Regular readers of this blog no doubt fall into the “let’s mock the gun-free-zone concept after another mass shooting in a gun-free-zone” camp. Since we are all probably on the same page when it comes to such zones, there’s no need to beat that dead horse (at least not today). Instead, I wanted to talk about places that rank higher in terms of “secure” areas, places that have more than a simple “no guns” sign on their doors as deterrents.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Recently, my wife and I took our children to their first Major League Baseball game. Knowing that MLB instituted a policy a year or so ago requiring all attendees to pass through metal detectors, I decided to forego most of my defensive tools and instead use the opportunity to examine the security measures in place in an effort to determine just how safe this “safe” area might be. Personal note: I know there are people out there who refuse to enter such zones as a matter of principle. I prefer not to as well, but sometimes you have to live your life a little. Plus, as noted elsewhere on the blog, my career choice means that I am quite used to going through life largely unarmed.
Since we do not live in a secure world, areas designated or thought of as secure require specific entry. As anyone who has been to a professional sports venue, concert, theme park, or airport can testify, entering these secure areas almost invariably involves standing in line. With the venue itself “secure”, it does not take a lot of tactical acumen to determine that these crowded entry points (choke points) become the new targets. Witness the multi-player attacks at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, or the attack at the El Al ticket counter at LAX in 2002. In other words, while we may be safer inside the venue from an attack, all of the security measures have simply shifted the target to outside the venue.
Though it is my opinion that malls and theaters (and sporting venues with less security, such as at the lower-level college and high school levels) provide juicier targets for terrorists and active-shooters, the fact is that standing in a line waiting to enter a secure area puts you in a very vulnerable position. This is because:
A) you’re in a crowd, which might automatically make you one part of a larger group target, and;
B) an attacker who did not do his homework, when suddenly confronted by guards and metal detectors blocking entrance to the site, might choose to simply execute his plan outside the venue in the crowd, where you are standing—unarmed—with your family.
Keep in mind also that metal detectors are only useful when utilized correctly and if backed up by competent, armed security. I was once entering a museum that had guards and a metal detector. As I reached into my pocket to check for keys and other metallic objects, I discovered I had my pocket knife as well. I was not in a position where I could leave and either throw it out or put it in my car (I was part of a group of people, and we had taken a bus–now gone–to the site). Instead, I put it into my backpack and decided to hope for the best. Sure enough, I went through the metal detector with no problem, while my bag was only given a cursory examination by a guard and then handed to me on the other side of the metal detector. The bag itself never passed through an X-ray machine nor the metal detector! I mention competent, armed security backing up the metal detector, as readers may recall this other incident at LAX, this one in 2013, when a man shot his way through the TSA checkpoint and then shot at people in the secure area of the terminal.
Most schools today are gun-free zones. Though a classroom teacher, additional duties I take on often have me in and out of other schools throughout my area. Though an armed police officer can be found in many area schools (not all, including mine), metal detectors are a rare sight. Though the presence of the police officer in some schools is a welcome sight to me, most schools are not what I would call “secure”. Those with front doors that always lock are usually equipped with a buzzer/intercom system. Buzz the office and they might ask who you are and the nature of your business at the school before buzzing you in. Let me assure you that it would not take much subterfuge to gain entry. “I am here to pick up my son” were the words I used to get through the front door of the school my children attend (without anyone asking me his name or my name!). As long as you dress normally (i.e., no machete or rifle slung across your back), my experience at most schools is that they will buzz you in, telling you to report to the office to sign in.
Is this real security? As we saw at Sandy Hook in 2012, the absence of secure doors AND windows, armed guards, etc., means that such a system provides only the illusion of security. This illusion may satisfy soccer moms and other “don’t–tell-me-there’s-evil-in-this-world” types, but will not fool or dissuade even a slightly determined attacker.
My best answer for being secure at choke-points is to avoid them. If you must go through crowded choke-points, try to minimize your exposure by researching the least-crowded times to move through them. During our recent attendance at the baseball game, we arrived a little over an hour before the first pitch, and we moved through the line quickly (yet again, though, we passed through metal detectors while my wife’s purse had someone search through it visually using a wooden dowel rod to poke around). Likewise, there are helpful websites/blogs that can provide “intel” on the best ways to avoid lines at amusement parks, airports, etc.
In the case of the illusory safety zones, I think the only lesson might be “learning a lesson”. Witness the security measures put in place at the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, which include bulletproof glass and other measures that, in typical fashion, defend against the last attack, not necessarily the future one.
How safe do you feel inside such “secure” areas? What about entering and exiting them? Please share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page. As always, thanks for reading.