Mark Steel: If every Boston marathon runner had a gun, they’d be safe, right?

This is the logic of the US gun lobby, although it might be tricky with sprint races, as every runner would instinctively fire on the poor sod who fired the starting gun


The National Rifle Association in America will be preparing its statement. Each time a nutcase goes berserk with a gun, the NRA insists that this proves everyone should have a gun, so in a couple of days it’ll announce that the only way to respond to events in Boston is for every citizen to have a nail bomb.

In particular, marathon runners, instead of taking a bottle of water and a sponge at each stage of the race, which are useless in the fight against international terrorism, should be handed a grenade and a flamethrower.

The logic of the lobby that last week defeated the attempt to introduce gun controls must be that this is the only way to keep marathons safe. It might be trickier with sprint races, as the starting gun would go off and every runner would instinctively shoot at the poor sod who fired it, which might make race-starting a difficult post to fill. But the right to carry a nail bomb is surely a constitutional right of every US citizen.

People such as the pro-gun campaigners exhibit a special sort of genius. At a time such as last weekend, when you wouldn’t think you could feel anything but sympathy for Americans, they manage to make you think: “Mind you, quite a few of them are bloody creepy.”

For example, on the night that the surviving bomber was captured, you might expect a mood of sombre relief. But CNN showed cheering crowds, and the reporter described the atmosphere as “ elated, excited and jubilant”. Then we saw them chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A”, and some of them let off fireworks.

Maybe the anxiety had disturbed them and caused them to get the capture of a lunatic mixed up with New Year’s Eve. Perhaps the same thing happened here, so that when Raoul Moat was shot the local community held hands and sang “Auld Lang Syne” and snogged their next door neighbour.

“We got ’em, we GOT ’EM,” roared a series of men, waving flags into cameras as if they’d won an Olympic medal. And once the story wasn’t so much a human tragedy as a triumph for the USA, I couldn’t help thinking “Oh, you ARE masterful aren’t you, managing with no more resources than the army, SWAT teams, marines, an assortment of helicopters, the FBI and the entire population of Boston to track down a lunatic covered in blood who’d been shot through the neck and was wriggling about in a boat in someone’s garden. I wonder who you’ll meet in the SECOND round of the World Hide and Seek championships.”

The strangest part is that this excitement doesn’t usually happen on the occasions that a madman in America gets captured after going on the rampage in a school or shopping centre with the machine-guns he’s constitutionally entitled to carry. For example, there were no joyous celebrations when James Holmes was captured after blasting 12 people dead in a cinema in Denver. I suppose that, unlike in Boston, the people of Denver just aren’t party-going types.

Or it could be that there’s a rule that the capture of a dangerous criminal is only a victory for America if the criminal can be portrayed as not American. Because if you’re going to go on a killing spree in America, you should at least have the decency to be American. There must be some people saying: “It’s a disgrace. These Chechen lunatics are coming over here taking our lunatics’ jobs.”

When it was known the bombers were nice and foreign, the fun could start. Bob Beckel, a reporter on Fox News, informed viewers this was the time to “cut off Muslim students from coming into the country”. The New America Foundation in Washington, which influences the government, declared that the problem was whether Muslims see themselves as “Americans first or Muslims first”. New York Senator Steve King was one of many who concluded: “We must increase surveillance amongst Muslims.”

But Adam Lanza, who went nuts in December with a gun in a school in Connecticut, was said to be from a “good Christian family”. So, at some point presumably, the government will be told that Christians have to decide whether they’re “Americans first or Christians first”. Maybe it will be acceptable if they’re from a bad Christian family, but good Christians are clearly lethal.

And James Holmes was a committed Presbyterian. So Fox News will demand that Protestants aren’t allowed into America as students. Anyone working too hard will be monitored as a potential terrorist, Senator Steve King will demand increased surveillance among people who sing along to Songs of Praise, and reporters will scream that the country’s become so soft that it lets prisoners at Guantanamo Bay wear orange, which is exactly what they want, the Protestant crackpots. “I suppose we’ll give them all a flute next,” they’ll gasp.

There is another America, in which thousands of Boston people gave blood to help victims of the bomb.

There is another America, in which thousands of Boston people gave blood to help victims of the bomb, and tens of thousands have already registered for next year’s marathon. But these acts can end up submerged, beneath the more important need to let off fireworks and yell about Muslims.

And if it turns out that these particular Muslims have responded to the war in Chechnya by concluding that if armies come into your area with bombs then the only sensible way to behave is to make sure you’ve got bombs of your own, they ought to be offered a free year’s membership to the National Rifle Association.

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