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.