Thursday, August 14, 2014

NYT Again on 3D-Printed Gun Scare

It's the "devil-weed" of our time, and Nick Bilton of the New York Times is helping to whip of fear about printing guns. Never mind that industrious kids could make zip guns before 3D printers if they really cared to. Hell, when I was a kid I remember the Anarchist Cookbook being all the rage and plenty of experiments with homemade napalm. Somehow the world didn't end.

You needn't read the article - it's the usual fear mongering of "the kids", "metal detectors", and "inability to control". The author's not worried about a wave of juvenile hijackers by the way, these are just the smorgasbord of general "sky-is-falling" concerns. The interesting statement in the article, assuming the author is as anti-gun as his many colleagues and managers, is this one:
"Gun lobbyists argue that 3D-printed guns are pointless because many of these weapons can be fired only a few times before the gun breaks.... But last I checked, one shot is enough to kill someone."
Right. So is an inch of water. I wonder about his reference to "gun lobbyists" and whether if such sources of conversation really did exist for this article, whether "pointless" was really an accurate description of their thoughts on 3D-printed guns. Clearly Bilton is of the crowd that believes banning normal capacity magazines is not enough - that even one round is too many and all guns must magically disappear.

It's not a slow news week, so it's odd to see such a stale bit of work resurrected at the Times.

Have You Helped Out?

As the fall election days soon approach, here's a couple embattled campaigns you may want to help, even with $5 (though $500 would be better):

Washington's I-591 - campaign to protect gun rights this fall in Washington state is in serious need of help
Bob Beauprez - he's neck-and-neck in the Colorado Governor's race against Hickenlooper


Ferguson, Missouri, now becomes a theater of everything wrong with our growing police state. While the problem of overbearing police force and police militarization disproportionately affects some groups, this is an issue affecting all of us. At the end of the day, authoritarianism is color-blind.

As Rand Paul said in an editorial for Time today,
"When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands."
While this started with anger over a police culture too willing to use lethal force, the citizen control effort launched in response to civil unrest has taken the spotlight. I'm glad that the media isn't boxing this as some small-town racial issue, but looking at the bigger picture of police violence and questioning the overwhelming imbalance of power between those enforcing the law and the citizens who pay them to do so.

For a variety of reasons, a local police force should be no better armed than the general population that hired them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Recommendation

If you're looking for a good book to read, check out Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat by Dan Hampton. I soaked up the Kindle edition while travelling, and not only enjoyed it but felt more educated about the USAF by the end of it.

I'm not going to reprint the author's credentials, but he's highly decorated and a very well respected pilot, flying "wild weasel" missions in an F-16 over Iraq in both Gulf Wars. The action he recounts is thrilling, the danger is palpable, and the insights are informative. I found the book slowed down towards the latter third (if only because you're exhausted by the author's retelling of exhausting, hair-raising, seat-of-the-pants survival stories avoiding getting a SAM up the butt) but it's an easy read and rewarding to finish. He did a damn dangerous job that most of us know nothing about.

Also, I mentioned in a post that I was reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, a great book about the Lewis and Clark expedition. If you've read that book, or will soon, a great follow-on is a book entitled Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson, which describes a world existent immediately after Lewis and Clark return, and is focused on the mountain men that went West in Lewis' wake. The book is unfortunately not available on Kindle, but it's worth reading if only to further enrich one's understanding of an American experience in the late 1800's. Well footnoted, it's a fascinating mid-century documentation of American oral history, pulled from primary sources still alive at the time.

Alaska Senate Primary

Next week, we'll have the Primary Election to select U.S. Senate candidates to go head-to-head in the General Election. Alaska's election is getting unprecedented national attention due to the razor thin margins by which either party will end up controlling the Senate for the last half of Obama's final term. While Alaska's current senator, Mark Begich, is about as conservative a Democrat as you can find, and is very supportive of Alaska, his reelection would help keep the Senate under Democratic leadership. Conversely, his ouster will help Republicans take the reigns of the national legislature.

Being of proudly libertarian disposition, and having seen first-hand the duplicitous, short-sighted, and close-minded nature of the Alaskan Republican Party leadership, my party affinity is by no means a foregone conclusion each year. With that caveat, as pertains to the fight we have before us for the role of the 2nd Amendment, I do believe it's imperative to take the Democrats out of a leadership position on the national stage. Begich may be pro-gun when he can be, but he's subject to a powerful caucus that can extort his vote, and even more important, he counts towards a Democrat majority which confers many advantages to a party demonstrably opposed to the 2nd Amendment. In essence, a vote for Begich is in many ways a vote for Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein, and the lot of 'em to continue pushing their national agenda in court appointments and legislation. For the purpose of getting Begich out of office, a Republican vote is the only logical choice. To this end, the Primary winner must be someone who can beat Begich, and ideally the most closely aligned with libertarian first principles. This is a hard balance to find.

So who's on the roster?

  • John Jaramillo
  • Joe Miller (Of "Joe Miller" Fame; Former U.S. Magistrate Judge)
  • Dan Sullivan (Former AK Attorney General, Former Assistant Secretary of State)
  • Mead Treadwell (Current Lt. Governor, great first name)

"Alaskan" credentials are important in elections, for better or worse, so I'm going to address that right away. None of these guys were born here, with Treadwell having been here the longest and Jaramillo the shortest. This will have some relevance in the general election - like it or not - as Mr. Begich is a "son of Alaska", born and bred. To this end, Treadwell has the best defense against the "carpet-bagger" accusations that routinely fly back and forth.

With that out of the way, I'm removing Jaramillo from consideration. He's got zero name recognition in the State, has been in the AK only ten years, and it just ain't happening. Sorry, John.

How does the NRA view these guys?
NRA Report Card for Alaska US Senate Candidates
None of these guys are "endorsed". The "Qualified" "A" ratings are theoretical, meaning their survey answers were good, but they have no record of supporting 2A in an official capacity. The unqualified "A" ratings mean the candidates have a both good answers on their survey and have a track record of supporting the 2nd Amendment. That means Miller and Treadwell rank the best.

So what's up with Begich's A- rating? Again, Begich isn't hostile to the 2nd Amendment, but he did vote against a pro-2A bill pushed by Rand Paul this year. It was a rather insignificant issue in the scheme of things, but it clearly demonstrated that in the wheeling-and-dealing of vote-trading, Begich must obey his Caucus. One can only imagine what they offered or threatened, but it can and will happen again. Further, I believe Begich supported the appointment of federal judges hostile to 2A. As all of us know, the Federal courts are the primary battleground for 2A.

You can listen to a debate, or candidate review, hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and aired on KSKA here. Just some quick observations:

As you might expect, these guys are aligned on the majority of issues.

talks a good game - he says he wants to go to DC with a crowbar, not a gunnysack, presumably meaning he wants more independence for Alaska, not more federal dollars and oversight. His experience as Lt. Governor gives him passion from first-hand experience interacting with overbearing federal agencies and seeing the development needs in Western Alaska. He talks about the 10th amendment, which is a dog-whistle to the libertarian contingent. He also draws a clear line on not raising the debt ceiling until we get commitment on a balanced budget.

