Category Archives: guns

America gets a real-time IQ test

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I’m going to assume that some moderate percentage of the US population could either describe an oligarchy or identify one if they saw one. I don’t think it is anywhere near 50%, but let’s say it is greater than 25%. (But read the Wiki. It’s a good primer on what tipping-point we just crossed)

Now what percentage of them could identify an emerging oligarchy? It would be like saying you can ID an oak tree, but not an oak sapling. Lots of people fall into that category.

What just happened in the US is that an oligarchy sapling just broke through the forest floor, is getting lots of nutrients and sunlight, and before you know it, son, you got yourself a mature oligarchy growing right there in the front lawn. And the bigger it gets the harder it will be to get rid of. How do we know if we have a real oligarchy, and not just a playboy-type with delusions of grandeur? The dichotomous key to political systems will get you close:

You have a billionaire as president-elect. He became a billionaire by extracting moderate sums of money from thousands of people at a time, and then doing it again, and again. What billionaires care about it not whether the Dallas Cowboys are looking good (That’s Jerry Jones’ issue, and he is “special”), or whether their bills are getting paid. They mainly care about other billionaires, their money, and how they stack up against them. So we can check that box. They play “Fantasy Billionaire” the way Joe Six Pack plays Fantasy Football. But with piles of other people’s money. No other billionaires have been elected to the presidency of the US. That is a big bragging point right there. That goes over real big when he gets on the phone with other billionaires AND with other heads-of-state. It’s a win-win. And don’t he know it? It’s Trump, Putin, and a few guys in the UAE. That, as they say, is the list of billionaire heads-of-state. Don’t go looking for their free press or their sterling record on human rights.

And in the case of our current president-elect, Donald Trump, he is demonstrating his incuriosity, thin skin, and sub-par intellect at every damn turn. We don’t have a super-genius billionaire, or even a really smart billionaire. We have a whiny douche from Queens who inherited more money from his daddy than the average American makes in a lifetime. He is accustomed to outsourcing virtually everything. He hires “the best”. (More on that, and how he only hires the best for himself and hires the worst when it comes to protecting the American citizenry, later.) How does a guy like this plan to run a country?

Glad I asked! First, you put military lifers in positions where you want chain-of-command respected, not a bunch of smart-ass sass-back. You only want to hear “how high?” when you yell “Jump”. So you stock Defense, Homeland Security, and Intel with guys who will throw their mother in front of the L-train in the name of chain-of-command. It helps if you have conspiracy theorists with itchy trigger-fingers and an axe to grind. Less motivational work and coercion to waste Trump’s time.

Next, you recruit fellow billionaires who you know will put other billionaires (like the president-elect. just sayin’) first, and pretty much fuck the little guy all day long. That is how they got there. When you find anyone who ever called Rex Tillerson “human rights champion” please let me know. Trump himself has *never* gone on the record regarding human rights (I looked, and if you find something I am all ears). It is safe to say he has never though about the concept other than as a way to tar a “loser” who put humanity over making a dollar. Go find the country that Rex Tillerson has staked out where you have a thriving middle class, lots of manufacturing jobs, cheap top-flight health care… Good luck. If that model was successful they would be like Johnny Appleseed, as opposed to Joey Goebbels.

And Trump has Bannon, who jerks off to photos of Goebbels, so another base covered. This guy is a “strategist” in only the broadest way. He seems to be the worst kind of political apparatchik. The kind who will never be seen in public, or grant interviews, or take any real responsibility. He has his hand up Trump’s ass and it looks like Trump is talking, but you are really hearing Bannon throwing his voice. THAT is this dude’s “strategy”. And as usual, when “strategy” is next separated from “propaganda” it will be the first time.

Next, Lackeys. You cannot have a functioning oligarchy without lackeys. You need dopes who are so far over their skis that they will take whatever direction they get because what the fuck does Rick “Dancing with the Stars” Perry know about nuclear warheads? Nothing. And he ain’t gonna learn anytime soon. The steady stream of agency heads who are incompetent or outright hostile to the charters of the agencies they are being tapped to head is not a coincidence. You want a nice mix of incompetence and hostility. Both is nice.

