At least, according to U.S. law:
18 U.S.C. 2332a
- (2) the term "weapon of mass destruction" means—
- (A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;
- (B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
- (C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title); or
- (D) any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life;
18 U.S.C. 921
- (4) The term "destructive device" means—
- (A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
- (i) bomb,
- (ii) grenade,
- (iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
- (iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
- (v) mine, or
- (vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;
- (B) any type of weapon (other than a shotgun or a shotgun shell which the Attorney General finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes) by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter; and
- (C) any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in subparagraph (A) or (B) and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.
The term "destructive device" shall not include any device which is neither designed nor redesigned for use as a weapon; any device, although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety, or similar device; surplus ordnance sold, loaned, or given by the Secretary of the Army pursuant to the provisions of section 4684 (2), 4685, or 4686 of title 10; or any other device which the Attorney General finds is not likely to be used as a weapon, is an antique, or is a rifle which the owner intends to use solely for sporting, recreational or cultural purposes.
This is a very broad definition, and one that involves the intention of the weapon’s creator as well as the details of the weapon itself.
In an e-mail, John Mueller commented:
As I understand it, not only is a grenade a weapon of mass destruction, but so is a maliciously-designed child’s rocket even if it doesn’t have a warhead. On the other hand, although a missile-propelled firecracker would be considered a weapons of mass destruction if its designers had wanted to think of it as a weapon, it would not be so considered if it had previously been designed for use as a weapon and then redesigned for pyrotechnic use or if it was surplus and had been sold, loaned, or given to you (under certain circumstances) by the Secretary of the Army.
It’s also means that we are coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Reagan administration’s long-misnamed WMD-for-Hostages deal with Iran.
Bad news for you, though. You’ll have to amend that line you like using in your presentations about how all WMD in all of history have killed fewer people than OIF (or whatever), since all artillery, and virtually every muzzle-loading military long arm for that matter, legally qualifies as an WMD. It does make the bombardment of Ft. Sumter all the more sinister. To say nothing of the revelation that The Star Spangled Banner is in fact an account of a WMD attack on American shores.
Amusing, to be sure, but there’s something important going on. The U.S. government has passed specific laws about “weapons of mass destruction,” because they’re particularly scary and damaging. But by generalizing the definition of WMDs, those who write the laws greatly broaden their applicability. And I have to wonder how many of those who vote in favor of the laws realize how general they really are, or — if they do know — vote for them anyway because they can’t be seen to be “soft” on WMDs.
It reminds me of those provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act — and other laws — that created police powers to be used for “terrorism and other crimes.”
EDITED TO ADD (4/14): Prosecutions based on this unreasonable definition.
Posted on April 6, 2009 at 7:10 AM •