Big, bad, banned bomb books
By Claire Wolfe
Something went bump in the night. In fact, something went BOOOOM! Rattle! WOOF!, as the windows shook and the dogs leapt from sleep. An explosion. A mystery.
In the morning, half of Hardyville wandered toward the sound. I found folks standing outside a band of yellow tape in the middle of a sagebrush field, about a mile from town. Inside the tape stood ... not much. There was a hole in the ground where Nat Lyons' grandma's cabin used to be. The cabin had been used for storage. Now it would be kindling.
The Hardy County sheriff paced within the tape, inspecting and occasionally spitting. Everyone else helped out by speculating.
"Who'd do somethin' like that?"
"Well, you know who it had to be," said a gossip, nodding toward the not-to-distant spot where the odd Young Curmudgeon lived in his squatters dugout.
"Naw," said Nat, on whose land the kid squats. "Not him."
But who else in Hardyville would?
"What do you suppose they used," someone asked. "It smells funny."
"Shouldn't the sheriff call in the ATF?" Dora-the-Yalie asked. "Aren't they supposed to investigate explosions?"
Everyone stared at Dora's East-Coasty self. Then Mrs. Nat kindly took her aside to explain exactly why the ATF would never set foot in Hardy County, except over the sheriff's dead body.
The rest of us watched and speculated.
"You know," Carty observed during a pause in the whodunnits. "If that new Juvenile Justice Bill passes, somebody could get 20 years in federal prison for this."
"Go on! Twenty years for blowing up an old shed?"
"Nope. Twenty years for writing a book or an article that told how to."
"Nope, that's Congress."
"'Zat true?" someone asked, turning to me.
I nodded. "What the bill actually says sounds reasonable. But what it means is a different thing. The bill says it'll be illegal '... to distribute by any means information pertaining to ... the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, with the intent that the teaching, demonstration, or information be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence.'"
"Nothin' wrong with that," someone shrugged. "I mean, it's only illegal if you actually intend for somebody to commit a crime with the information."
"Yeah, but you're forgetting -- this is the government. The Supreme Court ruled not long ago that Paladin Press could be sued because some customer bought its book Hit Man and used the information to kill three people. Never mind that Paladin didn't even know the buyer. Never mind that the book was written by some housewife who got all the info watching TV. The court said Paladin should have known a complete stranger intended to commit a crime. Paladin's insurance company just made them settle for millions of dollars. Put that kind of thinking together with a 20-year prison sentence -- and you know what just happened? Paladin's going to stop selling nearly 80 books this September."
"After August 30, you won't be able to buy books like Homemade Grenade Launchers, Homemade C-4: A Recipe for Survival, Improvised Explosives: How to Make Your Own, The Guerrilla's Arsenal: Advanced Techniques for Making Explosives and Time-Delay Bombs, or Deathtrap! Improvised Booby-Trap Devices.
"Other little publishers have pulled books, too, because of this. Loompanics has killed Uncle Fester's Home Workshop Explosives, Silent Death and "The Poisoner's Handbook. Gone. You can't get 'em any more."
"Nobody needs information like that, in the first place."
"Really? And what will happen when the government decides nobody 'needs' information on firearms, ammo, military tactics, drugs, privacy protection, survival, offshore financial services, locksmithing, knives, revenge, prostitution, alternative medicine, herbs or revolution -- because they all 'distribute information' that might be used by some unknown person to break a law? This is book banning, pure and simple. This is the worst sort of censorship."
"No it isn't. You could still publish. ..."
"Right. And risk 20 years in prison because some total stranger breaks a law and has a copy of your book on his shelf."
"The bill hasn't passed yet, though."
"No, it hasn't. But it probably will. And guess what? If it doesn't pass, the exact same language is hidden in another real innocuous-sounding bill -- S. 606, 'For the relief of Global Exploration and Development Corporation, Kerr-McGhee Corporation, and Kerr-McGhee Chemical, LLC (successor to Kerr-McGhee Chemical Corporation), and for other purposes.' Other purposes, my Aunt Fanny's fanny. Two of the co-sponsors of that one are our old pals Dianne Feinstein and Orrin Hatch -- both masters of planting landmines in legislation."
