Israeli Lessons for Mass Shootings

 

The recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have given rise to an anguished national discussion over how to best respond to domestic terror. There is an aching awareness that punishing individual criminals after the fact is, to invoke the famous Churchill phrase, too little, too late. The social objective is to prevent these useless deaths from ever happening, which is why choosing the proper mix of preventive measures is rightly the central topic of debate.

Yet it is precisely on these questions that people who share a common end have the greatest disagreement. There is no single metric that can determine the optimal strategy for harm prevention. But that does not stop the introduction of a vast number of ingenious approaches to solve the problem. Today, most of the proposed solutions are top-down. They seek to prevent violent individuals from getting their hands on guns, often forgetting that determined killers can resort to cars, bombs, and even knives. My approach is the opposite. Any mass killer is a random outlier whom it is rarely possible to identify in advance. I think that it is impossible to do anything more that will prevent these people, or indeed anyone else intent on wreaking havoc, from obtaining weapons.

The only strategy that has a fair chance of success to reduce, but never stop, all mass killings, starts from the opposite end. It is beyond dispute that gunmen utilize the element of surprise. It has long been known that most of the death and destruction of a mass shooting takes place before any police or security team has time to arrive. Killers open the door and they start shooting: no warning, no mercy, no pause. Speed is the essence of any police response. Better that a single officer enter the fray immediately than wait even ten seconds before reinforcements can pitch in.

Yet the police cannot be everywhere, so they need reinforcements before they arrive, not afterward. One way for this to work is to make sure that in every mass gathering there are already present trained, armed individuals who can confront any assailant the instant an attack begins. To achieve that goal, there must be an immediate reversal of current policy and the implementation of something similar to current Israeli practice, which states simply enough: “All off-Duty Combat Soldiers Must Carry Their Weapons.” The United States should adopt a similar policy, which applies to the military, police officers, and others who carry and use weapons as a routine part of their job. It is clear that the risk of a terror attack is lower in the United States than in Israel. Indeed, of the 39,000 gun deaths in 2016, only 451 were from mass killings. But the grisly list of mass killings is bad enough. The trend, moreover, has been upward over the last half-dozen years. The public’s frustration and outrage are palpable.

The immediate response from armed individuals already on the premises could do much to deter crazed individuals from making these attempts. They could engage in return fire that could kill or wound the attacker or induce him to flee. And the benefit of this boots-on-the-ground policy is not limited to mass shootings. To be sure, it will be of little use in cases of suicide or domestic disputes. But it could help deter various forms of stranger assaults that take place on public streets or places, like airports, schools, parks, and shopping malls. There is always the risk that the return fire will be misdirected, but the same is true of the actions of SWAT teams that burst belatedly on the scene.

After all, just what is the alternative? The common proposals today all call for more top-down restrictions intended to keep people from acquiring dangerous weapons in the first place. These proposals tend to ignore the impressive array of federal restrictions already in place. Here is a partial list: the National Firearms Act of 1934, which taxes various gun transfers; the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, which initiated a five-day waiting period before any individual could acquire a gun; the Child Safety Lock Act of 2005; and the National Instant Criminal Background Check Act of 2007.

The current strategy is to double-down on this approach. Democratic Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke is open to a “mandatory buyback” program to reduce the total supply of guns. His rival, Senator Cory Booker, wants all gun owners to obtain federal licenses, which will only be issued, and then only for five years, after the applicant meets a strict background test and takes an approved gun safety course. Elizabeth Warren advocates for higher taxes on both guns and bullets to choke off the supply of guns. Senator Kamala Harris, as president, would give Congress 100 days to act before she would issue an executive order mandating severe, if unspecified, restrictions on gun access and use.

None of these proposals account for the diminishing rate of return from implementing these untested schemes. We know that many killers are first-time actors who are able to pass background checks with flying colors. We know that others are easily able to acquire guns by theft or by purchase in the black market. We know too that law-abiding citizens are more likely than potential criminals to comply with these restrictions. We must, therefore, face the risk that removing guns from lawful possession will increase the rate of so-called “minor” offenses like burglary, knife attacks, and strong-arm attacks, all of which could increase if criminals know homeowners are prohibited from keeping guns in their homes. In addition, the resources spent on these costly activities could unintentionally reduce the budgets available for policing.