Like an exterminator examining the mud casings in the footings of your democracy, I hate to tell you this, friend: you got a colony of oligarchs, military stooges and lackeys setting up shop in your house. The fix is to get at it early and maybe in short order you’ll have a problem you can fix with a can of RAID. But for now you gotta be ready to do the hard work to knock this oligarch colony down to size.

 

Obligatory Trayvon Martin blog entry

…obligatory in both the sense that everyone seems to have an opinion, is sharing that opinion, and why should I not throw two cents into the e-fountain?

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First, my deepest condolences to not only the Martin family, but the families of all the victims of gun violence. It is easy to be blinded by the media circus and forget that kids are dying at gunpoint every day in staggering numbers. The fact that certain state jurisdictions have made it legal is the subject of this brief personal opinion piece:

When I first heard about the death of Trayvon Martin I was thinking I must have gotten some bad info. Wait? It isn’t until 45 days after the shooting when they charge the shooter? What is the language behind this “Stand Your Ground” law (SYG) in Florida? Did this guy really have 911 on speed dial, as well as the police dispatcher? The shooter had domestic violence priors, yet maintained his carry permit? His daddy is/was a judge? That is pretty fucked up. Cop wannabe’s are everywhere, but they typically refrain from pursuing people based on their gait and wardrobe and starting shit. (Maybe they don’t refrain from that, come to think of it) Well, they might refrain from starting shit unless their daddy is a judge and they had some professional training on SYG from a law enforcement training program. George Zimmerman had both.

…and the details that came out as the public side of the matter unfolded didn’t help me make any sense of it. But I did some reading on the SYG language, and that really freaked me out. It is so broad, and leaves so much latitude in both terms of defining engagement and terms of legal interpretation that I can’t believe that these things aren’t happening several times each week. (it turns out, by one counting, that I am being optimistic) It looked to me like you could basically kill anyone you want, and if you stuck to your story that you felt your life was threatened you would never be held accountable. It STILL looks that way to me. More so.

And not just me… HERE is a recent piece from The Atlantic. Ta-Nehisi Coates sums up what I had been understanding from my own reading on the matter:

Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can can legally kill you, provided I “believe” myself to be subject to “great bodily harm.” It is then the state’s job to prove — beyond a reasonable doubt — that I either did not actually fear for my life, or my fear was unreasonable.

Proving that the shooter acted one way, or felt another way, is an impossibility. Not only was there no way that George Zimmerman was ever going to be held responsible, there is no way that anyone in Florida will ever be held responsible. Open. Season. Pure and simple as that.

I was near enough to a television on Saturday the 13th to watch some serious gloating and immediate revisionist history by Zimmerman’s defense team. When asked if they thought that the outcome would have been different if the races of the two men were reversed, the answer from attorney Mark O’Mara was “Things would have been different for George Zimmerman if he was black for this reason: he would never have been charged with a crime,”  Which means that in the fantasy land that attorney Mark O’Mara lives in, young black men are discharging firearms and causing deaths of unarmed civilians without legal repercussions. That seems to be the whole George Zimmerman strategy: Hire your legal representatives from a parallel universe.

And that is where I believe the racial issue comes in to play. Would Trayvon Martin have been assumed innocent for 45 days by the Sanford PD? Would he have been given the broad benefit of the doubt if he had pulled the trigger? And I don’t belive so. Aside from the delusional (at the least “delusional for pay”) Mark O’Mara, nobody believes that Trayvon would have been given such gracious treatment.

I won’t belabor the point, but I will say that when the easy reader version of Stand Your Ground comes out in Florida, there will be some serious bloodshed. The use of deadly force has been reduced to a “he said, he’s dead” proposition. As a good friend of mine once said about self defense in the home: “Only one of us will be making any statements”

That approach served Zimmerman very well.

On Gun Laws: It’s the DATA, stupid.