Oh, but it'll never affect most people.
"Did you also know," I questioned, "that at the same time it slammed Paladin, the Supreme Court said Oliver Stone could be sued because his movie Natural Born Killers could have been responsible for a couple of jerks who went on a killing rampage? Where does it stop?
"How 'bout the Reader's Digest? A bomber in Kansas, told the ATF he used the August 1993 edition of the Digest to learn how to make mail bombs. A cop in Indiana used FBI handbooks to make pipe bombs to use as diversions while he committed burglaries. Another cop in Virginia used newspaper stories and FBI info to build bombs so he and his bomb-sniffing dog could become heroes by 'finding' them. So they gonna dig up DeWitt Wallace and put him on trial -- or arrest Louis Freeh?"
"Hey, there's an idea."
"What about chemistry textbooks? They hand those out to innocent little kiddies. What about perfectly respectable books on explosives in engineering? You suppose they'll hang the engineers and scientists?
"And let's not forget the world's largest purveyor of materials on explosives, sabotage and killing -- the U.S. government. Every form of training manual including chemistry, explosives, ordnance -- you can download it or order it through the Internet, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Grenades, pyrotechnics, mortars. The government publishes it all. Go to the Department of Commerce's National Technical Information Services website, type in "explosives" or "demolitions" and see what comes up that you can buy."
"One of my friends got a mailing the other day from the NTIS," Carty nodded. "It was exactly like the things you get from magazine pushers. It said 'Just Released and Now Available!' 'Order today so you can start using this invaluable reference immediately.' Know what it was selling? A CD-ROM set with a 9,000-page encyclopedia of explosives. Course, they're not going to throw themselves in prison, Or lock up the big newspaper or magazine publishers. They're going to assume their stuff is only going to be used legally. They're mostly going to target little guys who can't fight back. Underground publishers. Website operators. Book dealers. 'Right-wing extremist gun nuts.'"
A few dangerous writers
"What are they going to do about novels and novelists?" I wondered.
"Let's see," a few bystanders supplied. ...
"Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang tells exactly how to make a thermite arson device."
"So does L. Neil Smith's Crystal Empire."
"So does one of your books, Claire."
Dora ventured, "Well, gunpowder isn't technically an explosive. My chem prof said it was classified as an acceller. ..."
"We're dealing with the government, Dora," Carty reminded her. "You suppose Daniel Moynihan knows the difference between gunpowder and C-4 -- or cares? You suppose an ATF goon looking for a bust would worry about the details?"
"So what's this going to do to publishing?" someone asked.
"Well, I was talking to Ragnar Benson the other day," I said. "He's a 'powder monkey,' who uses explosives to build roads, do demolition work and things like that. He's also a pretty famous guy who's written more than 40 books -- including some of the books about explosives that Paladin's being forced to yank. He had quite a take on this.
"He said, 'Right now we're at a low ebb in the popularity of books about explosives. No one's interested in them. If they make them illegal I'm sure I'll have four to five months of extreme popularity and I'll sell tens of thousands of them. After that, it won't do any good to have them illegal, anyway, since they'll still be available on the Internet and from overseas.'
"But he also says, 'I hope the laws don't pass because they're detrimental to our society. For one thing, when they don't work, government will make more moves to tighten them up all the time. Just like gun laws.'"
About then, the sheriff ducked out from the yellow tape and strolled over to Nat.
"Nat," he said, "Wha'd you have stored in that shed?"
"Welll, lessee. Some old tack, some drilling equipment, some..."
"Dynamite? Why would I? ... Wait a minute ... I s'pose Pop coulda put some in there after he cut the road up to Devil's Ass Pass. That was back in '38. Or ... well, we blasted those stumps in '54. ..."
"And wasn't there some lightnin' last night?"
"Ah ... yep."
We all stood looking at each other for a long minute. Then we slowly gazed skyward. Nat said, "Looks like the Big Boy's in trouble with the Law."
"No," Carty corrected. "But whoever taught Him to do it might catch a ration when the feds find out."
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