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You know exactly what’s going to happen with this,” said Bob Foster, 58, who said he spends every chance he gets on the waters here. “Some boater is going to inadvertently drive through the live fire zone and get blown out of the water.”
Carole Loftis, the owner of Snug Harbor, a popular restaurant with windows on the water, said that although she certainly carried concerns, like most Americans, about terrorism, drunken boating seemed a more frequent threat around here. “This seems a little like overkill,” Ms. Loftis said of the shooting plans.
Despite complaints from some charter boat captains, environmental groups and city leaders around the Great Lakes, the Coast Guard defended the need to mount M-240B machine guns on its boats and to test fire them two or three times a year in “safety zones,” about 70 square miles each.
“The Coast Guard has looked at an increased terrorist threat since 2001,” Rear Adm. John E. Crowley Jr., commander of the Coast Guard district that oversees the Great Lakes, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know when or if something might happen on the Great Lakes, but I don’t want to learn the hard way.”
When the Coast Guard decided it wanted to practice firing its new machine guns on the Great Lakes, it posted an item in the Federal Register — not exactly household reading. Now that the public has caught up, there is an uproar all around the lakes — in Canada as well as the United States — and a belated decision to hold public hearings.
The Coast Guard’s proposal is cautious and, as military exercises go, quite modest. It plans two or three test firings a year, a few hours each time, in 34 possible areas at least five nautical miles offshore. Officials argue that it is prudent to give crews heavier weapons than the handheld guns they carried on the lakes before 9/11.
Few are disputing that the United States needs to do more to protect its borders against terrorists. But we face far more plausible threats than terrorists cutting across Lake Michigan in small boats.
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