Wednesday, August 15, 2018

No Words

I am surprised and dismayed about the extent of the abuse scandal in PA, and the lies of the bishops of the USCCB. I guess I sholdn't be, looking around me. You see, we can point at the priests who did these horrible things, and the bishops who excused them or even supported them, but the fact is, the priests and laity all around us are looking excusing and supporting this as well.

Consider Fr. Feelgood, who every week gives a "Guido Sarducci" style homily "God loves you" and "Love your neighbor." There is no preaching of the Gospel. He's happy to ignore the couples cohabitation, committing adultery, contracepting, aborting, abusing themselves, each other and their children. Do you think there's a moral difference between abusing a child by rape and abusing a child by abortion, or simply neglect? He's happy to ignore the people who put Sunday games above the rightful worship due the creator of the universe. He makes football jokes off the altar, and the laity laugh, and come to mass dressing their favorite team's jerseys.

Does Fr. Feelgood even believe we need to worship the creator of the universe? He says so, but he doesn't act that way. He complains about having to say mass, and says as few as possible. He is more concerned with the appearances of holiness in shows of philanthropy than actually cultivating prayer and penance in himself and in his parishioners.

And we the laity sit in the pews and accept all this. We don't expect to hear (and are complacent not to ever hear) a homily that makes us uncomfortable. Truly uncomfortable. Oh we'll listen to the "love your neighbor" homily and realize we fall short of that, but how many times do we hear a homily on hell, sin, immorality that makes us uncomfortable? Never. And we like it that way.

When we are engaging in sterile, immoral, illicit, secret sex, and excusing it in ourselves and others, why are we surprised to find that others (including our priests and bishops) are doing the same? When we regularly violate our marriage vows, why are we surprised that our priests and bishops violate theirs as well?

The bishops are trying to rile up the people to righteously oppose immigration laws and the death penalty, when by their own actions they are keeping people out of the church and killing the innocence of those in the church.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe to the world for temptations to sin. For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire."

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fully Semiautomatic

This week's "Chicken Little" rant is by Chuck Schumer. According to Schumer, the decision that the first amendment allowed for someone to post schematics for a 3D printable gun makes the United States "a lot less safe." Not to be left out, NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal sent a “cease and desist” letter to Defense Distributed saying that they must stop because their plans could be used to make assault weapons that are illegal in NJ.

So, what's the brouhaha all about? Should we all be hiding under our desks?

The Company

According to their wed site, Defense Distributed is a non-profit, private defense firm principally engaged in the research, design, development, and manufacture of products and services for the benefit of the American rifleman. Since 2012, DD has been headquartered in Austin, Texas.

The principle is this: the United States has always recognized the rights of the people to keep and bear arms. That has always meant that you could defend yourself without the government's permission. The best way to ensure that the government cannot abrogate these rights is to have the means of production in the hands of private citizens. To put it in geek speak, you can't stop the signal. The same principle as youtube, google, social media, etc. supposedly espouse.

To that end, Defense Distributed has two "products." One is DEFCAD, which unfortunately results in this for me.
Thanks Mr. Grewal, or whoever. However, Wikipedia says this about it:
DEFCAD, Inc. is an Austin-based startup that has created a search engine and web portal for designers and hobbyists to find and develop 3D printable and other CAD models online launched by Defense Distributed.
The other is GhostGunner, which takes its name from the term CA state senator Kevin DeLeon used in his infamous nonsensical rant on "untraceable" guns. GhostGunner is a CNC mill that can be used to machine a firearm out of a preformed metal billet. [Update: upon further research the GhostGunner can only perform the last few steps of machining - it requires what is known as an "80% lower" - a gun part which is mostly machines but requires a few holes to be drilled/milled in order to make it operational.]

What Does This Mean?

So, what does this technology give people that they didn't have before? Well, to patriots, this means their government can no longer complete stop the means of self defense, unless they block the web sites, and make it illegal to manufacture a firearm, like they have in New Jersey. But to the rest of the country, where it is already legal to make an item for personal use for lawful self defense, this is a boon, and makes lawful self defense more accessible and safer for people.