Paul Krugman wrote an interesting op-ed this week exploring the GOP’s makers-v-takers meme, and how it just might be complete bullshit. Yes, Bobby Jindal looked sassy while he spouted a sound bite about the GOP being the party of stupid, but wink-wink he is pushing to eliminate his state’s income tax and increase sales tax to make up the difference.  Who might that benefit? So Bobby has a point. He will be a lot better off if voters are stupid enough to think that his tax plan is a good thing.  Certainly his millionaire friends think it is.

As humorous as the hijinks of the Republican party are, I couldn’t help thinking that their playbook seems to have more traction than any playbook built on stupidity should rightly have.  Whether it is selling regressive tax plans that shift tax burdens from the haves to the have-nots, or talking about enforcing existing gun laws while handcuffing the government in their efforts to enforce those laws, there is a common thread: Good Data is the work of the debbil.

See, basing your decisions on facts, non-partisan data, or as some call it, reality… that is the way “they” trick ya! See, you know you need your AR-15 to defend yourself against some revenuer aimin’ to take your AR-15 away!  You need your gun to protect your right to guns, and so on, and the fact that the GOP has stonewalled the effort to name a head of the BATFE, or that they have backed and passed legislation preventing the BATFE and the FBI from collecting, analyzing, and publishing gun-crime data?  Well, that is just a distraction from the proven fact that President Blackula wants to suck your freedom out of your goddam neck. Lernin’ is for losers, son.

And of course it is easy to make fun of the current situation, and mock the people that rely on stupidity while claiming to decry stupidity.  But the real fact of the matter in my own life is that while I am not anti-gun, I am pro-reality. In the real world there is a proven reality that bad decisions spring from bad information. In government you can equally show that bad legislation springs forth from bad data, lack of data, or just outright misinformation.  So while I think it is great that our nation is having a long overdue conversation about access to guns, it is taking place on a tissue-thin membrane of bad information. No matter how well intentioned the action, it will be based on crappy data and what is essentially folklore. While there is force behind the current “gun-control” movement, driven by an urge to strike while the iron is hot, the result will not live up to the intention of its authors.

In short, the best first step would be to get the BATFE under solid leadership with a full-time Director, with sufficient staffing and funding, and repeal the barriers to its effective operation. What we have now is an abundance of emotion and a paucity of information.  Balance needs to be restored in that equation before any truly effective legislation, or even an effective change in public attitudes, can happen.

I will let Jon Stewart drop some knowledge on this topic, while again noting that a show on Comedy Central continues to be a better source of news and analysis than any of the many networks without the word “comedy” in their name.

There is a good summary here, and this excerpt goes right to the issue:

Since 1986, federal law has prohibited a database containing gun registration information or gun permit holders from being maintained. There’s a provision in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) appropriations bill that keeps the agency from spending any money on such a thing.  The Washington Post reported that the National Rifle Association, one of the nation’s most powerful special interest and single issue groups, not only co-wrote the 1986 legislation that first made maintaining records about gun ownership illegal, but also considers a national database of gun registrations a violation of the constitution.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I bailed on the NRA not because they are pro-gun, but because they are desperately anti-science. I have read a ton of their legislative action literature and it is consistently emotionally charged fear-mongering, relying heavily on the concept that firearms are “exceptional” in the world of manufactured objects.

Of the many things I find offensive as a citizen, gun owner, and scientist:

Tiahrt Amendment

Tiahrt is the author of the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. Additionally, any data so released is inadmissible in a civil lawsuit.[5] Some groups, including the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, believe that having further access to the ATF database would help municipal police departments track down sellers of illegal guns and curb crime. These groups are trying to undo the Tiahrt Amendment.[6] Numerous police organizations oppose the Tiahrt Amendment, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).[7] Conversely, the Tiahrt Amendment is supported by the National Rifle Association [8], and the Fraternal Order of Police (although it allows municipal police departments only limited access to ATF trace data in any criminal investigation).

