My answer: I’m not at all sure.
But I was brainstorming the question after reading about the most recent incident of flash mob violence, which occurred in a Brooklyn mall:
A wild flash mob stormed and trashed a Brooklyn mall, causing so much chaos that the shopping center was forced to close during post-Christmas sales, sources said Friday.
More than 400 crazed teens — who mistakenly thought the rapper Fabolous would perform — erupted into brawls all over Kings Plaza Shopping Center in Mill Basin on Thursday at 5 p.m., sources said.
The troublemakers looted and ransacked several stores as panicked shoppers ran for the exits and clerks scrambled to pull down metal gates.
As you can see, there was nothing special—or even especially violent—about this particular eruption compared with past ones. In fact, there was nothing unusual about it as flash mob violence goes, nor about the coverage of it. It appears to have been coordinated through social media. There was some physical violence (and possibly one incident of the knockout game), but most of the mayhem was to store property. Mall security was temporarily overwhelmed. And the race of the perpetrators, although implicit in the article, was never explicitly mentioned.
All in all, typical.
Aside from some sort of re-organizing of culture, society, education, entertainment, parenting, and probably a host of other things that I don’t see on the horizon, is there any remedy? The problem with anything one can easily think of is the mismatch of the number of perpetrators to security personnel. Even if stores were not afraid of lawsuits, arming guards even with something such as mace would be problematic because of the math: no guard or even several guards could mace enough of the teenagers to avoid being swarmed by the rest of them and having the mace grabbed and used against the guard/s. Same goes for guns—only multiply the risks and dangers, including that of lawsuit after an error.
A possible deterrent, of course, would be laws that allow concealed carry. However, would that add to the problem more than it would help? I don’t know the answer to that, either. The problem with a flash mob as opposed to an ordinary criminal is the aforementioned strength in numbers of the former as opposed to any security method that would be used.
I tried to find out whether flash mobs have mostly been confined so far to locations without concealed carry, so that the teens could act without fear of serious retaliation. I couldn’t find anything addressing that exact issue, but it seems to me that the places where these incidents tend to happen (New York, Philadelphia, Chicago) either ban concealed weapons by ordinary citizens or have rules that are so restrictive that concealed weapons are effectively banned, especially in places of public assembly such as malls. Interestingly enough, Chicago (which has had its share of incidents) is in Illinois which has just passed a concealed carry law which is so limiting (see also this) that it’s hard to see how anyone could comply with it except by having the gun in a single location such as their car or place of business. And even in states where concealed carry laws are more lenient, I can foresee a thousand Zimmerman/Martin type cases in the making.
Another approach would be to make flash mob violence a special category of crime subject to harsher penalties. Illinois has recently tried that approach, too, by doubling the sentences for offenders who use social media to organize violent mobs. It’s too early to tell whether this has had any deterrent effect. But again, there’s strength in numbers: what are the odds that any one mob perpetrator will be arrested and suffer any real consequences at all? Probably not very high, and they may factor that into the equation and decide the risk of punishment is very low.
It used to be that mobs like this only assembled to protest or react to something, and then the mob would get out of hand. Now they’re assembled just for the purpose of destructive fun, and because they can organize such things so easily with the tools of social media. It’s no accident, either, that the Brooklyn crowd was hoping to see a rap performance, because most rappers glorify and promote a violent and destructive attitude. Why be surprised when the kids who listen to them take their lead?