Tracking The Weapons of Homeland Terrorists

There is new talk of tracking cars for terrorism. There is international praise for tracking terrorists with cameras. This would logically lead to a tracking program for the most violent weapon in the United States.

Not a chance. The United States is as illogical as ever on guns.

The Globe reported this week that hundreds of thousands of stolen cars in the United States go untracked because few states share motor vehicle information. Many are sold overseas. Dozens end up as car bombs in Iraq. The FBI says, "we're on something of a crusade" to get all 50 states into a database. The Justice Department warns that disguised or cloned vehicle identification numbers are "particularly appealing to terrorist organizations."

After the breakup of the latest London terror plot, many people praised the role played by surveillance cameras. "That has the effect of reducing the fear and terror that the attackers hoped to create," RAND terrorism expert Brian Jenkins recently told the Christian Science Monitor.

Playing on fear, US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently told the Chicago Tribune editorial board that without better ways to track immigration, "I guarantee you we will lose the race with the terrorists."

For all that, Congress continues to bless Homeland Terrorism.

Never mind that firearms kill nearly 30,000 people a year, roughly eight times the approximately 3,600 US soldiers killed in our four years in Iraq. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted 40-26 against loosening up the "Tiahrt Amendment," the four-year-old provision of Republican Todd Tiahrt of Kansas that severely limits the use of data that tracks a gun from the manufacturer to a gun shop to the user in a crime.

In June, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 19-10 to make criminals out of cops and prosecutors who use data for any purpose other than for a specific investigation. It did not matter that 230 mayors from more than 40 states want much more information on illegal gun trafficking that tortures their cities, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that Boston Mayor Menino helped found. Menino said last week, "It is time Washington stopped ignoring the tragedies of violence being caused by illegal guns in our cities and towns."

The resounding votes are one more proof that the Democrats, despite their new majority in the House and the Senate, are still cowards.

The Democrats hardly get any money from the National Rifle Association, as 85 percent of the NRA's $18.7 million in campaign contributions since 1990 have gone to Republicans. But the NRA cunningly sways the nation's sanity by giving critical chump change to Democrats in southern states or rural, heavy-hunting regions. Seventy-one percent of police departments studied by the Police Executive Research Forum reported an increase in homicide from 2004 to 2006. But in June, the NRA publicly thanked Democrats Robert Byrd of Virginia, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska for voting with Senate Republicans to restrict gun data.

In his interview with the Chicago Tribune, Chertoff said he was worried that "we are entering a period this summer of increased risk." He said "summertime seems to be appealing" to terrorists. He said "We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities." He said his comments were based on a "gut feeling."

The carnage of Homeland Terrorism has yet to inspire a gut check. The drip of firearms deaths does not hit the news like terror plots in London or 70 Iraqi civilians being killed in suicide bombings, perhaps in a car stolen in the United States. But the total annual number is not far from the estimated 34,000 Iraqi civilians estimated to be killed in last year's violence according to the United Nations.

Chertoff warns "we could easily be attacked." For that, we need every tracking tool available for Homeland Security. He fretted, "What do you think is going to happen to your business when a guy comes across the border with a phony document and blows up a target in Buffalo or Detroit? Do you think the American public is then going to allow the border to remain open?"

In Homeland Terrorism, guns that come across state borders are used to kill scores of people in our Buffalos and Detroits and the American public does not even get a chance to debate about the borders remaining open. That is because the National Rifle Association is our border agent, ignoring the tragedies.

Derrick Z. Jackon's e-mail address is

(c) Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe

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