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.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Thoughts on gun violence Part 3: magazines

One of the proposed "common sense" gun laws is the restriction of magazine size. First off, what is a magazine? A magazine is a box, usually made of plastic or metal, with a spring in it. Cartridges are loaded into the magazine, and the magazine is used to feed the cartridges into the gun's receiver. When the magazine is empty it is reloaded or in some cases can be replaced by another magazine. Virtually all firearms that fire cartridge ammunition have magazines.

What is a "high capacity." In the military or firearms industry this means a magazine that holds more than the standard capacity magazine the weapon was designed to use. In the case of the Colt 1911, for instance, a high capacity magazine would be one that holds more than 7 rounds. For a Colt AR-15 a high capacity magazine would be one that holds more than 30 rounds. Various states define "high capacity" as being any magazine holding more than 15, 10 or 5 rounds, regardless of the firearm. So the state's definition of "high capacity" is an arbitrary term.

Now onto the law itself. I would like to list the pros and cons of this law, but I honestly can't find any pros. There are claims made that the law would save lives by allowing people to rush a mass shooter while he is changing magazines, but there are no instances of this occurring in practice. On the contrary, many mass shooters (such as the recent Parkland murderer) have chosen lower capacity magazines because they are more readily concealed. In fact, a case can be made that it is better if mass shooters have large capacity magazines because they are more prone to malfunction and because they relied on a single magazine they can't replace it with a working one, as they could with multiple smaller magazines.

The only concrete statement on justification I can find is this statement by William B. Ruger:
"The best way to address the firepower concern is therefore not to try to outlaw or license many millions of older and perfectly legitimate firearms (which would be a licensing effort of staggering proportions) but to prohibit the possession of high capacity magazines. By a simple, complete and unequivocal ban on large capacity magazines, all the difficulty of defining 'assault rifle' and 'semi-automatic rifles' is eliminated. The large capacity magazine itself, separate or attached to the firearm, becomes the prohibited item. A single amendment to Federal firearms laws could effectively implement these objectives."
So the real goal is to ban firearms in a simpler way. This magazine ban was implemented in the US in 1994 as part of the federal "assault weapons" ban. In 2004 the law ended, after it was determined it had no effect on crime. Despite this, anti-gunners consider this a big part of fighting gun violence, and sadly there is a lot of public support for it, even in the face of evidence otherwise.

Here is a video worth watching, as it shows actual experiments on the effects of magazine capacity on a shooter.

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Opposite violence

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Thought on gun violence part 2, red flag

One of the proposed solutions to gun violence are "extreme risk protection" aka "gun violence restraining order" aka "red flag" laws. Sounds good on the surface. If you see your neighbor or anyone whom you think is a risk to themselves or others you can have the court take away their firearms and put them on a list to be barred from purchasing more. Who would be against that? Let's look at what such laws actually change.

Currently, if you see someone who is acting in a way you think puts themselves or another person at risk you call 9-1-1. The police arrive as quickly as they can and assess the situation. If they determine that the individual is a danger they can seize any weapons involved, arrest or detain him or her, and start proceedings to have the person declared mentally unfit or begin criminal proceedings.

Under the red flag laws, if you see someone who is acting in a way you think puts themselves or another person at risk you file a motion with the court. A hearing is scheduled, where you present your evidence and if a judge feels the person is a danger, the police are issued a warrant to forcefully enter the person's home, fully armed, and force them to turn over firearms.

Do you see the problems?
  • The person has several weeks in which to do themselves or others harm, while the wheels of "justice" turn.
  • The police, the person involved, and their neighbors are all put at risk by the "no knock" warrant.
  • The person loses their firearms, but they are free to kill themselves by another method (likewise for the criminal). The order doesn't address the problem, merely the gun.
  • Presumably, the standard of evidence is lower for this than for police intervention. This creates a process which denies the person due process. They cannot present their side of things or defend themselves.
  • The police typically don't have the proper environment to store guns without damage to personal property.
I'm sure a lawyer could think of more problems with it, but that's my take. The process, by focusing merely on guns, does nothing to stop the person from doing harm, merely from using a gun to do so. Since the "evidence" is the say-so of a neighbor or other witness, it seem tailor made for abuse when a family member or neighbor has a dispute, or just doesn't like guns.

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

Thoughts on gun violence

I have been debating whether to write this post because (a) there are so many posts out there, written by people so much smarter and more eloquent than I am and (b) people seem recalcitrant on the issue - everyone has made up their minds. Still, there is a lot to be said on the subject, and I never expected people to actually read what I wrote anyway, so here goes.

First off, I get it. It is a tragedy that young men and women go out of the house in the morning and don't return home alive. The point has been made that more children go off and die in texting accidents than from school shootings, and that is true. To the parent, the effect is the same - a life gone, a love gone. But to society they are different because one death was intentional and the other was not. Whether people admit it or not, intention matters.

