Thursday, September 30, 2010

The man for wisdom's various arts renown'd

One more workday to slog through, and tomorrow morning we're off to Ithaca for a subculture convention, a few White Elephant Burlesque shows, and, presumably, courting Odysseus's wife.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Old Man Guns

From Propnomicon, a page of Remington ammo prices from the 1922 Montgomery Ward catalog:

Follow the link for full size.

That's some pretty cool stuff, right there. Apart from just ogling the prices (.45 ACP for $2.46 per fifty rounds?), There's some neat stuff in the ad copy.

Soft point bullets are provided with a metal patch on the point. When the bullet strikes, the patch of harder metal causes the lead bullets to expand in the animal tissue.

It's also just plain cool to see what was popular enough to go into a general-interest catalog back then. Most revolver cartridges are offered in black powder or smokeless. There's a ".22 special", which I'd never heard of before today. There's .30 Luger, for your Great War trophy, I guess. And of course, .38 ACP matter-of-factly offered between the .32 and .380 ACPs. Glorious.

But if cattle and horses and lions had hands...

NPR reports on a new Pew Forum survey showing that atheists know more about religion than the religious folks do.

Of course, this is gratifying to my atheist ego, and that's the string they pluck on in the tiny article. It's also a strong theme in the comments: we've become atheists because we were smart enough to see the absurdity of religion. It's only the dumb sheep who stayed in their worn-out communities of superstition. Hell, Richard Dawkins has written books that do little but pluck on that string.

This is obviously not true. There is and always has been a large, networked community of religious intellectuals, and a large number of religious people in intellectual communities. The hypothesis that religion is something that happens to stupid people is so easily falsifiable that I'm embarrassed for all atheists whenever I hear it articulated.

And the actual survey also shows that the picture is, as you'd expect, more complicated than the NPR blurb:

Average number of questions answered correctly out of 32:  

Atheist/agnostic: 20.9
Jewish: 20.5
Mormon: 20.3
White Evangelical Protestant: 17.6
White Catholic: 16.0
White mainline Protestant: 15.8
No particular belief: 15.2
Black Protestant: 13.4
Hispanic Catholic: 11.6

Jews and Mormons are practically tied for first with atheists.

It seems to me that the biggest determinant is how easy it is to get into or stay in your group.

Most atheists have been raised in a religious family, and made a choice to break with that tradition. And even by the most inclusive definitions, at most 15% of Americans identify as non-religious (which in this survey would include the low scoring no-particular-beliefers). Mormons and Jews represent only about 1.7% and 1.4% of the population, and have traditionally, ah,...not been welcomed with open arms by the Protestant and Catholic majority. Becoming an atheist, Mormon, or Jew and staying that way in the United States will probably take more reading and consideration of sources than just being born a mainstream Christian and staying that way in a community overwhelmingly dominated by casual mainstream Christians.

I expect that if the survey could be controlled for effort expended on religious belief, the folks who came to Protestantism or Catholicism through a long and painful journey would score just as well as or better than the atheists.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He got a .32 gun in his pocket for fun...

The big news among New Jersey gun bloggers is state senator Jeff Van Drew's new concealed-carry proposal.  

See, Jersey is one of the nine remaining holdouts clinging to its "may issue" system for issuing concealed carry permits. The system allows police to deny permits arbitrarily even to fully qualified citizens, and (as in most may issue states) the discretion is used to enforce a de facto ban. The state has about a thousand carry licenses currently active out of a population of nearly nine million, and almost all of those are held by armored car drivers.

The particular clause abused by the NJ justice system is the law's requirement that the applicant show a "justifiable need" to carry a handgun. Current statewide policy is that no civilian need is adequate, besides protecting somebody else's money.

Van Drew's proposal would change that, bringing Jersey into the 21st century by eliminating the need clause. This is great, but there's a catch:

...[the bill] would allow residents to carry handguns if they go through a background check, complete courses in firearms safety and the lawful use of force, pass a test and pay an annual $500 fee.

Sweet barking cheese! Five hundred bucks?! A year?!

Hokay. Let's get out of the way the fact that this is utterly, skull-splittingly insane. Most states issue carry permits for around $20-125, and they're generally good for around five years. The text of the proposed statute specifies that a hundred bucks will actually go to covering the cost of administering the permit system (which is still wildly overpriced, but this _is_ New Jersey), while the remaining four hundred would go into the state's general treasury. This is a burdensome, revenue-generating tax on an enumerated Constitutional right. Imagine for a moment a proposal to bail out New Jersey's unsustainable government model by issuing a $500 annual permit to attend church.

Now, taken as understood that the proposed bill is flatly unacceptable as a public policy...

