Thursday, December 31, 2009

Come Heller high water

Gun control advocates believe that having more legally owned guns in a society makes that society more dangerous. It's an intuitive assumption, and an understandably compelling one, at least in theory. They also believe that handy guns lead to crime-of-passion murders, so they advocate for mandatory waits on gun sales and "safe storage" laws that mandate guns not be kept ready to fire.

In mid 2008, the Supreme Court struck down Washington DC's long-standing ban on civilian handgun posession, allowing District residents to legally buy and keep handguns in their homes. It also struck down DC's requirement that guns in the home be kept unloaded and locked up.

Gun control advocates predict carnage will follow, a perfectly reasonable prediction following their assumptions.

In the following year, DC sees its lowest murder rate since 1964.

Unlike many gun rights advocates, I _don't_ think this is definitely a causal relationship. The best statistical information we have suggests that easy civilian access to guns doesn't raise _or_ lower the violent crime or murder rates in any meaningful or consistent way. The culture and law enfocement sets your level of violent crime, criminals use whatever weapons are available, and in real life stabbing someone to death isn't actually much harder than shooting him to death. If adding guns in civilian hands really does deter crime or increase heat-of-the-moment murders, the two balance each other out.

So can we drop the "more guns more crime" myth already? It's sensible in theory, but like so many other sensible theories just doesn't bear out in practice.

Usul, we have nogsign the likes of which even God has never seen.

So for New Year's Eve, I decided we must have eggnog. It's the season, after all, and who can pass up a chance to mix booze with chicken embryos*? But not just any eggnog will do, of course. We needed patriotic nog. The nog of heroes. The nog of George Washington himself. Having read about his recipe in a holiday book description at work, I googled up a copy, buzzed over to the liquor store and supermarket, and got to work.

The first thing this exercise in living history teaches you is that George Washington loved his booze. You start with two cups of brandy.

From Nog Prog

Then add a cup of rye whiskey, a cup of dark Jamaican rum, and a half-cup of cream sherry. That's a quart of hard liquor, plus some fortified wine for good measure.

From Nog Prog

You can see how Washington made it through Valley Forge. Be sure at this point to sample the rum. High quality ingredients are essential. Plus, it's tradition: you're making a cocktail with hard liquor and a bowl of eggs. There's no way this was invented by a sober man.

From Nog Prog

Now separate a dozen eggs. Washington doesn't actually specify how many (by the standards of 18th century recipes, we're lucky he gives quantities for anything), but the online consensus is that twelve is the way to go. You'll end up with one bowl of slime and one bowl of embryos*. Again, this is clearly not sober work.

From Nog Prog

Whip the yolks until smooth, and add twelve tablespoons of sugar. It's about 2/3 of a cup, but I like how specifying a large number of imprecise measures can make the product vary wildly. I used an actual tablespoon rather than a tablespoon measure to make it worse.

Very slowly add the boozemelange while beating the yolks. Then do the same with a quart of milk and a quart of heavy cream. Beat the eggwhites until stiff, then slowly fold them into your pot of milk and boozeyolks. The result is one gallon of eggnog, a quarter of which is hard liquor.

From Nog Prog

Refrigerate for a few days, "tasting frequently". There's really no adjustment you can make after this point, so I think the frequent tasting is really just an excuse to dip into the nog early. Chef's prerogative.

The interesting thing about our batch is that as it's cured over the last couple days, it tastes much less like booze than when it was new. This meshes well with Washington-nog lore, which holds that it's a very dangerous drink to have around. It was at the center of a violent riot at the West Point miltary academy in 1826, that resulted in the disciplining of 51 cadets (including Jefferson Davis) and the courtmartial of nineteen more. I'm expecting a good party tonight. We aren't planning to head over to Washington Crossing and storm across the Delaware into Pennsylvania to slaughter some Hessians, but I make no promises.

[Note of 2010-12-02: I've since learned that the egg yolk is in fact the source of nutrition for the embryo, not the embryo itself. Commercial eggs are, of course, usually unfertilized. This is what happens when you grow up in central Jersey.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Slippery slopes, again

One of the tactics used by gun control advocates is to attack the "slippery slope" argument. They'll often do this before anybody even mentions the slippery slope. In any discussion of gun laws outside the gunblogosphere, one of the first five or so comments will invariably say, in so many words, "You gun nuts have to calm down. Every time anybody tries to pass a reasonable gun law, you all think it's the first step in taking your guns away." Usually they'll be much ruder than that, but it's the sentiment.

