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Gun Control

Instead of Gun Control: More Private Security

Could private security guards all over the nation end mass shootings?

Photograph by Bill Varie/Getty Images

Could private security guards all over the nation end mass shootings?

The movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., has provoked the usual calls for stricter gun control. Surely, liberals argue, we can do without 100-round drum magazines such as the one the Colorado killer is said to have used. The National Rifle Association, once it comes out of its bunker to respond, will oppose any and all new gun control laws.

Then, nothing will happen. There are many reasons nothing will happen, as I’ve written, most recently, here and, earlier, here. The most telling sign nothing will happen is that President Barack Obama, a believer in strong gun control laws, has remained mute and motionless on the topic—after the Tucson supermarket spree in January 2011, and now, again, after Aurora.

The political costs to Democrats are too high—a good thing or an infuriating thing, depending on your views of the Second Amendment, self-protection, and the meaning of firearms in American culture.

Today, let’s talk about something we could do without contentious legislative proposals or renewed culture war. Let’s talk about security guards.

If you really want to stop mass shootings in public places, demand that owners of movie theaters, supermarkets, playgrounds, and you-name-the-venue hire armed security guards to keep watch for people dressed in body armor and carrying weapons. We know how to do this. We do it at airports. It’s not foolproof: Remember the would-be underwear bomber and the shoe bomber, stopped not by X-ray machines but by their own incompetence and alert fellow passengers? Still, rent-a-cops are a step toward greater security. Heck, every major professional sports venue checks fans for outside alcohol and weapons. Why couldn’t every movie theater?

If there had been a guard at every door of the multiplex in Aurora, the killer would not have been able to stroll out and back in through the emergency exit. This mass killing would not have taken place.

Would there be tradeoffs? Of course. The more cops a society employs, by definition, the more it feels like a police state. When faced with persistent terrorism—and you can see mass shooters as nonpolitical terrorists—some societies put more men with guns on the street. Visit London or Tel Aviv to see what I mean. When I was reporting in Quito recently, I noticed that every restaurant had an armed guard.

We are not helpless in the face of evil. On the other hand, let’s not pretend we can stop all evil—with security guards, gun control, or any other public or private policy. The Colorado killer was intelligent and determined. Such evil people may be able to circumvent any reasonable steps the law-abiding take to control them. If we are willing to do more to protect ourselves, though, we can do more to deter the worst among us.

Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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