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!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Range Day: 115-year-old Marlin in 32-20

Saturday was a great day at the range! I have a Marlin Model 1894 rifle in 32-20, of 1899 manufacture (SN: 18xxxx). 32-20 ammo isn't something you just find on the shelf these days, so part of the fun of this rifle aside from the living history aspect is the load development.

32-20 round for Marlin Model 1894
This was my first time putting a load together for this caliber, let alone this rifle, and my starting point was derived from Wet Dog and others over at the forum and at the CastBoolits forum.  I started out with Starline brass, and picked up some 120gr cast bullets in .313 diameter from Missouri Bullet Company. Add in some CCI primers and some powder and you get the round pictured to the right. Cute little guy, eh?

I created three sets of 15 rounds, each at 4.5, 4.8, and 5.0 grains of Unique respectively. 

Now, I know.. this is above Unique's own limits for their cowboy loads. It's a hot load, and normally I wouldn't ever pull a stupid trick like this for a first load. However, enough people subscribe to this 4.5-5 range in older Marlins that I took a gamble. This is one of those things every book warns you against doing, you never think you'll do, but then one day you see yourself doing it. Though the world didn't end, I regret doing it for the very principle of the matter. Safety demands adherence to principle and that's that. Add in that this isn't just any old rifle, and it was irresponsible of me. 

This was my first time shooting the gun, so my focus was less on the load development and more on the gun performance and behavior. I picked this rifle up from a 'walker' at a gun show a few years ago. The barrel was as dirty as sin and that's often a sign that somebody's trying to hide something. The real fear was that the rifling would be shot out, the bore pitted, and anything fired out of it would just tumble downrange. But I couldn't resist the piece in front of me - the furniture matched and looked original, the sights, butt plate and all other pieces looked right, screws weren't marred too bad and the action was fine. As it turns out, after a good scrubbing the bore showed some pitting, but the rifling was intact. It made me very curious how it would perform at the range.

Lever-action goodness
Well, I'm happy to report that.. I'm pleased. Not ecstatic, but pleased. The gun placed the rounds pretty consistently, thought at both 50 & 100 yards, my shots were all to the right and I'm not sure I can blame any wind. Hey, as long as it's consistent, that's something I can address. 

Additionally, while no extraction issues were experienced or pierced primers were seen, pressure rings on the brass showed up at the 5-grain mark. I'm not surprised by that - as I've chastised myself above, I regret not starting lower at about 3 grains. For my next loads I'll back the pressure off and begin again at a gentler starting point.

The good? The trigger broke like glass. I was surprised by this and loved it. Combined with the negligible kick from the 32-20, it was a real pleasure to shoot. I really look forward to the next session with this gun, where I'll bust out the chronograph, use some lower-pressure loads, and a lot more of them. One's affection for old guns is touched off when in your hands, but the bond really develops when you cradle it up and get down to business.