Miller remains more radical-sounding than his opponents, if only because he's articulate about what he believes. More than the others, I believe he's a man of convictions, some of which are consistent with libertarian principles, but as with most establishment Republicans, he supports using the force of federal government to enforce social conservative causes, e.g. abortion, marriage. His best soundbite, aside from "The DEA has no business being in our state", is that he would be the reinforcement to Cruz, Paul, etc. What dogs his campaign is a somewhat soiled image voters already have of him. The company he kept during his last campaign will remain a yoke around his neck. In all honesty, while I admire his clarity and agree with many of his positions, I think he's less palatable to the independent middle ground of our state, to the point where he may end up actually rallying support for Begich.

Sullivan has been around the block, and sounds the most like an establishment conservative or professional politician of the three. In speaking, he lacks Miller's articulated conviction and lacks Treadwell's specific familiarity with Alaskan issues. In this sense he comes across a bit mealy-mouthed about his positions and vision, and to riff on Miller's soundbite, I believe Sullivan would be the reinforcement to McCain. Further, from my first-hand conversations with voters, his track record with subsistence rights as our Attorney General has a high likelihood of pushing the critical rural and Native voting blocs into Begich's camp.

In some ways, the financial backing might imply this primary election is between Miller and Sullivan - Tea Party vs. Establishment backing. In a more local context, I think at least two of the candidates think this election is between Treadwell and Sullivan - those who can best contend with Begich.

My vote next week will be for Mead Treadwell. I think he has the best experience, the right positions, passion, and the best odds of beating Begich. Either way, I'll support the winner. Make up your own mind, but if you're an Alaskan, be sure to vote on 8/19!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wolf Encounter Makes Ya Think..

Here's an article in the Anchorage Daily News today about a recent wolf encounter. A man hiking Wolverine Peak with his two dogs lost one of them to wolves and got stalked himself.

Wolverine Peak is part of Anchorage's "back yard" and one of its more popular day hikes. Approaching 5k elevation, it's also one of the taller peaks in the "front-line" of mountains, with good views of the surrounding range, the city, and some aircraft wreckage on it's NE face. I've hiked it many times and while only e'er seeing fox, goat and piteous stares from fellow hikers as I wheezed my way upwards, I've no doubt that there are bear, wolves and, yes, even wolverines hanging out in the area.

So the summary of this encounter is that guy was hiking the mountain with his two dogs, one goes missing about halfway up the mountain. Walking down into a valley on a tip from fellow hikers, he encounters three wolves.
"That's when the wolves picked up the pace and started trotting toward him, Battle said. The man jogged away. Two wolves approached together and a third circled toward the hiker."
Read more here:
Nice flanking tactics there, wolves. You can read the article for more of the hiker's response to this, but at this point we may want to consider the preferred course of action:

a) Run
b) Yell and make yourself appear large and intimidating
c) Use bear spray on whichever one of three wolves gets closest
d) Pull out the .45 auto
e) Unsling the 12 ga.
f) A & B

While B is the preferred option if one is unarmed, obviously D & E are the preferred augmentations to B. This scenario, while rare, does underscore the limited versatility of bear spray. Not having the flexibility to put the wind against your target, and/or having to quickly react to multiple targets approaching from different directions makes bear spray less than ideal, though certainly better than nothing. Far from Monday-morning quarterbacking, this underscores the value of being proficient with the most appropriate tools for defense, whether in urban or mountainous environs.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Running by a Grizzly? Keep Running!

So says Craig Medred, writing for the Alaska Dispatch.

As kids in Alaska, we're all taught a few fundamental lessons about bears:

  • If it's a grizzly, DON'T RUN! Make a lot of noise, maybe climb a tree if you can. If you're attacked, curl in ball and play dead.
  • If it's a black bear, make a lot of noise and fight back if it comes to it. Don't climb a tree, don't play dead. Black bears climb trees and they eat carrion.
Well, Craig's article proposes that you may be better off running from a grizzly after all. He points out that through radio collar observations, there are an estimated 65 grizzlies in the City at any given time, very well habituated to runners, hikers and bikers - though with a few notable exceptions

Recently a jogger was mauled after she saw a bear and stopped running. Problem was, she stopped right between the sow and her cub, which is obviously the last place you want to be. Arguably she would have been better off continuing to run by the bears for at least some distance. Monday morning quarterbacking is just that though. Thankfully she's still alive.

While the best way to avoid a mauling is to avoid a bear, Craig still advocates some offensive protection such as bear spray and firearms:
"...I do have a special place in my heart for firearms, having once shot a grizzly off my leg, thus stopping it from doing further damage. Guns are great if you know how to use them well."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Human Dignity in Newark

I happened to be reading a completely off-topic long-form article on education in Newark, New Jersey by Dale Russakoff over at The New Yorker. I promise this post isn't about education reform, but if you're even remotely interested in that sort of thing, the New Yorker piece is well worth your time.

No, what caught my eye - what is relevant to this blog - was an example in the article underscoring how life outside the school - life in the home, in the neighborhood - often more profoundly affects a child's performance and aspiration than what takes place in the school. So we're talking fundamental security needs here in re Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - everything from family employment to the integrity of family shelter to confidence that one won't be killed the next day.

Check this quote out [emphasis mine]:
"The biggest concern was children’s safety, particularly in the South Ward, where murders had risen by seventy per cent in the past four years. Jacqueline Edward and Denise Perry-Miller, who have children at Hawthorne, knew the dangers well. Gangs had tried to take over their homes, tearing out pipes, sinks, and boilers, and stealing their belongings, forcing both families temporarily into homeless shelters."
Wait, say WHAT? To describe this as a "gang-problem" is too dismissive to bear. This is a community that is unable to provide for the collective security of its members. Therefore, it's debatable whether the 'government' in this area is the city or the gangs. Who has the monopoly on the use of violence? That would be your definitive answer.

For protection, the South Ward community has been told to rely exclusively on the Newark police services. Cut to another anecdote:
"One night. . . a security camera captured images of nine young men apparently mauling another.When Jackson and Belcher arrived the next morning, they found bloody handprints on the wall and blood on the [school] walkway. His and Belcher’s calls to police and e-mails to the superintendent’s staff went unanswered."
From a vendor management perspective, we'd call this a "service shortfall". Not only does the city have a tin ear to the problem, there's no tangible threat of resistance or consequence for the violence the gangs employ. Unfortunately, you can't just "fire" your government and swap in a new one, much as our American mythos encourages that belief. See where I'm going now?

What can a community do when the government offers them no protection? The only recourse against crime short of moving out is to resist as a community and as an individual. Gun control advocates (see video to left) believe everyone can just leave a bad neighborhood, or was "asking for it" by being there in the first place. But we also know life's not that simple. Sometimes the bad neighborhood comes to you. Sometimes your ties are such that you can't leave without sacrificing a lot. And why the hell should you move anyway?

This gets us into the human dignity domain. Gun control is premised on three demonstrably wrong and dangerous assumptions - that police will protect you, that only a select few are responsible enough to protect themselves, and that you can (or should?!) simply migrate like a nomad when the criminals start raiding. This is a dissonant mix of a very idealized view of society and a very cynical view of mankind.

