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White House Pushes Gun Safety

President Barack Obama is expected to call upon lawmakers and Congress Tuesday as he asks for their support in backing his measures concerning gun safety. In the wake of announcing 21 of 23 tasks completed on the “executive to-do list,” Obama is hoping for funding as conversations about gun safety continue. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Administration officials say there has been progress on several actions taken by Obama under executive authority, including directives to end the freeze on gun violence research and to reduce barriers that keep states from submitting records to the national background system.

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Rand Paul: Jesus Was Anti-War

Paul Rand quoted scripture and used biblical principles as he made his case against excessive American engagement overseas. He quoted Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Paul also stressed the military should be used sparingly. Politico reports:

“I can recall no utterance of Jesus in favor of war or any acts of aggression,” Paul said at a kickoff luncheon for the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “In fact, his message to his disciples was one of non-resistance.”

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Gun Control Advocates Launch Bus Tour

In a push to revive the push to extend background checks, Mayors Against Illegal Guns organized the 100-day bus tour, called "No More Names: The National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence. Members of the tour will meet with families across the country to discuss gun control proposals. Advocates hope to have new gun-control legislation before Congress goes on recess in August. USA Today reports:

"When senators vote down a bill with such overwhelming support among the public, there is going to be that sense of outrage, and we've seen that persist since April 17," said John Feinblatt, chief policy adviser to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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DRONE WATCH: Pizza Delivery Drone

The pace of U.S. drone strikes is dramatically slowing. During the month of May, there was one strike in Pakistan and one in Yemen. The new restrictions announced by President Obama in his May 23 speech may be having an effect.

So on a Friday afternoon, here’s some good news on the drone front. In the U.K., Domino’s Pizza released a video of an experimental "DomiCopter" remote-controlled drone delivering two pizzas. Huffington Post reports:

We're crossing our fingers that Domino's new "DomiCopter" -- a drone that delivers pizzas -- is real. In a recent test video, the contraption traveled about four miles in 10 minutes on a two-pizza delivery in the U.K.

Domino's hired creative agency T + Biscuits to develop and test out the contraption. Founder Tom Hatton told NBC that so far, the DomiCopter has been a success. "If anything it went quicker than a pizza boy," he said, pointing out that the DomiCopter doesn't need to stop at red lights. "We were amazed at how easy it was going to be."

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DRONE WATCH: British Anti-drone Activists Arrested

Six British Christian peace activists were arrested and detained for 24 hours for protesting at the RAF base from which British drones in Afghanistan are controlled. It is the first anti-drone protest in the U.K. to result in arrests. Ekklesia reports:

Six peace activists, representing the group Disarm the Drones, have become the first in Britain to be arrested and charged for anti-drones related offences. The nonviolent peace activists managed to breach security at Britain’s top security drone control base in Lincoln.

The six, who are Christian peace campaigners, planted a peace garden in RAF Waddington yesterday morning (3 June 2013). They also displayed images of the victims of drone attacks and may have located the precise place where UK attacks are programmed.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Sharif Calls for End to Drone Attacks

In what was largely a formality following last month’s popular elections, Pakistan’s parliament yesterday elected Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. In Mr. Sharif’s first speech, he said that he wanted better relations with the U.S., but included among his priorities an end to drone strikes. According to the Associated Press:

"This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed," Sharif said to widespread applause in the parliament hall. "We do respect others' sovereignty. It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty."

But he gave few details on how he might end the strikes. Many in Pakistan say the strikes kill large numbers of innocent civilians — something the U.S. denies — and end up breeding more extremism by those seeking retribution with the U.S.

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DRONE WATCH: Tribal Societies Under Siege

Akbar Ahmed, Islamic Studies chair at American University, writes in the New York Times this morning about the effect of both violent extremist groups and U.S. drone strikes on traditional tribal societies.

Drone strikes like Wednesday’s, in Waziristan, are destroying already weak tribal structures and throwing communities into disarray throughout Pakistan’s tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. The chaos and rage they produce endangers the Pakistani government and fuels anti-Americanism. And the damage isn’t limited to Pakistan. Similar destruction is occurring in other traditional tribal societies like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. The tribes on the periphery of these nations have long struggled for more autonomy from the central government, first under colonial rule and later against the modern state. The global war on terror has intensified that conflict.

In recent decades, these societies have undergone huge disruptions as the traditional leadership has come under attack by violent groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s Al Shabab, not to mention full-scale military invasions. America has deployed drones into these power vacuums, causing ferocious backlashes against central governments while destroying any positive image of the United States that may have once existed.

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Guns Kill More People Than Motor Vehicles in 12 States, D.C.

A new study from the Violence Policy Center found you are more likely to die from gun violence than be killed in a traffic accident in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Motor vehicle fatalities are on the decline because of safety measures instituted by the government. Firearms remain as the only consumer product not regulated by a federal agency. The Huffington Post reports:

Overall, there were 31,672 firearm deaths in 2010 and 35,498 motor vehicle deaths. Compare these numbers to 1999, when there were 28,874 firearm deaths and 42,624 motor vehicle deaths.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Attack Kills Peace Talks

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban confirmed that Waliur Rehman, the group’s second-in-command, was killed in yesterday’s drone strike. Ahsanullah Ahsan also announced that an offer to begin peace talks with the new Pakistani government was being withdrawn.The Associated Press reports:

The militant group had said earlier that it was open to peace talks. But Ahsan said Thursday that the Taliban believe the government approves of the drone strikes so they are withdrawing their offer of peace talks.

