Will gun bill die while we mourn Boston?

Mile 26 of the tragic Boston Marathon was dedicated to the 26 victims of Newtown. Now their families may lose again

Published April 16, 2013 5:46PM (EDT)

Mourners listen to a memorial service over a loudspeaker outside Newtown High School for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.         (AP/David Goldman)
Mourners listen to a memorial service over a loudspeaker outside Newtown High School for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (AP/David Goldman)

Against the backdrop of the Boston Marathon tragedy, it feels unspeakably sad that even compromise gun control legislation looks to be doomed in the Senate. Bombs, not guns, were used in the Boston attack – trauma surgeons say they’ve pulled pellets and nails out of the bombing victims; some had between 10 and 40 pieces of shrapnel inside them. The Associated Press is reporting that the explosives may have been made with pressure cookers along with metal and ball bearings.

But on a day when the forces of violence have clearly achieved a temporary victory – the forces of good always win in the end, as Patton Oswalt beautifully notes -- our failure to combat the most common source of violence in our culture, the proliferation and easy availability of guns, seems particularly tragic. The fact that today is also the sixth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre adds just another layer of poignance to the news. While xenophobes obsess about a possible Muslim or al-Qaida role in the bombing, we ignore the most obvious ways to keep ourselves safer: by cracking down on automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and the loopholes that let evil people kill so easily.

There’s at least one connection between Boston and the gun bill’s stalling: Earlier today Sen. Joe Manchin told Politico he was counting on an appearance by Tucson shooting survivor Gabby Giffords to back the legislation sponsored by Manchin and GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, which would expand background checks and close the so-called gun show loophole.

But Giffords reportedly canceled her appearance due to the Boston tragedy.

It’s hard to watch the NRA win a victory particularly at this moment. The NRA, after all, has worked to hobble the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency, which investigates certain types of domestic terrorism. But when the New York Times Nicholas Kristof tweeted

explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-02-01/wor…

—Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof)

Right-wingers went apoplectic and Politico harrumphed, and Kristof deleted his tweet and apologized.

But there was nothing wrong with Kristof’s observation: The right-wing politics hamstringing the ATF have been reprehensible. Likewise, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce has been pilloried for noting that the bombing occurred on Patriots' Day, which celebrates the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which were actually fought on April 19, a day that has practically become a right-wing militia-survivalist-patriot holiday. Tim McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City’s Murrah federal building that day.

Pierce was replying to the nut-job who asked Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, “Is this another false flag attack to take away our civil liberties?” (Yes, the Alex Jones line.) In that context it was entirely defensible to raise McVeigh and his domestic terrorist pals.

There has also been plenty of reporting on a Saudi student seen at the site who has been repeatedly questioned by authorities. Most recent reports suggest he’s not a suspect, and has cooperated with the investigation. There was nothing wrong with reporting on this student’s questioning – unless you used him as evidence that this was another jihadi attack, like Crazy Pam Geller. There was likewise nothing wrong with mentioning the evil of Timothy McVeigh and the anti-government ire that motivated his killing. No one on the left has tried to argue that Boston is the work of right-wing anti-government loons.

I’m surprised there’s not more mention of Eric Rudolph, who was responsible for our last tragic sports-event terrorism: the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. Rudolph, of course, turned out to be an antiabortion terrorist who had also murdered abortion providers. In a piece about how the Boston Marathon bombing may affect us more than 9/11, because of where it took place, the National Journal’s Ron Fournier suggests we may now fear terror at sporting events -- but he doesn’t mention Rudolph’s Atlanta bombing – and churches.

But there’s already been terrorism at churches: Steven Roeder shot Dr. George Tiller in the eye, while Tiller was serving as an usher at his Wichita Lutheran church five years ago. I’m not blaming Fournier: Overall throughout this 24 hours of coverage I’ve been struck by how little the constant low-level terrorism against abortion providers has penetrated our national consciousness.

And now it looks like our fledgling attempts at beefing up gun control may die the same week as this tragedy. What’s even sadder, Mile 26 of the marathon, where the bombing occurred, was dedicated to the 26 victims of the Newtown massacre. We fail them, and we fail the victims of the Boston bombing, by surrendering to the bullies who protect guns and neuter government agencies like the ATF and make all of us less safe.

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Boston Boston Explosions Gun Control Guns Nra Pam Geller