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MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell Blames NRA For Slowing Down Investigation In Boston Bombing

Jeffrey Meyer's picture

Lawrence O’Donnell apparently has absolutely no shame. Speaking on his MSNBC program The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell on Wednesday night, O’Donnell asserted that the National Rifle Association's (NRA) successful lobbying efforts in Congress were hindering the federal criminal investigation in the Boston Marathon bombing.

In his opening monologue, O’Donnell absurdly thundered that the “NRA's effort to guarantee that American mass murderers are the best-equipped mass murders in the world is not limited to murderers who use assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”  O’Donnell’s vitriol did not stop there. Instead, he doubled down claiming that the NRA is, “in the business of helping bombers get away with their crimes.”   [See video after jump.  MP3 audio here.]

Of course it's unhinged pablum, but O'Donnell defended it by claiming that the NRA was culpbable because of their efforts to thwart the tracing of "taggants":

Gunpowder could be traced by investigators to a buyer at the point of sale if gunpowder contained a taggant. An element that would enable tracing of the purchase of gunpowder but thanks to the National Rifle Association, identification taggants are required by law only in plastic explosives. The NRA has successfully blocked any requirements for such taggants in gunpowder. So such supremely helpful evidence as taggants are not available to the FBI in this investigation.

O’Donnell is correct that the use of taggants could potentially help in identifying the origin of certain bombs but he ignores the rationale behind the NRA’s objections in 1995.  

According to the Seattle Times, at the time of the debate, “Opponents said the government had not proved the devices were safe. Tampering with explosives could put miners and others who work with them at risk, the Institute of Makers of Explosives said. Opponents also argued that the taggant program would be too expensive.”

So professionals involved in the making of industrial explosives noted that taggants might make legitimately-purposed explosives harmful to the miners and other professionals who use them on the job site.

In addition, the NRA had similar safety concerns about taggants in gunpowder, likening it to federal registration of firearms.  In 1996, U.S. News & World Report ran a story showing that the NRA was extremely concerned with whether taggants could affect the stability of explosives:

That's the chief concern of the NRA in regard to black and smokeless gunpowders, which are used by millions of sportsmen. Some 28 percent of bombings involve gunpowder--usually in pipe bombs--so experts believe they'd be crucial to a taggant program. But testing by the Office of Technology Assessment did reveal potential problems when taggants were mixed with smokeless powders.

 As a result in 1996, Congress approved an NRA-backed proposal that an independent body, “examine all technologies that allow explosives to be detected before a terrorist or criminal explodes his bomb in addition to those that will identify the explosive after a blast.” 

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) which completed the study announced four major findings:

  • Bombs using black and smokeless powders account for a small number of deaths and injuries each year. (Annually, 10 deaths and approximately 100 injuries.)
  • Information gathered by the BATF and the FBI regarding bombings is incomplete.
  • An effective taggant system with the associated record keeping would incur significant costs.
  • No taggant system has been found that is technically feasible for use in black and smokeless powders.

The NAS then specifically recommended that, “Identification taggants in black and smokeless powder should not be implemented at the present time."

In other words, sound science cuts against the use of taggants. As a host for a network that insists conservatives are anti-science, isn't it well, anti-science of O'Donnell to not heed the findings of a professional scientific body?

I suppose not, not when it cuts against a liberal policy agenda or a cynical talking point to insist that the NRA has Boston blood on its hands.

 

See relevant transcript below. 


MSNBC

The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell

April 17, 2013

10:02 p.m. EDT

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: There are new developments tonight in the bombing investigation here in Boston. But that investigation could be moving faster were it not for the successful lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association. The NRA's effort to guarantee that American mass murderers are the best-equipped mass murders in the world is not limited to murderers who use assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The NRA is also in the business of helping bombers get away with their crimes. Gunpowder could be traced by investigators to a buyer at the point of sale if gunpowder contained a taggant. An element that would enable tracing of the purchase of gunpowder but thanks to the National Rifle Association, identification taggants are required by law only in plastic explosives. The NRA has successfully blocked any requirements for such taggants in gunpowder. So such supremely helpful evidence as taggants are not available to the FBI in this investigation. The FBI tells NBC News it is following some promising leads. One in particular, video and images collected by authorities showing someone carrying a heavy backpack or duffle bag and placing it at the spot where the second bomb went off. Key evidence is also being obtained from footage captured by a security camera above one of the bomb sites. That camera was on top of the Lord & Taylor department store on Boylston Street just over here one block away. Despite conflicting reports today in the media, none of which originated from this network, there has been no arrest of any individual or individuals at this time. The FBI and Boston police are calling for restraint from the news media. Adding to the confusion here in Boston today, the federal courthouse was evacuated earlier this afternoon. Employees were given what is known as a code red order to leave as a result of a bomb scare. We've also obtained more photos of evidence collected from the bomb sites. Here's a closer look at the fragments left from the pieces of a pressure cooker. NBC News' Pete Williams points out that one of the pressure cooker lids ended up on the roof of a nearby building because the force of the explosion was so great. This photo shows bb’s and a nail believed to be part of the shrapnel in one of the bombs along what could be the zipper from one of those black backpacks or nylon bags authorities have mentioned. Investigators now know the type of batteries use and Michael Isikoff reports they were in a battery pack made by a company in California used to power toy cars and often for sale in hobby shops. Officials have opened up more of the area around the crime scene, focusing their investigation primarily on those two explosion points and the stretch of Boylston Street in between them.