Nor is it possible to assess the contribution, if any, that existing legislative initiatives have made to the cause of gun safety. We know that murder rates, like all other forms of killing, declined by almost 50 percent between 1993 and 2013. That shift cannot be attributed to potential criminals deciding to use other weapons, such as bombs, trucks, or knives, because in the same period, there was an even greater reduction in overall non-fatal, violent crime. So, it is quite possible that a wide variety of social explanations must be part of the analysis, including better cooperation and communication between the police and the communities that they serve. It is also possible that the increase of legal guns in the United States has provided, as economist John Lott argued in More Guns, Less Crime, an additional layer of protection. It is worth noting that Colorado has seen large increases in violent crime every year since 2013 when it passed former Governor John Hickenlooper’s gun control measure.

In addition to the flawed legislative proposals, there is an ugly political dialogue that is sure to create more needless social divisions. Under classical criminal law, once an intent to kill was established, the motive for the crime—revenge, theft, racial hatred, or terror—was quite irrelevant. The key determinants for punishment were the seriousness of the crime and the likelihood of repetition. The modern trend to treat terror and racial attacks as special wrongs has led people to cross over from crime prevention to politics.

For example, Joaquin Castro, whose brother Julián Castro is a democratic candidate for president, crossed the line of bad taste, and perhaps legal incitement, when he tweeted a list of 44 San Antonio residents who had given the maximum allowable 2019 contribution amounts to Donald Trump, insisting that their “contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’” The remarks spurred abusive verbal attacks on the listed individuals as an act of obvious political intimidation, as well as a strong Republican response, which, unfortunately, cannot undo the harm to targeted individuals.

No one should make any excuses for Trump’s tasteless tweets. But anything found in Trump tweets, or what any other politician says for that matter, has little to do with shaping the attitudes that lead madmen of either side of the political spectrum to commit these horrible crimes. Trump’s own behavior after the incident was his usual mix of compassion, self-congratulations, and political attack. He was right to denounce “racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” and to insist that “hate has no place in America.” He was right, too, in my view, not to call for new legislation to eliminate the sale of guns.

Unfortunately, the behavior of his adversaries was also flawed. They ignored that the Dayton killer, Connor Betts, had previously tweeted that he would “happily” vote for Elizabeth Warren to combat corporate greed. And protesting gun violence does not begin to address the complex challenge of finding the right legal regime to deal with our problems. All of these efforts to command the moral high ground could tragically have the effect of stopping any policy initiative that might work, including more guns on the ground.

© 2019 by the Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University

Published in Law, Policing
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There are 19 comments.

  1. Skyler Coolidge

    Well, professor, you’re getting better, but you still miss the mark.

    As a military professional, I can assure you that being in the military bestows no great wisdom on its members. There are a lot of knuckleheads in the military.

    I think a better solution is the direction we are already half-heartedly embracing. Individual citizens should be encouraged to be armed at all times.

    I’ll put my faith in the masses in the Boston any phone book before any jury pool selected from the faculty of Harvard of current or former military personnel.

    • #1
    • August 12, 2019, at 5:50 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. ctlaw Coolidge

    Richard Epstein: The United States should adopt a similar policy, which applies to the military, police officers, and others who carry and use weapons as a routine part of their job.

    This is more nonsense from someone who knows nothing of the real world.

    Israel and the US are very different countries.

    On the one hand, I have never known a US cop who didn’t carry off duty (even when/where illegal). Thus, you have nothing to gain here.

    On the other hand, in the US, our army bases are almost all in remote locations. We do not have hundreds of thousands of off-duty infantry soldiers walking around each of our major cities. Generally, the only time they are doing so is when you wouldn’t want them to carry. Happy Fleet Week!

    • #2
    • August 12, 2019, at 6:18 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. Michael Minnott Member

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Richard Epstein: The United States should adopt a similar policy, which applies to the military, police officers, and others who carry and use weapons as a routine part of their job.

    This is more nonsense from someone who knows nothing of the real world.

    Israel and the US are very different countries.

    On the one hand, I have never known a US cop who didn’t carry off duty (even when/where illegal). Thus, you have nothing to gain here.

    On the other hand, in the US, our army bases are almost all in remote locations. We do not have hundreds of thousands of off-duty infantry soldiers walking around each of our major cities. Generally, the only time they are doing so is when you wouldn’t want them to carry. Happy Fleet Week!

    I think you’re being a little unfair here. Although the Israeli policy may not be directly feasible, it does get us thinking about similar solutions that would be applicable to the U.S. For example; expanding concealed-carry and doing away with “gun free” zones.

    • #3
    • August 13, 2019, at 1:00 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. ctlaw Coolidge

    Michael Minnott (View Comment):
    For example; expanding concealed-carry and doing away with “gun free” zones.

    I agree. But the OP apparently doesn’t. Or he would have said so.

    • #4
    • August 13, 2019, at 2:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Zafar Member

    Richard Epstein:

    Indeed, of the 39,000 gun deaths in 2016, only 451 were from mass killings.