I think it could be good for us, and hope it passes.

I won't be paying $500 a year for the privilege of exercising my civil rights. But with our current looming budget apocalypse, and the implicit bias toward the wealthy and connected, and with our former governor and gun-control fetishist now replaced by a Republican gun-agnostic, this monstrosity may have a chance in hell of actually passing. If that happens, New Jersey will have explicitly abandoned the principle of "justifiable need". It's hard to overstate just how big a deal that is. The state will, though simultaneously picking our pockets, be saying in no uncertain terms that there's no problem with any qualified citizen carrying a gun.

It's not acceptable in the long run. But it's an acceptable first step. We can haggle over price later.  

Edit:  Ian Argent sets me straight on some details of the SAF carry suits in comments at his blog.  If he's right, I'm coming fully around on this one.  It would be much, much better for New Jerseyans if this "compromise" goes nowhere.)  

Friday, September 24, 2010


My local Fox affiliate has started rerunning the first season of The Simpsons.

I always have three reactions to the first season: "What was I on in 1990 that this seemed normal?", "People were protesting _this_?", and "Man, I want a frosty chocolate milkshake."

Wenn ist das Nunstruck git und Slotermeyer?

language Log discusses Denglish, the increasing assimilation of English into German:

According to Didi, it is almost to the point that, "if you can't think of a German word, you say an English word in a German accent, and it usually works!!!" In another message, Didi mentioned "the current debate over German and its quite spectacular morphing into English, or at least into Denglish. 'Shoppen,' 'pushen,' 'Sorry!'; you name it, in Germany they're saying it! Personally, I don't mind it, as I think that along with English phrases is coming a certain relaxation ('relaxen!') of attitudes in the notoriously energetic German psyche. And wasn't it ever thus with the German and English languages?"

I remember my high school Latin teacher (who was also fluent in German) saying that she could usually get her point across to German speakers just by speaking English "loud and angry".


All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome

My fellow New Jersey inmate Ian Argent has a post up about civil disorder in the United States that's worth reading:

Sebastian of Snowflakes in Hell posted about another attempt to link the violence in Mexico to American guns. In it, he quotes an article about Monterrey being terrorized by gangs, who have essentially taken control of the city, and asked us to imagine what would happen in Texas or Arizona (or even California) if gangs tried this and the government stood by.

But what would happen someplace less “rough-n-ready”? Well, we saw a “complete breakdown” of law and order in one of the least civically-organized large cities in the union about 5 years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I don’t mean to downplay the impact of the hurricane on the city, but despite the media’s best efforts to portray the events of the storm and its aftermath as some kind of Hobbesian environment (where life was brutal, nasty, and short); it ended up being only a very bad disaster experience when measured on an American scale. When compared to international disasters, not so much. There was some delay in repair crews rolling in due to the hyped fears of violence, but by and large, Masterblaster did not end up ruling Bartertown. The National Guard showed, but they didn’t have to fight their way in, and mostly spent their time acting as emergency workers. New Orleans was newsworthy at least partially because of the unexpected level of breakdown.

He goes on to discuss the role of privately owned firearms in preserving order in a crisis, and very responsibly tries not to overstate it:

The majority of people, even in the states with the most firearms-friendly laws, are not firearms enthusiasts. They don’t have the training or the inclination to hat up and bust caps. If they did, they might very well be the cops or military. Not always, though; for example, any gangers who try and terrorize the good residents of Broad Ripple, IN will lead brief and exciting lives, and IMPD will only have to bring by the coroner.

But a quick word on private guns in a serious crisis: Ordinary Americans without significant firearms training have shown repeatedly that when things _really_ go to hell--when they go from "I need stuff" to "invaders are threatening my community"--they're ready and able to find religion and start defending themselves.

We tend to think of this as an issue in places with stricter gun control. How many times have you seen nerds point out how badly boned Great Britain will be in a zombocalypse? But here in the States, I actually think there's a levelling factor not usually considered.

Our gun laws very often correlate with population. It's the overcrowded urban enclaves where people start to see their neighbors' every action as a potential imposition, and start to develop the communal, regulatory mindset that leads to gun control. It ain't Montana that's pushing to "close the gun-show loophole". In regions with strict gun control, there are so many people that you're bound to have lots of dedicated folks willing to jump through all the hoops to get guns. This is why New Jersey has such a paradoxical relationship with guns: we have some of the most draconian gun laws in the country, but we also have the most privately-owned guns per square mile.

Even here, in a state whose laws have led to a three-month waiting period for handgun sales and mandatory employer notification of handgun purchases, I wouldn't give Master Blaster a week before he gets picked off by a New Jerseyan with a rifle.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I'm at a loss

[Note: as Joe mentions, he's covered this issue more completely over at his blog. It's not like the man needs a pointer from me, but do check out the post and discussion if you're the masochistic type who can't get enough of this silliness.]

