Spin and the NRA legal challenges in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania recently passed a law that allows membership groups (read: the NRA), including those without legal standing (that is, they haven’t been directly harmed by a law), to sue cities that have enacted gun laws that violate the state preemption laws. If they win, the plaintiff would be entitled to attorneys fees.

It’s no surprise that clueless anti-freedom people such as Elanor Clift (who recently penned this missive) try to spin this situation as horrible and the NRA as some sort of soulless monster intent on stripping “common sense gun laws” from poor, helpless cities.

For example1,

Ed Foley, the mayor of Jenkintown, a borough in the Philadelphia suburbs, told the Daily Beast that the NRA forced him “to choose between public safety and financial solvency.” […] Under the threat of a lawsuit brought by the NRA, an ordinance in place since 2010 requiring Jenkintown residents to report lost or stolen firearms at the police station was rescinded in a public meeting. “It was a hold-your-nose vote,” says Foley. “It’s such an innocuous law, and it doesn’t do anything to restrict anybody’s right to have a gun. I don’t know why the NRA isn’t a bigger supporter of the police. The police want the law.”

Naturally, they focus on how reasonable and “innocuous” that law is, and that the “police want the law”. Who could argue with something as sensible as requiring that someone who had their gun stolen report that theft to the police?

Indeed, I agree — in principle — that such laws are not an undue burden on honest gun owners, subject to certain conditions. I do, however, think that they’re useless: honest people would report their stolen property to the police anyway and seek reimbursement from their insurance company. Straw purchasers, who the law is seemingly aimed at, probably wouldn’t. Thus, the law would essentially only affect honest people while doing effectively nothing about straw purchasers.

But I digress. The effectiveness or innocuousness2 of a particular law is not the issue. The issue — which is conveniently ignored by anti-gun writers — is that such laws violate state preemption law and are thus invalid. The new law allowing challenges to such invalid, illegal “laws” seeks to remedy this without requiring that someone be made a sacrificial lamb by violating the law and challenging it in court.

If the people of Pennsylvania think that lost-and-stolen laws are a good idea, they’re welcome to write and submit a bill in the state legislature. Such a law would be perfectly legal everywhere in the state. However, cities and other localities lack the legal authority to pass gun laws — any gun laws — in the state, and it’s wrong for them to ignore preemption, even if they have the best of intentions.

Hat tip to Sebastian.

  1. I’m leaving out the absurd misunderstanding of the so-called “Florida loophole” that Ms. Clift makes and am focusing solely on the preemption issue. []
  2. Which is, I was somewhat surprised to discover, actually a word. []

MI5 boss: “we cannot hope to stop everything”

From the BBC:

The threat is growing, MI5 is stretched, some of its capabilities are at risk.

All of that means something is likely to happen. That was the bleak message from [head of the UK’s MI5] Andrew Parker.

While I disagree with Mr. Parker’s assertion that the security services need more powers to intercept and monitor all communications (which, in the UK, they pretty much do already, so I’m not sure how they’d increase that ability), I do agree that it’s unreasonable to expect 100% safety or 100% success in stopping bad guys from doing bad things.

Thus, as always, the answer is to be reasonably prepared to take care of oneself in various situations until the cavalry arrives: in this case, having a gun and the training and will to use it effectively if the need arises while hoping that one would never face such a situation.

Consider, for example, the photos taken of the killers in Paris by citizens sheltering on nearby rooftops. Had one or more people on those rooftops been armed, even with handguns, they would have been able to fire from an elevated position on the unsuspecting bad guys. At the very least, this would have caused confusion on the part of the bad guys, distracted them, and slowed them down — hopefully until the police could arrive.

Alternatively, if directly confronted by armed bad guys intent on murder, being armed gives one at least a fighting chance of surviving the encounter. Success is not assured, particularly when it comes to defending oneself from heavily armed attackers who had the element of surprise, but it’s better than nothing.

Good news: CA Sen. Boxer not seeking re-election

From NPR:

Four-term Sen. Barbara Boxer said she won’t seek another term in the U.S. Senate in 2016, ending speculation about the California Democrat’s political future.

