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Buying Homeland Insecurity

Thank god for the US Department of Homeland Security!

Thanks to its $40-billion annual budget, and Homeland Security laws like the PATRIOT Act that Congress passed quickly after the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we have not had a major terrorist attack in the US in the ensuing 16 years.

Oh, wait a minute. My bad.

We have had some major mass murders over the ensuing years, haven’t we, including some being officially labeled “acts of terrorism.”

There was the sniper shootings of 10 people in suburban Washington, DC back in 2002. There was the execution of 5 Amish schoolchildren in their one-room schoolhouse by a gunman in 2006. There followed the 32 students and faculty killed at the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the lone gunman who opened fire at an open-air meet-and-greet session hosted by an Arizona Congresswoman which killed six people and gravely wounded the Congresswoman in 2011, the 12 killed in the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting in 2012, the Vietnamese immigrant who shot and killed 13 people in Binghamton, NY in 2009, the 20 grade-school kids and a teacher murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, also in 2012, and the Navy contractor and former sailor who killed 13 in a Washington, DC industrial complex, the murder of 9 people in their church in Charleston, SC in 2015, and now this latest killing of over 58 people in Las Vegas. I’m just naming the big ones here, or particularly outrageous one like those that focused on killing little kids.

Thank god not one of these horrible incidents was considered an act of terrorism!

Of course there were some at least nominally terrorist mass killings too — the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three or four depending on whether you count the killing of a police office during the later manhunt part of the deal, the 2014 attack at Fort Hood by a deranged Army psychologist, the 2015 San Bernardino rec center attack, and the 2016 murder of 49 at a disco in Orlando, but in most of these cases the link to organized terror was tenuous at best, and in the Orlando case in particular, which was touted at the time as the worst mass killing in modern US history (at least until this latest Las Vegas incident), the killer appears to have had no connection to ISIS and was probably just claiming a link in order to ensure that he would be killed by police, and not captured (he succeeded in that plan). We know these were acts of terrorism not just because the government calls them that, but because, well, they were committed by Muslims.

The few actual or supposed “terrorist’ attacks aside, what all these mass murders in the US not committed by Muslim terrorists have in common, along with many more that I did not list either because the number killed was less than 10, or because the cause was so mundane — worker laid off, family dispute, road rage or whatever — is that they were the work of lone usually deranged (and usually white) men using guns — and often guns designed for killing people.

The New York Times reports that since 2000, mass shootings and the deaths caused by mass shootings in the US have been on the rise, with the rise being especially sharp in the last six years ended in 2014 when the article was published (and when Homeland Security was supposedly fully staffed up and running like a finely oiled machine), and that rise has continued since over the next three years, especially with the help of this week’s epic Las Vegas slaughter.

So what has all that money spent on “homeland security” gotten us? What has the surrender of our right to private phone and internet conversation, our right to be left alone in our homes, our right not to be monitored in our travels, and our right not to have massive dossiers gathered on our lives, what has the militarization of our local police forces, and the training of cops to behave as occupiers and centurions instead of peace officers gotten us?

Are we more safe now?

Actual terrorist attacks have occurred, or at least the government is calling them that, while most of the alleged planned terror attacks the FBI says it “foiled” have turned out to be the creations of FBI “informants” — that is, people paid and planted among unfortunate low0-wattage or psychologically vulnerable people the Bureau hoped to induce into attempting some act of terror that the FBI could then swoop in and bust up, then claiming to have saved the day. That means that for all its awesome invasive technology and its multi-billion-dollar assets and interlinked law enforcement personnel, America’s Homeland Security Industrial Complex has been remarkably unable to prevent terrorism.

And meanwhile, mass shootings — terrible even if they don’t get called terrorism because they are committed, for the most part, by American white men like Stephen Paddock— are becoming increasingly common and also increasingly deadly.

To me, it appears obvious that the War on Terror has been a spectacular bust — and not just the $40 billion a year spent on Homeland Security, but the $10 billion a year (at least) that we are told is spent on the National Security Agency, as well as a fair amount of what is spent on both the FBI the CIA, the National Security Council’s Office of Counterterrorism, and of course all the anti-terror budgets of state and local police.

What is really making this country unsafe, let’s just face it, is the ready availability of really deadly firearms — let’s call them Guns of Mass Destruction (GMDs).

The only reason so many people died in Las Vegas is that wack-job Las Vegas mass killer Stephen Paddock was reportedly able to obtain and bring, unimpeded, into his hotel room, some 19 high-powered rapid-fire rifles and handguns, including at least one fully-automatic rifle capable of firing dozens of rounds per second. (That’s in addition to some 20 more such weapons police found in his home and car, including, reportedly, explosives.)

What’s nuts is that in some parts of this country, Nevada being one of them, guns, including military weapons, are so ubiquitous and so unregulated that the sight of someone checking into a hotel with two golf bag’s worth of lethal weaponry suitable for mass murder wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Heck, he probably asked at check-in for a bellhop to carry them for him. No doubt they just figured the old duffer was headed for a gun show or was a salesman with product to show to gun dealers.

Hey, if the guy doesn’t look or dress like a Muslim, what’s to worry, right? Nice older white dude with a friendly southern accent? He should be okay.

Maybe now that we have a case of a friendly-seeming older white guy mowing down good decent white folks attending a good-ol’ American country and western music concert, the pro-National Rifle Assn. crowd will start to re-evaluate their absolutist position on GMDs.

My suggestion would be not banning guns, an extremist idea which will never happen in this country and which isn’t even done in Europe, but at least registering every single weapon from its point of import, sale or manufacture until it ends up in private hands. I would make it illegal to transfer a gun to someone else without that transfer being registered with the government. I’d eliminate the gunshow loophole to registration too. I have little hope that such measures could be passed, though. There is to much political opportunism among Republicans in Congress who want that National Rifle Assn. money and the votes of the gun-toting yahoos of Middle America who think registration is akin to giving up their right vote (though they want everyone to have to register to do that).

But if we could at least limit our American-grown terrorists to single-round-per-trigger weapons, and outlaw high-capacity clips that allow them to kill more than, say, five people without reloading, we’d all be a hell of a lot safer in America. At least more of us would be able to run out of a crowded area safely when an attack happens, and there’d be more opportunity for heroic types to tackle a guy who has to stop and reload all the time.

Also, keeping America safe wouldn’t cost us $50 billion a year for an army of spooks and federal investigators, or require the surrendering of our hard-won freedoms either, so more money could be made available for treating mental health problems.

We should give it a try. It’s obvious that the Homeland Security/War on Terror approach has been a bust. It sure hasn’t provided security in the “homeland,” and, as the spread of ISIS and al Qaeda/al Nusra or whatever they’re calling themselves demonstrates, the “War” on terror has clearly been lost. (There’s another example of wasted treasure. With just a fraction of the trillion-plus dollars spent on the 16-year US war in Afghanistan to date, the US could have paid that country’s impoverished 10 million families, who eke by on an average of $400 a year, an income of $2500 a year back in 2001 for the next decade— enough to turn the country overnight into an economic powerhouse and its people from virtual serfs to a bustling middle class and into America’s BFFs.)

We’ll never be able to prevent the domestic American nut jobs who snap and decide they need to kill a lot of people or do enough damage to be killed by the police. But at least we could reduce the carnage they can do here at home if we made it a little harder and slower for them to cause their desired mayhem.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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