Security Theater: At Least You Think You’re Safe

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Have you ever wondered if those stern-looking security features currently littering the American landscape really make you safer, especially the ones that deprive you of your right to keep and bear arms by simply posting a sign? Whether you have received tons of training, the bare minimum or none, and whether you have a permit in your wallet or simply rely on constitutional carry laws now in effect in 22 states, it all hardly matters if your rights evaporate because someone claiming power over you says, “All who enter here must be gunless.”

Ever since the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, our authorities and private-security agencies have made highly visible (and enormously expensive) efforts to help keep this nation safe — or at least to help us feel more safe. They have changed the face of the nation, with security apparatuses springing up everywhere you look. You can hardly take a walk without being recorded or enter an office building without a sign-in desk between you and the elevators. School kids wear laminated neck badges, government buildings make access arduous … it never ends.

Curtain Call

Few doubt that some of this work has improved our security (probably). At the same time, a good deal of the activity has simply increased the impression that we are safer without actually accomplishing any increase in real security. In other words, it is “security theater,” a phrase introduced by Bruce Schneier, perhaps the world’s leading expert in this dangerous and pervasive deception.

Some of the private and official maneuvers do little more than nullify your right to carry and increase your personal risks significantly. Schneier defines security theater succinctly: “Security theater is the practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to achieve it.”

Moreover, many of the steps have never proven any worth or stopped any terrorists yet are exorbitantly expensive. A research fellow writing for the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center, Schneier says, “We need to evaluate airport security based on concrete costs and benefits, and not continue to implement security theater based on fear.”

No one has explained how the ubiquitous cameras stop jihadis from perpetrating assaults with vehicles (or anything else, for that matter). Or how an ID chain deters a disturbed student from stabbing or otherwise mass-murdering classmates. And what’s to stop anyone from murdering the renta-guard at the sign-in book and then proceeding with bloody mayhem until someone else, armed, puts a stop to it?

They haven’t explained it because they can’t. It’s theater, not security. You might argue the merits, even convincingly, but the argument still stands.

Free Fall

Make-believe “gun-free” zones are one obvious, popular and extremely dangerous element of security theater. Created by hanging signs, this fantasy is perpetrated largely by and for “progressives” and people whose understanding of firearms is smaller than the Flat Earth Society’s grasp of geography. It basically changes your safety from a positive ability to protect to a hoped-for reliance on the honesty of criminals and their desire to obey posted rules.

It features all the reality of a one-act play, hence the perfect name “security theater”: “In this building you’re protected by this sign.”

“No guns allowed in this park,” or whatever site they choose to write down, becomes their theatrical joke of a secure location.

In legislative settings, you’re protected by pieces of paper sanctioned by people in state capitols, wherever that may be. “No guns allowed in this park,” or whatever site they choose to write down, becomes their theatrical joke of a secure location. Too many elected representatives think such efforts actually succeed and then exercise the precise definition of insanity — they do it over and over.

At a recent free-speech rally in Washington, D.C., which attracted hundreds of angry Antifa, Black Lives Matter and other far-left protesters, Police Chief Peter Newsham posted signs around the White House that The New York Times (Aug. 13, 2018, A13) likened to “a dusty Wild West town.” Each sign, posted on a lamppost, read: “All Firearms Prohibited Within 1,000 Feet of This Sign.” While it might be argued a complete absence of guns in the area would prevent gunfire, the signs were a theatrical joke in terms of making such a thing occur.

Fabulous Flops

The federal ban on guns in national parks was feckless, and it was finally repealed in 2009 (H.R. 627, with statutory recognition of its unconstitutionality). Cooler heads recognized that though Democrats blindly support no-guns-in-parks statutes, it was a theatrical stunt that put decent people in danger. It empowered criminals. It favored illegal-alien smuggler “coyotes” at the borders as well as drug runners and gangsters.

Perhaps worst of all, it subjected innocent people to prosecution for mere possession of their constitutionally protected property — even if they had obtained government-sanctioned paperwork.