New Jersey, and Newark specifically, have worked very hard to disarm their law-abiding. They offered rewards for turning in gun-owning neighbors and most recently, were bolstered by the 3rd Circuit decision upholding their "May Issue" stance on concealed carry. "May Issue" means "Will Not Issue" if you happen to be less than wealthy and connected.

Let's get back to that family terrorized out of their house. If these same gangs went into a government facility to steal sinks, boilers and pipes at gunpoint, they'd be shot forthwith. The standard is different for the New Jersey government - and those connected to it - than it is for those in most need of of self defense (it's the urban poor who are more likely to be victims of crime). It is in part through criticism of this double-standard that gun rights are civil rights.

Policy for the Edge Cases

Joe Nocera, writing an opinion piece for the NYT on Tuesday, uses a lot of his word count highlighting pre-existing mental health concerns for the latest spree-killer, Elliott Rodger, who killed three people with a knife, three people with a gun and then finally himself. Mr. Nocera outlines a list of qualifications for mass-shooters:

  • Young
  • Male
  • Alienated Loner
I might add another observation that would apply to more than a few of them - a history of being bullied. This was true with Rodger, Lanza, and others. 

Twelve years ago, the Secret Service made a go at profiling school shooters. In 2002, they concluded that only 34% of the studied shooters were considered 'loaners' with fully half being considered part of the 'mainstream' crowd. Yes, the overwhelming majority were male, and by definition perhaps, a school shooter is going to be "young". But interestingly, 71% felt bullied or persecuted.

Most spree killers were bullied, but most students who were bullied did not become spree killers, illustrating how little value there is in these correlations. You can read the report here, but the bottom line of their study comes down to this quote: 
"There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence"
Mr. Nocera echos this conclusion in more practical terms, saying in his NYT piece that: 
"you can’t go around committing them all because a tiny handful might turn out to be killers."
This wisdom of not legislating for the edge cases is turned on its head in his hasty wrap-up. Mr. Nocera recommends that the solution would be in making guns harder to get for everyone, though he doesn't point out that the vast, vast, vast majority of gun use is lawful. If we were to force him to be consistent in his logic, he might make the corollary statement that,
"you can't go around denying the right to self defense because a tiny thimbleful of gun owners might turn out to be killers." 
Assuming he recognizes this, Nocera is balancing the relative consequences of these options, implying that the disadvantages suffered by those losing gun access would be less severe generally than the acute disadvantages suffered by those caught in a dragnet of institutional commitment. To put it simply, he suggests that we'd do more harm to society if we lowered the bar for involuntary commitment than if we made guns harder to get for the entire population.

This is a bit of a false choice. Institutional commitment is not the only avenue for denying gun rights to the mentally ill. Presently, as described by Form 4473, the ATF denies gun-ownership rights to people who have been adjudicated mentally ill, which does not require - and is a far lower bar than - institutional commitment. Regardless of whether you agree with Nocera's interest balancing as described earlier, one must respond to a more accurate question: is society harmed more by lowering the bar for declaring people mentally ill than if we made guns harder to get for the entire population. It's a substantially different question once we take commitment out of the equation. Now we're balancing the negative impact of "stigma" for a subset of the population against access to a practical self defense tool for the entire population.

I don't mean to minimize the negative impact of that stigma. Placing official labels on people for mental illness has all kinds of negative consequences which are readily described, but it is nothing like institutional commitment, and must certainly be less of a burden than eroding an enumerated right of the Constitution for society en masse. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I haven't been posting lately as a very welcome vacation has proven an incredibly satisfying distraction.

In the last couple weeks, I've traveled from coast-to-coast, visiting with a craftsman of fantastic traditional American long guns in Virginia out in the Shenandoah Valley, eating great food in North Carolina, and spending a week in the state of Washington, poking my head in a cool reloading shop in Cle Elum, talking with liberals about gun control and statism in Seattle, and drinking a lot of German beer there with old friends.

I've also apparently picked up a knack for long run-on sentences, perhaps because I've also been reading Stephen Ambrose's great book about the Lewis and Clark expedition, Undaunted Courage. I may be the last one on Earth to read it, but if you haven't, I can only encourage you to do so. Fantastic story and such an important part of American history.

Anyway, I'm happily back in Alaska now, and posts shall resume.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Self-Igniting Fire Arrows

Completely off-topic, other than the relationship to projectiles and things cool..
The method for attaching the fuel to the arrow could be improved. Even a rubber grommet may work better. I don't imagine the hose clamp on the arrow shaft does much for the ballistics.

Engadget Looks at Smartguns

You can read Engadget's take on smart guns here. They point to the three biggest problems, including reliability concerns, dependency on battery life, and legal disincentives for their adoption (i.e. NJ laws).

They even quote the Violence Policy Center, in a rare moment of clarity, claiming that smart guns don't do much to improve safety - calling them a "seductive hoax".

Last week we looked at why you shouldn't trust fingerprint readers on any device, let along your weapon. But who wants to plug their pistol in every night? I think my cell phone is a hassle to keep charged. Let me expand on the problems with batteries:

  • They fail hard over time, losing their ability to hold a charge. They must be replaceable, adding more complexity to fit and finish of the weapon - more parts to break, more parts to lose.
  • Batteries generally suck in freezing temperatures, let alone subzero temps.
  • The electronics must be weather-sealed and able to take a beating, adding another level of complexity for quality assurance testing, field reliability, etc.
  • unique form factors require custom batteries, and custom batteries get very hard to find, if not irreplaceable (see first point)
All of the problems above come with little value-add on offer. I read a comment about failures in Nest thermostats today that said, "Just because you put an LCD screen on a shovel doesn't mean you'll dig ditches any faster". Until the technology of guns evolves radically from its centuries-old fundamentals, the complexity and hassle of adding electronics doesn't seem like a winning idea. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Browning Maxus Operating Handle

Palmer Hay Flats, Photo Courtesy
AK Dept. of Fish and Game
Last fall I was wandering through the muck and the mire of the Palmer Hay Flats with my Browning Maxus, a fine auto-loader with some nifty features that I really appreciate.

Now if you're after duck in the Hay Flats, and for some reason decide that early morning blind work just isn't for you - deciding instead that you'd prefer a bout of post-brunch jump-shooting - I have only this to say: "Woe to all ye who enter here".

Contrary to our friend pictured above, unless you're wearing marsh skis you won't be walking very tall. After slogging in it for a few hours you'll begin thinking of Tolkien's Dead Marshes:
"Dreary and wearisome. Cold, clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long forgotten summers." - The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
Yes, I believe I even caught sight of Gollum that day. That or I was glimpsing other poor wretches sacrificing sanity and soul for a mallard.

Palmer Hay Flats, Courtesy Author's First-Hand Experience
Oh, you'll quickly learn to distinguish different grasses and vegetation by color, understanding what can support your awkward lumbering mass if only momentarily. Needless to say, the Maxus took a couple baths and went through some hell that day, though it still killed duck just fine.

So a week or two later, a few friends and I walk into the woods looking for ptarmigan and grouse. The ol' Maxus is on the sling, still sporting a bit of swamp grass naturally decoupaged onto the stock. Contrary to my usual practice, I've not cleaned the Maxus since it was in the marsh, which may have something to do with what follows.

