Nobody knows why he did it. But that hasn't stopped them speculating. In retrospect, from the testimony of those who knew him, there were signs. But nobody could have predicted anything on this scale. What influences came to bear? What motives could there be? What would drive a young man to wilfully murder as many innocents as possible, leaving the country both vulnerable and mournful?
I pose these questions not of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old chief surviving suspect in the Boston bombing saga that left three dead and injured more than 170 last week, but of Adam Lanza, who shot 20 children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut in December. The contradictions in the political responses to the two tragedies and the issues they raise could not be more glaring or obscene.
On Monday the Boston Marathon was bombed. Within a day of suspects being identified, politicians who defended the status quo on guns were calling for "increased surveillance of Muslims" and addressing "loopholes in the immigration system" (Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a firefight, grew up in Kyrgyzstan).
On Wednesday the Senate declined to pass even the most anaemic gun control measures in response to the Newtown shootings. Twenty children, aged between six and seven, are slaughtered in school and the American polity takes five months to decide do nothing. Unable to break the filibuster limit, it didn't even come to a vote. Hiding behind the National Rifle Association's (NRA) talking points, gun rights senators cloaked themselves in the constitution, insisting support for gun control would violate the second amendment "right to bear arms".
While the authorities denied the still unconscious Dzhokhar his Miranda rights (informing him that he has the right to remain silent), some Republicans insisted he be tried as "an enemy combatant" – the legal aberration and moral abomination that paved the way to Guantánamo Bay. Their devotion to constitutional rights, it turns out, is partial; their embrace of guns is complete. The NRA even opposes legislation banning gun sales to people on the terrorist watchlist, meaning those who can't board a flight can still lock and load.
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