Obviously, part of the problem with this anti-gun meme is that almost none of their anti-gun proposals are actually reasonable, and a pretty good case can be made that gun control is inherently unreasonable. But what about that slippery slope? Are they right to think we're paranoid when we constantly worry that stupid, petty harassing tactics like "closing the gun-show loophole" will lead to serious restrictions on our rights?

It's actually easy to find the answer to that question spelled out in real life: move here to New Jersey and try to buy a handgun. First, you'll have to make an appointment with your local police, to fill out paperwork and be fingerprinted. If you're very lucky, your local cops will respect your rights and make this as easy as they can (mine do the prints for free, and on a couple evenings a week). If you're not... Many PDs only do fingerprinting during one hour a week, charge a fee, and put that hour where it conflicts with most people's work schedule. Then you'll have to fill out a form, pay a fee, and fill out another form releasing your mental health records. Then you'll have to provide two non-family "character references" who'll swear that you're fit to own a gun, don't drink heavily, and don't have "an explosive temper".

Then you wait. NJ state law explicitly states that the authorities have 30 days to investigate, and must then either issue your permit or give an explanation for a denial. This law is universally ignored, and NJ courts have ruled that any amount of delay is acceptable. Even in my gun-friendly town, I've never waited less than two months. In the "liberal" cities, waits of eight months to a year are common. During this time, the police will run a background check (no. 1) through the State Police, send their questionnaires to your character references and, most troublingly, send a third questionnaire to your employer. Not only does this tell a potentially anti-gun employer that you're purchasing a firearm (which could easily jeopardize your job in this state), but the process doesn't continue until all the forms are returned, giving your employer a de facto veto over your Second Amendment rights.

When this background check period is finally finished, you get a little unlaminated card that's just slightly too big to fit in a standard wallet slot. This card has to have your thumbprint on it, so that's another day off from work if your PD doesn't like the 2A.

So, you finally have your Firearms ID! Time to buy your gun!

Well, not yet. In addition to your FID, you need an individual pistol permit, in advance, for _each_ handgun you ever buy in the Garden State. That's another form, another fee, another round of questionnaires to your friends and employer, another background check (no. 2) and another wait of up to a year or beyond*. Once you finally get your FID and your triplicate carbon-copy pistol permit, you can finally go to a gun shop, lay down your money, and, hilariously, undergo the federally required instant background check that renders the entire foregoing process completely redundant.

These restrictions didn't happen overnight. They piled up step by step over decades. Why shouldn't we fingerprint gun owners? It's just a small, reasonable step that doesn't _really_ cause much of a burden. Why shouldn't we require character references? It's nothing more than an inconvenience, right? Why shouldn't we have the State police thoroughly investigate people who want to own guns? It's only thirty days. Why shouldn't we extend that period to however long it takes? If we think the SP background check is so important, isn't it worth making sure it gets done right?

The cumulative effect is that New Jersey has far, far fewer gun owners than the rest of the country, and the decrease in ownership has made it easier and easier for each new restriction to pass. How easy? Even with that mountain of delays, fees, and restrictions already weighing down and frustrating handgun purchasers in New Jersey, our soon-to-be-ex governor just pushed through a one-gun-a-month law. It's completely irrelevant to any public safety concerns in this state, and only adds another bucket to the mountain...

But there aren't enough gun owners in the state to oppose new gun control laws.

The restrictions snowball. Each arbitrary restriction reduces the number of people willing to go through the hassle, which makes it easier to marginally increase that hassle, which whittles down the number of resisters a bit more... It's a scorched earth tactic. They'll deplete our numbers through grinding attrition, until we're few enough for them to start pushing us back. It's worked in NJ. It's worked in NY. It's worked in Mass and California. And it leads to Great Britain, where gun owners were finally enough of a minority for near-total bans to be pushed through with little resistance**.

Much as we might wish otherwise, Mike Bloomberg is a very smart fella. He knows that this strategy works. He's used in in NYC, he's seen it work next door in NJ, and his plan to fight our emerging gun rights is to take the strategy national. Hamper gun shows (an important social and organizing venue) to the point that they can no longer be run profitably. Add risks of legal liabilities to gun ownership through "lost or stolen" laws and threats of prosecution for people who don't pass the instant check. Get rid of castle doctrine, so that victims who defend themselves with guns can be sued into poverty by the criminals' families. Open up gun shops to as much risk of criminal and civil prosecution--however weakly based--as possible, so that those shops can't afford to stay in business.