While walking through the spruce trees and brush - perhaps after firing at a laughing grouse cruising upwards at mach 1, or after I jumped off a log only to find another very quickly with my shin bone - the operating handle fell out of the gun.  I noticed only too late. Gone. No hope of finding it.

The bolt handle is meant to be removed regularly, as this is how one removes the bolt and the bolt slide/breechblock from the receiver for cleaning. Had I cleaned the unit after my last outing, perhaps I would have noticed a loose handle. Then again, perhaps the the handle just caught on something in the woods, loose or not. Given my own negligence, I'm not ready to say it's a design issue, but clearly I'm not the only one to lose the operating handle on their Maxus.

One solution is to replace the operating handle with one of these aftermarket jobbies from Briley. The only advantage is that you can order it over the Internet, rather than having to sit in the Browning parts department phone queue, inconveniently open between 8am and 4pm CST, Monday through Friday. All parts are not made equally though, and the Briley operating handle gets a solid two thumbs down. The image to the left is what's pictured on Briley's site as the part for the Maxus and is representative of what was sent to me. But check out this part compared to a factory operating handle.
Top: Briley Operating Handle for Browning Maxus
Bottom: Browning Maxus Factory Operating Handle
If you look at these and think, "there's no way that Briley part would fit", you'd be correct. The detent is too narrow, and the shaft looks far too long. Perhaps Briley's intention is that the customer open up the detent with some filing work. I don't know but let me save you $35 - skip buying this part, call Browning.

This spring I got around to ordering two, mind you two, operating handles from Browning directly. One in black and one in silver. For about $11 each, it's less than the Briley and an extra one is some cheap insurance to stick in your possibles bag.

Happy Shooting!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Gun Dealer Liability in Alaska Courts

Two articles are in the news about a gun shop in Juneau being sued by family members of a murder victim.

The Rayco Sales Gun Store in Juneau, Alaska
The Superior Court dismissed the case, Alaska's Supreme Court reviewed de novo and remanded it. It was reopened in late 2013, and last week, a new motion for summary judgement was denied, setting course for a new trial.

The Alaska Dispatch has an article here, claiming this case will have national implications. The Anchorage Daily News (now owned by Alaska Dispatch) has what looks like the same article here.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the shooting was in the news seven years ago. As things wind their way through the justice system, often what makes news concerns activities quite old. In this case, the murder of Simone Kim by Jason Coday happened almost exactly seven years ago - May 15, 2007.

You can read the SCOAK transcript here, but I'll save you, dear reader, from 28 pages of opinion to sum up the points here. First, the anatomy of the theft:

  • Normal day in the gun shop, pictured above. Present are the owner, Ray Coxe, along with an employee and a customer
  • Coday walks in the shop, according to Coxe, looking like he had been "living in the woods", though all three in the store say they saw no signs of danger, violence or drug use 
  • Coday asks the store employee whether they stock Ruger 10/22 rifles
  • Coday engages the other customer in discussion about the differences between .22 rifles, saying he's interested in target shooting and wants something accurate.
  • Coday asks Coxe if he can look at some .22 rifles
  • Coxe brings him behind the counter to review a selection of .22s
  • Coday expresses interest in a used 10/22 selling for $195
  • Coday states that he'll "think about it" and returns to the public side of the counter
  • Thinking Coday was leaving, Coxe leaves the room to do other work
  • Later, the store employee noticed two $100 bills on the counter and the missing 10/22.
That's how the rifle was stolen, or if you believe the estate of the murdered, how the rifle was sold

Back to the gun store, after they noticed the missing rifle:
  • Coxe said he drove around the neighborhood looking for Coday
  • Coxe reported the stolen rifle to the Juneau Police Department
  • Coxes says that on the advice of the police officer, he deposited the $200 as a sale
  • The store's video surveillance system did not capture any of the day's events
  • Coday's next expenditure was ammunition and a hacksaw at the local dept. store.
Coday hulking out after
learning he'll die in prison
This was all on May 13th, two days before Coday killed Simone Kim, seemingly at random. He sawed off the barrel of the 10/22, shot Kim in the back multiple times, severing an artery. Coday was found guilty of the murder, attacked his own attorney upon hearing the verdict and was later sentenced to 99 years for the murder of Kim, and 2 additional years for weapons violations.

It would turn out that Coday was a fugitive from the Lower 48 with a history of drug and behavioral issues. He had brandished a shotgun in Las Vegas, for instance. In hindsight, it's safe to assume he would have failed the background check required for Coxe to have sold the gun, had this been purchased and not stolen.

Feeling that Coday wasn't the only one at fault in this, the family of Simone Kim brought a civil complaint against Coxe and his business, alleging that Coxe, knowing Coday could not pass a background check, had in fact sold the gun to Coday surreptitiously. At best, they allege, he was negligent in leaving Coday alone in the room.

Coxe claimed that the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields him and his business from liability for the misuse of a stolen product. The plaintiffs responded 1) that the PLCAA did not protect Coxe if he acted unlawfully and 2) now bandwagoned by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence (BCPGV), that the PLCAA is unconstitutional anyway. 

Did someone say "unconstitutional"? Enter the Feds. They swoop in to argue before the trial court that yes, PLCAA is constitutional but they don't have any opinion on its interpretation or application as concerns Coxe.

In 2010, the Superior Court granted summary judgement for the defendant based on PLCAA, with plaintiffs ordered to pay part of the defense costs in 2011. 

In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court of Alaska agreed that PLCAA was rightfully found to be constitutional (nice try, BCPGV) but didn't believe that the plaintiff's evidence contradicting Coxe's version of events was given enough consideration. That the Superior Court granted summary judgement without fully hearing such evidence is what gave the Supreme Court cause to remand the case. 

My Take: 
Does this case have "national implications" as the Dispatch suggests and the Brady Center hopes? 

Only if it attempts to reinterpret PLCAA, and neither this case, nor its recent remand, threaten to do so. In fact, the Court declares that none of the plaintiffs claims (knowing violation, negligence per se, or negligent entrustment) would survive a PLCAA defense if Coxe's version of events stands - that the firearm was stolen. To drive home the point, the Court affirms that PLCAA allows claims against a firearms dealer who knowingly violates statute or demonstrates gross negligence, and Coxe never argued otherwise. 

In this light, the case is simply about whether the plaintiffs can show a preponderance of evidence that Coxe and his two witnesses are lying, which should be damn difficult to do unless Coday, for whatever motivation, comes forward to attest to that happening.

It's ironic that, were it not for the murdering thief's "good" deed of putting cash on the counter, there'd be little question of whether this was a theft. Perhaps the better thing for the store owner would have been to let the police hold the money as 'lost', taking it only after it had gone unclaimed. By that time, of course, he'd know the money was toxic.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"60% of the Time, It Works Every Time"

Subtitled, "Why you should be dubious of handgun lock boxes relying on fingerprint readers."

The quote in the title is what Brian Fantana infamously said of his cologne. The reliability record is much the same for fingerprint readers, and why they should not be used where quick access is required.

Ten years ago, the IBM T42 laptop sported a fingerprint reader that ostensibly took the place of keying in a password. If it worked on the first swipe, it was a little taste of awesomeness. To say it worked on the first swipe even 60% of the time would be more than generous. By the time you went for that second try, typing your password would have been quicker.

