terrorists he so hates currently operate in various parts of the Middle East.
We can do better than that. We must do better than that.