I truly think MAIG is consciously pursuing this strategy, but you know what? It doesn't matter. Whether they're schemingly selling their current silly restrictions as the first step in a master plan, or bumblingly proposing useless laws out of well-meaning ignorance, the result will be the same: California, then New Jersey, then Canada, then Britain. This is why we need to fight _all_ useless gun laws now, while we're still mostly America. Not out of paranoia, but out of an experience-based understanding of where useless restrictions ultimately lead.

[* - The letter of the law allows you to apply for pistol permits at the same time that you apply for your FID but doesn't require the PD to do it that way. So a PD that respects its citizens' rights can save you some time and paperwork on your first purchase. In, say, Jersey City, don't count on it. They basically have a two-year waiting period from "I'd like to become a gun owner" to actually being allowed tro purchase a handgun. This is why we've just recently started to see a surge in gun sales--the Obamarush buyers are just getting their permits.]

[** - Think it can't happen because of Heller? Bull. Constitutional restrictions cease to exist when the people don't force the government to abide by them. Our last few administrations should prove that to anybody.]
[Via Joe Huffman:]

"The argument that making contraceptives available to young people would prevent teen pregnancies is ridiculous. That's like offering a cookbook as a cure to people who are trying to lose weight."
--Rev. Jerry Falwell

What a bizarre analogy. If you want to compare to giving an overeater a cookbook, you'd have to, say, talk about giving teens a copy of The Joy of Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners. Giving teens contraceptives is more analogous to giving an overeater some tofu.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On slippery slopes

Via Ride Fast:

Slate waxes retarded on the gun owners' protection added to the Obamonstrosity. No surprises there. The usual gapemouthed shock that a gun rights advocacy group would advocate for gun rights. Nothing we don't expect.

But there's a little buried gem in there that shouldn't pass unnoticed:

"Seven years ago GOA got its knickers in a twist when State Farm and Prudential canceled a couple of insurance policies because of gun ownership. One policyholder alarmed Prudential because he owned a military-style Mossberg 500 pump-action rifle."

Got that? Ignore the columnist's inability to tell a shotgun from a rifle. A Mossberg 500 is a "military style" weapon. A pump shotgun, one of the two most popular pump shotguns in the United States, used by civilians thousands of times every day for sport shooting, hunting, and home defense, is a "military style" arm, presumably because it's issued to soldiers in some very limited contexts for base security applications.

If you ever, _ever_ start to doubt that these people are extremists out to ban all guns, remember this. As far as they're concerned, _everything_ is a "dangerous and unusual weapon".

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Good Decisions

Watching A Colbert Christmas, guest starring Toby Keith, who's hunting a Christmas deer with his AR-15.

The Fiancee: "He has terrible trigger discipline."

Aw, yeah.

Soft Power

One of the common and most insidious memes of anti-gunners is the "Rambo type". The violent gun owner who just can't wait for some poor kid down on his luck to break into his home. What would've been a simple lost TV ends in a young life cut tragically short, and the murderous monster uses "self defense" as an excuse for living out his violent urges, shielded from legal consequences.

Let's take a look at how this meme lines up with real life:

Most studies of defensive gun use in the US have found anywhere from 800,000 to 2.5 million DGUs per year, with an anomalous US government study showing only 108,000. Naturally, gun rights folks prefer the high numbers and gun control folks prefer the low ones. Let's give the gun controllers the benefit of the doubt for a moment.

According to the National Safety Council, there are fewer than 13,000 annual deaths due to "assault by firearm" in the US, a figure that includes both DGUs and criminal assaults (it excludes fatal police shootings, which at about 350 are extremely rare in comparison anyway). Let's once again give gun control the benefit of the doubt: we'll assume that there are absolutely no gun-related murders in the US, and that all gun deaths are the result of defensive shootings.

Even in a world where all the statistics and assumptions of gun controllers are true, we have 108,000 defensive gun uses per year, and fewer than 13,000 of them end in death. That means that in more than seven out of eight confrontations between criminals and armed citizens, no one ends up dead.

If gun ownership is driven by violent jackasses eager to murder intruders, they must be very, very bad at it. I guess guns don't make murder quite as easy as gun controllers seem to think.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Extree! Extree! Read all abaaaht it!

via Uncle]

Convicted murderer out on probation in Baltimore fires on police officers with a .50 handgun.

The Baltimore paper explains that the gun is typically used for hunting in the first sentence.

The Baltimore police blame the justice system for releasing a dangerous criminal.

The article and quoted sources exclusively discuss cracking down on criminals who misuse guns, never mentioning gun control or quoting a Brady.

