Bioterror killed five in US; guns kill 30,000 a year

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Sir

I read with concern the call for biological scientists to be more careful in how they communicate their work (“Biologists asked to breed a culture of responsibility in face of terrorism” Nature 435, 860; 2005). Many implements can be used by terrorists to harm people, by far the most common being military-style firearms. Every year in the United States, some 30,000 people are killed by firearms. The only lethal biological attack in the United States was carried out in 2001, using a supply of anthrax that came from a US source and killed five people.

In the United States, every call to restrict access to military-style firearms by civilians is met with fierce opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA), who proclaim that the Second Amendment prevents any such regulation. When the number of people killed by biological agents gleaned from the scientific literature exceeds the number killed by firearms, perhaps then we should consider restricting that literature in the same way that firearms are restricted. Until then, we should be prepared to uphold the First Amendment and protect the freedom of speech.

To borrow a phrase from the NRA, when can you take away my scientific literature? When you can pry it from my cold dead hand!

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Whitlock, D. Bioterror killed five in US; guns kill 30,000 a year. Nature 436, 460 (2005) doi:10.1038/436460b

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