    What about the other 38,549?

     

    • #5
    • August 13, 2019, at 3:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. jmelvin Member

    Thank you for your contribution here. While there may be issues with the suggestions you have posed, such as having military bear arms while in public, the broader concept of encouraging off duty police to carry is spot on. It is my understanding that there are currently large agencies in the US that either discourage or flatly prohibit their officers from carrying off-duty. Further, even in my small sphere of people I have known police who would not carry while off duty even when they readily could and some who upon leaving the force didn’t even have so much as a readily accessible sidearm or shotgun at home to protect their own family. These were not people from areas we broadly consider lefty areas or were lefty themselves. They simply could not be bothered with the duty of personal protection off the job, despite their credited training that most in the public would look to for proficiency.

    Simply having those already trained in the use of arms and the law (at least minimally) ready and willing to help out their fellow man can go a long way in dealing with these random acts.

    • #6
    • August 13, 2019, at 3:27 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Chris Campion Coolidge

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Richard Epstein: The United States should adopt a similar policy, which applies to the military, police officers, and others who carry and use weapons as a routine part of their job.

    This is more nonsense from someone who knows nothing of the real world.

    Israel and the US are very different countries.

    On the one hand, I have never known a US cop who didn’t carry off duty (even when/where illegal). Thus, you have nothing to gain here.

    On the other hand, in the US, our army bases are almost all in remote locations. We do not have hundreds of thousands of off-duty infantry soldiers walking around each of our major cities. Generally, the only time they are doing so is when you wouldn’t want them to carry. Happy Fleet Week!

    But you do with National Guardsmen. Who are quite literally everywhere. And no, they’re not all waving guns around in undesirable ways, as you imply.

    • #7
    • August 13, 2019, at 3:30 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Chris Campion Coolidge

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Richard Epstein:

    Indeed, of the 39,000 gun deaths in 2016, only 451 were from mass killings.

    What about the other 38,549?

     

    They were not from mass killings.

    Nice work on the math, though.

    • #8
    • August 13, 2019, at 3:31 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Zafar Member

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Richard Epstein:

    Indeed, of the 39,000 gun deaths in 2016, only 451 were from mass killings.

    What about the other 38,549?

     

    They were not from mass killings.

    Nice work on the math, though.

    Mass killings and acts of terrorism are not necessarily a neat overlap. Depends on the definitions.

    During its FARC years Colombia defined the killing of three or more people at one time as a massacre.

    So there could be ten incidents where two people were killed in each one, and that would mean no massacres but twenty people murdered due to insurgent violence. 

    • #9
    • August 13, 2019, at 3:51 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. I Walton Member

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Richard Epstein:

    Indeed, of the 39,000 gun deaths in 2016, only 451 were from mass killings.

    What about the other 38,549?

     

    They were not from mass killings.

    Nice work on the math, though.

    Mass killings and acts of terrorism are not necessarily a neat overlap. Depends on the definitions.

    During its FARC years Colombia defined the killing of three or more people at one time as a massacre.

    So there could be ten incidents where two people were killed in each one, and that would mean no massacres but twenty people murdered due to insurgent violence.

    They are not an overlap. It is probably true that terrorist killers are picked and encouraged because they are weak minded or a bit crazy, but it’s organized by a central terrorist organization. While the crazies that go off here in these kinds if shootings, may have some ideological justification stuck in their brains, including Islamic terrorism, but they’re isolated individuals who are nuts.

    • #10
    • August 13, 2019, at 4:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Stad Thatcher

    Let’s carry Richard’s idea to its logical conclusion. Gun violence would be greatly minimized if every able-bodied, law-abiding citizen carried a conceled weapon. Nationwide, there are over 17 million active permit holders (source: https://www.gunstocarry.com/concealed-carry-statistics/). What if that number was 50 million?

    While there are always nutjobs out there willing to go out in a blaze of glory, what if that blaze happened within seconds instead of minutes?

    • #11
    • August 13, 2019, at 6:08 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. ctlaw Coolidge

    Stad (View Comment):

    Let’s carry Richard’s idea to its logical conclusion. Gun violence would be greatly minimized if every able-bodied, law-abiding citizen carried a conceled weapon. Nationwide, there are over 17 million active permit holders (source: https://www.gunstocarry.com/concealed-carry-statistics/). What if that number was 50 million?

    While there are always nutjobs out there willing to go out in a blaze of glory, what if that blaze happened within seconds instead of minutes?

    Furthermore, reported* criminality by non-cop permit holders is much lower than that for LEOs. 

    * Despite professional courtesy letting cops get away with things that private permit holders would not.

