There's no doubt that back in 1817 Charles Bagot and Richard Rush probably could not forsee the development of the machine gun. They would have laughed at the prospect of an FN M240 GPMG firing 600 rounds per minute.
So, when Bagot and Rush exchanged diplomatic letters which would become a binding standing agreement as to the maximum allowable militarization of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, they were thinking in terms of small 100 ton ships, each armed with an 18 pounder, muzzle-loaded gun, capable of speeds up to, oh, say, six knots.
The Bagot-Rush agreement did not totally demilitarize the Great Lakes. It allowed four lightly armed ships on each side of the border. That agreement has not been annulled or superceded, although modern advancements would suggest that if there was a need, more modern vessels with something other than 18 pounder muzzle-loaders would be permitted within the spirit of the agreement.
Today's Globe and Mail reports that the US Coast Guard, which qualifies under international law as an armed force, is not only mounting 7.62mm machine guns in their patrol boats, but have now established live-fire safety zones in order to conduct exercise shoots.
This is not a new story. Back in March it was announced that the USCG was mounting machine guns on their boats. In early August the USCG applied for safety zones.
The Canadian government is treating this as a "law enforcement" issue and says that there has been an agreement in place for three years which allow the up-gunning of law enforcement vessels. And, whether anyone likes it or not, the USCG is also a law enforcement arm of the US government.
That doesn't change the fact that the USCG is a part of the Department of Homeland Security and the role of those particular boats is anti-terrorism... to stop the hordes of terrorist crossing the Great Lakes.
The truth is, the US Coast Guard itself doesn't seem to know why they now have mounted machine guns on their boats.
“We're trying to be prepared in case something happens,” said a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Petty Officer Robert Lanier.Really? Why not just read a book?
“I don't know what it is, but I know I want to be prepared for it when it happens. We need to conduct these live-fire exercises so we are prepared for whatever it may be. If we are not prepared for it, there are going to be questions about why we weren't prepared for it.” (Emphasis mine)
The Coast Guard live-fire safety zones are all on the US side of the lakes, but pleasure boaters and commercial traffic from both countries use the lakes as an open, bilateral waterway. Interestingly enough, the live-fire zones seem to be angering more American vessel operators at the moment. One of the zones is right over the best fishing areas on the Michigan side.
“We don't have any cannons or rocket launchers or anything like that,” CPO Lanier said.But, Chief, you're allowed to have a cannon. It's just a sonofabitch to load.