What's Tony Thinking

Hardening the Target


Right-wing politicians have the solution to mass shootings. We must, they say, “harden the targets,” in particular public schools. In case you aren’t up to speed with the lingo “hardening a target” is police and military talk for increasing the security level of a building or installation which might be attacked.

Such “hardening” might, for example, mean there is only one door into and out of a school and that this door is equipped with something called a “man trap” so that an unauthorized or threatening person can be “trapped” and isolated behind bullet-proof glass and bars, while the school is evacuated. It might mean that every teacher has and carries a gun. Outdoor recess would be a thing of the past.

Doesn’t that sound just like an environment in which you would like your children or grandchildren to go to school? Let alone the implications of such one door strategies in the event of a fire (which used to be our number one security concern — remember “fire drills”?), such measures extend to our children the security state and the creep of the militarization of daily American life, which has been ramping up ever since 9/11. Which strikes me as just awful. Hideous. “Obscene” — there’s the word I’m looking for.

Over this past weekend there were another dozen mass shootings at various locations across the country. As of this time, 17 more people are dead and scores are wounded.

The weekend “targets” included Philadelphia’s entertainment district, a nightclub in Chattanooga, three graduation parties and a shopping mall. Leaving aside whether or not such “targets” should be “hardened,” how could they all be sufficient “hard” to prevent what happened? How do you harden an “entertainment district” or an outdoor graduation party? You don’t, not without turning life as we know into something we no longer recognize.

What we would end up with is the “land of the free and home of the brave” becoming a security-state or a militarized zone constantly on alert and living in fear.

It strikes me as not a little ironic that the gun-rights zealots insist that having as many guns as they want, including what are really weapons for military combat, is an essential exercise of their freedom. What they are missing is that this exercise of their freedom is making the rest of us unfree.

The zone and reality of “freedom” is shrinking for everyone as our society is turned into security state of hardened targets in the name of securing the freedom of some to have guns and take them where ever they please.

Freedom is not ensured by having more guns, by arming teachers, by adding more and more armed security personnel, or “hardening targets.” That restricts freedom and ultimately takes everyone’s freedom away.

In the name of “safety” we may move to harden targets here, there and everywhere and turn our society into a prison where every inmate carries a gun.

“How many deaths will it take til we know that too many people have died?” sang Bob Dylan a long time ago. He was thinking about the war in Viet Nam. But the number of deaths from guns and mass shootings is way beyond the terrible losses of Viet Nam. “How many deaths” of children, by-standers, party-goers, shoppers “will it take til we know that too many people have died?”

“Hardening targets” is one of those ideas that sounds so good just so long as you don’t actually think about it.

Yes, some level of security and policing is not only inevitable but desirable. But taken too far, the pursuit of security — everyone having their private arsenal and “carrying” — will leave us all enslaved.

Guns have become a kind of god in American society. Theologically there’s a name for a god that promises freedom but ends up enslaving you — an idol.


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