A decade later, the iPhone 5s will convince you that the experience has only marginally improved at best. If there's one thing reliable about unlocking your iPhone with a thumbprint, it's that it will fail when you most want it to work. Tellingly, the iPhone still depends on you memorizing a PIN code as a backup.

The pattern matching of a fingerprint - once imaged - is quite good, but it's the acquisition of the print where the technology has a damnably hard time. Recently I was exposed to a case where mechanics on a military base were unable to use biometric time clocks, compromising payroll and billings. In that line of work, greasy fingers or fingers with worn down pads are the norm. This foiled the print acquisition process by 1) degrading the print itself, or 2) occluding the reader over time. The system was unworkable and replaced.

Print readers are not for quick, reliable authentication. As important, they aren't secure. First, fingerprints are immutable. Unlike PIN codes or credit card numbers, once someone "knows" your fingerprint, you can't very well change it. How diligent are you at protecting the confidentiality of your prints? I'd wager that comparatively, a password on a yellow sticky pad under your mouse pad looks like freakin' Ft. Knox.

You leave fingerprints everywhere you go, and ironically, all over the screen of your iPhone 5s, right next to the reader that uses them for authentication. This video demonstrates the process to hack a reader - start to finish - using cheap supplies from your erstwhile Radio Shack.

All this background should color your buying decisions. Identilock is an example of an aftermarket trigger lock product made by Sentinl that uses fingerprints, and one you wouldn't catch me relying upon for the very reasons listed above. What's unreliable in normal use becomes doubly so when you're stressed out and trying to do the same task quickly.

For another example, look at this handgun lock-box with a biometric lock from Stack-On. It's commonly available at sporting goods stores, but the customer reviews on the manufacturer's website will tell you all you need to know: "Good thing I didn't need it in a pinch", says one reviewer. "It slowly took more and more attempts", says another. Sound familiar?

In contrast, Hornady makes a lockbox called RAPiD Safe that allows either RFID or the traditional four-key combo lock to access your gun. If you absolutely need some gimmicky tech on your safe, this is a good option because it has that manual fail-safe that will work 100% of the time, all the time. If you're going to train with one, I recommend training on that combo lock, unless you're planning to wear a silly silicone bracelet morning, noon and night (hint: you probably won't - after a month it will have a permanent spot on your dresser next to your FitBit or Up bracelet).

Speaking of RFID, there's been a lot of hand-wringing in New Jersey recently about the Armatix Smart System, which is more a regulatory concern rather than technophobia. On the technical front though, RFID and NFC certainly wouldn't dent the market for stolen guns. The transponder signals remain vulnerable to skimming, thieves can steal transponders a surely as they can guns, and since guns are fundamentally quite simple mechanical devices, bypassing any electronic safety should be a pretty simple exercise of gunsmithing. A system like Armatix's is most useful in close-quarter combat scenarios where a firearm is taken from a defender to be immediately used by the attacker. The limited value of preventing that edge case is something the market will decide, but I'll just say there's probably a reason we're not buying guns with treadmill safety keys incorporated into them.

What's good about incorporating new technology into peripherals is that it informs our understanding of function and reliability before we use it in more critical applications. Through our casual exposure to fingerprint readers, we know to avoid putting them between us and critical objects we may need in a hurry. The jury's still out on RFID and NFC technologies, because both the tech and its application are still evolving.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Shallow Opinion of Margaret Carlson

Over at the Chicago Tribune you can read Ms. Carlson's not deeply thought-out perspective on the NRA annual meeting.
"It would be a valuable cross-cultural field trip for LaPierre to take a look outside the hall, where representatives of the 90 percent were gathered."
She is of course referring to the Moms Demand Action/MAIG/EGS, or whatever Bloomberg's group is called now. We're talking all of 100 people staging a protest against the 75,000-attendee event put on by the NRA. But what would LaPierre have learned from this field trip?

First, 100-odd protesters is a sliver compared to 75,000. Literally. As we closely contemplate the graph to the left we should keep in mind we're talking about 75,000 people who paid their own travel and expense vs 100 folks who probably had their bus-fare covered by Bloomberg. Additionally, these 75k are but a subset of millions of dues-paying members. Lesson Learned: gun-control groups are astroturf, and millions with $25 will be stronger than one man with $50 million.

Second, he would have seen armed guards hired by Moms/Mayors/Everytown to protect Shannon Watts, the group's spokesperson. Lesson Learned: gun-control groups believe in armed defense for those who can afford it, but not self-defense for those that can't. "Rights for me, but not for thee" is their policy.

Another quote catches the eye:
"It is also a place where the young and female are pursued. Kids are encouraged to fondle semi-automatics and take virtual target practice. Women have their own events. . . ."
Let's ignore that Ms. Carlson paints women and children at the convention as prey. Let's ignore what her choice of words like "pursued" and "fondle" imply about her own biases. No, the thing that really jumps out at me is the irony that "virtual target practice" in the company of gun safety experts is painted as bad, while simultaneously some 10 million children are at home running through first-person war simulators on their game consoles, 'virtually' killing hundreds of times per day. I'm not one to advocate censorship, but it's simply that her concern for children (if it's really that) seems misplaced. The NRA has a safety program for kids endorsed by the National Safety Council, the Department of Justice and others. If MDA/MAIG/EGS really cared about gun safety, they'd work with the NRA on the educational front. Just as sex-ed doesn't cause kids to have sex, gun education won't make them murderers. Safety education is often what's required to counter-act some of our culture's more risky and objectifying influences.

Lastly, let's talk about that 90% number that are supposedly in favor of background checks. Look - we all want less gun violence, but it's empirical fact that background checks don't prevent that violence - criminals don't comply with the rules and law enforcement doesn't prosecute the check failures. That same 90% probably assume that background checks would reduce gun violence, perhaps because it was implied by the survey questions or takers themselves. Ask a targeted batch of 2000 whether they support warrantless wire-tapping if it prevents another 9-11, and you get an idea of the quality and worth of such survey results.

100-Year-Old Advice on Vacationing Still Rings True

Over at The Art of Manliness, there's a fun reprint of a 1918 article by Horace Kephart, giving encouragement to vacation in the wild.
"The best vacation an over-civilized man can have is to go where he can hunt, capture, and cook his own meat, erect his own shelter, do his own chores, and so, in some measure, pick up again those lost arts of wildcraft that were our heritage through ages past, but of which not one modern man in a hundred knows anything at all. In cities our tasks are so highly specialized, and so many things are done for us by other specialists, that we tend to become a one-handed and one-idead race. "
Verily, Verily.

Hilary Speaks on Gun Control

Dave Hardy over at Of Arms and the Law posted a link to this article on Hilary Clinton speaking up about gun control.