Good. Senator Boxer has been a strong opponent to liberty for years, especially when it comes to gun rights. It will be good to see her leave office.

Due to the Democrats holding a strong majority in California, it’s likely her successor will also be a Democrat. Let’s hope that whoever they are, they’re more friendly to California gun owners.

Sen. Feinstein, another strong opponent of gun rights, is up for re-election in 2018.

Mid-Term 2014 roundup: that went well.

Overall, the election seems to have gone well for the pro-freedom side: Republicans (who are typically, but not always, pro-gun-rights) have a substantial majority in both federal houses. Unsurprisingly, the forecast at FiveThirtyEight was quite accurate, and better than most individual polls.

As usual, the true winners are the TV companies who made zillions of bucks running political ads.

I can only hope that the Republicans use their majorities in both houses to actually accomplish productive things and avoid burning precious political capital on divisive social issues. We’ll see.

Republican governors were elected in blue Maryland and Massachusetts, which surprised me, while a Democrat was elected as governor in Pennsylvania. The race in Colorado is too close to call yet, but FiveThirtyEight is predicting that Hickenlooper will barely squeak by with a win, or potentially a runoff.

As expected, endorsements from gun-control groups were essentially meaningless outside of “safe” districts: the Americans for Responsible Solutions “Champions for Common Sense Official Election Night Tally Card” listed 13 races in the House and Senate. While AZ-2 is still being counted (with the two candidates within a few handful of votes of each other at the current moment), six of the ARS-endorsed candidates lost their elections.

Miguel has a good rundown of what Bloomberg’s money got him (hint: not much, with about 50% of those he endorsed or funded losing their races).

Although they were roundly rebuked in most races, gun-control groups did have one victory worth noting: I-594 in Washington (which mandates background checks on nearly all transfers of firearms, including temporary transfers) passed with just under 60% of the vote, significantly less than the “90% of Americans” that gun-control groups claim support such measures. Gun-control groups wildly outspent pro-gun-rights group by more than a factor of 17, with gun-control groups (and a few wealthy benefactors like Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Nick “We need more school shootings!” Hanauer) contributing more than $10.6 million, while pro-gun groups and individuals only contributed a bit more than $602,000. The fact that a school shooting took place in Washington just a few weeks before the election probably helped bolster support for the measure, even though the measure (if in effect at the time) would have made no difference.

The Bradys (and their allies) are spinning the passage of I-594 as “the only place where guns were directly on the ballot this election day” while ignoring the dozens of races where gun-control supporters were defeated. While the measure is likely to be challenged in court, the gun-control side is happy about this one victory and promises that it is an “indication of things to come”. It’d be worthwhile to keep your eyes open for when similar measures are proposed in other states — such measures need to be challenged early.

In short: it wasn’t a perfect election for the pro-gun-rights side, but overall we did pretty well. Gun control at the federal level is now essentially off the table, though we need to be concerned about state-level measures promoted by big-money groups and donors.

On Fundraising Strategies

My strategy for political fundraising is pretty simple: like many people, I join membership organizations that are aligned with my position on a particular issue1, keep my membership up to date, and subscribe to their mailing lists.

Additionally (and in my view, more critically), I also subscribe to the mailing lists of groups advocating against my position. For example, I’m subscribed to ARS mailing list2. Whenever they send out a message calling for more donations3 I make a note of the amount they request. Every few months I add up all the requests that ARS makes, double it, and split that amount between contributions to the NRA, GOA, and SAF.

Groups like the NRA, GOA, and SAF work to concentrate and amplify the voices of their members. Individually, a vote or a letter to your legislator isn’t terribly meaningful, and I can’t make flashy TV ads or do much with $50, but the NRA and other groups can use that money much more effectively for lobbying, advertising, etc.

While I can’t hold a candle to Bloomberg’s billions, I try to do my part.

I’m curious what strategies others have when it comes to fundraising and political advocacy. Thoughts?

