Gun Control? No, Drone Control

The terrible massacre committed by a mentally-disturbed man in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday has prompted lots and lots of calls for gun control in the United States, as well as some calls for more help for the mentally ill.

There are some problems with both suggestions. First of all, the evidence shows that certain “treatments” for the mentally ill — specifically, SSRI antidepressants — are associated with shooting sprees. A 2006 study in the UK showed that antidepressants can cause severe violence in a small number of individuals. It is possible that increasing the screening and “treatment” for mental illness may result in more incidences of severe violence due to adverse reactions to antidepressants. (On the other hand some therapies like psychotherapy, music therapy, and art therapy might help certain individuals, but these are almost certainly less profitable for big pharma…)

But what about gun control? There is little doubt that in the coming years the gun-show loophole will be closed and Canadian-style longer waiting periods will be introduced. Semi-automatic weapons may well be banned. Buyback programs may be attempted. The Supreme Court might well even be stacked to achieve a majority that interprets away individual gun rights.

But America already has huge quantities of guns, far more than anywhere in the world:

total-gun-ownership

The vast majority of America’s 285 million guns are in Republican states, which are unlikely to be disarmed easily, even with an overwhelming Federal consensus. Some might even try to secede from the Union.

And as the experience of many other countries including Britain and Australia shows, criminals and those with violent intent will still be able to get guns (the only people who will be disarmed are the law-abiding majority).

This trend is only likely to grow in coming years as technologies such as 3D printing make it possible for anyone with a 3D printer and an internet connection to potentially print a gun (and eventually, bullets):

Imagine an America in which anyone can download and print a gun in their own home. They wouldn’t need a license, a background check, or much technical knowledge, just a 3D printer. That’s the vision a cadre of industrious libertarians are determined to turn into reality.

Last week, Wiki Weapon, a project to create the first fully printable plastic gun received the $20,000 in funding it needed to get off the ground. The project’s goal is not to develop and sell a working gun, but rather to create an open-source schematic (or blueprint) that individuals could download and use to print their own weapons at home.

The technology that makes this possible is 3D printing, a process during which plastic resin is deposited layer by layer to create a three dimensional object. In the past few years 3D printers have become increasingly affordable, and just last week the first two retail stores selling 3D printers opened in the United States with models ranging from $600 to $2,199.

How is it possible to regulate that away? Ban 3D printing? Ban the distribution of gun schematics? Costly, damaging to liberty, and ineffective. The failed war on drugs makes this very clear — prohibition doesn’t work. Guns — like drugs — are a reality that society cannot just eradicate by passing laws. The mood has changed — America will try gun control. It won’t work — and may just make things worse. I wish we lived in a world without guns, but we don’t.

But there is a way forward. Very many of the mass shooters in the last two decades have a history of antidepressant use. If we want to stop mass shootings, maybe we should look at that.

And if we value life and are opposed to violence against innocents, why do we demand action when 27 innocent Americans die, but not when larger numbers of innocent Pakistanis, or Afghanis or Yemenis die?  One drone strike in Pakistan killed 69 children, dwarfing the impact of the Newtown massacre. With predator drones now in American skies, how long until the “collateral damage” (remember — the NDAA declared the entirety of America as a battlefield) eclipses the Newtown massacre? Or how long until a foreign power or terrorist group hacks into a predator drone (technically feasible) over America and uses it as a flying bomb?  And how many more terrorist attacks against America will be fuelled by anger derived from the civilian casualties of the drone wars?

Obama might cry for Americans in Newtown, but where are his tears for the Pakistani and Yemeni children he has slaughtered? And what about for the many victims who died as a result of thousands guns shipped by the US government to the Mexican drug cartels via Fast and Furious?

America might be ready to implement gun control. I wish America was ready to implement drone control.

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Drone Club

The first rule of Fight Club?

You don’t talk about Fight Club.

Obama isn’t a member of Fight Club; he’s a member of Drone Club — which targets individuals in foreign lands, including American citizens and their families, for extrajudicial assassination by drone. And the first rule of Drone Club?

You don’t talk about it.

Via Reprieve:

Apple has for the third time this month rejected an iPhone app which alerts the user to a drone attack and to the number of people killed.  Drones+ enables those concerned to track the strikes to their handset. 

This is no doubt an uncomfortable prospect for the US authorities, whose use of drones extends to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, where no war has been declared.  Such drone strikes have killed more than 3,300 people in Pakistan alone since 2004, according to reports by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  

Now we don’t know who made this decision, whether Apple thinks that citizens knowing of drone strikes is a national security risk, or whether Apple were leaned on by the CIA, NSA or Pentagon — though given that Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other Presidents combined, the latter wouldn’t be entirely unsurprising. Nonetheless, whatever the truth this is a very disturbing development — after all, how can we rightly judge the administration’s foreign and national security policy without having up to date facts?

Obama claims that the drone strikes are conducted on a very rigorous basis:

1 “It has to be a target that is authorised by our laws.”

2 “It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.”

3 “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

4 “We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.”

5 “That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots … they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process.”

Yet as Wired notes:

At least two of those five points appear to be half-truths at best. In both Yemen and Pakistan, the CIA is allowed to launch a strike based on the target’s “signature” — that is, whether he appears to look and act like a terrorist. As senior U.S. officials have repeatedly confirmed, intelligence analysts don’t even have to know the target’s name, let alone whether he’s planning to attack the U.S. In some cases, merely being a military-aged male at the wrong place at the wrong time is enough to justify your death.

