THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's the Guns, Stupid: Why Handguns Remain One of the Biggest Threats To Homeland Security

This past week, we were sadly reminded that guns in the hands of the aggrieved or the disturbed can produce horrific consequences.

Just as the nation dealt with the shock of an Army psychiatrist killing 13 and causing injury to another 38 on Thursday at Fort Hood in Texas, a disgruntled former employee of an engineering firm went on a gun rampage on Friday that killed one and injured another five in Orlando, Florida.

Both incidents are tell-tale signs that guns continue to pose one of the largest threats to homeland security.

Yet, read the last National Strategy put out by the Department of Homeland Security or read the Obama administration's list of homeland security priorities and you'll be hard pressed to find a discussion of the gun threat.

When will we wake up? Guns are a threat to our nation's security.

And unless we seriously address the ease with which the wrong people can obtain handguns in this country, it will only be a matter of time before we fall victim to a large-scale armed attack -- resulting not in a death toll in the double-digits, but the triple digits.

Think of this simple fact. According to the U.S. government's National Counter-Terrorism Center, over 50% of the 11,770 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide last year involved armed attacks. Most prominent among these attacks was the siege in Mumbai, India, which claimed 173 lives (including six Americans).

I no longer wonder "if" a Mumbai-style attack will occur in the U.S. Absent the implementation of serious gun control measures, I now ask "when"?

The writing is already on the walls. This year alone, extremists in three separate incidents took the lives of an Army recruiter in Arkansas, an abortion doctor in Kansas, and a Holocaust Museum security guard in Washington, D.C. The common denominator in all three attacks: guns.

Politicians and authorities, however, seem fixated on plots involving large-scale explosives and weapons of mass destruction.

No doubt, terrorists would love to hurt this nation using such weapons. Just look at four recent cases in the news: the Newburgh, NY, cell desired to blow up a Jewish synagogue in New York City; Hosam Maher Husein Smadi sought to blow up a skyscraper in Dallas, TX; Michael Finton wanted to blow up the federal building in Springfield, IL; and Najibullah Zazi aspired to develop explosives using hair care products for an attack perhaps in New York City.

The intent to strike against the homeland with explosives and bombs is certainly present.

But the other lesson from all these cases is that "homegrowns," despite their intent, usually lack the capabilities, skills, and competence to mastermind any kind of high-casualty attack. It is just no longer easy to pull off a major attack involving complex munitions. In the post-September 11 era, new government-mandated restrictions coupled with the hyper-vigilance of law enforcement make such attacks extremely difficult to execute.

Guns, nevertheless, remain the exception.

We seem to forget that in the last two decades a significant proportion of successful terrorist attacks here in the U.S. involved guns: Mir Aimal Kansi shot CIA employees on their way to work in 1993; Rashid Baz shot Yeshiva students crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994; Ali Abu Kamal shot visitors at the Empire State building in 1997; Heshem Mohamed Hadayet shot travelers checking-in at the El Al ticket counter at LAX Airport in 2002; and Naveed Afzal Haq shot patrons at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in 2006.

Still, little is done to control the availability of guns - which is deeply disconcerting given that the most likely perpetrators of such violence are angry or deranged Americans who can easily purchase weapons, especially at gun shows where background checks are lax if not outright ignored.

Gun control is considered by many elected officials to be the third rail of American politics. Yet, it is only a matter of time before extremists sniff out the opportunity our current gun laws provide.

I can think of no better way to honor the victims of this week's violence than to initiate a national discussion on how to prevent handguns from falling into the hands of dangerous people.