Trigger Events

by CYNTHIA E AYERS January 14, 2013

Guns have triggers.  Humans have "trigger events."  Could it be, that in the deliberation over Second Amendment rights, we are currently witnessing a trigger event of potentially historic proportions?  Or will some unexpected cataclysm come along just in time to change the path that we seem to be following?

Trigger events come in all shapes and sizes.  They can be large or small, overt or covert, intentional or unintentional.  They can be singular or numerous and cumulative, leading to the onset of a crisis.  If numerous, they can be initiated by many different sources who (if those sources are people) may not even realize that other trigger events are occurring.  Triggers can occur decades before an upheaval (e.g.  a historical turning point), or minutes prior to the incident they provoke.  They can be perceived as positive, yet have catastrophic consequences; or alternatively perceived as negative yet have extremely positive outcomes.  Often, we don't recognize trigger events until long after the consequences have become manifest. 

Our nation used to react to what could be considered major trigger events - otherwise known as "acts of war" (although smaller, causal trigger events usually precede those, as well).  But memories of such-even those that were thought to be imprinted forever on the national psyche-are fading.   Pearl Harbor is but a date to over half of high school students --  and how many readers "Remember the Maine?"   We are told that this collective act of moving on is "healthy." 

Lately, though, we've simply been ignoring acts of aggression against the United States that would, in the past, have become "trigger events."   In cases of international belligerence and nuclear promiscuity, our governing bodies send out warnings-only to waffle and prevaricate when a line is crossed (or a potential "trigger event" occurs), allowing tensions to simmer until the opposition gets its way.  Whether we (or more accurately, our "leaders") simply hope that the adversarial intent of such actions will dissipate with time (in essence, that the collective memory of the aggressor is as faulty as ours), or that changes in our own approach will permanently defuse whatever explosion may be in the works, we seem to have silently agreed to a doctrine of "non-response."   From Iranian nuclear weapons activities, to Iranian support to enemy forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, from al Qaeda involvement in the attacks at Benghazi to the identification of Iranian involvement in blatant acts of terrorism, it would seem that we have chosen the path of least resistance.  

One wonders if the tenet of national response to acts of war committed against us has become obsolete (or politically incorrect), at least for those who hold the reins of political power in the United States.   This certainly is not the case in other countries, where a lack of sovereign will to respond most often results in a general impression that the victim (the entity under attack) is "weak," vulnerable, and destined for failure. 

Elsewhere on the globe, strength is prized over weakness, and vulnerability is to be taken advantage of.   Interestingly, some believe that the tables have been turned when it comes to U.S. domestic policy-that those who run our government appear to be taking a more "globally acceptable" (a "strength in power") approach to those governed.   If this is the case, have the governed (the general U. S. population) become so accustomed to weakness that they are more likely to agree that it's better to give up than to confront attacks (international or domestic) on freedom?

This brings us back to "trigger events."   Will the next major trigger event come from a terrorist organization, a nation-state, or as a result of some internal domestic problem?   It seems to me to be a toss-up.  Regardless, do we still have the capacity to recognize a "trigger?"  And who will be willing or able to respond?

If we are attacked by external actors, the trigger event most likely to cause enough damage to be worthwhile for the aggressor will probably be a catastrophic takedown of critical electric infrastructure.  Unfortunately, while the will to respond would be heightened, our resources would be minimized and, as a nation, we would essentially be removed as leaders on the world stage-instantaneously and long-term.  Considering that this would probably be the first salvo in a larger war against the West, few (if any) allies would be in a position to come to our aid.  Even worse, this type of attack would probably act as a trigger event for pre-planted domestic facilitators-terrorist cells given orders to take advantage of our vulnerability.   

But what if there is a trigger event as a result of domestic politics?    This line of inquiry, which would have been unthinkable 10-20 years ago, is increasingly being discussed.  Still, most shy away from the topic.  While we have not yet (to my knowledge) become so politically sensitive that even a discussion of potential trigger events-international or domestic-could be cause for placement on a "watch list," it is worrisome that those participating in many recent exchanges on a variety of topics have come close to that distinction.   

We can no longer have legitimate dialogue about enmity-unless the enemies in question are "zombies."   We can no longer mention religious beliefs or show objects of religious affiliation without fear of someone taking offense or legal recourse.   First Amendment rights are also being heavily debated in regard to the institution of "Obamacare."  And the taxation vs. spending discourse is being hijacked by politicians who believe they have received-by virtue of election-a mandate to both tax and spend.  Are any of these trigger events?  Perhaps-insofar as they may precipitate larger reactions to other, future crises. 

More worrying, is the current move toward redefining, curbing, or simply doing away with Second Amendment rights.  A recent NY newspaper's publication of a map with specifics on legal gun-owners gives us pause for many reasons beyond the obvious.  If such "watch lists" can so easily be prepared and published, how many more issues wait to be given this type of latitude?  If this is allowed to happen without recourse, what will become of privacy rights and individual security?

