There is no way around it – the bombing and mass shooting in Norway this past Friday were horrific events indeed; however, like all such events, it also offers a unique perspective on a thankfully rare and irregular event… a perspective that is made all the more valuable by that rarity. And given how unusual first-hand information on situations like these is, we would be fools not to try to learn something from this one. Please note that nothing I am writing below is in any way an attack on the survivors or Norway – I try my best not to armchair-quarterback events, and their country is their concern – but rather these items are presented as things we, as American citizens, should be mindful of in the future.
1. You are responsible for your own security. It took somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes for police to get to the island and apprehend the shooter, and in that time, 68 people were murdered. In a bizarre stroke of timing, news helicopters got to the scene before the police did.
During that time, people were entirely on their own as to their safety. There was some type of guard on the island, but he was one of the first casualties once the murderer started shooting, and after that, the words "fish in a barrel" come to mind when thinking about the terrain, environment, and situation. What is the police response time in your area? Can you keep you and yours alive in the intervening time? Given a similar situation with a non-zero number of the potential victims being lawfully armed and trained in self-defense, would it have changed the outcome any?
2. Criminals do not play fair. The shooter apparently disguised himself as a police officer, not only to convince a ferry pilot to take him over to the island, but also to lull his victims into a false sense of security – as others have said, cultures around the world have gotten out of the habit of questioning uniformed "authorities" just due to the negative repercussions that can sometimes result from that action. However, even here in America, criminals are noticing that tendency and exploiting it to their benefit. Does that mean you should start regarding all police officers as potential criminals-in-disguise? No moreso than any other person on the street, but that alone is an increase in situational awareness for most people.
[Redacted] surrenders without a fight with police after shooting dead at least 86 people. Police said their arrival prevented further killings on the island, where hundreds of people were staying.
"We arrive with a very competent group that surrounds the perpetrator who then chooses to hand himself over to the police. He had at that point used two weapons and had been, and was still, in possession of a substantial amount of ammunition. Thus, the police’s response has hindered further killing on the island."
You will find that this is a consistent, repeated theme throughout the history of spree shooters – when faced with the prospect of concerted resistance, especially when that resistance is armed, the murderers have a marked tendency to stop shooting people, either through shooting themselves, surrendering, or being brought down by that resistance. Firearms in the hands of those fighting back greatly increases their efficacy and chances of success ( unarmed people have brought down shooters in the past, though), so does it not make sense to allow law-abiding citizens the chance to be their own "first-responders", so to speak? Why should they be forced to wait until the police arrives?
You are not dead until you are dead, and while I certainly would not encourage anyone to engage an active spree shooter, it is one of the historically-proven methods for ending his murders.
4. Running away will not necessarily save you. In this particular case, the murderer planned ahead – he chose a confined, small area from which people could not easily escape to perpetrate his mass shooting. Thankfully, some people were able to stay one step ahead of the murderer, and even more thankfully, some people stepped into the role of "hero" without even thinking about it, but neither is a guarantee. If you are in shape, have a previous knowledge of your surrounding terrain, are far enough from the shooting, or are just wily enough, running away may work out for you. If you cannot meet those hurdles, or if you are just caught flat-footed, it would behoove you to have contingency plans already worked out in your head (see above).
5. There exists evil in this world. As the trite saying goes, the first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging you have it to begin with, and it is very safe to say that this world of ours has a significant problem with evil existing throughout its populace, whether we are talking at the smaller scale of some twisted kid torturing the neighbor’s pets or some deranged whackjob deciding that murdering dozens of innocent children will "save" Europe from some nebulous threat.
Alright, so how do we fix this evil? Well, here is a hint: more legislation is not the answer. To be certain, crimes against people (murder, assault, battery, rape, robbery, burglary, etc.) should be made illegal and punished to the furthest extent possible, but "victimless" crimes (owning a firearm with a barrel over X inches in diameter, growing a specific plant, selling orchids without a license, etc.) are pointless, ineffective, almost impossible to enforce, and only serve to generate a false sense of security and overly encumber an already strained legal system.
Instead, look to the article linked at the beginning of this bullet point:
After massacres and disasters, governments ask themselves, "What laws can we pass so that this is less likely to happen again?" It’s a perilous question. Carnage often leads to irrational policy. But attempts at an answer are inevitable. More often than not, mine is, "It’s unwise to rely only on the government." It’s an impulse that is often mocked when cautious types are seen buying emergency supplies, or organizing disaster drills, or scoping out unattended bags at the train station, or applying for a concealed weapons permit and gun safety classes. But it beats trying to say safer by launching foreign wars and infringing on civil liberties. And I suspect the mockery is often a defense mechanism against a hard truth: that there is no entity that can give us the degree of safety we imagined having; that re-burdening ourselves is sadly necessary.
… Which rather brings us back to the beginning of this list, with you being responsible for your own security, regardless of whatever government or entity you live under.
Again, these are all take-aways for America and its people, since the right to self-defense is constantly growing in the public eye, and average citizens are comfortable with the notion of not having to rely on the government for their own security. Norway, however, is an entirely different country, with an entirely different culture, and they will unquestionably find a different solution to their problem. I wish them the best with it, but that country’s policy of "’self-defense’ is an insufficient reason for firearm ownership" pretty firmly lumps it in the "nice place to visit, but would never live there" category.
For the Americans amongst my readers, however, if you carry a firearm, actually carry it. and if you do not, be prepared to ensure your security through other means – for whatever reason, the crazies are coming out of the woodwork more and more recently, and it falls to us – the people who they invariably seem to attack – to defend ourselves from them… no one else.
(Note: The Norway shooter’s name will not be published on this site, in accordance with its policy not to give publicity to murderous scumbags.)