18 Apr 2013

Retaining arms amid a sea of troubles

Under a pristine blue canopy of sky Boston looks glorious on this perfect spring day. On Tremont street below the magnolias flanking one of America’s oldest and most historic cemeteries are in lush bloom. In the distance the Charles River and the dreaming spires of Harvard glint in the morning sun.

In my room cable television is breathless with hyperbole, unsure which horrific story to turn to: for now the apocalyptic fire at a fertilizer plant near Waco Texas is the lead.

Hundreds are injured. Dozens could be dead. Now a hail storm with strong gales could douse the flames in and around the plant, but they could also blow the toxic ammonia clouds towards more populated areas. As if this wasn’t enough there is now a tornado watch in an area that looks as if it has already been rearranged by one. The blast was so big it measured 2.5 on the Richter scale. It could be felt 25 miles away.

The screen whooshes and suddenly we are back in Boston where there are now two possible suspects in the Monday marathon massacre. Another whoosh and we are informed that a Mississippi man has been arrested for sending letters containing deadly ricin poison to President Obama and a US senator.

Outside on the road a sudden burst of sirens remind me that the President and First Lady are coming here to pray with the survivors and for the victims of the massacre.

The screen goes to black before showing Mr Obama, angrier than I have ever seen him, shaming the Senators who last night extinguished any hopes of meaningful gun controls.

I consistently predicted that a ban on assault weapons or large gun magazines would never fly. But I really didn’t expect universal background checks, a measure favored by ninety percent of the country, to bite the dust too.

The NRA has achieved a victory that seemed well nigh impossible in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre. It is a shameful day for Washington, the President thundered.

Indeed. Since Sandy Hook, the worst day of his presidency, he has given 13 speeches up and down the country, criss crossed the nation and invested precious political capital from his re-election in a measure that had real emotional and moral weight. He failed.

The mothers and fathers of dead children at Newtown have failed. Gabbi Giffords, the Arizona Congress Woman who was almost killed by a gunman has failed. The gun lobby has won.

Mr. Obama has declared war on those senators who opposed the gun reform bill, which was careful to preserve most Second Amendment rights. He called them liars for distorting the nature of the bill and for being too afraid for their political hides to care about the safety of children.

The gloves have long come off. The knuckle dusters have come on. The ugliness of politics now depends on who was behind the Boston massacre and why.

It would be easier for America if it was a foreign plot. Because when it comes to homegrown violence, April is already the cruellest month.

This is the week in history that saw the Columbine massacre, the Virginia Tech massacre and the Waco massacre.

Monday was tax day, the day the federal government intrudes into people’s sacred pockets, according to Tea Party extremists.

It was also Patriot’s day, when the new American settlers rose up against the tyranny of King George Third.

How many times have gun rights purists told me in recent months that the second amendment compels them to resist the tyranny of government, including the elected government of President Obama.

The tragedies this week are probably unconnected but they have reminded America of the biggest battle tearing this nation apart: for some it is a war waged by a tyrannical government on free individuals. For others it is a war waged by tyrannical individuals against an elected government.

These battles are far more toxic than ricin in an envelope or anhydrous ammonia in the Texas air.

Tweets by @mattfrei