A high-altitude nuclear detonation can generate an electromagnetic pulse that will basically destroy unshielded electronic circuitry in line of sight — potentially over hundreds of thousands of square miles. There has also been talk of e-bombs, which are nonnuclear devices that could create an EMP over a much smaller area.
This is a serious risk. There has been a congressionally established Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, which issued a detailed report that recommended a good deal of spending on such matters. The Department of Homeland Security has been investing time and money in the matter. It is, of course, eminently possible that there will be no such attack at any time in our lifetimes, and any particular time the attack is highly unlikely. But at the same time it is also possible that there will be such an attack at some time in the next several decades.
Small, localized EMP generators aren’t difficult to design or build. Given that, once only smart guns are permitted (by a willing Supreme Court that will no doubt rule that such a provision does not violate the Second Amendment) whenever the cops visit your home, they will first hose it down with EMP.
So will the smart crooks.
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