Following the recent Paris attacks, the Islamic State recently announced its intention to “strike America at its center,” in Washington, D.C. Our response should be swift and decisive.
The D.C. City Council should immediately adopt emergency legislation to streamline the process for D.C. residents and non-residents who work in or travel to the District to obtain concealed-carry permits for firearms.
Terrorists choose the time and place of their attack. They choose soft targets where they can readily inflict mass casualties. They retain the element of surprise. Unfortunately, there are simply never enough police officers, soldiers or security personnel to safeguard every office building, business, museum, public venue, theater and residence.
After the Charlie Hebdo attack, France dramatically increased security with 10,000 additional soldiers on the street. That did not prevent ISIS from perpetrating a massacre in six Paris locations simultaneously, with 130 dead and 350 wounded.
Soft targets with crowds will always be there. Terrorists will continue to choose soft targets with minimal presence of law enforcement or other security forces. Even where armed security is present — say, at the entrance to an arena or in a restaurant district — terrorists can simply start by killing the armed security personnel or wait for them to leave the area before starting a murderous rampage.
After the recent devastating attack, French President Francois Hollande ordered 1,500 more soldiers into Paris. But given Paris’ population of more than 2.2 million people and a geographic area of 40 square miles, the addition of 1,500 is a paltry number that will not prevent future attacks.
As economist John Lott suggested shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last January, our leaders need a backup plan to keep us safe.
Concealed-carry laws are a proven strategy that strengthens law-abiding citizens’ ability to carry concealed weapons and dramatically increases the terrorists’ risk of failure. Currently, D.C. law requires concealed-carry applicants to have completed firearms safety and range training from a certified provider in addition to training in D.C. firearms and self-defense law.
If citizens concealed-carry firearms, potential terrorists lose a key tactical advantage because they are unable to know who might be able to stop them. Even where terrorists intend to select an unsecured target or to begin an attack by neutralizing armed guards or police who are on the scene, the attackers will have no way to predict who or how many private gun owners are in the crowd and ready to respond with deadly self-defense.
Last year, the D.C. City Council passed emergency legislation to authorize concealed-carry permits in the District. The council adopted the measure three months after a federal court determined that D.C.’s concealed-carry ban violated the constitutional right to bear arms. The court found that D.C. law violated the Second Amendment by imposing unreasonable restrictions on law-abiding citizens who seek to use traditionally permitted firearms for self-defense.
But the council’s reflexive overreaction imposed prohibitively onerous regulations. Those restrictions are designed to impede any realistic path for law-abiding citizens to obtain a concealed-carry permit, and they are accomplishing their unfortunate purpose. In the last year, D.C. has rejected 79 percent of concealed-carry permit applications, according to Lt. Sean Colby, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department. The department has rejected 185 of 233 concealed-carry applications, Lt. Colby said.
ISIS’ atrocities in Paris and its own public threats to the District present a new, imminent and urgent threat to the nation’s capital. With that threat, the D.C. City Council should again exercise its emergency lawmaking power to change the misguided approach under current law and regulations to assure that citizens can quickly and easily obtain concealed-carry permits and thereby provide an effective backup plan to help defend against attempted terrorist activities in the city.
These steps could help ensure that so-called soft targets are not actually as soft as they might appear to terrorists. With decisive action, the D.C. City Council could help protect our residents from the threat. The council has the power to act. They should use it.
First published in the Washington Times in November 2015