Secondly, I get it. School shootings are likely, by common sense, to be more deadly than school stonings. The very thing that makes guns effective for self defense is that they can kill more effectively than a rock or a knife.

But let's look at causes, and solutions, that work. And let's consider all the causes. Would the Parkland murders still have happened if the murderer had used a different weapon? Yes. Would more student have died? Maybe. Although a rifle is deadly, so is a car driven through a group of students as they leave the building, or a gallon of gasoline and a match, or a machete. Any of those weapons, and many many others, could have killed 17 people (or more) in 7 minutes.

A number of "solutions" have been proposed to the problem of school murders, some of which make sense, but the vast majority of which do not address the problem at all, and many would exacerbate the problem. Here are some of them [N.B. it is telling that in a google search for the data for this article I was unable to find sources and methodologies, as they were hidden by page after page of anti-gun propaganda. As usual, I have done my best to provide data that is backed by an original source and a known methodology rather than just a claim].

I had intended this to be a single article, but it turns out that I have more to say than I thought, so I will make a series of posts, each discussing one of the proposed solutions, weighing the pros and cons. First of all, a few points that will be common throughout.

1. There is evil in the world. Any claim that if we got rid of guns people would stop killing people is at best naive, and probably disingenuous. History has shown that banning guns does not reduce murders, but increases them. This may seem counterintuitive, but consider that the strong will prey on the weak. The weak, even if they want to, cannot prey on the strong, as they lack the means. A gun is an equalizer, in that a 90 pound 70 year old woman can use a gun as effectively as a 300 pound 25 year old man. Take away the gun and the 70 year old has no defense.

2. There are more "good" people than bad people. By good people I don't mean people who never sin, but rather people who have a moral compass, people who would rather not harm another person. Thus, if everyone were equally strong and equally capable, there would be more people who would stop violence than would start it. "But we're not all equally strong," you might object... see point 1, above.

3. You need to use your brain. The media, Hollywood elite, big business, and incumbent politicians all have an agenda, and that agenda right now is to perpetuate their power. Part of that is making sure nobody else has power, and the best way to do that is to take away the rights of people who don't agree with them. I don't just mean second amendment rights. I mean all rights. Like making sure certain viewpoints aren't allowed on Youtube or carried by cable companies. Like using the IRS and banks to target the finances of organizations with certain viewpoints. Like selectively enforcing laws against people with certain viewpoints. You get the point yet?

4. Why don't we treat this topic like any other topic. When bees are dying do we listen to children who have been stung by bees? No, we turn to bee keepers. When we are worried about the climate, do we listen to children who have been in floods? No we turn to climate scientists. The point is, in every crisis there are experts who should have a say, yet the whole impetus has been to shut out the voices of gun owners and listen to people who have a heartfelt desire to can guns, but know nothing about what guns are, how they work, or what they do.

Case in point, the NRA. Let me tell you about the NRA, then about what's been going on with respect to the NRA.

The NRA, or National Rifle Association, is a civil rights organization, one of the oldest in the United States. It was formed in 1871 by two Union generals. They realized that the war to abolish slavery would have been quicker and less bloody had their soldiers been better with a rifle. From the beginning of the organization, it's main emphasis was on the protection of the Constitution, and that meant promoting the rights of blacks to defend themselves against the Ku Klux Klan.

The NRA is also the largest organization in the United States to support civil rights. It has over five million members. It has always promoted the safe ownership and use of arms for defense, but only got involved in politics in the 1970, after the government began infringing on our rights in a big way. Even so, the organization is non-partisan, supporting both Democrats and Republicans. It is a single issue organization, and its members fall all over the map on other issues.

The money that was spent by the NRA in the last few years on non-partisan lobbying dwarfs in comparison with the amount spent lobbying by Planned Parenthood, big pharma, or even just google in the same time period. Any political clout that the NRA has comes not from money but from the votes of its members.

The NRA does not sell guns, nor promote the sale of guns, but focuses on education and safety. It's  programs, such as Eddie Eagle for children, and programs for youth, sports, recreation, hunting and law enforcement,   are designed to promote safe and legal use of firearms.

How is the NRA connected to mass shootings? To my knowledge, no NRA member has committed a mass shooting (and I imagine if there were such a person there would be headlines about it). On the other hand, in 2017 the Sutherland Springs church mass shooting was ended when Stephen Willeford, NRA member and instructor, used his personal AR-15 to neutralize the shooter. In the recent Parkland shooting, Coach Aaron Feis gave his life to shield students, putting himself in between them and the shooter. Although the NRA doesn't disclose it's members, Feis was at least a fan of the NRA, and was running an NRA sponsored group at the school.

As a result of all this, the NRA has been demonized, had its partner companies harassed, its members attacked, had its voice in the public square squelched, and more. How is attempting to shut down a gun safety organization supposed to make people safer?

To find the posts in this series click here.