Says She:
"I think again we're way out of balance. We've got to rein in what has become almost an article of faith that almost anybody can have a gun anywhere at any time. And I don't believe that is in the best interest of the vast majority of people"
Why? Well, violence, of course. The theory that more people with guns will result in shootings over loud cell phone use, gum-chewing, and other minor annoyances better handled with conversation. Again, Ms. Clinton:
"That's what happens in the countries I've visited that have no rule of law."
The article later describes her calling for a more empirical approach to economic policy. What's ironic is that she's not demonstrating an empirical approach to this issue of gun rights. More guns are on the street than ever in America, yet violent crime continues to decrease. Anecdotes of firearms misuse often reveal either felons who shouldn't have had the guns in the first place (if they followed the law) or the kind of crackpot that will soon become a felon and probably weed themselves out of society rather quickly.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Drake v Jerejian Denied!

TTAG has the story here. I must confess being very surprised it was denied. I figured if cert were granted we would have heard about it on Friday, expecting to see it relisted today, but denial was always a possibility. As TTAG implies though, better to have cert denied than to have the Drake decision affirmed.

So Ilya Shapiro writing under the Cato banner has this commentary on the denial, where he sums up the strangeness of denying cert:
"It’s as if the Supreme Court announced that the First Amendment protects an individual right to blog about politics from your home computer, but then some lower courts allowed states to ban political blogging from your local Starbucks."
His commentary ends on a pretty sour note, but I think it's important to remember that we're still waiting for a final-final decision in Peruta (the 9th Circuit decision regarding same issue in CA), and until that well-reasoned opinion is the final decision it may be that the Supreme Court just decided the disagreements at the Circuit level weren't "ripe" enough.

SCOTUS record of Drake timeline is here, culminating in today's denial without published reasoning.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

NFA Trusts in the News

A while back there was rumor that the President would use executive orders or changes in ATF regulation to shut down NFA gun trusts. It's been a while since much was heard, but today the Guardian has a lengthy article telling us that due to copious input, mostly negative, any changes are probably delayed until 2015.

It starts out oversimplifying what the trusts do - actually getting it wrong - but deeper in the article some better detail is given. Still, an English paper, they're not in the business of understanding the details of American gun laws.

New Arguments or More of the Same?

There's an opinion piece in the Washington Post this evening which advocates reframing the case for gun control. The author, Danny Franklin, is a political strategist advising the White House and at least he seems earnest in his recommendations. Is his advice really new?

Here's a money quote for ya:
"But as a Democratic strategist who looks at the relationship between public opinion and political reality, I fear that this answer [that gun control fails simply because of NRA lobbying] has become a crutch: a comforting story progressives tell ourselves to avoid facing the fact that the country trusts the NRA more than us on this issue."
I agree. When you have Democrats repeatedly demonstrating their technical ignorance on the subject they're trying to regulate, it doesn't give the public confidence in the wisdom of their prescriptions. Using the phrase "common-sense gun laws" to refer to ineffective gun control laws, the author detracts from his own case in much the same way. The public trusts the gun-rights argument because it appeals to common sense conclusions - gun control laws proposed thus far haven't been effective in reducing crime. The data is the data.

After all, if the Navy Yard Shooting taught us one thing, it's that a spree-killer only needs a Biden-Friendly Firearm and a conspicuous security guard to upgrade his weapons on-site. It's like will-call, and suspiciously like learned behavior in first-person shooters. Funny, that. 

Anyway, let's get back to his prescription for a new approach. They look something like this:
  • Avoid laws that "compel behavior" and focus on persuading folks of the safety risks inherent in gun ownership
  • Focus on the trend of declining gun crime rates to make people feel gun control is working
  • Incentivize the purchase of smart guns
  • Measure success by lives saved vs. lives lost
Avoiding laws that compel behavior and persuading folks that guns introduce risk sounds like something we can all get behind. What does this look like? Gun safety education? If the real goal is to produce fear-mongering propaganda and shameless appeals to emotion to secure the passage of more prohibition, then it certainly isn't a new tactic but more of the same. Encouraging gun safety education is a real path to reducing segments of gun violence. 

In talking about declining violence, the author pegs a start date of 1993 for this trend of decline. In context, this sounds like he's trying to claim the Assault Weapons Ban of the mid-nineties is responsible. Homicide is at its lowest point since the sixties. The government itself has published reports that the AWB had no discernible effect on gun crime, in particular noting that so-called "assault weapons" aren't even used in many crimes to begin with. Further, gun ownership keeps on increasing, and violent crime keeps decreasing. I don't know if it's a causal relationship, but we certainly know empirically that more guns doesn't equal more crime and the oft-cited comparison to English gun control is a farce.

Incentivizing people to buy smart guns rather than forcing them uses the market to adopt new technology organically and gives individuals the power of self-determination - always a plus. That's good, even though we're way out from that tech being reliable enough to call itself a better mousetrap. Guns need to work all the time, not just some of the time. That said, I doubt creating a government-funded rebate for smart-gun purchases would ever fly with this White House. Creating an expensive tax on "dumb" guns is more their style, and this shouldn't be construed as even remotely equivalent. But in concept, true incentives rather than disincentives or prohibition would be a great middle ground for discussion. 

Finally, we get to the measurement of success by lives saved. If Danny promotes this metric of efficacy for regulation, then I'm all ears. Otherwise, if the metric is simply invoked as a rhetorical device for appeals to emotion (e.g. "if it saves just one life") then it's still more of the same irrational gibberish we've heard before.

Basing regulation on efficacy requires a broader conversation than simple material prohibition. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Barrel Length and Bullet Performance

A couple enjoyable reads about barrel length and bullet performance. The obvious tldr is that they're related, but these articles have great empirical evidence demonstrating how performance is impacted, both in expansion and penetration.

The first is a link to a video I first saw on the always-enjoyable TTAG. In this video, they fire the same round out of three different barrel lengths and examine the results.

The second article was over on The Shooter's Log, and specifically focuses on .45 ACP ammunition performance and how it changes with barrel length.

When I first started shooting a Kimber Ultra CDP II, a 3" 1911, I remember getting a few stovepipes in it before realizing the load could make a big difference in how the slide behaved. The internet is replete with conversations about the reliability of short-barrel 1911s, but I think no article sums up the various causes better than Wilson Combat's own post about a year ago.


Drake Case Relisted(?)

UPDATE (5/5/14): The Drake petition was denied this morning.

Can't say I'm surprised that Drake v. Jerejian has (EDIT: likely) been relisted. There's also a pay-walled story on The NJH story says Drake may get some play on Monday, so maybe I'm reading the SCOTUSBlog article wrong about the relisting or am premature in thinking this. Time will tell. Each time Drake went to conference last (April 18th, April 25th) the relisting wasn't made official until the following Monday (the 21st, the 28th), however I think petition grants are typically known that Friday if they happen (e.g. Aereo, POM, Limelight grants were all public knowledge the day of conference).

The Supreme Court has been slow to issue writs for a slew of cases, but Drake is one we anxiously watch as it would settle conflicting decisions at the circuit court level on the right to bear arms. called this the "next big gun case", post-Heller/McDonald, and indeed it is.

With all the delays though, I'm not inclined to hold my breath.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

525 gr. 45-70 vs. Tree

Beartooth 525gr - Tree Killer
Now that's what I call a brush-gun! This tree was behind a target stand at 100 yards.

The tree turned into an unintentional casualty as my friend and I were clocking 45-70 handloads with the CED M2. I placed part of a broken concrete block around the trunk afterwards to give an idea of scale and to better profile the stepped "wound channels" in this photo. The photo is taken from behind the tree looking towards the bench. Turning around and looking the other way, it was clear those bullets just kept on truckin', taking more pieces of tree as they went. Impressive!

