Thursday, January 31, 2013

All Hail the Police State, part 13

It's been a while since I've written one of these, but a few news articles caught my eye today regarding the militarization of police.  Each of them is concerning on their own, but taken together it seems to show an increasing trend.

First we have Chicago police conducting live drills at a local school.  During the school day.  I understand the need for police officers to drill, in fact most departments have a space to do this.  I was recently a volunteer at a police SWAT training exercise, having police with the best training is a great idea.  Even having them train in a school is a good idea.  It's a reasonable idea that police officers should know the layout of local schools, malls and office buildings.  However, training in a school using blank ammo while students are on site doesn't make sense to me. 

The second event was similar, but in Texas.  Police and military in Houston flew helicopters over the city with machine guns blazing out blank rounds.  Local citizens had no way to know these were blanks, for all they knew someone stole a police helicopter and decided to open up the city.

As well, we have three helicopters buzzing buildings in the capitol in Pennsylvania.   This drill involved police (who looked like soldiers) dropping out of helicopters on ropes, again with no notice to the public.  I'm sure it looked like a scene out of a movie, and many in the public were justifiably concerned.  This article even calls out this is not something they've done before: "This is the first time the state has ever partnered with federal law enforcement in this capacity.".

We also have joint police and military operations in Florida that involve helicopters buzzing over neighborhoods.   All in the same week.  That's perhaps more than an anomaly.  I have two questions, why have police suddenly decided to do military drills in populated areas?  The whole reason police train in designated training areas is to minimize civilian concern and potential casualties.  What has changed?

The only thing I can come up with is desensitization.  That's the only reason to expose people to drills like this.  Violent crime has been steadily dropping for a couple decades.  The terror organizations seems to be weaker by the day, as we continue to deploy troops in new countries to kill them.  The only reason I can think that the additional risk of conducting drills in populated areas makes sense it to get people used to the idea of a militarized police being constantly present.  That concerns me.

Stay safe out there!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Why People Should Own AR-15's, revisited

Even the government thinks it's a good idea!

A while back I wrote a blog regarding why a person would want to own an AR-15 rifle.  Since I've written it, it's been one of my most read posts.  If you don't want to read it, the first reason is it's the best tool to protect your family currently available to civilians.  It seems the Department of Homeland Security agrees with me!

They recently put out a request for bid for defense rifles for personal use by their agents.  The document describes characteristics and requirements for 7,000 rifles.  Of course, since they are government workers, they rifles are called out to have "selective fire", meaning they can be fired full-auto, what a layman refers to as a machine gun.

So basically, Homeland Security wants to buy a bunch of M-16 rifles for their employees to use for protection, similar to the AR-15 you may want to use for home protection.  Keep in mind, this isn't a military purchase, this is for bureaucrats.  People with office jobs just like what you may have.  I think that calls out what I've been saying, the AR-15 platform is ideal for personal defensive use, even if you can't get one with "selective fire" capabilities.

If you read through the documents, you'll notice that this type of rifle is being sought for it's suitability for personal defense.  Specifically sought for it's suitability.  Meanwhile, other government bureaucrats are promoting legislation to strip citizens of that very rifle.  This is somewhat bothersome.  I don't think just because your job is for a government agency rather than a manufacturing company or a bank or a farm you should be awarded special privileges.  The people in power must disagree with that idea, however.

If you want to see someone break down this topic in more detail, you can do so here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What Handgun is Right for Me?

I get asked this question a fair bit, and have written several blog posts on it- one on good options in 22 pistols, one on good options for concealed carry, what features to look for in a concealed carry gun and a post explaining why smaller guns are less pleasant to shoot,

If you are reading this and are relatively new to firearms, I suggest you take the time to review the basic rules of gun safety and read a bit about why using a gun in self-defense should be a last resort.

So, what sort of handgun is right for you depends entirely on your motivation and your desired purpose.  Are you looking to build skills?  Want something for home defense?  Have the goal of shooting in competitions?  Want a gun for concealed carry?  How much are you willing to practice?  Depending on your answer to those questions will depend on what handguns are best suited for your purpose.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Own Worst Enemy

With the current gun buying frenzy in this country, I decided to sell a rifle.  It was a good rifle, better than most store bought rifles you'd find in your local gun shop, but I had built a nicer one that I used more often now.  I figured I could get some money out of it to start a new project, so I listed it for sale on Armslist.