    • #12
    • August 13, 2019, at 6:17 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. EndOfPatience Member

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Richard Epstein:

    Indeed, of the 39,000 gun deaths in 2016, only 451 were from mass killings.

    What about the other 38,549?

     

    Crimes of passion, gang related, suicides (the largest number), accident.

    • #13
    • August 13, 2019, at 6:40 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Skyler Coolidge

    ctlaw (View Comment):

     

    Furthermore, reported* criminality by non-cop permit holders is much lower than that for LEOs.

    * Despite professional courtesy letting cops get away with things that private permit holders would not.

    I don’t know your stats but it certainly makes sense. Who are the people who become police? For some it’s a desire to enforce the law. For some, like a jerk I know, it’s because they like to beat people up. Hopefully that second category is low, but it’s probably going to skew the statistics.

    (The jerk I was referring to was a lieutenant in my battalion who was constantly getting into trouble, which is very unusual for a Marine officer. He once told me that he didn’t like to patrol the area assigned to him as a police officer, which was his day job, because it was boring. He preferred to leave his assigned area and go to the east side of Austin because he could beat more people up over there. I’m still mad that our commanding officer didn’t court martial him for any of the moronic and deadly decisions he made, it might have caused him to lose his police job too. The CO wasn’t a very good officer either. The CO was running for congress and didn’t want any controversy on his Marine unit’s record. Thankfully he lost in the election.)

    • #14
    • August 13, 2019, at 7:48 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Quietpi Member

    @ctlaw has nailed a bunch of problems with @richardepstein ‘s proposal. Still, there could be some useful elements of his idea. @ctlaw is right – there are big differences between the U.S. and Israel, and their respective military services. It wouldn’t be as radical to authorize, say, officers and NCO’s to carry concealed firearms off-duty and, I would submit, on-duty. The Ft. Bliss incident has not been forgotten. Long guns would not work in this setting. Additional training would be essential, because the “rules of engagement” are radically different.

    National Guard soldiers should certainly be included. In fact, experience at the Rodney King riot suggests that the the National Guard is better suited to this role than active duty types.

     

    • #15
    • August 13, 2019, at 9:19 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. ctlaw Coolidge

    Quietpi (View Comment):
    In fact, experience at the Rodney King riot suggests that the the National Guard is better suited to this role than active duty types.

    Cops stood by while Reginald Denny was being beaten nearly to death. NG went in without ammunition. 

    Thanks to 2A, Roof Koreans took care of themselves.

    https://townhall.com/columnists/kurtschlichter/2019/05/02/be-a-rooftop-korean-n2545651

    • #16
    • August 13, 2019, at 9:32 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Caryn Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Let’s carry Richard’s idea to its logical conclusion. Gun violence would be greatly minimized if every able-bodied, law-abiding citizen carried a conceled weapon. Nationwide, there are over 17 million active permit holders (source: https://www.gunstocarry.com/concealed-carry-statistics/). What if that number was 50 million?

    While there are always nutjobs out there willing to go out in a blaze of glory, what if that blaze happened within seconds instead of minutes?

    Indeed. But we don’t even need to increase the absolute number of carriers if we just lift the “gun free zones” designation. There are plenty of CCW licensees who work in schools, hospitals, government buildings, and other places that do not permit them to carry legally. This needs to change. My employer is one such and we’ve had “active shooter” training that basically tells us to lock the doors, turn off the lights, and hide. That works fine for those who are distant enough from the action and have time to do that (and who, consequently, are not at high risk), but what about those caught in the open or the chaos?

    • #17
    • August 13, 2019, at 1:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Stad Thatcher

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    Furthermore, reported* criminality by non-cop permit holders is much lower than that for LEOs. 

    CWP holders also have a “better than the cops” record for shooting actual perps, because a lot of the CWP holders do so in the act of the perp commiting a crime against them. The police (bless their hearts) come on a crime scene with a lot of bystanders, and it doesn’t take much for the crowd to creat an incident. Or, a pulled-over motorist takes an action that looks exactly like going for a weapon.

    • #18
    • August 13, 2019, at 2:45 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Chris Campion Coolidge

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Richard Epstein:

    Indeed, of the 39,000 gun deaths in 2016, only 451 were from mass killings.

    What about the other 38,549?

     

    They were not from mass killings.

    Nice work on the math, though.

    Mass killings and acts of terrorism are not necessarily a neat overlap. Depends on the definitions.

    During its FARC years Colombia defined the killing of three or more people at one time as a massacre.

    So there could be ten incidents where two people were killed in each one, and that would mean no massacres but twenty people murdered due to insurgent violence.

    Or there could be non sequitur rationalizations.

    • #19
    • August 15, 2019, at 5:16 PM PDT
    • Like