But what about criminals? Couldm't they now use this to make "untraceable" guns? Well, there are two parts to that. First off, why is it important to be bale to "trace" guns? Maryland, for instance, considered it so important that they created a "gun fingerprint" database to track every gun in the state so it could be easily "traced" to solve crimes. After 15 years using the database police were able to use it to solve... zero crimes. That's right, the ability to trace firearms did not change the outcome of a single criminal investigation in 15 years. The database was eventually scrapped as a waste of money. So forgive me if I yawn when we hear that untraceable guns will enable criminals.

The second part is, does this technology make it easier for criminals to make "untraceable" guns? Emphatically no. If you were a criminal, and wanted to make an "untraceable" gun under the mistaken impression that somehow you would be able to get away with crimes because of it, you can either: buy a GhostGunner CNC platform, download plans for a gun, purchase the appropriate types and grades of metal, fabricate the frame of the gun (which is the serialized part), purchase all the other parts you need (barrel, grips, trigger and trigger mechanism, slide, firing pin, springs, safeties, etc.), then assemble them all and hand tune the parts to make a working gun, all for a cost of about $1,500 to $2,000; OR buy an existing gun on the streets for $200, buy a file for $5 and file off the serial number.

While it is feasible to do the former, and stay within federal law (filing off a serial number is illegal), I would bet a criminal would choose the latter method, or if he is smart, not care about the gun being "traceable" because that won't affect him in any way.

So, if you really want to stop "untraceable" guns (and why you'd want to do that is questionable), the thing to ban is not the 3D printer, but the thing pictured at the top of this post.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Not the Same

By White House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
To all the people comparing the expulsion of Sarah Sanders from a restaurant to the refusal of Jack Phillips to bake a cake, they are not the same. Here's why.

Jack Phillips did not refuse to serve David Mullins and Charlie Craig, he refused to make a product that was against his religious beliefs to make. Mullins and Craig were welcome to purchase any product that Phillips made, this was jut not a product he was willing to make. Furthermore, Mullins and Craig were not asked to leave the premises, but were welcome in the store. According to the rules of ethics and morality, had Phillips baked the cake he would be guilty of "material cooperation with evil" in that he would have been producing a product that directly contributed to the wedding celebration. Thus, he had a moral responsibility to refrain from baking the cake, given his beliefs on marriage.

Stephanie Wilkinson refused to serve Sarah Sanders a product that she was happy to serve others - the difference between Sanders and other customers was that she didn't like Sanders. Sanders was not welcome to receive any service. Under the rules of ethics and morality she had no grounds to deny Sanders because her product was not related to any evil Sanders might commit. For that matter, Sanders is not the instigator nor does she have any control over that evil.

In other words, Phillips took no action against a person, but refused to perform an action that he legitimately had to refuse to do because of his beliefs.

Wilkinson took an action against a person, refusing to perform her normal service, with no justification other than her personal feelings.

Yet Phillips has been demonized for standing firm to his legitimate conscience objection, and Wilkinson is lauded for her bullying.

While I believe any business has a right to deny service to a customer, the reasons given by Wilkinson are petty, and her insistence that she did it out of a spirit of "compassion" is laughable. It is, in fact, intolerance, bullying, virtue signalling, pettiness, looking for her 15 minutes of fame. She should be ashamed of herself, and so should we.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Thoughts on gun violence Part 7: The Second Amendment

There are an endless supply of other solutions to the "gun violence" problem, such as age limits, mental health requirements, etc. but there are two important points that have been ignored. First off, there is no gun control law that has ever been implemented that has shows to be effective in reducing crime. The star in the crown of the anti-gunners' argument is "Australia." Australia banned guns and there has been no mass shooting, crime is low, etc.  The fact is, crime in Australia was already low, before guns were banned. When the gun ban went into effect, the crime rate went up. Likewise for the UK and every other place where guns have been banned. And Australia has had mass shootings since their gun ban, such as the Wright St. Bikie Murders in 1999, the Monash University shooting in 200, the Hunt murders and Wedderburn shootings in 2014.

The US has the highest rate of gun murders, except it doesn't when compared to all other countries, instead of the hand picked ones used in anti-gun propaganda. It has the highest number of mass shootings, except it doesn't have the highest rate.

Nobody needs an AR-15, it can't be used for hunting (except it is) and can't be used for home defense (except it is great for that). In fact , the government considers the M4 (the full auto version of the AR-15 that's not available to civilians) a "personal defense weapon".

