Thursday, November 27, 2008

It Is Time To Arm the Populace - A Proposal for How This Can Be Done

27 November & 3 December 2008

We are presently in the midst of terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India. Similar attacks were planned in Canada, but fortunately averted, due to apprehension of the conspirators. Escalating incidents of automatic-weapon fuelled piracy on the high seas are now also being reported (see this link for a report of piracy in Somalia). Gun-enabled gang violence is escalating in the urban centres of many of the world's leading nations.

Terrorists and gangsters on land - and pirates on the sea - take advantage of the fact that our world is largely a peaceful place, with the consequence that the general populace is not armed. Obviously the world is changing, and our citizenry must now also change to adapt to the new circumstances.

To be clear - I am not calling for all citizens to carry arms - this must still be a privilege, not a right. But I do wish presently to submit a proposal for how an armed citizenry might defend itself against the emerging reality - that outlaws carry guns and weapons freely, using them to terrorize citizens.

I have long been an advocate of two years of national service for all citizens. I now propose that emergency situation and weapons training be a component of that two years of service, even for those who might volunteer to perform peaceful duties of service, such as work in hospitals or with senior citizens. Those who have completed two years of supervised service (including in-depth crisis intervention and weapons training and field practice, with careful scrutiny of their competencies and with fully positive evaluations) might then be authorized to travel freely as armed citizens, a citizen militia if you will. This would greatly increase the likelihood that when gangsters or terrorists strike, they will encounter citizen adversaries who are in a position to defend themselves and those present against the criminal use of weaponry.

Similarly, the present situation appears to require that there be training and arming of the personnel of merchant ships on the high seas, as well as of persons in positions of responsibility in areas of public transportation - whether trains, buses or airlines.

Let's stop making it easy for gangsters and terrorists to ply their trade by allowing them to exploit our society's peaceful citizen environment.

My proposal would thus see a fully qualified, trained and licensed citizen militia backing up our police and military forces.

Woe be to the terrorists and gangsters who attempted to dominate citizens by force of arms in such a world. In any public setting, they would surely meet their match, and tragedies such as that in Mumbai today - or that which was narrowly averted in Canada - would no longer dominate our headlines.

Normal checks and balances must apply, and my proposal cannot proceed without careful consideration of multiple safety measures and safeguards, for example, regular reviews of the licenses of armed citizens, ongoing training, clearly spelled-out accountability mechanisms, carefully-defined guidelines for weapons use, and of course speedily-implemented sanctions for misuse of the privilege.

But who can question that advancing weapons technology and the widespread manufacture and availability of armaments has made the modern world a playground for those who practice terrorism and gangsterism? It is now time to make the world unsafe for terrorists, gangsters and pirates. The way ahead is not entirely unclear.

As is the case with all post-liberal reforms, the greatest obstacle to action is perhaps our reflexive aversion to measures which entrust citizens to exercise wise judgement in assuming responsibility for the solution of dilemmas which are apparent to all.

Peaceloving people have armed themselves to fight terrorist and criminal elements before. I regret that we now live in an era where this has again become necessary - but as I see it, bold action is what is now required. I believe that our citizens are smart enough to take on a responsibility of this kind, and that our lawmakers and judges are wise enough to hammer out the checks, balances and tests of efficacy that will assure the success of such a policy.

Restoring safety to our world must surely be possible, though as I see it now, only through an effort of rebalancing of forces, such as I have proposed. I see no way through to this goal without provision for professionally qualified and accountable citizen militias.

Let us debate the matter publicly and work out the checks and balances that will be needed, but then let us get on with the business of creating a world that is unsafe for the perpetrators of crime and of terror - because criminals and terrorists will no longer hold a position of unfair advantage over the general citizenry.

Note (3 December 2008): John R. Lott has a proposal much simpler than mine. He advocates that concealed handguns be worn on a discretionary basis for self-defense by citizens who do not have criminal records or a history of mental illness. Mr. Lott marshals extensive statistics in his book, More Guns, Less Crime, to support his argument that this simple practice makes the general population safer. Why? Because criminals are deterred by the prospect of costly consequences of their decision to engage in violence against law-abiding citizens. When their unfair advantage is removed, criminals are less motivated to engage in gun-based crimes. A brief summary of arguments against his view can also be found on the website. I believe my proposal is substantially different than that of Mr. Lott, though I think that his arguments are worthy of further examination.