If you want to see more, a simple Google query on “atf appropriations nra” nets some excellent resources. It is not just dumb luck that the automobile, the airplane, TNT, nuclear weapons, the steam engine, etc… were not available for the founding fathers to cogitate on. The NRA demands that GUNS are exceptional and their availability must not be restrained. Firearms technology is so sacred that we can’t even collect data on its manufacture, usage, safety, storage, ownership, or sale. That would be wrong. As a result we have a self-reinforcing system where we have bad laws with minimal or no enforcement, laws prohibiting better information on which to base policy, yielding more bad laws, etc… I have been trying to find an equivalent and am currently at a loss. I am not at a loss to feel dishonored that in the land of “freedom” we have a prohibition on the collection and publication of firearms data. Who does that protect? And, from what?

What I am continuing to explore is how, and why, and by whom, we are being deprived of publicly available information on which to base public policy. I remain a strong advocate for constitutional rights. I remain sick to the pit of my soul over the number and variety of gun-related deaths in my country. And I look to many chapters in our Nation’s history where the public has felt compelled to action and came away better informed, better able to direct their desire for sound public policy, and better people for their effort.

Meta-spam! It’s shelf-stable!

If you want to know what NRA talking points were circulated after Newtown, just look at the comments in any forum like Facebook, or Huffpo, or NYT, or a “gunner” forum.  A few examples:

An AR-15 isn’t an assault weapon because it isn’t full-auto!  Yes, Virginia, it is an assault weapon.  If it makes you feel better to split hairs, sleep tight.  But the real deal is that a military-spec weapon designed to inflict maximum carnage is an assault weapon.  If you think it is the same thing as a 3-shot fixed mag hunting rifle, then why don’t law enforcement officials carry those to defend against AR-15s?

The real problem is that we have a “mental health crisis”!  Tell me more!  Please hand over a list of dates where the NRA gave testimony on mental health issues to anyone, ever.  Who is their lead lobbyist on mental health issues?  Credentials?  Produce a single mention of “mental health crisis” from an NRA publication prior to 12/14/12.  I spent the past 12 years receiving American Rifleman, so please keep the photoshopped crap in your mom’s basement where you made it.

The last assault weapons ban was a failure!  Really!  That is shocking since the NRA spent considerable funds and effort gutting it and ensuring that it would be toothless and counterproductive.

And that is my “top 3” from the meta-spam crystal ball.  You might not believe it but I have a great deal of sympathy for gun owners and gun retailers.  The shift in attitudes on gun ownership is happening, and it will be accompanied by a shift in public policy.  Ever try to register an ATV for road use?  A Caterham?  How about a road-legal race car?  If you have, have you been able to insure it, as required by law?  See, you can drive an Ariel Atom, legally, but there are rules and a cost and some of those costs are dictated by accident data and actuarial tables.  That’s why you don’t just wobble on down to the Cessna dealer and take off in a small plane.  That’s why you see a lot of golden-agers driving supercars and M5-class sedans, but not so many 19 year-olds.  Regulation happens.  Cars.  Airplanes.  Alcohol.  Tobacco.  Firearms.  Explosives.

Extra Credit: The focus of the NRA on the concept of a “ban” is a red herring.  A “ban” is a non-starter, but keeping the narrative on a “ban” means that bandwidth is being stolen from productive dialogue.  When you hear “ban” it might help to picture Wayne LaPierre with his fingers in his ears, shouting “NANANANANANA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!!!!”

Don’t blame the messenger

I want to say this up front: I often find filmmaker Michael Moore to be a pain in the ass and I also find his opinions cringeworthy at times.  But he is also taking on issues that border on taboo and that can mean having to cringe occasionally.  If there were more like him we might be more open and less cringey about things.

Here is a great example:  Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns

I have been nibbling at these issues for a while, but Moore does a great job at bringing them into a cohesive narrative.  Small excerpt:

I’m not saying it’s perfect anywhere else, but I have noticed, in my travels, that other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other. Free medical care, free or low-cost college, mental health help. And I wonder — why can’t we do that? I think it’s because in many other countries people see each other not as separate and alone but rather together, on the path of life, with each person existing as an integral part of the whole. And you help them when they’re in need, not punish them because they’ve had some misfortune or bad break. I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there’s less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.