In fact, the answer to every anti-gun argument is the same - "that's not true." Every single "fact" used to ban guns is the result of guesswork, emotion and cherry picked data.

But let's suppose for a minute it's true, that we could save thousands of lives guaranteed if we ban all guns. Can we? I think the answer to that question has two parts. First off, can we logistically pull it off? And secondly, can we legally/morally do it?

For the first part, consider that perhaps one in three Americans owns a gun. That's over 100 million people, who own an estimated 450 million guns. Let's say we want to buy back all the guns (this is America, you can't just seize private property without compensation). Let's assume fair market value is $500 per gun. That's almost a quarter of a trillion dollars to be spent, not counting overhead of running the program (this is, after all, a government program). Now consider that some Americans may not want to sell their guns to the government. Let's assume 3% of gun owners believe it is their right to keep and bear arms (where would they get that idea?). That's 3 million armed citizens who will shoot back when the SWAT team comes to break down their door. That is 2.5x the size of the entire US armed forces. The casualties would far outweigh any savings of lives the gun ban would accomplish.

For the second part, consider the second amendment. It states:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
You can claim it means anything but a grammatical analysis, as well as the clear words of the founders indicates that it means that the people have the right to keep and bear arms, and that its purpose was to support a militia of the people in order to resist an army, either foreign or domestic. I can provide links to this, but that would be a series of posts in itself. Suffice it to say that the Supreme court has ruled that it is an individual right and it protects specifically the right to bear arms suitable for use in serving in a militia. And that it protects arms commonly in use.

Since the AR-15 is the most common rifle in the US (as noted earlier it may account for up to 20% of all the rifles in the US), it certainly should be protected under the second amendment. And since anti-gunners claim it is a military weapon, again it should be protected (it is not a military weapon, but the full auto version, the M4 is, and if you really want to go down that route then the M4 should be available to civilians).

In fact, none of the proposed "common sense" gun control laws meets constitutional scrutiny, each of them violating one or more of the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth amendments.

What other Constitutional right can be abrogated without demonstrating a proportionate need? The right to vote has arguably resulted in more deaths than the right to bear arms, yet we consider even asking for ID to vote being too much of an infringement to allow. Free speech and the right to assemble can result in deaths, looting, riots, and yet we would not allow limits on the right to assembly or what books we can read or what we can say.

The fact is, if we create a "loophole" where the legislature or the courts can stifle the second amendment , what recourse do we have when the legislature or courts decide to stifle a different Constitutional right? Especially since, at that point, the government will be armed, and the people will not. The second amendment is truly the guarantor of the entire Constitution.

I could go on with other arguments, more data (and I probably will in the future), but for now, think about that last bit.

Thoughts on gun violence Part 6: Background Checks and "The Gun Show Loophole"

Another oft-proposed solution for the gun violence problem is closing the alleged "gun show loophole." The hype is that you can go to a gun show and buy a gun without going through a background check.

For the record, the background check laws in the USwere proposed by and supported by the NRA! The current system, called NICS (National Instant Criminal background check System) was implemented by the FBI in 1998. The system is mandated for FFLs (Federal Firearmss License holders) to use at the point of transferring a firearm to an individual. The system determines whether an individual is a "prohibited person."
A prohibited person is one who:
  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  • Is illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
  • Has been convicted in any court of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence"
A prohibited person cannot buy a firearm. So criminals, people with serious mental illness, substance abuse issues or domestic violence problems are prohibited. In general the system works well. Let's talk about the corner cases, though.

First off, the "gun show loophole." It doesn't exist. At a gun show all federal and state laws still apply. If I wanted to go to a gun show and buy a firearm, I would have to go through the same NICS check as if I went to the local gun store or any other firearms dealer. Furthermore, I cannot purchase a hand gun in a different state, and if I want to buy a rifle or shotgun in a different state, the seller must follow all of the laws of his own state plus all of the laws in my home state.

Private sales (for instance, if I want to sell my rifle to my hunting buddy) do not require a NICS check. So in theory, a person could go to a gun show and sell a rifle to another individual without a NICS check taking place. Why a person would want to go to a place crawling with cops to conduct a sale to a criminal I don't know, but I guess it's possible.