Micah Zenko adds:

What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a ‘threat that is serious and not speculative,’ and engaged in ‘some operational plot against the United States. The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years.

Of course, just as worrying as the actual policy is the fact that the public widely approves of it.

The Washington Post notes:

The sharpest edges of President Obama’s counterterrorism policy, including the use of drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists abroad and keeping open the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, have broad public support, including from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to close the brig in Cuba and to change national security policies he criticized as inconsistent with U.S. law and values, has little to fear politically for failing to live up to all of those promises.

The survey shows that 70 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s decision to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He pledged during his first week in office to close the prison within a year, but he has not done so.

Obama has also relied on armed drones far more than Bush did, and he has expanded their use beyond America’s defined war zones. The Post-ABC News poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s drone policy, which administration officials refuse to discuss, citing security concerns.

83%? It was George Lucas’ Princess Amidala who noted that freedom usually dies to thunderous applause.

Wikipedia:

Extrajudicial punishments are by their nature unlawful, since they bypass the due process of the legal jurisdiction in which they occur. Extrajudicial killings often target leading political, trade union, dissident, religious, and social figures and may be carried out by the state government or other state authorities like the armed forces and police.

I’d like to see Obama answering as to whether his sanctioning of extrajudicial killing resides within the rule of law.

Ben Swann wanted to know the same thing, but Obama wasn’t answering:

You don’t talk about Drone Club.

Time to Get Out of the Middle East

It takes a lot of time and effort to try to understand American counter-terrorism policy today.

Personally, I think the status quo is like trying to treat a cocaine overdose with methamphetamine. It’s like trying to cure chlamydia by having sex with multiple random strangers in a park. It’s like trying to cure a broken nose by punching oneself in the face.

Or, as Glenn Greenwald puts it:

I absolutely believe that another 9/11 is possible. And the reason I believe it’s so possible is that people like Andrew Sullivan — and George Packer — have spent the last decade publicly cheering for American violence brought to the Muslim world, and they continue to do so (now more than ever under Obama). Far from believing that another 9/11 can’t happen, I’m amazed that it hasn’t already, and am quite confident that at some point it will. How could any rational person expect their government to spend a full decade (and counting) invading, droning, cluster-bombing, occupying, detaining without charges, and indiscriminately shooting huge numbers of innocent children, women and men in multiple countries and not have its victims and their compatriots be increasingly eager to return the violence?

Isn’t it painfully obvious? The interventionist policies — occupation, drone strikes, cluster-bombing, indefinitely detention, false vaccination programs and so forth — in the middle east advocated by both “liberal” and “conservative” hawks that are supposed to prevent terrorism are creating anger, creating enemies, and creating terrorists. I too am amazed another 9/11 hasn’t happened. I despise jihadism and Islamism. It is contrary to everything I stand for. That’s exactly why I oppose a foreign policy that serves as a hugely effective recruiting tool for the totalitarian jihadists. 

Yemeni lawyer Haykal Bafana explained the rationale last month:

Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

Or as convicted terrorist Faisal Shahzad put it:

Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people.  And, on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attack.  Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.

Or as former CIA counter-terrorism expert Michael Scheuer noted:

The idea that has been pushed by President Clinton and President Bush and Mr. Cheney and Barack Obama and Senator McCain, that America is being attacked [for its freedom] is a disservice to the population of the United States. This war is not against Americans because we’re Americans, it’s motivated by the activities of our government and its allies in the Muslim world.

So why do we keep doing this? Two reasons: hubris and greed.

First, the hubris. We know Ron Paul was booed in South Carolina for advocating that we should do to others as we would like done to us:

My point is if another country does to us what we do others, we’re not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in — in foreign policy. Don’t do to other nation what we don’t want to have them do to us.

But that’s just the propagandistic nature of being a superpower. Years of prosperity, military supremacy and pro-war propaganda have made it normal to believe strongly in the idea that America is intrinsically better, and wherever America goes America brings freedom, and anyone who doesn’t agree with that needs to be waterboarded until they do.

Yet however many times as the phrase “they hate us because we are free” is repeated, mantra-like by a Rick Santorum or a Newt Gingrich, it does not become truer. It is just an illusion, just a fantasy. While the jihadis were always anti-American, anti-democratic and anti-capitalistic, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Sayyid al-Qutb — the fathers and grandfathers of modern Wahhabism, jihadism and al-Qaeda — became anti-American militants because of America’s role in the middle east.

As bin Laden himself said:

Those who kill our women and innocent, we kill their women and innocent, until they refrain.

And even more clearly:

Free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. If so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike Sweden, for example.

Second, the greed. America is in the middle east because America likes cheap energy. That myth of America as liberators flourished first as a justification for America’s petrodollar foreign policy.

And people get rich from America being at war — so far in the region of $4 trillion has gone to fighting since 9/11. A lot of weapons contractors are happy with the status quo.

So the military-industrial complex — the lobbyists, the weapons makers, the media — may accept it if Obama kills 14 women and 21 children to get one suspected terrorist. More terrorism means more weapons spending. For the lucky few it’s a self-perpetuating stairway to riches. Yet for wider society it means spending time, money and effort on war, instead of on domestic prosperity. It means the constant threat of terrorism. And it means the loss of our liberty, as the security state adopts increasingly paranoid anti-terrorism measures.

We should do to others as we would have done to ourselves. That means — unless we are comfortable with the idea of ourselves living under military occupation and drone strikes — getting out of the middle east, and letting that region solve its own problems — forget another costly and destructive occupation in Syria. Slash the war and occupation spending, and redirect the money to making America independent of middle eastern energy and resources.