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The head of the international police organization INTERPOL created a minor stir last week when he suggested that armed civilians might be a more realistic answer to the evolving trend of terrorists attacking “soft targets” like shopping malls, schools and public events, than trying to “harden” those areas with more physical barriers and police officers.

While the comments have been picked up by some conservative media and the gun-rights movement, they have been roundly ignored by the traditional media, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. You can bet that his comments won’t be ignored by the statist authorities at the U.N. and the White House, though. I think it is very likely that this very prominent, popular and effective law enforcement official will soon find himself under fire for all sorts of seemingly unrelated matters, and in a relatively short time be looking for a new job. It is simply not politically acceptable for anyone within the “circle of trust” to be trusting of the common people. Taking a public position in favor of armed civilians over expansion of police presence and powers is unlikely to go unpunished.

In an interview with ABC News, which was reported on ABC’s website but, so far as I have been able to find, not aired on the television network, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said that in free societies, governments have only two viable options for addressing attacks on civilians: “One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that,” he said, alluding to the positive impact of a few civilian gun owners during the assault and siege on the Westgate Mall in Kenya last month. “Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.” Security that he indicated would be unfeasibly prohibitive in costs of both money and liberty.

During a press conference at the opening of the 82nd annual meeting of INTERPOL’s governing body, Noble commented that the Westgate Mall attack was an example of how terrorism is evolving as security evolves. As security has become more stringent at high-profile, potential terrorist targets like airports, major commerce centers and embassies, terrorists have been shifting toward “soft targets” like schools, theaters and shopping malls. This isn’t really so much a new trend as a progression. History is rife with examples of terrorists and “resistance fighters” shifting from hardened military and government targets to “soft” civilian targets as a means of attracting more attention and wreaking more havoc. History shows the same trend among demented mass murderers who want to go out as infamous celebrities by running up the most gut-wrenching body counts.

Secretary general of INTERPOL Ronald Noble was assistant secretary of the treasury for law enforcement during the Clinton administration. In that capacity, he oversaw the Secret Service, Customs, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. (Photo: INTERPOL)

Both the terrorists and the lunatics have similar objectives – to make the biggest headlines possible by creating the most emotional impact. Not long ago, the easiest way to do that was to hijack or plant a bomb on an airplane. The natural vulnerability of a few hundred unarmed people in an oversized aluminum can hurtling through the sky at 600 miles an hour was an obvious choice because just a little damage to the aircraft or the pilots would almost guarantee the deaths of everyone on board. Increased security has reduced the odds of success, though, so terrorists have shifted their focus. The attack in Mumbai, India, a few years ago demonstrated the effectiveness of a small-scale, military-style assault on an unarmed population (see our past column, “The Siege of Mumbai”). The Kenya attack used Mumbai as its blueprint. Unlike the 9/11 attacks, an assault like Mumbai and Westgate requires little training, skill or preparation. All it takes is people willing to do the deed and some easily acquired armaments.

INTERPOL chief Noble pointed out that al-Qaida had recently issued a call for “brothers to strike soft targets, to do it in small groups.” As he said, it puts police in a difficult position. “How do you protect soft targets? That’s really the challenge. You can’t have armed police forces everywhere.” In the ABC interview, Noble expanded on the theme. “Ask yourself: If that was Denver, Colorado, if that was Texas, would those guys have been able to spend hours, days, shooting people randomly? What I’m saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control. It makes citizens question their views on gun control. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?’ This is something that has to be discussed.”

“For me it’s a profound question,” he continued. “People are quick to say ‘gun control, people shouldn’t be armed,’ etc., etc. I think they have to ask themselves: ‘Where would you have wanted to be? In a city where there was gun control and no citizens armed if you’re in a Westgate Mall, or in a place like Denver or Texas?’”

Valid questions I’m sure most reporters will continue to ignore or dance around.

In the conclusion of their report, ABC took a dig at Noble’s comments by pointing out that the gun control debate in the U.S. had recently been ignited by mass shootings, including one in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., just outside of Denver. What the report failed to note is that the movie theater where the massacre took place was posted “No Guns.” Not only that, the demented murderer passed by at least two other theaters that were closer to his home, but which were not posted “Gun Free Zones.” Perhaps that was coincidence or there is some other explanation, but on the face of it, it suggests that Noble is on to something.

It is frankly astonishing to me that Noble has taken this position publicly. I hope he will pursue this line of reasoning and that he can hold onto his position at INTERPOL long enough for his philosophy to spread through the agency and into police agencies they deal with. When victims become first-responders, criminals will become more cautious. ABC and the media can dismiss these ideas, but I’m not expecting terrorists to storm the Phoenix Cabela’s store any time soon.

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