No, when someone says "gun show loophole" what they really mean is banning all private sales of firearms. And this is a problem for a number of reasons. It means, first off, that a citizen needs government permission to dispose of his own private property. It also means that the government would be illegally compiling a complete registration of all firearms in the US. It also would stifle the gun market, economically. For instance, if I buy a rifle for $200 and want to sell it, I have to pay FFL transfer and NICS fees (which are on the order of $75), meaning my $200 rifle is only worth $125, even brand new in the box.

But let's step back. What problem is this trying to solve? In November 2017 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published this memo outlining how GAO agents attempted to purchase firearms illegally. On the dark web they were able to purchase illegal firearms that had been illegally modified illegally two times. On the "regular" internet, out of 72 attempts to buy guns, they were completely unsuccessful. This points to the fact that law abiding gun owners (the majority) are unwilling to sell guns to a shady person.

This is backed up by an analysis of how criminals get guns. A study on how criminals acquire guns concluded that criminals do not legally buy guns anyway. According to the article it is important that they "trust" the seller. From the study:
In discussing the underground gun market in their neighborhoods, most respondents emphasized the importance of connections—prior relationships that could create sufficient trust to reassure the seller that the transaction would not create an unacceptable legal risk.
So it is unlikely that expanding background checks would have any effect on crime. Criminals are already going around background checks. On the other hand it wold have a big impact on legal firearm owners.

There are some problems with the existing NICS system that should be addressed, however. At a recent FBI senate hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked about a rumor that some 500,000 fugitives were deleted from the FBI’s NICS database.
Dianne Feinstein: “It’s my understanding that under federal law fugitives cannot legally purchase or possess guns. We’ve heard from local law enforcement that the Justice Department has issued a memo that forced the FBI NICS background check database to drop more than 500,000 names of fugitives with outstanding arrest warrants because it was uncertain whether those fugitives had fled across state lines. Mr. Bowdich, can you describe why this determination was made by the Justice Department?”

David Bowdich: “Yes, ma’am. That was a decision that was made under the previous administration. It was the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel that reviewed the law and believed that it needed to be interpreted so that if someone was a fugitive in a state, there had to be indications that they had crossed state lines. Otherwise, they were not known to be a fugitive, under the law, and the way it was interpreted.”
Another issue recently focused on is that some states and federal organizations (like the US Army) are not submitting complete data to the NICS system. For instance, the murderer in the Sutherland Springs Church mass shooting was a prohibited person, but the Army never submitted that information to NICS. This is not a new situation either. The NRA has been calling for years for this situation to be fixed.

Of course background checks sound like a good idea, and they are "common sense", but one could ask, do background checks even affect the firearm homicide rate? If you look at my last post in the series at the data from 1998 to the present the firearm homicide rate dropped from 4 to 3.4 in those years. It is hard to say whether any of that was due to background checks. So why are we talking about expanding a system that may or may not have any effect, in order to solve a problem that doesn't exist?

To find the rest of the posts in this series click here.

Thoughts on gun violence Part 5: More on Assault Weapons

The following statistics are taken from the CDC "National Vital Statistics Reports, Volume 66, Number 6, Deaths: Final Data for 2015" published November 27, 2017. In 2015 there were 36,252 firearm related deaths. Of those, 22,018 were suicides. 487 were unintentional.  For 2014, the same report shows 33,594 total firearm related deaths, 21,386 firearm related suicides and 461 unintentional deaths. I am giving both years because although 2015 is the latest data published by the CDC, 2014 is the latest data published by the FBI and I want to match data from the same year.

According to the FBI "Expanded Homicide Data Table 8" for 2014 (this is the latest data available at this time) there were 248 homicides committed with rifles in the United States. An additional 1,959 homicides did not report the type of firearm used. Assuming the same breakdown of firearm type for these records we'd have an addition 79 homicides with a rifle, for a total number of homicides by rifle of 327 for the entire year.

We don't know what kind of rifles, as the data isn't broken down by type, but let's assume 100% of those deaths were by "assault weapon" style rifles. So an "assault weapon" ban could save at most 327 lives out of 33,594, or under 1% difference. According to this article using the highest estimate of the number of AR-15 style rifles sold in the US, at most 20% of rifles are AR-15 style. So we're looking at maybe affecting 65 homicides, per year,  a difference of 0.2% or less (assuming the murderers decided not to commit murder rather than using a different weapon).

That does not look like we are solving the "gun violence" problem, does it?

