The defendant in the Boston marathon bombing faces a wide range of potential charges, from terrorism to resisting arrest. In the initial criminal complaint filed this week, prosecutors focused on just two crimes: Deadly destruction of property and use of an explosive weapon.
They can add more later. I want to look at that explosives charge, because it’s critical to our security and how we regulate weapons.
It’s a federal crime to possess explosives, or traffic in them, or even distribute certain information about them. That is because there is basically no legitimate private way to use a bomb. You can’t protect your house with an explosive—unless you’re willing to risk the whole house. You can’t defend yourself against an attacker with a grenade, unless you’re willing to murder bystanders in the process.
That’s why Congress has criminalized explosives. In 1994, it even bulked up the penalties for violent crimes committed with explosives. Under that amendment, defendants are more likely to receive the federal death penalty for killing someone with a bomb—rather than with a knife, or a car.
That sliding scale fits a longstanding feature of our criminal code, the justice system weighs the danger and motive associated with a given weapon. Explosives are illegal because they are weapons for attack, not defense. They are designed and operated to assault, not defend.
In plain English, they are assault weapons. So I am going to take a small leap here, and discuss how we should regulate similar weapons.
Each of the characteristics I just discussed apply to the military-style weapons that most democracies ban, like machine guns, M320 grenade launchers, and AR-15s. Those weapons, like bombs, don’t belong on the streets because there are no legitimate uses for them. And just like explosives, they sacrifice precision for maximum impact.
You don’t need an AR-15 to hunt, and no responsible gun owner wants an AR-15 to repel intruders from his apartment. But, as we all know, AR-15s provide a fast killing machine for murderers. They were used to mow down the kids in Newtown. And to murder people at that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
We’re going to hear a lot about security after Boston and when we talk about public safety, to me bombs and assault weapons are the same.
So, don’t let the NRA or their friends in D.C. tell you any differently.