Two Different Ways of Responding to Threats

I’ve been talking about threat models lately and how people respond to them. Most recently I discussed Sarkeesian canceling her event at Utah State University because the police were unwilling to prohibit individuals with valid carry permits from carrying at the event.

Looking at threat models and responses at a very high level there seems to be two types of reactions. The first, which Sarkeesia demonstrated, is a reaction that attempts to control the threat while the second reaction type is an attempt to harden the threat’s target.

Let’s consider a threat model commonly discussed here, individuals facing the potential of being murdered. Gun control advocates look at the model and identify the threat and focus on controlling that threat. In their eyes the threat is an armed aggressor and their reaction is to attempt to restrict their access to arms. A gun rights advocates look at the model and identify the threat and focus on hardening the target. For them the threat is an armed or unarmed aggressor and their reaction is to attempt to ensure that the target is equipped with a means to defend against the aggressor.

Obviously I’m of the thought that an appropriate response to an aggressor is to harden the target. The reason I subscribe to this school of thought is that the target is the factor in the model that you can control whereas the threat is not controllable. If somebody threatens to kill me I can take measures that make carrying through with that threat difficult. Some of the actions I can take is to train in martial arts (which, in my opinion, includes firearm training), carry a weapon to defend myself with, wear body armor to make certain types of attacks less effective, randomize the routes I take to go from home to work, install audible alarms on my doors and windows, carry a bright flashlight that can be used to blind an aggressor, etc. These are all things that I can do.

But what can I do to control the threat? Truthfully there really isn’t anything I can do in that respect. Laws are ineffective against the unlawful. Since committing murder is already illegal it seems unlikely that the threat will abide by any laws that attempt to restrict his or her access to arms. Furthermore weapons are simple things to construct so even if the laws decrease the amount of available weapons the threat can craft his or her own. There is also no reliable way for me to control when the threat will attack me. This is an interesting point in regards to Sarkeesia’s situation. While the threat that was issued said that the attack would occur at the campus there is no way to know that the issued threat wasn’t disinformation meant to throw the target off. The threat could very well attack when Sarkeesia made her way from the airport or hotel she was likely starting at to the campus or after she left the campus.

I would argue that any threat model response that relies on controlling the threat will be ineffective. Short of killing the threat there is no way to absolutely control his or her actions. But even killing them requires that you can first identify them, which is often not possible until the threat makes a move against you. This is why any competent security team focuses on protecting the target. Whether you’re talking body guards, building security, or computer security the focus is always to harden the target.