Gun Control is a Process

As the NRA responds to the murders in Newtown, Connecticut with a call for armed “good guys” in schools, it is important to shine as bright a light as possible on the linkage of government, lobbying organizations like the NRA, and gun manufacturing. There is no way to do all of that in one post, or with one voice on one tiny blog, but it needs to happen on a large scale if there is to be any change in American obsession with guns and tolerance for gun-related murder. A side-effect of the Newtown murders is the exposure of communities across the country that are ravaged by gun violence. Chicago is front and center, but there are many more in similar situations.

As much as I applaud the calls for gun control, as they indicate a degree of concern and awareness, they represent a goal, not a policy. Gun control is the result of policy, and good policy requires good information. I see some glaringly obvious steps that need to be taken, and I hope to enumerate and expand on them in the upcoming weeks. Here is the first:

Job #1 is: remove all barriers to BATFE gun-crime data collection, analysis and distribution.

As it stands the BATFE is prohibited from using any money or resources to manage or distribute their data on gun crimes in the US. That includes location, gun mode and make, ammunition type, rounds fired, etc… All data that would allow the public, including policy makers, to assess the impact of these devices and how they might be regulated. It should be no surprise that groups like the NRA have put a lot of effort into restricting data that will make their arguments weak or plainly ridiculous. ANALOGY ALERT!!!!

Once upon a time there was a company called Johns Manville that was heavily invested in the asbestos business. Exposure to their product caused premature death. JM knew this full well, but considered it Confidential Business Information. They altered their hiring practices to compensate for the high death and disability rate among their workers. Their clients, most prominently shipyard workers, followed suit. It took the exposure of internal memoranda, oroof that they knew they were killing their workers, for any meaningful action to occur. Instead of being shut down they were ordered to remain in business… the fiberglass business, and deal with the liability issues related to their product.

In the case of guns, there is a major twist: It is the US Government, specifically Congress, that is keeping the public safety data out of public view. In a way, that is horrible. But it presents a golden opportunity for Congress to act unilaterally to reverse these policies. That is what the President and Congress can do in the next 90 days to move this process forward. The NRA can squawk all they want, but the reality is that if their position is as strong as they believe, then they have nothing to fear from the truth. It also puts elected officials in the position of having to defend a policy of keeping the public uninformed on a massive public health and safety crisis.

Jobs 1a, 1b…. are to unify record keeping and reporting of firearms sale and transfer data at the state and/or county level and consolidate that data on a national level. This would also go for detailed manufacturing and import data on guns.

One reason we have shitty public policy on guns is that we have shitty public data on guns. GIGO is the technical term.

More soon. Here is a wish for a happy and peaceful holiday season.

[I will backfill links later, or collect related links in a separate post]

Quick Note on CT Gun Law

When I applied for a concealed carry permit in CT it was apparent that this wasn’t some rubber stamp process.

  • Town, State and Federal background checks with fingerprinting.
  • Three written reference letters.
  • NRA Safety Certificate.
  • Local and State review before approval.
  • 5-year review and renewal process

For the reference letters I needed to involve friends and family in the process.  For the prints and background checks I needed to meet with my local police department.  In short, I went through everything involved in a major crimes arrest except for the arrest record, and had to deal with law enforcement in-person to get through that process.

Note that in CT you do not need a carry permit to purchase a rifle or shotgun, though it does help out on the paperwork.  You do have to have your ID run though a background check database.  As long as you come up clean you can buy all you can afford.  So on one hand, Connecticut is a strict state from a Gun Control perspective.  On the other it is not a lot harder to purchase an AR-15 than it is to purchase a lawnmower.

The only control over gun storage occurs “after the fact”.  In the case of the Newtown shootings Nancy Lanza might be in jail right now if she had not been murdered by her son, but there is no up-front control over storage of and access to guns.  No limits on quantity of ammunition.  As well, the limits on magazine capacity and ammunition type are only enforced ex post facto.  That is true across the nation.  Can we as a nation tolerate the intrusion necessary to separate gun control over ownership limits?  According to the NRA, the answer is no.  Maybe that is where the front line on this conversation might be best drawn.