"We had made the offer for peace talks with the government with good intention but we think that these drone attacks are carried out with the approval of the government so we announce the end of the talks process," he said.

The incoming government, headed by Nawaz Sharif, promised in the campaign that it would work to bring about peace after years of violence. A U.S. drone has now called that into doubt.

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DRONE WATCH: Strike in Pakistan Kills 7

In the news this morning are reports of a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan that killed seven people, including the unconfirmed death of the number two leader of Pakistan’s Taliban. It is the first strike since Pakistan’s election, and the first since President Obama’s speech last week on drone policy. Reuters reports:

A U.S. drone strike killed the number two of the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan region on Wednesday, three security officials said, in what would be a major blow in the fight against militancy.

The drone strike killed seven people, Pakistani security officials said, including Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman, in the first such attack since a May 11 general election in which the use of the unmanned aircraft was a major issue.

Wali-ur-Rehman had been poised to succeed Hakimullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a senior army official based in the South Waziristan region, had said in December.

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DRONE WATCH: Pakistan Responds to Drone Speech

News reports over the weekend had Pakistani reactions to President Obama’s Thursday speech on drones.

DAWN reported a statement from the Pakistani Foreign Office:

The Government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law.

The Associated Press reported that while Pakistanis welcomed the speech and its more restrictive rules on drone strikes, there was also disappointment that strikes will continue:

Obama has finally responded to the popular sentiment in this country, which is fiercely against the drones, and I think that shows a certain sensitivity," said Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the defense committee in Pakistan's Senate. "But for the people of Pakistan that is not good enough unless there is a cessation of drone attacks."

Several Pakistani officials and analysts noted that the President’s comments could help in improving relations between the U.S. and the new government in Pakistan.

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DRONE WATCH: Force Alone Cannot Make Us Safe

Saying that drone killings were “effective” and “legal,” President Barack Obama defended the program in a policy speech this afternoon at the National Defense University. He also conceded that “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”

The administration, he said, has “worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists—insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.” He did not go into specific detail, but indicated it included more restrictive targeting criteria along with measures to prevent civilian casualties (“before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”)

The president said that “the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe.” And as an important part of that strategy, “we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship.”

Over the next days and weeks, we will certainly learn more, and we will see what happens on the ground.

Read reports on the speech in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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DRONE WATCH: Administration Acknowledges American Deaths

The Obama administration formally acknowledged this afternoon that four American citizens have been killed by drone strikes, one intentionally and three who were not targeted. The New York Times reports:

In a letter to Congressional leaders obtained by The New York Times, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. disclosed that the administration had deliberately killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen.

The American responsibility for Mr. Awlaki’s death has been widely reported, but the administration had until now refused to confirm or deny it.

The letter also said that the United States had killed three other Americans: Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike; Mr. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was also killed in Yemen; and Jude Mohammed, who was killed in a strike in Pakistan.

“These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” Mr. Holder wrote.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Number of Drone Strikes Declines

President Barack Obama will deliver a major speech on drone policy tomorrow. And for a number of reasons—including a smaller number of important al Qaeda targets, issues such as bad weather to diplomatic problems, and concerns about the costs and benefits—the number of drone strikes being carried out is dropping. The New York Times reports:

But lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year’s rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.

In a long-awaited address on Thursday at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama will make his most ambitious attempt to date to lay out his justification for the strikes and what they have achieved. He may follow up on public promises, including one he made in his State of the Union speech in February to define a “legal architecture” for choosing targets, possibly shifting more strikes from the C.I.A. to the military; explain how he believes that presidents should be “reined in” in their exercise of lethal power; and take steps to make a program veiled in secrecy more transparent.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Serious Moral Questions

In a letter sent to the White House and the leadership of key Congressional committees, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote that the use of drones in counter-terrorism “raises serious moral questions.”

Even when viewed through the prism of just war principles, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for targeted killings raises serious moral questions. The Administration seems to have focused narrowly on the just cause of protecting citizens, but other elements of the tradition pose significant questions, including discrimination, imminence of the threat, proportionality and probability of success. Targeted killing should, by definition, be highly discriminatory. The Administration's policy appears to extend the use of deadly force to alleged "signature" attacks and reportedly classifies all males of a certain age as combatants. Are these policies morally defensible? They seem to violate the law of war, international human rights law, and moral norms.

He concludes by asking:

We understand the necessity for operational secrecy in counter-terrorism, but isn’t it critical to have a public discussion of the terms of the Administration’s policy of employing drones for targeted killings? Don’t the moral and strategic issues involved require broader discussion? Shouldn’t a policy with such wide potential consequences be subject to public scrutiny, at a minimum by representative institutions in a democratic society?

Read more here.

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