All the securitization and blockading of the District in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had one common stated goal: to keep us safe from terrorism. And by the definition the U.S. has come to accept, it worked. There’s been no dirty bomb, no sarin gas strikes, no exploding trucks.
The problem with that definition is that it willfully defines incidents like what happened in the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters on Sept. 16 as something else. It takes a certain kind of national dysfunction to decide that “man with gun murders 12 people and injures three” is categorically different from the sort of thing that’s routinely declared a terrorist attack when it involves any other kind of weapon. Or, for that matter, to decide that the death at someone else’s hand of 91 other people in the District this year—the overwhelming majority also committed by gun—are something different, too. When bombs are involved, it’s terrorism; use bullets, and it’s just something we all have to accept. By now, is there even any point in hoping Congress can rouse itself to do anything to make it even slightly more difficult to acquire guns in the U.S.? (You know, Congress, the folks the rest of the country sends here to congratulate themselves on being able to pass a budget every few years.)
On the crime stats Web page maintained by the Metropolitan Police Department, there’s a strange asterisk next to the 2013 homicide figures. It directs you to this note: “The citywide, year-to-date homicide statistics include the 12 victims of the Washington Navy Yard shooting incident that occurred on September 16, 2013.” Some of these murders shouldn’t count against us, the cops seem to be saying. But even without the Navy Yard shooting, more people were killed in D.C. this year than last. The carnage that late summer day—and the carnage in the District every other day—reminds us that no matter how many trillions of dollars we spend on overseas wars and domestic fortifications, there’s a limit to what we’re even willing to try to do to stay safe.