What has all this to do with triggers?  There were many events that preceded the American Civil War, to include the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859; but the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 sparked the secession of seven states.  Although the Battle of Fort Sumter a few months later signified the beginning of the war, secession is generally seen as the major trigger event for the War Between the States.  In comparison, there was an expressed desire of at least some people in all 50 states to secede following the 2012 election.  Could this be an indication of crises to come? 

Taking a large step back in time, many debates and "social shifts" occurred prior to the American Revolution-but the most memorable outcry was "taxation without representation."   The Stamp and Townshend Acts provided a proverbial cap on the taxation toothpaste.   The subsequent Boston Tea Party could be considered as both response and trigger to war.  Is there, by chance, any room for comparison with the "fiscal cliff" timed for New Year Eve, and/or next month's deliberations on National Debt limits?

With the debate on gun control heating up, one can't help but wonder about the possibility of a radical decision to ban or (worse) seize weapons held legally by U.S. Citizens-a decision involving regulations that have been expected for quite some time.  Gun owners have already been through a long sequence of what could be perceived as trigger events.   Although the U.S. populace may have been lulled into a zombie mentality for far too long to react to lesser contentious issues, when the concern is for Second Amendment rights, the public has proven to react in very visible, emphatic ways-gun purchases, for example, have been going through the roof across the country.   

Back to "trigger events."  A number of reports have surfaced about government agency purchases of massive amounts of hollow point bullets, including an article in Business Insider.  According to these reports, "high-power ammunition" is being purchased by the Department of Homeland Security , the Social Security Administration, and even the National Weather Service (Fisheries Office).  Retired Army Major General Jerry Curry, noted reason for suspicion.  "Hollow point bullets," he indicated, "are so lethal that the Geneva Convention does not allow their use on the battle field in time of war."   He added that "there is enough ammunition [ordered in government solicitations] to empty five rounds into the body of every living American citizen."   This, along with the September 28, 2012 introduction of H.R. 6566 "Mass Fatality Planning and Religious Considerations," has raised many questions-the primary one being "what, exactly, is the government expecting?"   

One can only guess.  If, on one hand, consideration is being given to a potential attack from external sources causing a collapse of electric infrastructure or other "catastrophic disasters," the need for arming government agencies and for a discussion of mass casualties is understandable (although hollow point bullets would still be "overkill").  On the other hand, it could be argued that government representatives have not been clear in their explanations as to why so much ammunition is necessary for so many "obscure law enforcement agencies."  

It would be sufficiently grim (let alone ironic) if the enactment of severe gun control laws became a "trigger" (pardon the pun) for a larger, more devastating internal conflict.  Whether or not the ammunition purchases had anything to do with expectations of civil unrest, for those who swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic," push may come to shove.  Would a simple rehash of previously enacted gun controls be sufficient to trigger a violent response?  Possibly not, although it might be seen as the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.  Would a gun ban and/or seizure be recognizable as a "trigger event?"  Most probably.  Will there be anyone willing and able to respond?  Much depends on the situation at hand. 

The Second Amendment was adopted so that U.S. citizens would continue to enjoy security and freedom, while retaining the capability to reject dictatorship and tyranny.  Nobody wants another civil war, and the sane among us will do everything within our power to prevent such a travesty.  Still, if someone or some group is determined to push the country in that direction, an all-out attack on Second Amendment rights is probably one of the very few provocations that would assuredly move us all toward that end. 

I'm not predicting a second civil war.  It's a very difficult concept to consider without succumbing to absolute despair, and not something we, as a "one nation" should be contemplating lightly.   Perhaps, however, we have reached a point where discussion of what has lately become conceivable, may alleviate tensions while ensuring a fair and constitutional approach to the debate on the rights of citizens to own guns.

We should also be paying close attention to other possibilities.  A nuclear trigger event, for instance, with Iran and/or North Korea as perpetrators, would make all of this "civil war" worry irrelevant; but an unarmed U.S. citizenry would be nothing more than target practice, in a post-nuclear attack environment. 

President Lincoln warned us about "the approach of danger"-that we must remain "a nation of freemen . . . or die by [national] suicide."   Before we allow the trigger to be pulled on gun ownership rights in America, we must examine (instead of ignore) all of the trigger events leading up to this turning point in our history, as well as any potential unintended consequences of action taken to curb those rights-for if we transmit the wrong signals to either domestic or international antagonists, we might not survive as a nation to correct any errors in judgment.    

*The opinions noted within this article are those of the author, and cannot be attributed to any government or non-government entity to which the author has been associated.

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Cynthia E. Ayers is currently Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. Prior to accepting the Task Force position, she served as Vice President of EMPact Amercia, having retired from the National Security Agency after over 38 years of federal service-a period that included 8 years at the U.S. Army War College's Center for Strategic Leadership.


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