I'm not going to turn this into a Joan Peterson blog, so this is the last you'll hear about her here. But this latest string of comments couldn't bear to go unremarked on.

Joe Huffman showed up asking his One Question. These are the relevant parts of the relevant comments:

Joe Huffman said...


I have Just One Question for you:

Can you demonstrate one time or place, throughout all history, where the average person was made safer by restricting access to handheld weapons?

I have to get to work right now but I should have time to answer your questions tonight.
September 23, 2010 11:03 AM

japete said...

Joe-probably all of those domestic homicides, restricting gangs and criminals from guns would save lots of live; I could go on and on. What is your point? So you think that restricting felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill people, terrorist would not have or won't save lives? That's hard to believe.
September 23, 2010 12:17 PM

Joe Huffman said...


Please read the question and the post at the link carefully. I am asking which of those tens of thousands of laws, already in existence, restricting handheld weapons have demonstrated their effectiveness in making people safer. The CDC study concluded there is no evidence to support such a conclusion.

I am interested in actualities not potentialities. My point is that we should, and probably can, agree on replicating laws that produce clear, measurable, results that make societies safer with no appreciable risk and low cost.

September 23, 2010 1:57 PM

japete said...

Gun laws in most other industrialized countries are more strict than ours. Gun deaths per 100,000 in these countries don't even come close to the number in this country. That is proof that some restrictions lead to lower percentages of gun deaths per population.
September 23, 2010 3:02 PM

Joe Huffman said...


You are avoiding the question again. The question is whether such laws made them safer. Not whether such laws reduced the "gun deaths". This has been pointed out before here, if in response to firearms restrictions the criminal homicide using a firearm goes to zero but the total homicide and violent crime rate doubles then society has not been made safer.

If more innocent life is taken or permanently injured I take no consolation in the fact that no firearms was involved.

So again, where is the data that shows any restriction on person weapon ownership has made the average person safer?
September 23, 2010 4:13 PM

japete said...

Joe- this is a new one. So, reduced gun deaths isn't safer from the public? Please explain.
September 23, 2010 5:00 PM

Sean D Sorrentino said...

"Joe- this is a new one. So, reduced gun deaths isn't safer from the public? Please explain."

he already did. Let's do a thought experiment. there is a room with 100 people. in one room there is a gun, and one person will be killed with it. 1 death per hundred, 1 "gun death" per hundred. in another room there are no guns, just a knife. 2 people will be killed. 2 deaths per hundred, but 0 "gun deaths." which is "safer?"

Using the metric "gun death" doesn't tell you the total rate.

September 23, 2010 5:43 PM

japete said...

Huh? totally missed this logic. I don't think there is any there.
September 23, 2010 5:45 PM


I'm completely at a loss. Subsequent comments seem to indicate that Ms. Peterson is, ah, an _intuitive_ thinker who has some trouble with comparing her intuition to reality, but is it really possible to so completely fail to grasp such a simple point? Or is this just a put-on from a standard-issue gun controller who hasn't yet learned the usual plays for dodging the questions their ideology can't stand up to?

This is extremely frustrating, but in a way it's also extremely gratifying. Joan Peterson isn't just some schlub with a blog like me: she's a chapter president for the "Million" Mom March and a Brady Campaign board member. Seeing the brainpower on display in the gunblogosphere versus the style of reasoning the antis have to offer... It puts our recent successes into perspective.

Edit: And, the final word:

"There were so many comments to this thread that it's not possible to answer them in the time I have available. From what I can tell, what you are all saying is that guns are not the problem. I see it differently. I have provided facts to show that gun deaths take more lives than any other means in the U.S. I am concentrating on the U.S. and what is going on here. It is still true that gun deaths per 100,000 are higher in the U.S. than other industrialized countries. You have shown me your own graphs and your own facts. We will have to agree to disagree about this. It is futile to keep going with this thread."

A declared unwillingness to consider that getting rid of the guns won't prevent those "gun deaths", in the face of a staggering lack of evidence for her belief.

There's truly nothing more to be said.

In which I think I'm very clever, don't I?

From General interwebs

The Trick of Blood and Iron

So my friend Dan works in IT. He just sent me a message asking to borrow my Ubuntu manual and boot disk, so I asked the obvious question: was he planning to join the dark side? He assured me the situation was more complicated:

Actually, looking to deal with a virus problem at work. There's a trojan that we can't get rid of, and it spreads via flash drives and external hard drives, many of which have fairly important information on them, so I can't just killdisk them an call it a day. Hence, Ubuntu. This is a windows virus, so if i set up a VM on my test laptop running Linux, I should be able to get rid of the viruses without exposing the network to any additional risk.