On to the matter of arming citizens against terrorist attacks. Clearly terrorists take advantage of the fact that their vicious attacks against noncombatants are statistically infrequent and therefore unlikely to involve most citizens at any time. What therefore is the sense of arming the citizenry against low probability events?

The statistical answer lies on the other side of the equation.

For the terrorist storming a railroad station, for example, the low probabilities work very much to his or her favour. That is, if there is a low likelihood of encountering armed resistance, then only two gunmen can kill dozens and maim many more, as was recently the case in multiple locations in Mumbai. To increase the likelihood that terrorists will encounter armed opposition in response to one of their low probability attacks, there must be a very high probability of armed opposition in most public places at most times of the day.

That is, the real statistical question does not concern the likelihood that if I carry arms, I will happen to be in a position to repel a terrorist attack. The likelihood is that I will never encounter such a situation. However, the key question has to do with the chances that a terrorist storming a public transportation terminal or a hotel will encounter armed opposition among those citizens present. In order to assure that this will occur, a very significant component of the population should be bearing arms.

The plain fact is that we are living in a world out of balance. I know what it feels like to sit back as an observer in a position of powerlessness while terrorists carry out their heartless attacks against innocents. I do not know what it will feel like when a terrorist raids a school, movie theatre, airport, restaurant or hotel and is shot down - or, better still, disarmed and captured - as he draws and prepares to use his weapon - before harm to innocent civilians can occur.

I do know that it will be better still if terrorists can be apprehended before carrying out their planned attacks, as occurred in Toronto in 2006 (though I'm not sure that the general population appreciates fully the seriousness of the attack that was averted in this case).

If we can learn to prevent the conditions that breed new terrorists, that will be yet again more preferable - and the key to this may actually lie in easing the massive flow of funds to unstable Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, as well as, of course, in forming friendships with individuals in such unstable circumstances who are open to alliances with the peoples of the West.

Let me also speak to the general question of the prevention and detection of terrorist action. I am very impressed with the British video surveillance system which has made apprehension of many terrorists possible. Certainly further harm to innocent persons has been prevented due to the use of such measures. We also require more sophisticated systems to prevent suicide bombings and the transportation of explosive materials. This is well beyond my area of knowledge. I'd certainly be happy to have widely dispersed and ideally unobtrusive scanning systems for explosives so as to prevent their further exploitation by terrorist or criminal elements.

Until the likelihood of the apprehension of terrorists becomes reasonably high, it is unlikely that terrorists will be dissuaded from plotting harm against civilians around the world. Until the odds of survival and success are in favour of civilians and to the disadvantage of terrorists, we will not truly be inhabiting a world that is unsafe for terrorists. And until we have learned to dissuade young people in vulnerable areas from looking up to terrorists as role models and heroes, the possibility of returning to a way of life free of the intrusion of weapons of violence will not be available to us.

There is much more to consider before our actions in response to this problem are complete.



  1. Not sure how do-able this would be.

    Sounds like you looked into the Swiss model.

    Every time Canada gets involved in a shooting war - we get all kinds of wanna-bees coming into the recruiting centre all ready to go kill bad guys. Most of them do not work out. (Whackos). We might get a lot of wanna-bees signing up for this.

    It takes a long time to take people to the point where they can safely use or more importantly - refrain from using their weapons.

    That said - we always hear stories of how in states where they permit either open carry or concealed carry of personal weapons - muggings, drive by shootings, home invasions and in general - viloent crime is very low. Why? Because people who take the time to go through the paperwork, then the training, and then continually practise - are always better shots than gang-bangers with guns.

    Maybe you are right and the time has come.

    I think you may have a problem though convincing both Jack Layton and David Miller.

  2. "A Wal-Mart worker has died after being trampled by a throng of shoppers shortly after a store opened Friday on Long Island in New York State, police said.

