The Problem Isn’t Tools, It’s Terror

Spectators helping victims soon after the 2013 Boston Marathon attack (Photo credit: Aaron Tang via Wikipedia)
Spectators helping victims soon after the 2013 Boston Marathon attack (Photo credit: Aaron Tang via Wikipedia)

On June 12, Omar Mateen killed 49 patrons at Orlando, Florida’s  Pulse nightclub. His weapon: A Sig Sauer MCX carbine.

On July 3, Abu Maha al-Iraqi killed more than 300 shoppers and diners in  Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood. His weapon: A van packed with explosives.

On July 14, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel killed at least 84 Bastille Day revelers  in Nice (as I write this, dozens of injured remain in critical condition). His weapons: A 19-ton truck and a pistol.

Don’t be surprised over the next week to hear calls from the usual suspects for “expanded background checks” for truck drivers, with an eye toward populating a “no drive list.”

Left unmentioned will be the heavy regulation of explosives by most of the world’s governments for decades, or that those regulations didn’t stop Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Nidal A. Ayyad and Ahmed Ajaj (the 1993 World Trade Center Bombers), or Timothy McVeigh (the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber) or  Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev (the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers), let alone Abu Maha al-Iraqi.

Also left unmentioned will be the heavy regulation of guns in both the US and France, or that those regulations didn’t stop Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik (who killed 14 in San Bernardino in December 2015), or the Charlie Hebdo attackers (who killed 12 in Paris in January 2015), or the Bataclan theater attackers (who killed 130 in Paris in November 2015), or Omar Mateen, or Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel.

Laws and regulations won’t stop terrorists from using trucks, either.

“Our rifle is only a tool,” Private Joker notes in Gustav Hasford’s The Short-Timers (adapted to film as Full Metal Jacket).  “It is a hard heart that kills.”

Focusing on tools misses the point entirely: When they choose to attack, terrorists will buy, beg, borrow, steal or make the tools to do so (the Tsarnaevs used pressure cookers, nails, gunpowder from fireworks and remote detonators made from toy car controllers).

Terrorists don’t obey laws or conform to regulations. If they did, they wouldn’t be terrorists. Making those laws and regulations more restrictive fails as a counter to — in fact it actively incentivizes — terrorism. The goal of terrorists is to terrorize. Mass acceptance of repressive legal responses says they’re succeeding.

If oppressive police state tactics don’t work, what might?

Refusing to be terrorized would help, at least some. Just as being terrorized encourages more terrorism, not being terrorized discourages it. When one tactic doesn’t work, smart actors choose other tactics.

But opposing mass killings by “our guys” is even more important.

Western (including American and French)  troops have killed hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, in the Middle East and Central Asia just since 1991.  Many (maybe most) have been innocent civilians. Their families, friends, countrymen and co-religionists have, unsurprisingly, responded in kind. We should stop supporting military adventurism not just because it inevitably results in “blowback” and dead bodies back home, but because it’s as wrong when “we” do it as it is when “they” do it.

It is indeed a hard heart that kills. Tools are mere distraction. Hearts — and minds — are where change begins.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.