As an English major, naturally I was able to help:

Oh, boy, I can't tell you how many times I've been there. What's worked for me more times than not is to mix up some gunpowder into dark rum, and pour in the running blood of a freshly killed chicken while asking Papa Legba to have his loa, Maitre Carrefour, keep the juju from a-movin' anywhere but into a poppet made up from duct tape and ethernet cables. Once you got it all trapped up in the poppet, hang it from a pair of crossed sticks over a doorway with a nail through it, and it won't be comin' back unless you go and say its name on a full moon.

I don't think he'll take me up on it, though:

...I think we may be discussing different issues, but I'm not certain. We follow an ITIL model, but there are other industry standards out there, so I can't rightly say.

Tech snobs.

This is where the party ends...

I can't stand here listening to you and your racist friend.

Remember Joan Peterson's 20 questions that got some play yesterday? A friend of hers who goes by Alan has weighed in to criticise one of Bob S's links about an unrelated topic.

Criticism number one is fine, if overblown: the linked articles aren't scholarly, which is true, even if it's not entirely relevant.

Criticism number two... Well, I'll let you read it yourself:

Following these links led me into a world that I didn’t know existed. The world where white men over forty don’t seem to realize they are a highly privileged class. White privilege is a fact of life in America, but here is a large group of the privileged who have convinced themselves that they are a persecuted majority. Their persecutors are people of color, women, liberals, and the justice system, to list just a few. I think rational people correctly see this as hogwash.

So no response to content. No discussion whatsoever of the issues. Not even a denial that the civil-rights complaints in the article are true. Just a bald dismissal of the validity of the complaint based on the race, sex, age, and presumed economic status of the person making it.

Joan, who's made a point that she thinks uncivil and demeaning language are unacceptable in an online debate, promptly weighed in:

I have to agree with Alan and this quote from Bob S. proves the point Alan was making: " The point is people's rights are being abrogated without them being guilty of anything, don't you think that is outrageous? "

Again, she isn't even saying he's wrong. Maybe their rights _are_ being denied without due process, but you're a white man, so shut your privileged mouth!

I gave Joan the benefit of the doubt, but this is just intolerable. I can cut people slack for holding unexamined anti-gun opinions, and even some classist ones, but selfrighteous racism and sexism on top of that is just too much.

These people believe they're doing good, and will probably never understand how much they're feeding into the corrosive bullshit that's so badly damaging all Americans' freedom.

Ms. Peterson, You got some 'splainin' to do.

Edit: Two hours later, five new replies have been approved, but not my request for an explanation. I guess she really is just another hack using conciliatory noises to try to reframe the usual pack of talking points, and for whom gun control has much more to do with stereotyping and culture warfare than with an intellectually honest assessment of public good. It was predictable, but I'd held out hope she might be one of the few good ones. It's a shame, if not a surprising one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Discourse, so far

Joan Peterson is a gun control advocate and board member for the anti-gun Brady campaign, and she has a blog. I've been talking gun laws there for a week or so, and with a few idiosyncrasies, she's clearly indicating a desire to discuss and understand the issue. Time will tell whether the desire is genuine, or, as we've seen from other gun-control bloggers, just a rhetorical attempt to frame the issue as reasonable Bradies against hardheaded, uncompromising gun owners.

One issue she has is a heavy hand with comment moderation. I'm skeptical of her blocking gunnies who've made their points aggressively (I don't know how aggressively, or whether I blame them; see below), but a bigger issue is her casually declining comments that she doesn't think add to the discussion. In recent posts about gun accidents, for example, I've linked to statistics showing that it's a tiny problem, and had those posts declined because she isn't interested in non-gun accidental deaths and never made any specific claims about their commonness.

Because of this, when Ms. Peterson asks gun owners to play 20 questions in the interest of common understanding, and says outright that she may quote the responses in her own rebuttals rather than approving the responses in whole, it makes me feel a lot better to put my own response out in the open:

1 - Do you believe that criminals and domestic abusers should be able to buy guns without background checks?

I have no problem with prohibiting gun ownership by convicted violent criminals. Background checks are covered below.

2 - What is your proposal for keeping guns away from criminals, domestic abusers, terrorists and dangerously mentally ill people?

I don't think it can be done short of a complete ban on guns, and that will only keep guns away from the less dedicated ones. All the other gun-control measures your organization advocates will fail to prevent access, just as our past century of gun control has. Background checks are childishly easy to circumvent (_everybody_ knows somebody with a clean record). As is true in most cases, the best we can do is hope to deter bad behavior by being good at reacting to it.

