Preventing the next attack: Why gun-free zones don't work and combat profiling does

In the wake of Manchester, can we finally declare the total failure of gun-free zones as a means to protect the innocent from the evil acts of terrorists and maniacs?


In Manchester England shortly after 10:30 p.m., a suicide bomber targeted children, teenagers, and their families exiting a concert performed by pop-music star Ariana Grande, killing at least 22 people and injuring at least 59 others. It was the worst terrorist attack in Britain since the 7/7 attacks in 2005, during which al-Qaida suicide bombers killed 52 people riding on London buses and trains.

ISIS is claiming responsibility for the concert bombing, although it is unclear whether the suicide bomber was acting under orders from ISIS leadership, or was self-radicalized. It is almost certain that the attacker had help in building the bomb, as ISIS and other terrorist organizations rarely sacrifice their bomb-makers — those skills are too valuable to intentionally destroy.

The bomber was born in the UK — the 22-year-old son of Libyan refugees. The IED reportedly contained nuts and bolts, and all indications are that the explosive used was TATP (triacetone triperoxide), also known as “The Mother of Satan.”

Police look at floral tributes left at St Ann's square, Manchester, England Tuesday May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Police look at floral tributes left at St Ann's square, Manchester, England Tuesday May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

The outrage in England and across the free world is palpable. The nature of the attack was even more wantonly evil than the 2015 ISIS-directed attack on the Bataclan Theater in Paris because the audience for Ariana Grande is almost entirely young girls. The explosion occurred outside an exit near the Victoria Train Station, where concert-goers were departing the largest indoor concert venue in the United Kingdom.

British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to her nation late in the evening of May 23, and raised the threat level for her country from severe to critical, the highest possible alert level — forecasting that another attack may be imminent.

The formula for TATP is relatively simple, but the compound is very unstable and requires some real expertise to safely manufacture and manage. Consequently, bomb-makers are rarely used  as suicide bombers. Thus, the suspicion that the UK is still facing a skilled bomb-maker in their midst is founded.

PM May also said that for the foreseeable future, armed police would be joined by members of the British military at a variety of events such as concerts and sports matches in an effort to deter, detect, defend, and defeat any potential attacks.

Why ’gun free zones’ are a bad thing

Putting good guys with guns at the gates of gun-free zones seems like a sensible decision. Just like in England, at sports venues across the United States police presence has been dramatically increased following the Manchester massacre.

This, of course, will not last for long — it never does.

Time will pass and the show of force will slowly dissolve and “normalcy” will return. No police agency in the country can sustain the level of visible presence seen at Yankee Stadium after the concert bombing — not even the vaunted NYPD. It’s simply not possible.

Those same “soft targets” — hardened briefly by a military or police presence — will become just as vulnerable as they were two days ago. 

The proprietors of vulnerable venues (and that is to say ALL venues) need to do one of two things in order to assure the safety of the people who attend events at their facilities. They need to hire armed security, or reverse their policies on concealed carry for legally armed citizens.

Speaking in the aftermath of the attack, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said, “This was a barbaric attack, deliberately targeting some of the most vulnerable in our society — young people and children out at a pop concert.”

Some argue that all manner of attackers — from hardened terrorists to irrational madmen to career criminals — tend to target places that ban the carrying of firearms. They know that in those locations they will not meet armed resistance. The fact that this attacker targeted little girls at a concert underscores the enemy’s desire to attack the vulnerable, not the well-defended.

In the wake of the Manchester concert bombing, can we finally declare the total failure of gun-free zones as a means to protect the innocent from the evil acts of terrorists and maniacs?

Why ‘profiling’ is a good thing

With the Manchester bomb-maker likely still at large, investigators will closely examine video from around the area to determine the suicide bomber’s approach to his target, potentially leading all the way back to his point of origin. Investigators will dig into the attacker’s life, seeking to determine his contacts and history of radicalization.

Meanwhile, if authorities in England and elsewhere are smart, they will order their security forces to watch for the bombers, not the bombs. Too much emphasis is placed on detecting devices, not watching the behaviors of the individuals who are approaching for an attack.

In “Left of Bang”, Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley write in detail about how attacks can be prevented when trained professionals are observant of things like kinesics, proxemics, atmospherics, and iconography. They also detail the effectiveness of combat profiling.

Too many law enforcement officials in the Western world are afraid to use the word “profiling” because it conjures up images of racial and/or religious discrimination.

Van Horne and Riley define combat profiling as being “a method of proactively identifying threats based on human behavior and other cues from one’s surroundings.”

They go on to explain that combat profiling allows law enforcers to “proactively identify threats based on human behavior” by utilizing skills such as situational awareness, sensitivity of baselines and anomalies, critical thinking and decision-making.

Riley and Van Horne write that “combat profiling is a method of making decisions in complex, chaotic, hostile environments where no perfect solutions exist, where decisions need to be made quickly and with little information, and where operators need to make the most of their intuition.”

Every cop in America should read “Left of Bang and bring that mindset to your time on patrol, as well as your life off duty. The country would be a safer place.

What century is this?

According to NPR, the Manchester bombing is the 12th terrorist attack in Western Europe since the beginning of 2015. We’ve seen carnage in Paris, Brussels, Nice, and Berlin.

In the wake of these terrible events, people on social media change their profile pictures to the flag of the nation affected by the most recent attack. They declare their sympathy and allegiance with hashtags.

Then, in time, they move on with their lives without really affecting any real change.

Sure, “the world changed after 9/11 ” — Democrats and Republicans even got along for a couple of months — but here we are more than a decade and a half after that terrible Tuesday morning and the threat from radical Islamist terrorists is worse than it was on Sept. 10. The threat is more distributed, more disguised, and more disgusting than it was a decade and a half ago.

Sure, we now have the TSA, the DHS, and a host of other three-letter agencies in and around the Beltway that closely monitor the ledgers of fertilizer and ammonia distributors. And without a doubt, hijacking an airplane is harder than it was back then — but not impossible.

However, the other side has the Internet and propaganda magazines like “Inspire,” which provided step-by-step instructions for the Boston Marathon bombers, and “Dabiq,” which provided the blueprint for the attacks in Nice and on the campus of the Ohio State University. Most recently, ISIS has begun publishing an instruction manual called “Rumiyah,” which is named for a Hadith in which Muhammed said that Muslims would conquer Rome.

The adversary is not going to stop until they realize the objectives set forth by their prophet back in the 7th century. We need to use 21st century intelligence to ensure that the enemy in this Holy War is not only defeated — they are destroyed.

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