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Jane Ahlin, Published August 04 2012

Ahlin: Ever-silly NRA even sillier in this new era of the drone

Ah, the good old National Rifle Association: Paranoid bully that it is – with its anti-government fixation on arming/alarming Americans and threatening politicians – its heyday might be in the rearview mirror. Yes, the NRA still holds sway, denying the need for public safety measures in the unnecessary loss of life to gun violence, even as it pushes for ever-expanding gun rights and shrilly warns of impending doom to keep the faithful opening their wallets.

And yet, the organization’s overblown, pry-my-gun-from-my-cold-dead-hands rhetoric sounds silly in this age of data mining and drones (unmanned aerial vehicles). In the second decade of the 21st century, no question guns make for all kinds of unnecessary violence and tragedy among civilians; however, the notion that personal arsenals prevent government intrusion is laughable.

Actually, exchanging Uncle Sam for Santa Claus in that loveable tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” it’s Uncle Sam with GPS and drones who “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “knows when you’re awake.” Nothing points that up better than a North Dakota story from last year. A Lakota man named Rodney Brossart was suspected of stealing cows. He and two others allegedly forced a sheriff investigating the crime from his land at gunpoint, and then they hid. A Predator B drone pinpointed where they were and showed that they had no guns with them. They were arrested.

Interestingly, the folks who think guns are the answer to every question don’t seem worried about drones. For that matter, most Americans aren’t. And yet, the shift of drones from military use to civilian law enforcement is dramatic and in need of more public discussion than has occurred so far.

Frankly, we’ve never had a good public airing for the use of drones in military assassinations, either. Do we really think it’s OK that drone operators sit in some cubicle thousands of miles from their targets – targets including American citizens suspected, not convicted, of terrorism – watching through the eyes of a drone two miles up, like playing a video game? (Hey, Bert, I’ve gotta wait til this guy’s kids go to school before I kill him, but will you bring me back a BLT from the cafeteria?)

At least in the North Dakota drone story, a crime already had been committed, albeit a crime far removed from terrorism. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear credible legal constraints apply to drones or, for that matter, to data mining.

New York City announced this past week that it will launch the “All-Seeing Domain Awareness System” to track “potential terrorists” using data mining software developed in conjunction with Microsoft. (Note the word, “potential.” These aren’t criminals, only folks who might become criminals.)

Oh, for the good old days when Americans were worried about the “Patriot Act” instituted after 9/11 that rubbed out a host of our civil rights and, sadly, now gets renewed by Congress with a big “ho-hum.”

The Patriot Act doesn’t worry the NRA. Flexing their muscle by pushing laws that make buying a semi-automatic weapon not much different from buying a blender – not to mention acting as if city streets are the OK Corral, 2012 Edition – NRA leaders keep their membership ginned up with fear and loathing. But here’s the funny thing. As reported by Alan Berlow in a three-part NRA series for the online publication “Salon,” all that hot rhetoric that keeps NRA members sending in more and more money is only for the “little guys.”

CEO Wayne LaPierre, who gets paid about a million bucks a year, isn’t swayed by his own fear-mongering. He doesn’t donate a cent to the NRA’s highly touted “Political Victory Fund,” the NRA’s political action committee that keeps all those legislators in line. In fact, among “76 current directors and 29 lobbyists, only one … donated to the PAC.” Could it be “that the keepers of the faith know better than anyone that the premonitions of doom, and all the claims about the precarious state of the Second Amendment … are unreconstructed nonsense”?

Could it be that in the days of drones and data mining, fear of gun regulations is silly stuff?


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.