So Fucking What.


This graphic rolled through my feed this morning. This started as a repost with a couple of lines worth of comment, and snowballed.

I’ve never heard the word “taggant” before, but I assume it’s a way to imprint explosive residue with a unique, traceable signature, which would enable forensic investigators to know, depending on how carefully the system was planned, where it was formulated, perhaps what batch, perhaps what store or supplier, maybe even the customer (with a warrant). It seems to me that being able to track weapons of destruction, mass or otherwise, is a good idea on its face, but is that the case?

So, conservative and gun-loving friends, is this an uncomfortable fact about the NRA that you’d rather wasn’t widely known, or is it a constructed Star Trek fiction that seeks only to villify said venerable organization? I do, mind you, see the NRA as villains, but I don’t think that stacking the deck with falsehoods will make any such truth shine brighter – this doesn’t really change the debate at all, and it especially is not a “look what the NRA are doing now!” complaint.

That said, explosives have one purpose – to blow things up – and it is not in the least bit unreasonable to think that there ought to be some form of record being kept at every stage of the life cycle of a stick of dynamite. If science has given us a way to make any part of that record indelible, then to not make use of it is to stand by and allow murder to happen… and if this assertion is verifiably true (ie. if taggants work as this image suggests they do), then to actively block its implementation, in my opinion, makes those who do so accomplices to said murders.

But don’t believe every meme that you read. There is a much wider range of things than commercial explosives that are potentially a threat, such as the fertilizer used in Oklahoma; can fertilizers also be tagganted in a reliable way? It’s true that psychopaths are often quite cunning in finding new ways to be sneaky, but in terms of weaponizable, off-the-shelf substances, there has to a finite list of things which could be used in IEDs, and I doubt that edibility is a concern for any of them, so I suspect that taggants could just as easily be added to anything that explodes , whether under fire or pressure.

This leaves either economics or lack of reliability as the only real pins for opposition to implementing these taggants as an aid for murder investigations. The NRA, according to my google search, opposed it on the basis that the taggants would result in a modification of the data on how well the explosive or flammable substance (whatever – we’re talking about stuff that can be used to kill, if you’re gonna quibble with me about what phrases I use you can go take it up with the rest of the politicians and leave me out of it) performed. The thing I read used phrases like “pressure curves” and “reloading data” that I do not understand, but of which I can grasp the general meaning. The other assertion, apparently, is that they don’t work reliably in the first place.

On the question of economics, there was an assertion that there would be “millions” of dollars spent making new data tables so that people who design machines that kill and destroy can calculate their area of effect with absolute scientific accuracy, I say simply, So Fucking What. Even if it cost a billion dollars, So Fucking What? The government can afford to spend billions a day on bombing Iraq, they can afford to subsidize a few million to implement a system that will, at least in some cases, enable their investigators to find at least some small idea of the supply chain that led from a legitimate manufacturer to the basement of a mass murderer. If money is your opposition to taggants, then I submit that you have very skewed priorities, to say the least. To both the big chemical companies, AND to governments, millions of dollars are very, very easy. If they weren’t, Iraq wouldn’t hate America right now.

Which leaves the question of efficacy alone as the only opposition to this. And I say again, if it doesn’t always work, So Fucking What. The people who bombed Boston got their explosives somewhere. Chances are, that explosive could have been tagged. There is a chance that, if this program was already in place, ATF agents would be visiting the store or warehouse or factory that the explosive materials came from, looking at security video, maybe even knocking on the door of whoever bought it, finding out it got stolen, whatever.

Unless the actual unit cost of these chemicals makes it prohibitive, is a tagging program not worth it, if it results in the capture of a single bomber? Even if the taggants only work with, say, 25% accuracy, that’s 25% of cases like this (and there are enough bombings, and the death toll of a bombing is high enough that that number matters) where at least one solid lead will be available immediately to the people who most need it. With that in mind, and with what I’ve heard from Wayne LaPierre and from what I’ve read in American Rifleman, I think any rational person reading this will join me in taking the NRA’s assertions that taggants don’t actually work that well with a kilogram or so of salt.

And if none of that works for you, stipulate the worst excesses of expense and ask yourself this: if Timothy McVeigh had never been caught, and a government expenditure of a billion dollars was capable of revealing his identity, could you vote against spending that billion dollars and ever look a resident of Oklahoma City in the eye again?


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