If the tragedy in Boston proves anything, it's that it really does take a village.
Investigators now are trying to figure out what happened leading up to the attack – how two brothers could become radicalized, how they managed to build the bombs and set them off without being noticed, and whether they were part of some broader violent mission. But the impressive response of Massachusetts – from the locals who followed directions to stay indoors to the police who hunted down and caught the suspects, one of them alive, to the elected officials who not only maintained public calm but managed to stay remarkably focused and clear-headed themselves – shows that we must act together to maintain our very lives.
The country, for the most part, is standing with Boston, and the outpouring of support and financial assistance is a reminder of what is great about this country, our ability to keep a sense of community across a vast and diverse land.
But the episode also exposed a fundamental and troubling divide over the role of government and of the individual. This is a fair and reasonable discussion, but when weapons are involved, it can be a dangerous one.
The pushback was stated most offensively and insensitively by a state representative in Arkansas, Nate Bell. Last Friday morning – while Boston and Watertown's police, state police and the FBI were risking their lives to locate and capture the second bomber, who might well have been booby-trapped, Bell sent out this missive on Twitter:
I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?
The question is ridiculous, for starters. Bostonians – "liberal" or not – were not "cowering," as Bell put it. They were very sensibly following the directive of government officials and police to stay indoors while the experts did their jobs. The fact that people did it is a testament to their respect for the better judgment of the authorities – certainly, they behaved better than the idiots who go out on the oceanfront during a hurricane, daring nature and first responders to stop them.
And what would an individual do with an AR-15? Go door-to-door, ferreting out a man who might well have another bomb on him? That's one way to wind up dead, perhaps taking a lot of other people with you. A single individual with a gun is no match for a suicide bomber. Trained teams of bomb squad technicians and well-protected professional law enforcement officers are a better bet. This, actually, is what the framers of the constitution had in mind when they wrote a Second Amendment referring to "a well-regulated militia."
There is a suspicion of government – any kind of government – in the country that has reached disturbingly absolutist levels. This isn't just about whether the government should collect taxes for the purposes of paving roads (as opposed to having user fees fund it), or whether government has the obligation to provide for vulnerable and needy citizens. This is about a failure to recognize a basic truth: that we cannot do everything on our own, including personal defense.
Even the "citizen" investigations done on the Internet turned out to produce the wrong suspects. But when civilians turned in their cell phone photos and videos to police, the experts figured it out. It took a whole, big village of Bay Staters to find and capture the alleged killers, and that doesn't make us weak. Inter-reliance sows our strength.