Armlist is basically Craigslist for guns.  You can list firearms you have available for legal private sale.  I have sold a couple guns there in the last year.  And just like Craigslist, you get a wide variety of people who answer your ad.  In this particular case I had more than 20, I want to share 2 of them that left a sour taste.

First, I'll talk about the guy who ended up buying the rifle.  He gave me cash and a handgun for my rifle.  We selected a meeting place and time and each looked over the gun offered as part of the trade to verify they were in good condition.  As this was happening, he told me a tale involving the handgun he was trading.

He warned me that it had a "hair trigger".  In my time shooting I've probably shot well over 100 different firearms.  Only two of those could be considered hair triggers, so I was skeptical.  He then went on to say how he must have brushed against the trigger while putting the safety on in his office, and fired the gun.  This is commonly referred to as a negligent discharge.  So not only did this man admit to making a serious error, he blamed it on the equipment. 

The gun in this case does not have a hair trigger.  It's long, mush and a bit heavy at the end. 

The second anecdote I want to share involves another potential buyer, who again wanted to trade a handgun and some cash.  When I inquired about the handgun, the condition, whether he bought it new, etc, it became clear he is an out of state resident.  I told him the deal was off.  I cannot legally purchase a handgun from a resident of another state without that purchase going through a FFL.  

Despite stating clearly I wasn't interested, he continued to respond to the email chain saying things like:
- nor do i have any interest in paperwork and such
- i guess we do things different at home
- i just sold and bought 4 items off this site from 4 different people, 1 being an in uniform officer and there wasnt anything exchanged accept for the item and money

 Wow, way to come off as being sketchy as hell random internet guy.  It's people like this that give the rest of the gun owners a bad reputation.  I like to think they are relatively rare.  But here we have a person flagrantly violating federal law, and supposedly involved a cop in one of the transactions?  That's just demoralizing. 
If you are a gun owner, please pay attention to safe handling rules.  Don't flagrantly break the law.  Please be nice and helpful.  People are more likely to remember negative experiences than positive ones, so we have to have lots and lots of positive experiences to make up for the occasional bad apples

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Thoughts on Obama's Gun Control Points

Today Obama released his thoughts on gun control and violence prevention.  I'm surprised that I'm in agreement with several of them.  I'm going to offer my thoughts on each one here.

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system. 
This seems like a good idea.  I'm not sure why it's not already happening.  I'd like to see what is meant by "relevant", but providing criminal history at all levels to the background check is a good idea.  Providing a list of names who say things the administration in power doesn't agree with is a bad idea.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system. 
I can certainly see how it will be a difficult path to discern to arrive at this policy.  Balances doctor-patient confidentiality with public safety will be challenging.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system. 
This is a huge problem.  States are required to report information to the national background check system, and most of them don't as mentioned in previous blogs.  This is a good idea that will help keep guns out of the hands of prohibited people.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks. 
This is a reasonable idea in general, but our specific Attorney General has shown he has very poor judgment when it comes to firearms, since he authorized the trafficking of guns to Mexican drug cartels that have been used in the murder of US and Mexican citizens.  Reviewing policies is a good thing, but Holder has proved his cannot be trusted with important decisions like this.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
I'm torn on this one, as it contrasts property rights against public safety.  If my gun is stolen, it seems unreasonable that I have to do a background check to get it back.  But proving I'm not a prohibited person in any transfer seems like a reasonable restriction.  I guess it comes down to whether the police that recover a gun are actually the temporary owners of that gun, and it is a transfer, or if that remains my property under their custody. 

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers. 
Um, duh.  I'm amazed there aren't already helpful guidelines for this.  The ATF creates enough paperwork.  I've paid for FFL holders to do transfer for me before, it's not hard to do.  It is hilarious that one of the steps is "Publish a letter". 

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign. 
Eh, whatever.  The NRA already does this.  It can't hurt but will likely be a waste of money.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission). 
This one seems odd.  Is there a problem with shoddily manufactured gun locks or safes?  All new firearms already come with a lock.  I"m not sure what this will do other than throw busy work to a bureaucrat.  

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations. 
This is a good idea.  When guns are used in crimes, it's a good idea to figure out how those guns got into criminal hands.  When the data is collected we can figure out where the holes are and how to improve.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement. 