3 - Do you believe that a background check infringes on your constitutional right to "keep and bear arms"?

A background check by itself, no. But I'm not convinced they can be implemented without--as the current system does--seriously burdening the market, driving up prices and driving down accessibility, which we don't generally regard as acceptable where Constitutional rights are concerned.
Can you imagine an advocacy group dedicated to stamping out illegal use of expression (like libel and inciting riot) by pushing for background checks on books, which required all book sales to go through licensed dealers, banned the transfer of books by mail order (so that you can only buy online by having it shipped to your local licensed bookstore and paying them a transfer fee), and outlawing the interstate purchase of political and religious books (which, of course, are responsible for the greatest percentage of book deaths)?
This is made worse by the fact, again, that background checks don't and can't _work_. There will always, always be straw buyers.

4 - Do you believe that I and people with whom I work intend to ban your guns?

I've only been reading your blog for a few posts, so I don't know where you stand personally. But I own handguns, some of which are even (gasp!) semiautomatic, and the Brady Campaign has supported bans on them.
I believe that most casual gun control advocates don't want to ban _all_ guns, and are simply under the incorrect impression that guns are constantly getting deadlier, so we need to ban the new, ultra-deadly ones. But I also see (especially as a New Jersey resident) how every time the new gun control law inevitably fails to fix the problem, the proposed solution is always, always even more restrictions. Anybody who cares about a civil right would be a fool not to think about where that pattern is leading.
Great Britain shows us how far people who don't want to ban all guns can go, and they show little sign of being done restricting.

5 - If yes to #4, how do you think that could happen ( I mean the physical action)?

How do we enforce any ban? Confiscation can involve passive seizure of only the contraband that comes to police attention, or midnight SWAT raids. Both are unacceptable.

6 - What do you think are the "second amendment remedies" that the tea party GOP candidate for Senate in Nevada( Sharron Angle) has proposed?

I'm disturbed that so many people seem to think we've transcended history into permanent stability and freedom for all time, and that the American Revolution was a one-time deal that can never be legitimately repeated. It tends to be tied up in the equally disturbing attitude that voting is all the remedy we could ever need for any government abuse. I don't believe now is the time for revolution, and I hope that time doesn't come in my life. Revolutions are terrible, terrible affairs in which there's no guarantee of success, no guarantee that the new system will be better than the old, and however it turns out, lots of good people die. They're to be avoided whenever possible.
But when you have a government that routinely and casually ignores the legal restrictions on its power, and is constantly entrenching more and more of its excesses in ways that are difficult to dislodge through elections... Well, again, I think a person would be a fool not to look ahead to what might be necessary in the future if we keep going down that road. There are simply things worth fighting for.

7 - Do you believe in the notion that if you don't like what someone is doing or saying, second amendment remedies should be applied?

That's quite a broad question. It depends on whether and to what extent that person's actions harm me. Shoot somebody in a disagreement over a parking space? Obviously not. Shoot somebody in a disagreement over whether I should get on the train to be relocated to a government farm? Obviously yes. As with so many things in life, principle is a matter of drawing lines in the gray space between the extremes.
I can't come up with an example of a justified shooting over protected speech, but most reasonable states allow deadly force in response to credible threats of murder or serious assault.

8 - Do you believe it is O.K. to call people with whom you disagree liars and demeaning names?

I think it's usually preferable not to. But change the context for a moment. Let's say you're an LGBT rights advocate, and you come to yet another website about how Jesus hates teh gays. The most recent post is one more cookie-cutter attack: linking to a story about a man who molested a boy and implying that it's a black mark on gay people; pointing to statistics about a purported link between child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality; and advocating for invasive laws that interfere with gay Americans' rights to live as they please for the sake of protecting children and the family.
Would you cut some slack to the commenters if they weren't especially kind while making their rebuttals?

9 - If yes to #8, would you do it in a public place to the person's face?

It's simply a fact of participating in the internet: it tends to increase the jerk-factor a little or a lot.

10 - Do you believe that any gun law will take away your constitutional rights?

The question is a bit vague. Are you asking if I can imagine an unconstitutional gun law? Of course. At the very least, we have a concrete ruling that handgun bans and "safe storage" laws are unconstitutional. Are you asking if I can imagine a Constitutional gun law? Sure. Laws that punish negligent and malicious use of guns are fine. But by their nature, laws restricting acquisition and possession--because the mild ones are ineffective and the severe ones burden lawful conduct--tend not to pass the strict scrutiny test used to evaluate restrictions on Constitutionally protected behavior.

11 - Do you believe in current gun laws? Do you think they are being enforced? If not, explain.

