Our local, world-renowned security expert Bruce Schneier wrote an excellent article about responses to the Aurora theater shooting. It is worth reading in its entirety.
The message of the article is that fear leads to irrational responses and horrible policy. Our Freudian Id responses are rarely correct. Many extreme measures we took after 9/11 did not make us any safer. In some cases, costly but ineffective security measures which Bruce Schneier refers to as "security theater" actually desensitize us to real threats and increase the risk of a second attack.
For example, banning costumes in theaters or installing metal detectors or body scanners in theaters would fail to address the next attack at a baseball game or a school play or a city council meeting. None of these would prevent any attacks, but they might make us irrationally feel safer. In the case of the Aurora attack, none of these measures would have prevented the attack, since the killer propped open a back door to sneak in to the theater. Our first response to a tragedy is usually the wrong one.
Any gun policy written in the aftermath of Aurora would miss the point. Assault weapons legislation would only reduce the body count slightly. Writing policy to arm every person in the theater would not have changed matters as the gunman was wearing full body armor and had the advantage of a dark theater, tear gas canister, and surprise. Offering swift background checks at gun shows might limit the number of weapons flowing to the Mexican cartels, but it would not have affected this particular shooter in any way. Waiting periods would not have deterred Mr. Holmes, who waited months while planning his rampage.
Fear leads us to irrational responses to terrorism.
My state senator, Dave Thompson, recently argued on Jason Lewis' national radio program that the correct response to 9/11 would be to hand out guns to every plane passenger over the age of 21. Thompson's panacea is the definition of irrational response. Even if planes had not crashed on 9/11, we would instead see thousands of fatal gun accidents on airplanes. People SLEEP on airplanes with children around and there are no paramedics trained to handle gunshot wounds on your average flight. You could no longer "fly the friendly skies" if Thompson got his extreme and irrational legislation enacted.
Fear leads us to irrational responses to rare voter fraud.
The mere presence of a debate on voter fraud has convinced many Americans that fraud in elections is not rare. In reality, the population who have committed fraud is smaller than the population who have been hit by lightning. They play no role in the outcome of elections. Minnesota's proposed voter photo identification amendment serves no role in stopping felons, repeat voters, or illegal immigrants from voting. However, the extreme right wing in the Minnesota Majority special interest group have succeeded in framing the debate as if felons and repeat voters have no photo ID card.
The only plan that stops felons, repeat voters, or illegal immigrants from voting is electronic pollbooks and our legislature voted against them, preferring extreme voter suppression legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council. When Secretary of State Mark Ritchie asked in 2009 for access to lists of felons to clean them from the voter rolls, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer voted against it and Governor Pawlenty vetoed it. Kiffmeyer was the first head of Minnesota Majority and is a spokesperson for the group. She has allowed felon voting to occur to make an argument for an irrational response to rare voter fraud designed to suppress young and minority voters.
Fear leads us to irrational responses to rampant and routine bank fraud.
In 2008, all we knew was that the banks were struggling because credit markets were too tight. At the time, it was all too easy to make the false argument that our entire financial system had fallen due to irresponsible homeowners. However, we did not have all the information at the time. It turns out that the banks were not lending because interbank loan interest rates were being manipulated.
One loan program encouraged banks to lend to minorities, but applied to an insignificant percentage of mortgages. Criminal bankers have conned us into believing they were forced to lend. However, these banks had sold a huge percentage of loans with false income statements to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Banks had no incentive at all to turn down home buyers. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Fannie and Freddie bought all their loans and took all of their risk.
Banks needed no mandate to sell a bad loan for profit without taking any of its risk. The very idea that banks were only lending because of an obscure mandate was more ridiculous than an Onion News story and could only ever have been suggested with a straight face on Fox News. We found out only in the last couple years that Too Big To Fail banks like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank, and Morgan Stanley even sought out the least credit-worthy of all borrowers. They then lied to these borrowers about the size of future payments so that they could make large derivative bets against investments they had created full of loans intended to default. Essentially, they bet "heads I win, tails you lose" against every investor who bought their AAA-rated mortgage bonds.
Lately, our response to all this fraud has been a huge push to deregulate Wall Street. This could only be considered a rational solution by voters making decisions in a total information vacuum. Political deregulation effort is gaining considerable traction in spite of the fact Wall Street has been manipulating the prices of $800 trillion worth of securities in order to rob everyone in the world a little bit on every transaction. The manipulated LIBOR and EURIBOR rates are a perfect example of self-regulation, another irrational response.
The next time a major national event makes you feel afraid, you must tell yourself that your fear is a natural and normal response. Then-- do not heed its advice. If you do, you will be given new and far worse reasons to be afraid.