Marlin 1895 SBL
These were some shoulder-bruising 525gr cast Pile-Drivers from Beartooth Bullets. They were fired out of a Marlin 1895 SBL, which is just a fantastic and reliable lever-action carbine. I was specifically thinking of this gun and others when I mentioned more practical alternatives to the Ruger Gunsite Scout the other week. Sure, bullet expansion is nil on these bullets, but this is more of an end-to-end solution.

45-70 loaded round
I can't avoid getting trigger-shy shooting these loads. We minimized this by using a Caldwell Lead Sled Solo to lessen felt recoil, and we also mixed in bouts of dry-firing to calm the subconscious reflexes associated with the trigger break.

For the curious - these rounds used new Remington brass and CCI 250 primers, starting with 40 grains of Reloader 7, working up in 1 grain increments maxing out at 44 grains.

Alaska, Firearms & Crime

The homicide rate is down in Alaska, and even fewer involve guns. David Kopel shared this link to Clayton Cramer's post on crime trends and constitutional carry in Alaska. Clayton notes that since constitutional carry laws were enacted here,
"the gun murder rate in Alaska fell faster than the non-gun murder rate -- not at all what you would expect from a bunch of manly men (we know about you Last Frontier sorts) carrying guns with no restrictions!"
Or perhaps exactly what you'd expect.

You can read the original study produced by UAA here. An impressive takeaway from the report itself is that:
"In 2012, the Alaska homicide rate was less than half of the 1985 rate."
This is rate, remember, so relative to population. Basically, our growing population makes the rate look better, even if the pure quantity of assaults stays flat or increases slightly.

The Alaska Dispatch had an article on this study, though it doesn't mention the interesting shift in preferred weapons - even though the rate of homicide is down, when Alaskans decide to do the deed they now prefer to use knives rather than guns.

One can only speculate what's behind these overall numbers. I hesitate to put too much weight on a causal relationship with firearm ownership. The further we get from the pipeline boom days, the less rowdy our towns get. The aging population may play a factor - the Dispatch notes that the vast majority of these violent crimes are committed by males under 35 years of age. Perhaps having more females in the state is behind lower murder rates, if not sexual assaults. Perhaps greater information sharing via the Internet is helping man understand the futility and peril in violent crime. Endless speculation.

The Economist Surveys American Gun Laws

This short article on American gun laws is not particularly hostile, reviewing changes both for the good and bad over the last couple years, leading off with the new law in Georgia.

It certainly illustrates how we aren't clearly "winning" the overall political fight, and need to keep the pressure on.

The article states:
"Laws making it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns passed in 16 states. Virginia enacted similar legislation in April. Bills to disarm people convicted of (or under restraining orders for) domestic abuse are pending in 14 states; such measures have been enacted this year in Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Overall, the war over guns is a wash (see map)."
I don't know that these descriptions are accurate, but gun laws restricting the mentally ill only become worrisome to me when they exceed the "adjudication" standard and creep into liberally classifying people as "mentally ill". It's a hard line to draw - I'm not one to say where the right balance is - but one line we need to hold is preventing arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory, or selective prior restraint.

Far more worrisome laws have been passing in states like New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, and California, to name the big ones. Lawsuits are pending against all of these, but to describe the new state-level gun control laws as simply limiting access by the mentally ill and abusive is a misleading summary.

"TV" Show Aimed at Female Shooters

NRA Women looks like it will be a great show! Episode 1 is online, and the first few minutes that I've had time to watch were really engaging and well-produced.

Yes, I plan to watch every second of it. While aimed at women, I think everyone will find it educational and entertaining.

So how can you watch it on a real TV? Roku and Chromecast are very inexpensive and easy to use tools for getting online content onto your television. However, I don't think there's a native "channel" in Roku for NRA content, something they should seriously look into. I think the only way you can access this content over a Roku today is through the YouTube channel.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Progress Means Getting Nearer..

I was reading a very rewarding article on C.S. Lewis today, and spied two quotes I thought I might share.
First a quote from his book, "The Voyage of the Dawntreader"
"Have you no idea of progress, of development?"
"I have seen them both in an egg," said Caspian. "We call it going bad in Narnia."
And similarly this quote from the man directly:
"We all want progress, but progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."
These quotes add some richness to reading Daniel Payne's article at, coupled with the picture showing a 'gun-free zone' sign at yet another site of a spree-killer.

Purdue Research on Preventing Casualties in Schools

Great interview with Dr. Eric Dietz summarizing his research at Purdue University's Homeland Security Institute.

I Want to Talk About Sarah..

Some love her, some don't, but every Alaskan will show signs of hypoxia when her name is brought up - light-headedness, fatigue, nausea, severe headaches - if only because it's exhausting to talk about her given the myriad contexts through which people get their exposure.

When I heard a soundbite from her NRAAM speech saying that, "Water-boarding is how we baptize terrorists", I too was overcome with a piercing migraine.

Even though I reject her delight in water-boarding and personally find her use of the term "baptize" in this context to be abhorrent, I also happily defend her right to offend. My first reaction was simply to think that she's starting to believe her own myth a little too much. Like a top-tier chef once said of Gordon Ramsey, she's in danger of her personality taking away from her real talents. It's a shit politician that rallies the worst in us rather than challenging us to be better people.

No, my real gripe is that my organization, the NRA, put her up on that podium and rather than rally a crowd about 2A issues, she rallied a slice of members on unrelated - and controversial - issues, and in so doing, tied those issues to the RKBA movement, alienating both another slice of the membership and potential future members. I'm not sure if there's a better metric by which to judge the effectiveness of speakers at an NRA meeting, but staying on point and growing the tent on the issues we care about seems to be pretty good. When one gets in the way of that, they start to look more like the enemy.

The last couple weeks, we've talked about how the NRA needs to focus on its single issue, not yoke itself to other causes. It needs to bring more people into the tent. Sarah's comments fail in this regard and do nothing to help the brand of the organization or the effectiveness of our political outreach.

5 Gun Myths

Over at, you can read "5 Terrible Gun Myths That Must Be Stopped". These aren't the common myths we hear media reporting, but myths that us gun folk actually perpetuate, so it's more interesting in that respect. Things like handgun bore axis and accurizing your Mosin.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Guns & Insurance Companies

Over at Popehat, a fantastic legal blog, Ken White writes an interesting post criticizing the recently passed bill in Florida, SB 424. The text of that bill can be read here, but it effectively bans insurance companies from:

  • Refusing to issue or renew a policy based on lawful firearm ownership of the insured
  • Canceling or terminating a policy based on lawful firearm ownership of the insured
  • Charging an "unfairly discriminatory rate" based on lawful firearms ownership
  • Disclosing to a third party the lawful firearm ownership of the insured without first obtaining informed consent by the insured

Mr. White's objection says that this is a classic example of Republicans selectively compromising their avowed "Small Government" principles when it suits them.