Current gun control laws clearly don't work, because after a century of them we still have so many crimes committed with guns that you're saying we have a crucial, urgent need for more gun laws.
Current gun laws are also often nonsensical and pointless, like our 76-year-old federal ban on short-barreled rifles that prohibits me from shortening a rifle or putting a stock on a pistol under any circumstances (except with certain handguns grandfathered by name), but allows the manufacture of rifle-caliber pistols as long as a stock never goes on them unless a longer barrel is attached first. ... This is why any discussion of "common sense" gun laws must include fixing or eliminating the insensible ones we already have.
And living near Philadelphia definitely puts gun law enforcement in perspective. Even nonexistent gun laws are enforced against the law-abiding (Philly police don't like concealed-carry reciprocity, for example, so they have a habit of arresting and harassing out-of-state-permit holders and later dropping the charges), while actual violent criminals are very frequently released on plea bargains or early parole, or are simply left on the streets awaiting trial for months.
(I'm sensing an undercurrent to these questions, by the way. Do you include laws against assault with a deadly weapon in your mental "gun laws" category, or is your scope limited to laws that restrict private sale and possession?)

12 - Do you believe that all law-abiding citizens are careful with their guns and would never shoot anybody?

There's no such thing as "all X people always do Y". I generally trust my fellow citizens, and accept that in that atmosphere of trust some people will act irresponsibly or maliciously. It's a fundamental cost of living in a free society, and I think the proper response is to be prepared to deal with the irresponsible and malicious, not to erode the freedom and trust in hopes of restraining the problem people in advance.

13 - Do you believe that people who commit suicide with a gun should be included in the gun statistics?

I don't think it matters, as long as we're defining our terms clearly. Suicide with a gun is deadly serious, though, not a "cry for help", and I think it's very poor reasoning to talk about "gun suicides" as though eliminating the guns would have prevented those deaths. Japan is absolute proof that you don't get a low suicide rate by removing guns. You can include it all you want, but I don't see a compelling public policy interest in that half of our "gun deaths".

14 - Do you believe that accidental gun deaths should "count" in the total numbers?

Again, sure. And we don't even have to worry so much about defining our terms because, as previously discussed, it's a drop in the bucket. I can understand that you want to focus on gun accidents because that's your area of interest. But it might help you to understand that the relative rarity of accidental gun deaths is why most other people aren't reacting with the same concern you are.

15 - Do you believe that sometimes guns, in careless use or an accident, can shoot a bullet without the owner or holder of the gun pulling the trigger?

In very, very rare cases, always involving old gun designs and negligence. A hundred-year-old single action revolver design can go off if it's improperly loaded and then dropped on its hammer. A 1970-series or earlier Model 1911 pistol _may_ discharge if it's dropped more than ten feet and hits a hard surface barrel-first. I'm at a loss for other examples off the top of my head. The key here is that guns only "go off" through intent or negligence. A gun left properly holstered is a danger to nobody, and arguments that we need to restrict concealed carry to prevent accidental deaths hold precisely no water.

16 - Do you believe that 30,000 gun deaths a year is too many?

I believe one car death a year is too many. But I accept the 45,000 per year that we have, because the freedom automobiles give us outweighs the cost. Guns are involved in fewer deaths, are a Constitutional right, and the idea that eliminating the guns would prevent the 30,000 annual homicides and suicides is much more tenuous, so I'm much less likely to accept restrictions on them. The universal belief that it's "too many" deaths has a very limited bearing on the discussion, and is often just brought up as a rhetorical tactic intended to put the gun-rights advocate in a difficult or embarrassing position.

17 - How will you help to prevent more shootings in this country?

I'd end the "war on drugs", stop locking people up for nonviolent procedural violations, and use the enormous resulting prison space and justice system resources to catch, convict, and lock up actual violent criminals for a long, long time in prisons remote from their criminal networks.
Between eliminating organized crime's main source of profit and actually punishing _misuse_ of guns rather than burdening lawful possession, I expect a significantly lower rate of deadly violence in general, including shootings. It can't possibly be a worse experiment than continuing the hundred-year failure of gun control.

18 - Do you believe the articles that I have posted about actual shootings or do you think I am making them up or that human interest stories about events that have happened should not count when I blog about gun injuries and deaths?

I don't believe you're making them up. I also understand that humans are bad at instinctively assessing actual risks, and tend to give undue weight to vivid stories, which often mislead us about where the real danger is (a semirelated example is how many people think of rape in terms of assault by strangers, when the overwhelming majority of rapes are actually committed by acquaintances; this can have terrible effects on how we teach women to protect themselves, and on how courts treat rape victims.)