11. Nominate an ATF director. 
No shit.  This has been an outstanding issue for some time, and is already one of your job duties, Mr President.  I'm not sure why you needed to wait for a tragedy to do this.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations. 
This is a good idea.  I'd like to see this opened up to certain civilians as well.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime. 
Yes.  Stop giving perpetrators of gun crimes a slap on the wrist.  Don't use this as an excuse to promote concepts that infringe on liberty, like stop and frisk.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. 
Whatever.  More busy work for government bureaucrats.  Why the CDC spends so much time on firearms instead of AIDS or the flu, I'll never understand.  It's sad they have become a propaganda arm of the government instead of a health research.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies. 
Fuck that.  This administration supports implausible ideas like microstamping and electronic safeties that don't actually work but add significant cost to products.  Increasing the cost of a product by 50% or 100% and reducing the reliability and durability is a bad idea, especially when it won't lead to a reduction in crime.  See also Holder's track record on making poor decisions regarding firearms in point 4.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes. 
There is no proof this will prevent crime at all, and it is intrusive.   It's not my physicians business to know if I own a firearm, a motorcycle, a hang glider, scuba gear or anything else they personally thing is dangerous. 

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities. 
Ha, another "write a letter" step. 

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers. 
I have no real opinion here.  Education and education budgets and how they should be allocated are a whole other topic.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education. 
This seems like a reasonable job for the Department of Homeland Security.  Perhaps they can divert some of their staff and funds that arm police departments with military hardware and watch peaceful demonstrations to actually providing material that will increase the security of citizens of this country.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover. 
Wow!  Three letters will be written.  That's impressive.  Maybe his next declaration will call out some Facebook posts or tweets that should be made.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges. 
Huh?  What does this have to do with gun control or violence prevention?

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations. 
See point 21.  Seriously, even in unilateral efforts we get pork inserted. 

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
I can't decide if a "dialogue" is going to be more or less effective than releasing a letter.  Only time will tell.

The good news here is the president didn't seek to bypass congress in the passing of new laws or regulations that restricts the rights of citizens.  That's a good thing.  I also think some of these ideas have merit and can contribute to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and prohibited people.  I think some of these ideas can be positive steps, others not so much.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It's Not the Tool

The new session of congress featured no less than 10 gun control bills introduced on the very first day.  There are lots of bills introduced each session of congress, but many powers that be tell us this year has a higher chance of passing a gun control bill.  We still await the recommendations of Biden's committee which will likely bring about at least one other bill.

The idea of gun control or gun bans is that if you restrict the legal availability of certain types of firearms, violent crime and specifically gun crime will be reduced.  Especially after prominent mass shootings there is a call to restrict both certain types of firearms and magazines.  Quite often the number 10 is chosen at the most amount of cartridges a magazine should be allowed to hold in these proposed new restrictions.  The idea is that a crazy person who commits a mass shooting will be limited in casualties if they have to reload several times.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Firearm Background Checks

Anytime you purchase a firearm at a gun shop, there are a variety of regulations that are followed.  The proprietor needs to maintain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and abide by those regulations.  Customers need to fill out a form 4473 and pass a background check.  The background check is performed by the FBI and is called the National Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

I wanted to share some statistics with you.  For purposes of scale, the United States currently has about 311 million citizens.

Since 1998 the FBI has performed about 159 million NICS checks.  Now, keep in mind many gun owners own more than one firearm, so this doesn't translate into 159 million gun owners.  It doesn't even translate into 159 million guns sold, as some of those checks result in a denial of sale.

In 2011, the busiest year on record, 16.4 million checks were done

1.1% of those checks resulted in the FBI denying purchase of a firearm.  I'm not aware of any arrests made by prohibited people trying to buy guns in 2011.  That's a felony, by the way.

 8.3 million people are on the prohibited list and would be denied a firearm purchase.  Compare this against the current US prison population at 1.6 million

1.8 million of those are due to mental illness issues.

Kentucky is the state with the most checks, followed by Texas and California.

I think the statistics show that the NICS system is effective at keeping guns out of the hands of prohibited people.  I think it could be even more effective if states were more compliant with reporting their mentally ill to the FBI, as they are required to do by law.