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Travis Rowley: Lessons From Boston’s Post-Bombing Lockdown

Saturday, April 20, 2013


“A guy was pinned down on the ground, getting searched. So I thought [the officer] was going to search my car…People coming into the house, searching the house…They just keep on coming up back into the house, looking in the house…There’s all SWAT in the backyard and dogs sniffing everything…They told everyone to lie down on the ground, not to do anything.” – Resident, Greater Boston

In the midst of the ongoing debate over the 2nd Amendment, I discovered lessons to be learned from the events in Boston this week.

Let me start with this: Owning a gun is not a natural right. After all, how can a firearm be a natural right if man had to invent and manufacture it?

But the right to defend oneself is a natural right. So, as long as an armed government rules over a people, those people should never be stripped of weapons that could counter potential government aggression. The challenge of the 2nd Amendment controversy has always been to imagine what such a scenario might look like, and how it might unfold – and then to leave a satisfactory amount of firepower in the hands of the people.

With that said, it may surprise nobody that this writer has no qualms over assault rifles or 20-round magazines.


Immediately following Monday afternoon’s terrorist attack, officers of various agencies began to swarm the streets of Boston, zealously occupying the entire city. After the initial emergency response by local rescue personnel, a secondary wave included columns of State Police vehicles, SWAT teams, and military personnel.

During the days following the attack, an extra-police presence would characterize the city. In addition to the “special forces” now occupying and patrolling Boston, agents from numerous Massachusetts towns were called in to make sure every street corner was manned. Two officers standing outside an Attleboro police vehicle secured a street adjacent to Massachusetts Avenue – where I spent much of my time this week.

Beat-up, undercover vehicles whipped by me a couple of times, lights flashing, the officers dressed in street clothes.

At times the city went into “lockdown” – periods when Boston residents were ordered to remain indoors, and accept door-to-door sweeps of certain neighborhoods.

There was no mistaking it. Bostonians were suffering a police state.

They were also simultaneously embracing a police state.

For the most part, the city’s residents were allowed to undergo their usual routines, albeit forced to tolerate the heightened surveillance – for their own good and for their own protection, as it was explained to them by Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas Menino, and other government officials.

From what I could tell, everyone within the city had the same sense of trust and willingness to cooperate with the escalation in security as I did – deciding that what was happening was necessary and sincerely aimed at pursuing justice and returning the city to safe conditions.

But I also couldn’t have been the only one who was a little creeped out.

A few surveillance cameras mounted on traffic lights have nothing on the unmistakable presence of armed government officers on every street corner – charged with observing you.

My better judgment informed me that – if a little bit of fear is all it takes to justify citywide supervision, home arrest, and unwarranted searches – then something that would secure us from such “security” must be enshrined into law.

A Civil Society

I did begin to imagine a scenario more ambiguous – a police state that reasonable people could deem unnecessary. Having experienced benevolent tyranny in Boston, malicious tyranny suddenly didn’t seem all that difficult to establish.

Not only was I reminded that the final protection from potential oppression is the 2nd Amendment – the allowance for an armed citizenry – but also that it is a wonderful tool for stripping the hubris from a weaponized government; that the 2nd Amendment helps to avoid that situation altogether.

In Boston, government weapons were surrounded by other civilian weapons – and there was relative peace and trust between the people and their government. Those aren’t the conditions that some people would predict.

One might conclude that the 2nd Amendment made all the difference this week; that it has commanded over the years the establishment of a police culture that “serves and protects;” that it has allowed the American system to work, giving Bostonians the confidence this week to know that the uniformed men monitoring them and patrolling their neighborhoods weren’t fascists – they wouldn’t dare – but rather “first responders,” worthy of the term “hero” that we so often like to honor them with.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is the author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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