  • Good: using the Second Amendment to limit the power of the government.
  • Bad: when leveraging the power of the government to regulate private industry in the name of the Second Amendment, they adopt the low tactics of statist "progressives"
As Mr. White says:

"...treating the Second Amendment as if it empowers the government to regulate private conduct, rather than just limiting the government — is incoherent and un-conservative."
The phenomenon of compromising small government principles is one I've criticized on this blog before. We see Republicans advocate statist force for the drug war, marriage, and a host of other issues in blatant contradiction with the principles of small government. So I think I'm pretty open to the argument but not sure I agree with his understanding of what this bill is doing.

Mr. White sees this bill as preventing an insurer from charging a higher premium for an insurance policy regardless of whether their risk assessment indicates a greater liability. If that were the case, I'd probably agree with the criticism, but I don't think that's the right reading of the bill. Further, I'd argue that insurance isn't pure private industry, but increasingly a function of the state (for better or worse is irrelevant). In that sense, this bill is restricting the government from leveraging the insurance market to further its own clear policy aims. Let me explain each in turn:

"Unfair Discrimination" has special meaning in Florida insurance regulation - specifically it's when you charge different rates to people of the "same actuarially supportable class". Basically this means that if two people have the same risk profile, you can't charge one person more because of their race, or because they may have sought psychological counselling, suffered abuse, been sexually abused as a kid, falsely imprisoned, etc. All of this is lined out in the regs that SB 424 seeks to modify.

SB 424 takes this criteria and says, hey - this too: exercising a constitutionally-protected right in and of itself isn't justification to cancel their policy, or refuse to issue it. By my reading, it doesn't prohibit an insurer from charging a reasonably higher premium if the actuarially supportable classes are different. It's basically saying the analysis needs to be more sophisticated for determining that actuarial class than just asking whether a potential customer exercises that constitutional right.

Now, one might argue that insurers shouldn't need to be any more sophisticated than they want to be. It's their money on the line. After all, we are talking about the folks who increase premiums based on the color of your car. Insurance isn't the science of causation but the art of correlation, one might say.

That sounds good, but insurance isn't an art, it's a science of speculation which can turn discriminatory awfully fast when nominally based on high-level correlations. Trends in imprisonment could price out entire groups of people from participating in the market, and when it comes to rights, produce a chilling effect that says, "the more rights you exercise, the more direct expense you'll bear." It certainly makes me think twice about buying a red car.

Imagining that the Republicans must be so absolutist as support a kind of Cruikshank or Barron v. Baltimore-type approach to private industry and disavow their duty to protect the rights of citizens from actors outside of the federal government is a non-starter. Laws can limit the power of non-state actors from infringing on rights and still be coherent and conservative. Come to think of it, this was exactly the Republican position in Cruikshank.

Finally, it's no coincidence this bill passes while the federal government is dramatically increasing its regulatory hold in the insurance market. It's not a stretch in this day of executive orders and discretionary enforcement to imagine the federal government using PPACA regs to collect data on and indirectly chill gun ownership. The Administration has stated and demonstrated its desire to reduce gun ownership and limit the breadth of the Second Amendment. I think the proper way to be reading SB 424 is that it shields the insurers, increasingly acting on behalf of the government, from being pawns in the Administration's game of end runs. You can call it paranoid, but I'd call it proactive. Certainly the imagined scenarios are not far-fetched anymore.

Range Day: Ruger Gunsite Scout, Two Years Later

On Saturday I also took out the Ruger Gunsite Scout. This is a compelling little "scout" rifle, bolt action, in .308. It got the usual coverage in the mags a couple years ago, and probably sits on the shelf of your local gun store for about $850-900. It boasts a grey laminate stock, ghost ring rear sight, box magazine, and a picatinny rail on top of a 16.5" barrel. It's Ruger's homage to Jeff Cooper. Take a gander:
Ruger Gunsite Scout, accessories not included
I picked up this sucker as soon as it hit the shelves a couple/few years ago. I think a lot of people wonder what good this thing is, as it masters no category. It's a modern-day curio, a "by-the-door" cabin gun, and in Alaska, it's like someone took an honest hunting rifle and transmogrified it with a low-down brush gun. Ta-daa! The Gunsite Scout.

But wait! That sounds pretty damn cool, and it is! You can read plenty of reviews on the web, so I'm not going to rehash. Here's the rub - you'll want to modify this gun a bit, but the good news is that Ruger built this thing to be modded.

You'll need to buy replacement mags, as the ones out of the box are single-stack and therefore unnecessarily tall. The ones pictured above are from Alpha Industries Manufacturing, are double stack, single feed, and you can read about them here. There are decent nylon mags made now as well. Thanks to Ruger setting this guy up for standard Accuracy International magazines, aftermarket replacement solutions are readily available, though expensive.

Another issue that leverages the flexibility of this gun is the length of pull. Ruger includes spacers to extend the length of pull out to 14.5". As I'm 6'2" with a 37" arm length, I found having all of them installed is best, though the gun now bears a resemblance to a canoe paddle.

Finally, the ghost ring on mine seemed to be set for 50 yards out-of-the-box. For me, 100 yards is the gospel default for iron sites, open or aperture, and holdovers for everything else if you don't have windage and elevation adjustments. This is even the zero for my real brush gun, a 45-70 1895SBL, which incidentally hits a small plate at 100 yards quite reliably, thank you, even with 525 gr. Beartooth Pile-Drivers. The ghost ring is adjustable by loosening a locking screw with an allen wrench and then rotating the ring up or down. Pretty simple, but make sure you have the right tool on hand before you leave the house.

My understanding is that Jeff Cooper believed a scout rifle should be able to hit a man-size target out to 450 meters without optics. While the .308 round is absolutely capable of bringing all that and a bag of chips, there's no way I can reliably pull that off with ghost rings. They really are made for quick acquisition at shorter ranges, being de riguer on tactical shotguns. I find my eye naturally centers the front post quickly, but the longer I stare at it, the less sure I am about alignment. Anyway, the scout hits the 100 yard target reasonably well, and the grouping pictured is entirely the fault of your author's aptitude with ghost rings. That said, I feel you certainly can get 'good-enough' accuracy with the scout to knock something down at a 100 yards (pictured), and at 50 yards (not pictured) the grouping was really fantastic (further condemning my performance with the sights rather than the rifle).

Finally, that rail: I've been playing with a Vortex Diamondback on this gun for a while now and it works great. Don't skimp on the rings for mating with the rail if you want to keep your zero. Last New Year's Eve, I used this configuration to light off some creative tannerite setups from about 75 yards in low light conditions, in -20 F temps. What's nice is that the ejection is angled enough that you really can lay that scope right over the chamber and not worry about it turning into a deflector. I'm sure the rail was meant more for a red dot sight or something mounted further forward. Jeff Cooper would say that the chamber needs to be clear for stripper clips and would frown on the Vortex - but it works, and you could certainly take better advantage of what the cartridge has to offer with a better sight system.

So in conclusion, after owning this guy for a couple/few years I'm still not sure what I'd use it for that other rifles don't do better. Even as an all-arounder, that mythical "if you could only have one gun", I think there may be better candidates than the Scout. It's like a staffordshire bull terrier - won't find it on dog sled to Nome or bushwhacking, wouldn't take it hunting, but it's great around the house and impossible not to fall in love with!