In 1994 the US federal government passed an assault weapons ban - nation-wide. In 2004 it expired. Reports analyzing the homicide rate over those ten years determined what we just did above (and we didn't have to spend billions and violate people's rights to do it) - the ban had no effect on homicides. Of course, the anti-gunners were quick to point out that we needed to do it more to see any effect - because apparently when something doesn't work, it's not really not working.

Fourteen years after the ban expired, the firearm homicide rate is even lower than it was in 2004 when it the assault weapons ban was in effect. So why are we even discussing re-implementing one?

At the top of this article I mentioned suicides. If we look at the the number of firearm suicides, not just homicides, since 1990, we see that although the overall firearm death rate is down (from 15.2 to 10.6 per 100,000), and the firearm homicide rate has gone way down more than 50% (from 7.0 to 3.4) the suicide rate has remained relatively steady (and is actually on the rise).

Since most firearm deaths are suicides and since the rate is increasing, wouldn't it be more logical to focus on mental health and suicide prevention than on banning AR-15s? Even a small impact on the number of firearm suicides would save many more lives than an assault weapons ban could ever hope to save.

To find the rest of the posts in this series click here.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Thoughts on gun violence Part 4: Assault Weapons

One of the biggest most popular "solutions" to the gun violence problem is to ban "assault weapons." This is problematic on a number of levels.

First off, what is an "assault weapon?" It's whatever the people banning it want to say it is. The term "assault rifle" was a Nazi propaganda name for the MP44 machine pistol in World War II. It was basically a weapon that could fire lots of small, low power bullets. Machine guns had very limited effective range, and full power military rifles, while they had great range, had heavy ammunition. The idea of this weapon was to make the ammunition smaller and lighter so a soldier could carry more, and use it at intermediate distances, less than 300 yards.

The Russians came up with a version in 1947 called the AK-47 (for "Avtom√°t Kal√°shnikova" or "Kalashnikov's machine gun"). In 1959 the US finally followed suit with the AR-15 (for "Armalite model 15" - Armalite was the manufacturer). The army renamed it the M16. In 1964 Armalite sold the name and design to Colt. Colt used the name to market a semi-automatic rifle (note, this was NOT a military rifle and NOT an assault rifle). After the patent ran out, the term "AR-15" began to refer to any rifle that looked similar to the Colt AR-15 and was compatible with some or most of its parts.

So an AR-15 is NOT an assault rifle. An assault rifle is defined as follows:
The U.S. Army defines assault rifles as "short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges." In a strict definition, a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle:
Select fire means firing a burst of shots with one trigger pull - less than a machine gun but more than a semi-automatic, which shoots one round per trigger pull. Under the gun control act of 1930, revised in 1968 and 1986 American civilians cannot buy new assault weapons, or any kind of automatic or select fire rifle, and the antiques that are out there are strictly regulated, requiring special permission from the government and expensive fees and taxes.

So, assault rifles are already banned, but some people want to ban more weapons. Best way to do that is to create a new term "assault weapon" and define it to mean anything that they can get the public to confuse with a military weapon. The term "military style" is thrown around, which basically means things like being black, having plastic or aluminum parts instead of wood and steel, and "evil features" (not my term) such as a removable magazine, a barrel shroud, a pistol grip, a bayonet lug, a threaded barrel, an adjustable stock or a flash hider.

Why choose these features? Because they are the most common features found on the most popular guns made in the last 60 years. None of these features affects whether the gun is used by criminals or law abiding citizens. Rather, because people have been fed "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" style propaganda in movies for so many years, they can be confused into thinking these rifles are somehow extra bad or extra deadly. Several politicians have issued statements to the effect that assault weapons can bring down commercial aircraft, can blow up rail roads, can turn a deer into hamburger and cook it, can fire 700 rounds in a minute, and other such nonsense.

What do I mean by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang propaganda? If you ever saw the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang you know it's about a magical car that can think, and turn into a boat, and even fly. We know that real cars can't do that, but if we never saw real cars, and only saw the movie, we might believe that that's what real cars did. So it is with guns. We see movies where people do impossible things with guns, and since most people don't have any real contact with guns they believe what is shown to them.

Now I've gone and talked so much about what an "assault weapon" is I will leave the discussion of them to the next post...

To find the rest of the posts in this series click here.