Is this even allowed? Is it a Christmas miracle?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Don't Let's Start

Aw, They Might Be Giants--I'm sorry I strayed, baby. All those other bands meant nothing to me. Yeah, they were good for a few kicks, but when I pop in Miscellaneous T, it's like it's 1997 all over again, and I'm going to community college and spending all my money on Magic: the Gathering. Let's never fight again

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pet Peeve #1:

"It doesn't matter what caliber you're using for self defense. I worked in the ER for 78 years, and saw over 40,000 people a week killed by .22s..."

Variant: "Shit, someone should tell all those guys that have been killed with 9mms and .38 Specials that they’re not dead and they should get back up."

This one's made all the more painful by the fact that it often comes out of the keyboards of people I otherwise respect.

Can we please banish this "witticism" to the Land of Brady Statistics? If somebody's trying to hurt me or my family, I care about whether I can stop him right now, not whether he stops breathing on a table an hour later.

If we don't measure self defensive successes in dead bad guys, why the hell does anybody think invoking corpses makes for a valid rallying cry in the caliber wars?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Uncle points to a letter in the LA Times that comments on the issue of gun ownership in a surprisingly balanced, adult way. But one thing in particular deserves comment:

Second, gun owners and non-gun owners alike are in universal agreement in this country that violent, predatory criminals should not possess, have access to nor easily obtain firearms.

This is true, but the problem is that, for many gun owners (like me) it’s kind of an academic point. I agree that violent, predatory criminals _should_ not have easy access to guns, but am very, very skeptical that preventing that access is possible, or that efforts at reducing access do more good than harm.

This is based on precedent: almost all gun control measures have historically had little to no affect on violent crime rates, while reducing law-abiding citizens’ access to guns in reality. The fact that their failure typically leads to even more restrictions on lawful people (which similarly fail to reduce violent crime) increases the problem.

So what it comes down to is, yes, we agree that this would be a great thing. But we can’t exactly “compromise” on it while our side lives under the burden of a century of your side’s failed attempts, and the opposition's just suggesting we add more restrictions to the pile.

You wanna talk compromise, great. But compromise doesn't mean "anti-gunners get half of the new restrictions they want". It means that we can talk about new policies for dealing with violent crime, but we have to simultaneously start dismantling some of the restrictions that have flatly failed to address the problem, like explicit and de facto bans on concealed carry, restrictions on interstate firearms sales, Jersey-style purchase permits, and restrictions on mundane firearms features (like minimum barrel lengths on rifles and shotguns). Compromise means giving a little to get a little, not getting half of what you want and giving nothing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fiddy Cal

The gun control movement has a problem in the US. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right of the people to own guns, and don't support the gun bans that big players like the Brady Campaign, Violence Policy Center, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns want.

Or rather, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right to own guns, but... They have some reservations. Maybe they're uncomfortable with concealed carry. Maybe they're mostly cool with concealed carry, but not in some places. Maybe they only believe in private ownership of sporting guns, but not guns for self defense. Gun controllers exploit all these reservations, but the one that bears them the most fruit is the widespread perception that normal guns are fine, but there are some guns out there that're much more dangerous and need to be controlled.

Feeding that perception has gotten the anti-gunners one major victory, the National Firearms Act of 1934, which (among other things) placed heavy restrictions on machine guns. They've maintained the overblown fear of full-auto for three quarters of a century now, even adding more restrictions in the 1980s, but they have a different problem: now that they've succeeded in banishing machine guns, all other firearms are more or less the same.

For all the electronic warfare we've seen between the Browningites and the Gastonians, guns today are essentially unchanged from guns a hundred years ago. Improvements in materials sciences have made some of them marginally lighter and more carryable, marginally more durable, and marginally more accurate and easier to accessorize. And the small refinements can make contemporary guns more desireable to the modern gun owner. But in very real terms, the guns of today are no more deadly than the guns of 1934*. This means the gun banners have had to essentially manufacture a perception of deadliness out of whole cloth. The greatest success they've had was the "assault weapons" ban, a huge topic unto itself, but since the AWB has gone out with a whimper, they're reduced to manufacturing fear in some ways that stretch the imagination very, very thin.

One of the more common is their attacks on "50 caliber rifles", by which they mean rifles chambered in the very powerful .50BMG cartridge. These rifles are extremely powerful, but they're also impractical criminal weapons for a variety of reasons, which we frequently prove by pointing out that, in real life, they simply aren't used in crime.

In an attempt to refute this point, the Violence Policy Center circulates their exhaustively researched list of crimes committed with .50BMG rifles. It gets the desired emotional reaction out of many people: your eyes start to glaze with the volume of incidents, and you think "damn; bad people use these guns".

