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.