Bad people will find a way to perpetrate bad acts. This unfortunate reality was poignantly illustrated by the terrible events occurring in a Sydney café this week, as two innocent people tragically lost their lives due to the actions of a deranged madman. The Sydney Siege occurred in a country with some of the strictest gun control legislation in the world, during a time of increased national vigilance, after a known enemy made very public threats against Australian society.
So how, despite all the security precautions, increased policing and legislation, did a lone gunman manage to hold Australian citizens hostage for 16 hours before murdering two of them?
The answer is the same as for any terrorist attack in world history, from Munich, to London, to Madrid, to Boston, to New York; no matter how tight you spread your net, or how high you build your walls, the enemy will always find a way to eventually get in. It may take them time, but sooner or later there will be an opportunity for those who seek to do us harm to perpetrate their violence.
Despite the best efforts of the State to keep its citizens safe, it is not possible for governments to ever guarantee the security of its people. There are simply too many variables, too many unknowns in the equation, to keep track of.
Important questions need to be asked. Up to which point must laws and invasive security measures be tolerated if they cannot guarantee our safety? Is it worth sacrificing our individual social freedoms in an attempt to gain the mere illusion of safety? These questions were answered over two-and-a-half centuries ago by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1755, “Those who give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Life in all its aspects is an inherently risky affair. Most rational people tend to recognise it as such, and that is why we attempt to hedge and manage our risks in various ways, be it household insurance, car safety belts, or investing in derivative financial instruments. We seek safety as a natural instinct, but occasionally we forget that safety is never defined as being risk free. Thus driving your children to school is generally considered safe, but it is not an activity without some sort of risk. Risk which remains regardless of what legislation or precautions are taken.
So where does this argument take us?
Would it have made a difference to the situation if Australian law allowed for citizens to legally carry firearms for defensive purposes? This is a question that is difficult to answer, again because there are just so many variables present. Considering that it took one brave (unarmed) man attempting to disarm the terrorist to act as a catalyst for ending the siege, it is definitely not a far-fetched concept. Add to this the numerous times unarmed hostages successfully overpowered their captors, and citizens fighting back becomes a very desirable reality.
The General Secretary of Interpol pondered the very real benefits of armed citizenry as a safeguard against terrorist attacks after the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya. Had an armed citizen with a concealed handgun been in the coffee shop, it would be entirely plausible for them to have ended this incident by waiting for an opportunity to shoot the attacker when he least expected it.
Sadly, we will now never know for certain.
But that is a reality that can be changed.