But look at the situation rationally:

A well-funded anti gun group has worked to find for every available reference to .50BMG rifles used in crime. As a result of this research, it's found a grand total of 34 connections to any crime whatsoever. Almost all are simple illegal posession by a felon or drug addict, with no actual violent crime taking place. At least one "crime" is a failure to comply with state "safe storage" laws, which the Supreme Court has suggested are unconstitutional. Several incidents are cases in which a person commmitted a violent crime, and a subsequent search of his home turned up a .50BMG rifle, indicating that when he went out to harm people, he deliberately chose to leave the .50 at home.

There are four actual violent uses of .50BMG rifles cited. In only two of them were the guns actually fired. There's no indication that anybody was killed in either shooting.

And this is for a cartridge that's been manufactured since 1921.

If you truly believe that restrictions on guns can reduce the 13,000 homicides with firearms that happen each year in this country, going after a cartridge responsible for a third of a crime per year and a grand total of zero criminal homicides is a pretty odd policy.

It's factually incorrect to say that no .50BMG rifle has ever been used in a crime, but saying that they "aren't used in crime" is just as valid as saying that jews don't murder Christian babies. Yeah, it's probably happened once or twice, but you're responding to wildly hyperbolic accusations. In that context, the difference between "never" and "at a microscopically low rate" is academic.

[* - The main exception that springs to mind is modern hollow-point ammunition, which dramatically improves the effectiveness of small caliber handguns. In practical terms, though, this only brings them closer to the power level of larger caliber handguns, which have also been around forever. "Handguns" aren't made deadlier with hollowpoints.]


The gay marriage equality initiative in New York was shot down, shortly after another unexpected and devastating narrow loss in Maine.

The proposed solution? Try it in New Jersey.

Now, New Jersey's not exactly hostile to gay people. We actually have a domestic partnership law that's legally required to give all the rights of marriage, without being called marriage. Yes, this is childish. But it still means Jersey is one of the more gay-friendly states in the union. And that's the problem.

It's incredibly frustrating, but one thing everybody learns sooner or later is that being right is often just not enough. You can be right, have all the strongest arguments, and face somebody with a fundamentally flawed position, but if the opposition is better at reading and engaging with the public, you will lose.

It seems to me that civil rights movements have a natural life cycle: in the beginning, when there are truly shocking, stomach-turning, intolerable acts of injustice being inflicted on you, sign-waving and slogan-shouting are appropriate and effective. When you're completely disenfranchised; when you're denied the right to vote; when you're legally not even considered an individual person; when cops are turning dogs and fire hoses on you or arresting you just for being in a disdained minority, you can get a lot of relief very rapidly with confrontational tactics that make you impossible to ignore.

But then you have those early concessions. When your situation changes from "actively oppressed" to abstractly discriminated against, your tactics must change, too. It isn't right that gay couples don't have legal protection in most of the country. It isn't right that New Jersey tries to give the same rights but keep gay people in a separate category. But fighting "we have to take more legal steps than a straight couple and end up with only partial protection" with the same tactics you used to fight "cops brutally beat, publicly humiliated, and arrested me for going to a gay club" doesn't gain you support. Rightly or wrongly, the mainstream community will think you're overreacting, and your point will be undermined.

When active, brutal oppression ends, you have to fight lingering, subtle discrimination with a new tactic: careful, politically savvy incrementalism. If you try to take everything at once, you'll likely lose in the long run. You have to give up the satisfaction of selfrighteously railing against the unfairness. You have to accept some unfair situations gracefully while working on others. You have to speak reasonably with awful, bigoted people, no matter how much they insult you and your life and family, because you're being watched, and will be judged on your conduct. It's frustrating, but it works much better than the emotionally fulfilling methods.

What does this mean for gay Americans? In my opinion, gay equality groups should back off the states where they have marriage and civil unions. Pushing too hard in Massachusetts, particularly in influencing school curricula, has given their enemies an enormous amount of ammunition to use against them, and probably swung Maine and California. For the time being, advocate for civil unions. They're easier for the mainstream to accept, and spreading civil unions gradually from state to state will set a much better tone for the discussion than our current "push marriage everywhere and fail constantly" strategy. And as civil unions spread, it'll change the way people feel about gay relationships, which is what you really need to do to win. At the same time, you'll have branded yourselves as nice people who just want to raise stable families, and are willing to talk it through and come to an agreement. People react better to groups like that than to radicals shouting accusations of bigotry at them. If your state and all the states around it have had gay couples enjoying equal protection for the last decade, people will feel much less wary of just calling it what it's gradually proven to be: marriage.