19 - There has been some discussion of the role of the ATF here. Do you believe the ATF wants your guns and wants to harass you personally? If so, provide examples ( some have written a few that need to be further examined).

Me in particular? I'm pretty sure I'm off their radar. But as with any alphabet-soup agency, I'm very concerned about how much practical power they've been delegated, and how transparent and accountable they are.

20 - Will you continue a reasonable discussion towards an end that might lead somewhere or is this an exercise in futility?

I promise I'll do my best not to stomp off in a petulant snit. But these discussions often get pointless and draining really quickly, as it becomes clear that both sides have irreconcilably different perspectives on whether and when violence is justified, on the proper relationship between government and the people, and on government's practical ability to solve problems deeply entrenched in human nature. I intend to continue discussion until it gets too frustrating to keep up, or too frustrating to keep up civilly.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Public good

So France is on the verge of banning the wearing of burqas in public.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, a staunch advocate for the law, said the ruling is to protect women from being forced to cover their faces and to uphold France's secular values.

In order to protect you from being forced to dress as somebody else wishes, we're going to fine you if you don't dress as we wish.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

You get the government you deserve

In the last year, oponents of gun rights in Philadelphia have been trying to make an issue of what they call "the Florida loophole". The short version is this: Pennsylvania is a shall-issue state. That means that if you meet the state's requirements for getting a concealed carry permit (essentially, you can pass a background check), you get your permit.

As Philly is one of those cities with a huge crime rate due to entrenched social problems that nobody wants to risk handling directly, they try to do what most big cities do about violence instead of something: put restrictions on gun ownership for law-abiding citizens. In this case, the Philadelphia police have long been reading the state's "character and reputation" clause as broadly as possible, using it as justification for denying permits to people who've ever failed to pay a parking ticket.

But there's recourse for the folks wrongly denied. Pennsylvania has reciprocity with Florida. Get yourself a Florida carry permit (which, incidentally, has much stricter requirements than PA's, including mandatory safety training and fingerprinting), and you can carry in the whole state, including Philadelphia. Naturally, the city cops are furious.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports on steps Philly police have taken to harass holders of Florida permits, including wrongful confiscation of guns, pressing charges until they can't be sustained any more, and handcuffing hospital patients to their beds.

There's not much new here. People who think controlling peaceful citizens is the answer to a problem tend to abuse the folks who subvert their control. Not a big shock. But I'm shocked at just how brazen these douchebags are:

Lt. Fran Healy, special adviser to the police commissioner, acknowledged that some city cops apparently are unfamiliar with some concealed-carry permits. But he said that it's better for cops to "err on the side of caution."

"Officers' safety comes first, and not infringing on people's rights comes second," Healy said.

Incorrect, asshole. Police are payed by the people to risk their own safety protecting the people's rights. If you think your safety trumps individual rights, you need to be reminded of the nature of your relationship with the people.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Old Man Guns

For the last couple days I've been flipping through Recon Trooper, a memoir of WWII in Europe by Hugh Warren West, a soldier with the 14th Armored Division. These ground-level memoirs are always a treat, recording the little pedestrian details of life that are far too trivial for larger histories.

There's a ton of good stuff in here about racing captured German military vehicles, teaching illeterate soldiers to read ammo crates, and loosing tons of ammunition at a deer that wandered into an alarm tripwire, but of course, I zeroed in on the small arms talk:

The army was so determined that we'd be ready for combat, they kept us training at Camp Chaffee, as well as in Kentucky and Tennessee, for nearly two years. None of us dreamed we'd be kept in the States so long, but our general wanted the 14th to be an elite unit, even though it had no prior history.
The DIs and officers accomplished this by drilling us until we could handle our equipment like it was an extension of ourselves. At first, they issued us M-1 Garand rifles, and we learned to take them apart and put them back together blindfolded in less than two minutes. We even shouted odes to it as we marched. ("This is my rifle, this is my gun. One is for killing, one is for fun.")
The Garand was a fine rifle, a bolt action 30.6 caliber that was extremely accurate, and fired semi-automatic from a five-round clip. Later, I was issued an M-1 carbine, or more precisely, an M-2. It was smaller and lighter, semi-automatic, with such a small kick that you could fire it from the hip or even holding it with one hand. It had the reputation of being less accurate than the Garand, but in the right hands, it was a great weapon. My own M-2 was manufactured by Remington Rand, the company that made typewriters and adding machines. It was just any other company that had retooled its factories to make weapons of war, and I liked to think of my M-2 as a "business machine."
One day, I was firing the M-2 at the target range when a particularly nasty first sergeant approached me. I'd had a history of grief from this man, who assigned me to all the bad duty he could invent. I'd been shooting targets at rapid fire when the sergeant arrived and said he didn't like the way I held my rifle. I had the belt twisted around my arm to steady my aim, something I'd learned was most effective, but he shouted that no one could hit a target like that.
Since he wasn't my drill sergeant, I loaded a fresh twenty-round magazine and shot the whole clip rapid fire at the target with the rifle belt twisted around my arm. The target came back with 20 bulls-eyes. He never said a word. He just stalked away, looking for some other dog face to pick on.

