Guns on Coast Guard Vessels Trigger Protest

Thursday, November 09, 2006
Reuters reported that machine-gun fire will puncture the calm of the Great Lakes if the U.S. Coast Guard follows through on its plan to set up firing ranges there, despite volleys of criticism fired by environmentalists, boaters and politicians. As part of its expanded responsibilities to police U.S. coastlines in the name of national security, the Coast Guard has mounted gas-powered machine guns on the decks of its patrol boats and cutters, capable of firing 600 rounds a minute. To train its seamen to fire the powerful weapons on the lakes' choppy waters, the Coast Guard proposed establishing 34 target ranges at least 5 miles offshore. But the Coast Guard now acknowledges the poorly-publicized plan -- which was quietly published in the federal register in August -- ignited an outcry in part because the agency failed to properly inform the media and the public.

The Coast Guard halted the firing exercises in August and scheduled public hearings that are nearly complete, saying it will listen to public comment before deciding whether to proceed. Mayors on both sides of the border including Toronto's David Miller, Chicago's Richard Daley and Bradley have criticized the Coast Guard's proposal as ill-conceived and dangerous.

Two years ago, Canada sanctioned the arming of Coast Guard vessels that would otherwise violate an 1817 treaty prohibiting armed vessels on the lakes. Environmental groups are demanding the Coast Guard perform a full-scale environmental impact study and secure a government permit for what they say would amount to dumping 7,000 pounds of lead as well as other metals in the lakes each year.

Lead is a dangerous toxin to animals and humans that is already prohibited from use in fishing tackle, said environmental group Great Lakes United. Passing boats or planes could be endangered if bullets are fired into the air from pitching boats in the famously rough lake waters, Nalbone said. She suggested the Coast Guard could train on simulators. A Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Robert Lanier, said seamen needed to train on the lakes to get the feel of firing from a moving vessel. Source: Reuters

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