When the ban was finally repealed by an act of Congress, and the public was free to carry in national parks under the rules of the states in which the parks were located, the media promised a parks-centered bloodbath. This never occurred. Oddly enough, neither did retractions from media outlets that promoted such ridiculously hoplophobic mythology.

Bombs Work Off Airplanes Too

Consider for a moment the long lines snaking through airport gates: stay-in-formation stanchions and nylon ribbon keeping hundreds grumbling but patiently in place as you wait your turn through the metal detector, X-ray scanner, bomb sniffer, chemical wipe, facial-recognition cameras and TSA attitude-detecting agents. But it’s for “security” and your own good, and since you’re a good, obedient citizen, you obediently obey. You know “getting uppity” can mean extra scrutiny. But what better place for a miscreant to set off a carry-on roller bag filled with Cemtex and nails or a homicide vest? Or to shoot anyone nearby who politely left their sidearms and even Swiss army knives in their cars … for safety?

That’s what security theater frequently does: gives advantages to bad people, leaving little for the innocent. TSA agents know it, our security agencies know it, even the criminals and terrorists know it, and now you do too if you didn’t already. This paragraph didn’t just tip off the jihadists; this is common knowledge. Welcome to the show.

Some of the private and official maneuvers do little more than nullify your right to carry and increase the danger (and your personal risks) significantly.

Some of the private and official maneuvers do little more than nullify your right to carry and increase the danger (and your personal risks) significantly.

Hard to Hear, Hard to Take

Former TSA agent Jason Harrington, who has spoken out publicly, confirmed what travelers know or suspect. Agents mock and laugh at your naked bodies, circumcisions, nipple rings — all clearly visible in scanners. They racially profile. BDOs (behavior-detection officers) and others single out blacks and fondle women. The complaints and lawsuits pile up. And scanning is easily defeated, which TSA’s own tests have proven repeatedly. He explained, according to Politico, the “everyday ridiculousness of the job … to create the illusion of security.”

The costs are beyond comprehension. Numerous studies from Cornell, ProPublica, The Association of Corporate Travel Executives, the ACLU, the U.S. Senate and many others add up in various ways: multiple arrests and firings of TSA agents for outright screening-based thefts and abuse, likely increases in cancer from screenings, financial airline losses from passengers opting to drive, increased road fatalities from increased road traffic and, of course, billions wasted on “security measures” everywhere, slowing everyone down without netting any terrorists.

So many Texans innocently walked through screening with their carry pieces that the state Legislature enacted a “do-over” law so folks could peacefully leave, relieve themselves of their property and try again.

The right to carry is incrementally removed by gun-free zones, tyrannical prosecutions for “illegal” ammo or gun types, improper display, and other non-crimes without victims until gun possession remains legal but virtually impossible to exercise.

It hurts to consider, but does concealed carry sometimes contain elements of security theater too? The late-night gab about which sidearm or cartridge is best, the types of holsters you prefer, imagining how you would react to concocted scenarios — is that real or make-believe? If you only carry sometimes, to what extent are you really contributing to national defense? Or is it just a prideful sense of security when it suits you?

At its worst, you could argue security theater goes right down to the level of a bureaucrat with a uniform and clipboard who says anything like, “I’m sorry, you can’t sit there” — a bureaucrat whom you must obey, without cause or recourse, under penalty of law.

In attorney Jeff Snyder’s impeccable essay, “Walter Mitty’s Second Amendment,” he explores a fictitious nation remarkably similar to ours, where people cherish their freedoms. One by one these have disappeared, but the people cling pridefully to their right to arms, which they keep but rarely if ever use.

The right to carry is incrementally removed by gun-free zones, tyrannical prosecutions for “illegal” ammo or gun types, improper display, and other non-crimes without victims until gun possession remains legal but virtually impossible to exercise.

But the citizens don’t care because they still believe they have their freedom (in what is no longer security theater but theater of the absurd). It adds new meaning to the phrase “infringement creep.”