It's interesting to see another aspect of memoirs illustrated: when you're experiencing the event through one person's memory, you also get any faults that've crept into his memory over the years. In addition to some details that sound too much like vivid popular images to accept unskeptically (like West's memory of trashing a shop outside Dachau that had been selling tattooed human-skin lampshades), there are smaller factual details that I'm pretty sure are flat out incorrect, unless they just show inadequate education on my part. When West says the Garand is a "a bolt action" rifle that fires "from a five-round clip", I can only assume he's conflating it with a model 1903 Springfield rifle. I understand five-round Garand clips exist, but were any used widely in WWII? I'm also unaware of any M1 carbines being made by Remington Rand. 1911s, sure, but carbines? "30.6 caliber", though, is probably a typo or an error in John Scura's transcription of his interviews with West.

Aside from additional training with my M-2 carbine and the bazooka, I relished taking target practice with the Browning Automatic Rifle. It was a relic, used in the latter stages of the First World War by our doughboys in France. The thing weighed more than twenty-five pounds, and was one of the first fully automatic assault rifles. But it fired a heavy 30.06 caliber bullet with incredible range and accuracy, which was something that a lot of machine guns lacked. And it was perfect for the soldier in the field, because t never jammed, no matter how much mud and water it encountered.
Our army continued to use the BAR because of its proven record in the field, and because we didn't have a suitable replacement until many years after the Korean War. I marveled at its simplicity, and thought Browning, its inventor, must have been a genius. He'd also invented our army's standard pistol, the Model 1911 .45 caliber automatic, which is still being used by American elite units like the Navy Seals and the Delta Force. I personally thought it had a little too much boom to be accurate, but it certainly had the one shot-one kill ability that every soldier wants when his life depends on it.
The rival assault weapon to the BAR in our arsenal was the Thompson sub-machine gun. This was the iconic weapon of choice by gangsters, bootleggers and G-men during the Prohibition era and throughout the 1930s. But its use in the field was limited mostly to officers. It had a variety of magazines instead of a belt, so its firing was limited to 30 to 50 rounds usually. After a magazine was spent, you had to eject it and pop in another, then rearm the thing. And firing it took some getting used to. It was a .45 caliber machine gun, so the muzzle tended to climb as you fired it in long bursts. You really had to grasp the front grip hard to keep it from climbing off the target. I wasn't that thrilled with the thing, but it was incredibly popular with the men because of its colorful history and frequent appearance in Hollywood movies.

Little inaccuracies or no, it's wonderful to get all these firsthand details of how a soldier on the ground perceived and used his weapons. And it isn't just American arms he talks about:

[West has been taken by surprise and held at gunpoint by a German soldier, but has talked the man into surrendering.]
I kept the pistol. It was a 9-mm Browning, manufactured in Belgium. When the Germans captured Belgium they took over production of these pistols, and made them conform to their 9-mm Luger ammunition, so they could use them easily in the war. The one I captured had wooden handles, like the Model 1911 .45 automatic, but it carried 13 rounds in the clip. It was very similar to the current standard-issue NATO pistol. I had that pistol in water and mud, and it never failed. It was very easy to strip and clean. I wore it on my army belt, because it had a clip.
And it was accurate. I used to take target practice, firing at birds sitting atop a barge on a lake. If I had to choose a pistol that I'd need in the field for a long time, I'd take that Browning. I dragged that pistol all over Europe with me. I was a little scared of being captured again while carrying it, because the Germans didn't look too kindly on American soldiers in possession of their equipment. But it had precious meaning, so I took the chance and kept it.
Just about everyone in my unit had captured weapons, anyway. Whenever we knew action was imminent, and there would be some risk of capture, we'd all dump our booty into the cook's half-track. He had a stove on board, and we'd all throw our stolen guns into the back.
"Those damned things in here will get me killed," the cook always protested, but we didn't pay attention. After the action was finished, we'd all return to the cook's half-track to reclaim our items. Sometimes fights would break out over who owned what.
But I made sure no one had a chance to swipe my Belgian Browning. I kept it on my belt through all actions, and brought it home with me after the war. It's still in my family to this day.

Browning should see about getting the rights to use some of that in their ad copy. It sure makes me want a Hi-Power.