On terrorism, we often are fighting the last war. And sometimes the supposed solutions have nothing to do with preventing future attacks. They just give the appearance that politicians are doing something.
The terror attack on Tuesday in New York City left eight dead and eleven injured after a rental truck was used to plow down people on a bike path. We are just fortunate that the killer ran into a school bus and was unable to continue his plan to hit more pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge.
The NYPD immediately pointed out that it had repeatedly instructed the 148 truck rental businesses in the area on how to identify suspicious customers.
But the businesses faced an impossible task. Politically correct politicians want businesses to screen for dangerous people, but those same politicians would be the first to object to anything that remotely smacks of racial profiling.
Take Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) public address a few hours after the attack. He avoided mentioning anything that might usefully identify such an attacker, saying only that those who target New York oppose “freedom and democracy.” He refused to mention radical Islam. And he implicitly criticized President Trump for wanting to screen people from countries where we have trouble even confirming a person’s identity.
This might be only the first successful mass killing with a vehicle in the US, but it is more common in other countries. Muslims only account for six percent of Europe’s population, but they are responsible for over 80 percent of vehicle attacks in Europe since 2000. Twenty-four percent of the people in the world are Muslims, but they carry out 78 percent of the world’s vehicular terror attacks.
Telling truck or car rental companies to screen for suspicious people isn’t a serious counter terror measure. Even an explicit criminal background check wouldn't have stopped the killer, Sayfullo Saipov, from renting a car. Are rental companies supposed to succeed where these checks would fail?
In any case, why stop at just rental companies? Saipov already had a car. Even if he didn’t have a car or a truck, couldn’t he buy one? Saipov just needed enough money to put down the initial deposit. It’s not as though he was planning on being around to make the payments. This guy pretty clearly wanted to commit “suicide by cop.” Flashing his pellet gun at the police, he must have known that they’d have no choice but to shoot.
What happens if someone like Saipov buys a truck from a private individual? Are we going to have so-called universal background checks on private transfers of vehicles between individuals? It’d be a lot of trouble and expense, and it wouldn't save lives.
Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio’s solution to these attacks is “more police everywhere.” Police are extremely important, but they can’t guard every inch of New York City and be instantly present to stop an attack. There are just too many targets, not to mention too many crowded sidewalks and bike paths.
Cuomo, De Blasio and many others even used the truck attack to push more gun control laws. Nicholas Kristof, a columnist at the New York Times, talked about an assault weapon ban. Cuomo and De Blasio lauded New York’s gun control laws. But with the killer planning the attack possibly a year in advance, politicians need to realize that stopping determined killers from getting weapons is an almost impossible task.
The question is what do we do when we can’t stop killers from getting weapons.
If New York City politicians are serious about stopping terrorist attacks, they should take a page from Israel and the vast majority of the U.S. and let citizens defend themselves. Unlike a huge increase in policing, it would come at no expense to taxpayers. And yet, it would likely be more effective. “See something, say something” is useful, but sometimes it simply isn’t fast enough.
It’s time that New York politicians actually trust New Yorkers.