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Less Lethal Weapons

By Alan Hindle

Thursday February 1, 2007

Don’t kill them, just crush their eyeballs

THE PROBLEM WITH PEOPLE is that if you shoot them they can get hurt. Perhaps in the future opposing governments can book time on virtual reality sites like Warcraft or Second Life and make gentlemanly agreements that whoever loses in cyberspace gets control of the real world. Until then, all soldiers have to shoot at is each other and civilians. Unfortunately, if you kill a civilian you get in trouble with their mum (or the media, or human rights advocacy groups, or the voting public) and that’s a downer.

The solution, naturally, is to find better ways to shoot people. Non-lethal, or the current military hipness “less lethal,” weapons allow a soldier or policeman to control groups of people whenever they object to being controlled without giving them the means to die and thus complicate your agenda.

Here, then, are several new and exciting technologies not just being developed by American and Canadian defense contractors but already being bought and sold at trade fairs.

Xtreme Alternative defense Systems have created a handy Close Quarter Shock Rifle which projects ionised gas through which it can direct a 200,000 volt electric current. At the moment it only has an effective range of 3 metres, but they hope to have a 100m weapon soon.

Tasers are limited to only one victim at a time, but as XADS president Peter Bitar gushes, the CQSR “will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose.” Think Ghostbusters but instead of zapping ghosts you can zap tree-hugging hippies, who are the next best thing. The latest design employs powerful lasers, which ionise the very air around the beam, potentially extending the range to that of the laser itself.

Anti-personnel foam cannons douse their targets with a sticky, inflating foam that envelopes and paralyses by turning folks into giant marshmallows. Regrettably the stuff is so sticky it can pull the skin off if it gets too thick and heavy, crush eyeballs and cause cheese in your mouth but actually it’s insulation foam).

But it’s far better to disperse a crowd than subdue them. Less clean-up. That’s where the heat-ray–sorry, Active Denial System–developed by defense contractor Raytheon comes in. Mounted on a humvee, the device microwaves crowds from up to 500 metres away, giving the sensation of a 54 degree Celsius heat blast. Apparently not painful, but hot enough to feel like “they are about to ignite.” Which, as anyone who has ever ignited himself or herself knows, is not painful. Presumably if the hum vee was only several hundred feet away, or if the dial was turned up, it might feel like a 220-degree blast, which is four times as much not painful. However, a company calling itself Raytheon would never be so irresponsible as to let that happen.

The US Defense Advance research Projects Agency (DARPA) is tinkering with a whole sleighful of toys, like the Remote Antiarmour Mine System, which when people come within 25 feet propels darts into them conducting 10-20 jolts per second of 50,000 volts.

But they’re still studying the possible effect of such a weapon on children, so it’s unfair to bring them up yet. Instead, how about Lockheed Martin’s $40M contract to build solar-powered surveillance blimps that will float 12 miles in the air, capable of watching every square inch of US soil? Or Canadian soil for that matter. All-Seeing blimps with ionising lasers hurling bolts of lightning, or heat rays, or taser mines. Obviously, as the military asserts, these would be used only in foreign warfare, which is now entirely guerilla-based, where such weapons are useless. Never in civilian riots or protest marches, where people are clumped together enough to make the weapons useful.

Until the day we can kill each other in video games we must kill each other in reality, and until the day we can just turn ourselves back on after death we will have to settle for guns that don’t quite kill. There is no other way. If there were, somebody would invent it.