    Frenzied shoppers desperate for bargains broke down the doors at a 5 a.m. sale. Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers shouted angrily and kept shopping when store officials said they were closing because of the death, police and witnesses said."

    Imagine you take this crowd of perfectly normal people and then arm even a few of them.

    If normal people can kill someone and trample his rescuers when they are unarmed, imagine the damage that could be done if amongst these same people some were legally armed but not officially "on duty" as a police officer or security official would be.

    I have no problem with security cameras placed extensively throughout a country, as in England, but I do not see humans as being capable of policing themselves in a controlled manner and in random situations. Heck the police can't even do that all the time and it's part of their job to train on an ongoing basis.

    I doubt there will ever be a solution to random violent crimes.

  3. A question for Kevin.

    How does the military sort out who is - and is not - suitable to be in a position of bearing arms?

    I know the problems with authorizing the use of arms are extensive. We are already moving towards more armed security guards, which is a significant social and/or business expense.

    In Mexico and Brazil, for example, abductions are carried out by armed groups as many of their targets already have armed security guards protecting them, so a tactic of many against a few is utilized by the gangsters.

    The question of restoring a balance of power is a difficult one. What I am thinking, however, is that citizens are able to solve many problems for themselves if permitted to do so. This is the avenue I wish to pursue. There would have to be essentially zero tolerance for abuse of the privilege.

    My particular concern here is the prevention of mass attacks in public places. For example, armed staff in the schools would be a safeguard against school shootings, etc. In Canada, we have recently had a beheading on a Greyhound Bus. As armed driver could have prevented this.

    My central thesis is that citizens are by and large competent to resolve emerging social problems if they are permitted to do so. The negative response to the notion of citizens carrying arms is so reflexive that I suspect it reveals an unquestioned certainty, rather than a reasoned response to a new problem.

    I am the last person who wants yahoos carrying guns everywhere. But I also don't like the idea of criminals, gangsters, terrorists and lone shooters brandishing them at will. In a world where it is relatively easy for outlaw elements to obtain powerful weapons, how do we rebalance that by getting weapons of defense into the hands of responsible persons?

  4. First things last and last things first.

    I did try to answer the question last night but it did not publish.

    I do not believe having an armed driver would have saved the life of the bus stabbing victim. Perhaps he would not have been beheaded, but I think he still would have died. I believe the attack occurred at night in the darkness. Whether daylight or darkness the driver is operating a vehicle hurtling along the highway somewhere between 80 and 130 km per hour. Even if he was armed he would have to become aware of the attack, stop the bus and then shoot or otherwise deal with the knife wielding assailant. All while other passengers are trying to get off the bus. Could the knowledge of an armed driver have been enough to stop the attack - not sure. Would an armed passenger have been able to prevent or stop the attack? Perhaps, perhaps not. Could they have discharged their weapon to stop the attack, within the close quarters of the bus with other passengers fleeing - only if they had extensive training.

    Re: armed security guards. This is not a Canadian phenomenon. The carriage of weapons in Canada for the protection of persons and propety is exceedingly tightly controlled.

    Now to the question. How do we sort out we is and is not able to bear arms in the service of Canada? I do not think I am giving away any state secrets but the comments are mine not DND policy.

    First off we have something called universality of service - all members of the CF must be current on their assigned weapons and capable to do their jobs without restrictions. If there is a problem - there is a maximum of three years to sort it out - then gone.

    First we screen our applicants, if you walk into a recruiting office with your own set of combat uniforms, a helmet and rifle and ask to sign up to kill bad guys - you can probably expect to get a very speedy process and a thanks but no thanks. These guys usally end up as mall security or bylaw officers. Everyone gets a thorough criminal records search. Very specific and unbending rules on how those results affect entry. By the way - even before I got in the old "jail or the army" option was long gone. Policy is to pay your debt to society then we'll see if you will fit or not. Specific red and yellow flags through the whole process are: anger, alcohol abuse, drug use, domestic violence, excessive debt, to name a few.

