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Guns, bombs and Boston: the wrong arm of the law?

Guns and boston blog
U.S. President Barack Obama with shooting victim and former lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords (L), vice president Joe Biden (R) and family members of Newtown school shooting victims as he speaks on gun control at the White House Wednesday after the Senate blocked gun control law changes. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

As people across the U.S. lament the horrific bombings of the Boston Marathon, they are also urging the authorities to make swift arrests. And they can be confident that, as President Barack Obama vowed, “we will find whoever harmed our citizens and we will bring them to justice.”

There’s little question that when they do arrest a suspect, he’ll be prosecuted to the full extent of the U.S. anti-terror laws.  And that the security checks which have proliferated in airports and other public places will be redoubled. And perhaps, that the laws will be expanded to include even harsher measures against suspected enemies of the state.

In the aftermath of Boston, few would raise their voices against that – especially in Congress, which overwhelmingly approved the sweeping Patriot Act only 45 days after 9/11.

Since then Americans have been wary of terrorist attacks, even in years of calm. According to University of Maryland’s study of attitudes toward terrorism, done before the Boston bombings, about 15 per cent of those surveyed said they’d thought about the possibility of an attack in the preceding week.

Only 10 per cent said they were worried about violent crime.

Is there a disconnect here?

According to the government’s National Counterterrorism Center, since 9/11 – which killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. – some 238 American citizens have died in terrorist attacks before last year. None were on American soil.

Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2008, a total of 272,590 people died of gunshot injuries in the U.S., says the Washington-based Violence Policy Center – an average of 30,288 gun deaths per year. More than 600,000 suffered non-fatal wounds. Others have put the death total at around 20,000 a year.

Between 9/11 and today, seemingly deranged gunmen have opened fire on schools or universities in Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia and most recently, Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 elementary school children and eight others died in a hail of bullets.

Gunmen have stormed a factory in Missouri, a military career centre in Arkansas, a restaurant in Nevada, a movie theatre in Colorado and a political event in an Arizona supermarket, where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was grievously wounded.

But even as American congressfolk weep and pray with bereaved family members, they continue to stonewall the most basic gun controls.

On Wednesday, hard-fought attempts to tighten the gun control laws – including common-sense background checks – went down to defeat in the Senate. Bans on assault-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines are expected to follow.

Time for a modest proposal.

In view of the disproportionate risks, why not ditch the blustering and filibustering and simply flip the laws that apply to would-be gunmen and aspiring terrorists?

The latter could attend explosives fairs to scan the latest bomb-making tools. They could dispense with the inconvenient secrecy and dine out with brokers – not to mention shop around for better deals on their lethal supplies, just as gun-shoppers do.

The former would be followed by the feds, blacklisted by the airlines, data-mined by the Internet providers, wiretapped by the NSA and if caught, treated to lengthy vacations (with “enhanced interrogation” at no extra cost) in Cuba.

Sound fair?  All those in favor, raise your hands…

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights in the former Soviet Union, Middle East, South Asia and the U.S. She has collaborated on several films with director Shelley Saywell, including Devil’s Bargain, on the international arms trade.


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