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May. 22 2009 - 10:49 am | 2 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Missing Weapons: The Nation’s Great Threat

Gun show (photo from Flickr by mx5tx)

Gun show (photo from Flickr by mx5tx)

The recent foiling of a terrorist plot to attack a New York City synagogue has caused some to question the wiseness of Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo prisons and bring its detainees to the United States. But what these individuals fail to acknowledge is that crazy people have and always will be with us, and no amount of anti-terrorism funding will ever make America completely impenetrable to attack. Risk will always be with us, but Americans should invest in the securement of weaponry that could be used by any future crazies out there.

Old-fashioned police work foiled the Bronx plot. And as scary as calling something a terrorist plot sounds, the terrorists in question appear to have exhibited more the behavior of strung-out drug addicts than international criminals in FOX’s 24. According to the New York Times, one of the men, Laguerre Payen, ”took medication for schizophrenia or a bi-polar disorder, [and] was unemployed and living in squalor in Newburgh.” Payen kept bottles of urine in his apartment. He had a raw chicken on his stove. He needed a case worker. What he got was crazy friends, an insane scheme, and easily accessible weapons.

At one point, the men took a road trip up to Stamford, Connecticut to buy a surface-to-air missile, but got spooked when they thought they were being followed by cops. They cruised around until the perceived threat passed and continued their mission. Another time, they drove downstate and bought a pistol for $700 from a Bloods gang leader.

Luckily, this time, the FBI had disabled the missile, but the group was still able to purchase a gun, which could have inflicted untold damage on a crowded synagogue. The important detail here isn’t that disturbed individuals concocted a crazy plan. What is of immediate concern is that these disturbed individuals could so easily arm themselves.

While their missile was a dud, the US has built so many functioning surface-to-air missiles that, well, they’ve lost track of around 500,000 to 750,000 of them. The military-industrial complex keeps pumping out these weapons designed for the suppression of enemy air defense mission (SEAD), and asking for more money and attention in the process, despite the fact that the US does not have an enemy with a functioning air force. The General Accounting Office reports that “[a]ccording to intelligence sources, thousands of MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems) may have been provided to Iraqi security forces or were stolen during hostilities in Iraq immediately following the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003.” Unsurprisingly, a number of these MANPADS ended up on the black market and can be purchased for as little as $5,000. 

Instead of cutting surface-to-air missile funding because – once again – the US is not at war with a country that has a functioning air force, “Congress appropriated $60 million in 2004 and $61 million in 2005 toward developing and testing MANPAD countermeasure systems using mature technologies adapted from the military sector for the commercial sector.” That’s a total of $121 million to build detectors to detect the weapons now available on the black market because the US builds more weapons than it can possibly use on poor brown people. This includes the AAQ-24, a lightweight system used to protect aircrafts from infrared honing. 

It will come as no surprise to readers that guns are even easier to buy on the black market, and are more conducive to smuggling and sneaking into crowded spaces like synagogues. In order to defend gun shows, which don’t conduct background checks before selling weapons to total strangers, the NRA cites a 1997 Michigan State University graduate student paper that surveyed 504 young offenders. Of those 504 participants, 310 reported that they at some point owned or possessed a firearm. Only 3.2% reported that they purchased the gun at a show or flea market. Thirdway.org posted the report, but also raised the question of whether a survey of one local group of young offenders can be applied to the nation as a whole, and Third Way also pointed out that 49% of the prisoners “identifies the black market, street or fence as the last seller, and the survey did not inquire whether the original seller had obtained the gun from a gun show, flea market, or licensed gun store.”

A good way to defend homeland security would be to get these weapons off the black market, and to strongly regulate the sales of guns. Oh, and also to stop building so many weapons. That’s a tough call for many Congress representatives to make because some of their biggest donors represent the military-industrial complex, and many of their constituents’ jobs rely on building weapons. But if the US cannot ween itself off of its weaponry culture, loose missiles and guns will continue to land in the hands of crazy people, who are really just part of the landscape in a country ripe with poverty, inequality, and apathy for its most vulnerable members. The American people will ultimately have to realize that the real enemy isn’t living abroad, but rests within in the forms of weapons manufacturers and a government too greedy and cozy to properly guard its own citizens.


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    I co-host Citizen Radio, the alternative political radio show. I am a contributing reporter to Huffington Post, Alternet.org, and The Nation.

    My essay "Youth Surviving Subprime" appears in The Nation's new book, Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover beside esssays by Ralph Nader, Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Naomi Klein, who I'm told are all important people.

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