    Some of the options which may be in use:
    check and interview all references,
    verify all academic transcripts,
    conduct a thorough personal interview where specialised questions are asked in several different forms to monitor for consistency,
    an internet search for the potential candidate - possibly seeing if their references have blog sites and if so - what do they say of their friend - remember anything posted on the internet is in the public domain. Setting your blog preferences to keep you off of internet search engines in no way guarantees privacy.

    Once you manage to get recruited - the assessments begin in earnest. All through basic military training (officer or NCM) candidates are stressed and observed with how they respond to stress. Some stressors include: limited sleep, disrupted sleep patterns, disrupted meal times, physical exertion while undergoing limited eating and sleeping, exposure to climactic changes and extremes. Candidates are assessed for: establishing peer relationships, do the peer relationships break down, do command relationships break down, can the candidate maintain the aim despite personal and group discomfort, can the candidate both lead and follow under stress, can the candidate put the group well being ahead of their own? This just covers a few of the things looked at. If you read Thomas's blog during his phase trainnig you will have some idea of what it is like.

    Contrary to popular media social rebels do not do well in this environment unless they are willing to give up themselves and surrender to the group identity.

    Finally, in pretty much every trade in the military, after getting recruited, doing basic training, then your trades training - there is a saying - now you are really ready to learn - it is only just starting.

    Hope this answers the question.

  5. Kevin,

    Thanks very much for your clarifying comments. It helps to make clear how important it is to think out a system of checks and balances. Interestingly, the more I think about the topic, the more comfortable I grow with suggesting that the time to act is now. John Lott's arguments (see December 3, 2008 update), even if imperfect, certainly add interest to the debate.

  6. There is a huge (and that is really an understatement) cost to conscripting society into armed (or unarmed for objectors) service for two years.

    It helps if you are (were?) the bankers to the world.

    The Swiss have slowly been winding things down for years. They don't even give all their folks their own ammo to keep at home anymore.

  7. Just read the update and felt compelled to comment again. You actually nailed the nail right on the head in your last para.


    Britain has always had a fairly heavy police presence.

    Northern Ireland a massively heavy armed police and military presence.

    Israel is an example of arming the populace.

    What do you (terrorists not gangbangers) do when everyone has guns - you place bombs in garbage cans, newspaper boxes, under cars, in phone booths etc. And yes - suicide bombs.

    Arming and training the populace can help against gangbangers. They hate it when their targets or passersby have more rounds, bigger guns and are better shots. Very few gangbangers take the time and money to go to the range each month.

    Depending on the objectives of the terrorists arming the populace may help - arming cruise ships can certainly keep them from getting boarded and held for ransom.

    But if simply conducting a reign of terror is the objective - BOMBs.

    Intelligence and an alert and participatory populace can help defeat bombs.

  8. Kevin,

    If explosive attacks become the preferred modus operandi of terrorists, then we are clearly at war. The question of course is, "with whom?"

    At some point, sustained bomb attacks would force the western nations to retaliate with military measures against geographical targets.

    Presumably, nations which provided safe havens to terrorists would by logical deduction become our enemies.

    It is a chilling thought, as this would almost inevitably become World War III, and we would only then learn the scope of it. No doubt we would be bombing sites in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc. Would all countries permitting the teaching of jihad or the practice of piracy emerge as our enemies? And what of extremists residing in the west? We could certainly no longer permit them to go about freely.

    Civilian casualties would then be unavoidable on both sides, with the terrorists the cause of the escalation to this level.

  9. i believe a citizen militia is also necessary to keep our 'protectors' the police and para-military in order. the executive branch of government can be as gangster and criminal as those labeled gangster or criminal. i believe it is the ultimate check and balance of the entire equation of law and order government.

  10. Citizen soldiers may play a role in balancing the capabilities of professional soldiers. We see competing militias in many countries today, with obvious undesirable examples including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, as well as more stable countries such as Switzerland and Israel. If there is any lesson to be learned here, however, I would think that it is the pre-eminent importance of the rule of law and the protection of minority rights, victim rights and, very importantly, property rights. In my vision, the citizen militia would have an explicit role in championing such rights and principles of social stability. An anti-terrorist mandate is also assumed, based on a public consensus about what constitutes terrorism (primarily that it involves attacks on citizens and public gathering places).