Terrorism, whether practiced in the U.S. or overseas, can be defined as a deliberate act of violence to instill fear in a target audience. We fight terrorism when we stay calm but resolute; we abet terrorists when our response is to panic or try to foment panic in others.
This past weekend, the CEO of the National Rifle Association stood up on a stage in Houston and chose to follow the latter route, linking the recent bombings in Boston with gun ownership — or a lack thereof. "How many Bostonians," the NRA's Wayne LaPierre asked, "wish they had a gun two weeks ago?"
He then painted a portrait of Boston as a city quivering in fear during the marathon bombings and the manhunt that followed. Many of those innocent families living in a big city where firearm ownership is discouraged, Mr. LaPierre insisted, lacked the means to defend themselves from "whatever may come crashing through the door."
Surely, alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could not have hoped for a better accomplice after the fact. We don't know what Massachusetts community Mr. LaPierre was observing, but what we saw were people standing up to terrorism, following directions to stay indoors when necessary, and providing investigators with vital information where possible.
As for firearm ownership, we don't recall armed private citizens repelling the suspects. Had the brothers' carjacking victim had a gun in his vehicle, for instance, would that have made a difference? The driver was text messaging at the moment they arrived and hardly in a position to do much more than comply with their wishes. If anything, it might have put him at greater risk.
What we did see were law enforcement agents — as legally armed in Massachusetts as they are anywhere else — respond with impressive courage and overwhelming force. If there was a piece of technology that deserves a nod, it wasn't any firearm but a more benign example of modern ingenuity called "the video surveillance camera" that appeared to do much of the heavy lifting in this particular criminal investigation.
How many Bostonians wished they'd owned a gun two weeks ago? No doubt some. But it's difficult to believe a single one of these private gun-owners would have made a difference. Or that this sudden desire to have a gun at hand was anything close to the majority view. Many of us recognize the hidden cost of gun ownership — accidental shootings and deliberate suicides, or the risk that it will be used in a domestic dispute or be stolen and ultimately fall into the hands of criminals.
Yet there was Mr. LaPierre in Texas once again painting the nation's circumstances as extraordinarily dire with the only hope being the proliferation of firearms in every apartment, home, college dorm and coffee shop. This may be the message of gun manufacturers and sellers, it is not what the United States of America is all about.
Responsible people — aside from criminals and the seriously mentally ill, for instance — have a right to own a gun. And anyone, Mr. LaPierre included, has a right to speak their minds. But the rest of us also have a right to observe the consequences of free speech and seek reasonable limits on ownership of certain types of weapons, like requiring background checks.
Wasn't it just a few months ago that this same man was scolding those who favor restrictions on gun ownership for "taking advantage" of Newtown shooting victims? Clearly, it's only "exploiting" tragedy when it's done in the name of gun control.
When London was facing a bombing blitz, Winston Churchill didn't advise its citizens to panic and buy more guns. President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't suggest the answer to "fear itself" was to keep a gun by the door. And after 9/11, even George W. Bush wasn't looking for a civilian militia but for justice. "We will not tire, we will not falter, we will not fail," he said.
When 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans favor background checks for gun ownership and the NRA uses its considerable influence to thwart the public's will, and when that same organization is quick to suggest a terrorist attack is a lesson of fear and victimhood, one has to ask: What is the agenda here? Whose side are they on?