Former CIA, NSA directors, retired generals, launch gun control group

HaydenFormer directors of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, as well as several 3- and 4-star generals and admirals have launched a new effort to control the sales of guns in the United States. The effort is certain to attract attention after last weekend’s deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. The group, which calls itself Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, is led by former CIA Director David Petraeus, former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, and US Army General (ret.) Stanely McChrystal. The group’s advisory committee includes recognizable figures such as that of Admiral Eric Olson, who led US Special Operations Command from 2007 to 2011 and was the first US Navy SEAL to be appointed to four-star rank. Other advisory committee members include high-ranking veterans from every branch of the US Armed Forces, such as R. Adm. Jamie Barnett, Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney and Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Norman Seip.

The group was formally launched at a press conference in Washington, DC, on Friday, just hours before Sunday morning’s mass shooting in Orlando. The organizers of the new effort said it came out of the 120,000-member strong Veterans for Responsible Solutions, a project spearheaded by USN R. Adm. Barnett in 2013, after the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, which killed 15 people. Another group that has offered support for the new effort, and will act as its parent organization, is Americans for Responsible Solutions, a non-profit organization that promotes gun control in compliance with the US Constitution. It was founded shortly after the 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtwon, CT, which killed 28. The organization’s founders are former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, whose Congressional career was cut short in January 2011, after she and 18 other people were shot in Tucson, AZ.

During their press conference on Friday, Veterans Coalition for Common Sense leaders said each had “swore an oath to protect our Constitution and the homeland”. But they were now “asking our leaders to do more to protect our rights and save lives”, they added. The group said they aimed to encourage their elected representatives to “do more to prevent gun tragedies”, including closing legal loops on gun background checks, strengthening gun control laws more broadly, and focusing on the mental health component that appears to be part of many mass shootings. In a separate development, another former Director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, said on Monday that “an assault weapons ban makes sense, at least to me”. In an interview with news site OZY, McLaughlin said that, in his personal view, “it is way past time for an assault weapons ban”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 June 2016 | Permalink

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Opinion: Islamic State’s strategy will affect America’s gun control debate

Orlando shootingOut of the myriad of questions emerging from Sunday morning’s massacre in Orlando, two are perhaps most pressing. One concerns internal security in the United States; the other relates to the broad strategy of the Islamic State, the militant Sunni Muslim group that claimed responsibility for the bloody attack. The two topics are closely related.

Like most issues in modern-day America, the topic of internal security is heavily politicized, with public debate dominated by Democratic and Republican partisans. Predictably, each side is using Sunday’s massacre to advance its political agenda. It cannot be denied that, rightly or wrongly, gun ownership is a deeply entrenched feature in the American understanding of citizenship for a variety of social and historical reasons. It is equally undeniable that America’s liberal gun laws make it extremely easy for aspiring terrorists to acquire weapons. Recent mass shootings show that even those with documented mental illnesses or individuals who have been questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for possible links to terrorism, like Omar Mateen, are legally able to purchase high-powered weapons. This reduces the number of people that are needed to inflict mass casualties and directly assists the work of terrorist groups. Furthermore, the ability of aspiring terrorists to legally acquire high-powered weaponry exceeds America’s law enforcement and intelligence capabilities, and thus directly threatens the security of daily life in the country.

Judging by other recent mass shootings, and the speed with which the relentless news cycle moves on to other stories, this latest massacre is unlikely to have a major impact on US gun laws. However, if the attack in Orlando proves to be part of a broader strategy by the Islamic State, then the center of the debate on gun control in America may shift in unprecedented directions.

Most commentators agree that the Islamic State is currently retreating not only in its Syrian and Iraqi strongholds, but also in Libya, where it appears to be losing its control of the strategic port of Sirte. The possibility of losing its territorial base may radically alter the group’s modus operandi and strategic goals. Historically, the Islamic State has focused on what can be described as its core terrain, which includes Iraq, Syria, the Sinai Peninsula, and to a lesser extent Jordan and Lebanon. Back in 2014, Islamic State leaders could have urged the group’s tens of thousands of followers in the West to carry out the jihad there. But they didn’t, because the grand strategy of the Islamic State is to secure a territorial base in the Middle East before taking on bigger tasks. Islamic State supporters were therefore urged to join the fight to establish a territorially secure caliphate in the Middle East instead of attacking Western targets. The latter have of course been attacked, but this has been done primarily for two reasons: first, to discourage Western countries from getting directly involved in the war against the Islamic State; second, to encourage Islamophobia in the West and further-marginalize already disaffected Western Muslim youth, driving them to join the Islamic State.

But should the militant Sunni group be territorially defeated, it might decide to change its tactic and begin unleashing its followers in the West. Or if it is sensing that it is losing control of its self-proclaimed caliphate, it may already be already changing its strategy. There is currently no evidence that Omar Mateen was in touch with the Islamic State prior to committing Sunday’s massacre. But if he did, the Orlando massacre may have been an early indication of the Islamic State’s change of direction. Perhaps, then, the US is in for a lot more of these carefully targeted and lethally executed strikes.

It may be that the blood of over 50 people spilled in Orlando will not seriously affect the gun control debate. But if these killings increase in frequency and lethality, American society will face a number of unprecedented dilemmas that combine the issues of gun rights, domestic security and citizenship.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 June 2016 | Permalink