Paul Waldman | The American Prospect | December 7, 2015
Here’s a truth that no politician, Democrat or Republican, is going to tell you: There is absolutely nothing that our government could have done to prevent the attack that took 14 lives in San Bernardino last week. If you’re looking for a lesson we can learn from it, that’s the one you ought to take. Universal background checks for gun purchases is a good idea, but it wouldn’t have stopped that couple from killing those people. Starting a new war in the Middle East is a terrible idea, but it also wouldn’t have stopped it.
We can’t stop an attack like the one in San Bernardino before it happens because our ability to do that is dependent on the plot coming to the government’s attention. In order for that to happen, knowledge of the plan has to leak out in some way—to someone who overhears the planning and tells the authorities, to an informant whom the attackers bring into their confidence, over an electronic medium like email or telephone that is being monitored. But what if all you have is a husband and wife working out the details over their kitchen table, and buying their tools of mayhem the same way a hundred million other Americans do, down at the local gun shop? There is no way to stop that.
Which brings us to another truth you won’t see politicians admit: terrorism will never be defeated or vanquished or eliminated or banished. It’s a technique, attractive to those with limited power precisely because it’s relatively easy to use.