Shortly after the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly bombed their own city and a day before they took their armory to Watertown, the U.S. Senate defeated a bi-partisan gun control amendment that aimed to expand background checks for gun buyers. President Obama was furious. Vice President Joe Biden verged on tears, while Newtown families in Washington wept openly.
“We’ll return home now, disappointed but not defeated,” said Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old was one of 20 children shot and killed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. “We return home with a determination that change will happen. Maybe not today, but it will happen. It will happen soon.”
Or perhaps not at all. In the wake of Boston some might see heightened hope for the gun control lobby. Paul M. Barrett at Bloomberg Businessweek sees the opposite:
“I’ll predict that the unrest emanating from Boston will benefit the National Rifle Association and its allies in their campaign for widespread individual firearm ownership. For better or worse, the pro-gun side thrives on heightened anxiety … As any gun manufacturer will tell you, the 9/11 attacks helped sales at firearm counters around the country and strengthened the NRA’s hand in lobbying against greater federal restrictions.”
Arkansas State Representative and long-time NRA member Nate Bell tweeted the following on the weekend: “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” Cain TV —Herman Cain’s TV network—was equally subtle: “Just wondering: wouldn’t it be good right now if everyone in Boston had a gun?”
To follow the NRA’s logic—“the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”—the more good guys with guns, the better. The more gun owners who are “law-abiding citizens”—to use the right’s new favourite expression (“job creators” is so 2012)–the less likely criminals are to shoot up the neighbourhood and hide in your boat. According to the NRA, merely following the law is proof you should have unlimited access to the tools most convenient for breaking it. The gun lobby doesn’t just thrive on fear mongering, or “heightened anxiety,” as Barrett calls it. It thrives on the myth that the law-abiding citizen will never cease to be one. And so its leaders ask, every time a new measure comes before the Senate, every time a violent tragedy strikes somewhere in their country:
Why should harmless, law-abiding citizens, be inconvenienced and insulted with extensive background checks when we have no reason to fear them?
The answer is simple: Until last week we had no apparent reason to fear a person like Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, the “popular” teenage wrestler, handsome stoner, and — at least as far as his father is concerned—“angel” on Earth. Until last week, the brothers Tsarnaev were seemingly harmless, law-abiding citizens. (The older brother’s rumoured domestic violence charge has not yet been verified and there’s nothing illegal about watching unsavoury YouTube videos.) Neither showed any desire to commit mass murder. Everyone’s query, now that four people are dead and nearly 200 are injured, about how two supposedly normal individuals could be capable of such atrocities, is in essence, an answer. It’s the answer to the gun-control, background-check debate: we never know, ultimately, who is capable of evil and who isn’t. We only talk about “root causes” once they’ve torn through the earth and fulfilled their twisted purpose. The Boston Marathon bombing isn’t proof that people need weapons to protect themselves from monsters. It’s proof that any one of us could be a monster. We are all law-abiding citizens until we aren’t.
Why shouldn’t “everyone in Boston have a gun?” Because until last week, Dzhohkar Tsarnaev was everyone. No one today would protect his right to forego an extensive background check on the purchase of a weapon. So why last week? Why ever?