The thriving metropolis of Boston was turned into a ghost town on an otherwise lovely Friday afternoon. Nearly a million Bostonians were asked to stay in their homes – and willingly complied. Schools were closed; business shuttered; trains, subways and roads were empty; usually busy streets eerily resembled a post-apocalyptic movie set; even baseball games and cultural events were cancelled – all in response to a 19-year-old fugitive, who was on foot and clearly identified by the news media. While Boston officials appeared to be acting out of an abundance of caution — and it’s appropriate for residents to be asked to take precautions or keep their eyes open — by letting one fugitive terrorist shut down a major American city, Boston not only bowed to outsize and irrational fears, but sent a dangerous message to every would-be terrorist. If you want to wreak havoc in the United States, intimidate its population and disrupt public order, here’s your instruction booklet.
In April, I wrote a piece for the Guardian arguing that the reaction to the Marathon bombing was dramatically at odds with American inertia over arms control. The infographic below illustrates some of my main points.
If only Americans reacted the same way to the actual threats that exist in their country. Last year 17 Americans died in terrorist attacks; more than 30,000 died at the hands of guns. In fact, the same day of the Marathon bombing in Boston, 11 Americans were murdered by guns — a small percentage of the more than 3,500 Americans who have died in gun violence since the Newtown massacre in December. Yet, the same week as the Boston manhunt, the Senate blocked consideration of a gun control bill that would have strengthened background checks for potential buyers. Even though this reform is supported by more than 90% of Americans, and even though 56 out of 100 senators voted in favor of it, the Republican minority prevented even a vote being held on the bill because it would have allegedly violated the Second Amendment rights of “law-abiding Americans.”
So for those of you keeping score at home – locking down an American city: a proper reaction to the threat from one terrorist. A background check to prevent criminals or those with mental illness from purchasing guns: a dastardly attack on civil liberties.