  1. For example, the NRA, GOA, and SAF for gun rights, the ACLU and EFF for freedom of speech, privacy, etc. []
  2. I’d subscribe to Everytown and CSGV, but I’m not sure I could survive bashing my head against the wall that frequently. []
  3. ARS often asks for small donation amounts and has an “anonymous donor” that will match all contributions. Anyone know who that donor is? []

Defense Distributed announces the “Ghost Gunner”, a CNC mill for making AR-15s

Defense Distributed, a group famous for the “Liberator” (an open-source, freely-available 3D printable gun), just announced the “Ghost Gunner” — a compact CNC mill that is designed specifically for turning a metal 80% lower into a complete AR-15 lower receiver in about an hour.

Sure, general-purpose CNC mills have existed for decades, but they’re a bit expensive, hard to learn, and generally out of reach of the average person. DD’s hope with this machine is to make it easy and cheap (about $1,200 at the normal price, discounted to $999 for the first ten to pre-order) for the average person to use out-of-the-box.

Coming on the heels of the failure of State Senator Kevin de Leόn’s SB 808 “ghost gun ban”, which would criminalize the manufacture of homebuilt firearms unless one registered them with the state and added a serial number, this is particularly interesting.

In the wake of the governor’s veto of the Ghost Gun ban, Wilson’s CNC mill could make untraceable guns all the more accessible. And as the video above shows, Wilson isn’t shying away from that face-off so much as directly confronting gun control advocates. He’s gone as far as applying for a trademark for the term “Ghost Gun,” a move that could limit how gun control advocates are legally able to use it.

“This wouldn’t be worth doing if Kevin de Leόn didn’t know about it,” Wilson says.

(From Wired’s The $1,200 Machine That Lets Anyone Make a Metal Gun at Home)

CNN: Bill Clinton: America has ‘bought the NRA’s theory’

Former president Bill Clinton talked with CNN on Wednesday and had a few choice things to say about the NRA. Those familiar with the former president should not be surprised that he looks disparagingly upon the NRA and gun owners:

The former president, in a conversation with CNN’s Erin Burnett at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, lumped together the NRA, stand your ground laws, and people surrounding themselves only with those who agree with them as problems that lead to a more violent climate in the United States.

He does have a point with the last part — diversity is the spice of life, after all — but he’s way off base on the other points.

“I think we have enhanced the risks by changing the environment, basically, because it seems we bought the NRA’s theory that we would all be safer if everybody in this audience had a gun that was a concealed weapon,” Clinton said. “Then if one of them felt threatened by another, they could stand up right here and stand their ground. And we could watch the whole saga unfold. That is what happens.”

I fail to see how someone being lawfully able to defend themselves when genuinely threatened, regardless of where they happen to be at the time, is a bad thing.

Stand Your Ground laws are not a blanket license to kill anyone for any reason, but rather simply say that a person has no duty to retreat from a place they have a lawful right to be and can use force (including lethal force) if they reasonably believe they face an imminent and immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury (emphasis mine). They’d still need to explain themselves to the authorities after the fact, and it’s not uncommon for people invoking “stand your ground” provisions to be found guilty.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that even with the liberalization of concealed carry, the spread of Stand Your Ground, and other pro-gun-rights policies being enacted, gun-related violent crime is way down since Clinton was in office.

It looks like America has indeed “bought the NRA’s theory” and that theory is actually working.

911 should be part of a plan, not the whole plan

One of the key points of disagreement between pro-gunners and anti-gunners is on the concept of whether or not it is necessary, or even appropriate, for an “average” citizen to have ready access to a lethal weapon in case they are attacked. Anti-gunners often hold that the proper course of action when one is threatened by another is to call the police and let them deal with the problem. To the average person this might sound like a perfectly reasonable answer, but it reallyisn’t. The giant hole in the anti-gunner self defense plan is that even the best police response is going to be minutes out in a situation where seconds define the boundaries between life and death.

Tim at Gun Nuts Media.

Read the whole thing. Lots of good info.

Guns vs. Cars

Miguel over at GFZ posted an image from the CSGV in which they claim that “strictly regulating cars, drivers, and roads” has resulted in a 90% drop in automotive-related fatality rates in the last century or so.

Leaving aside the fundamental difference that the majority of automotive-related fatalities are due to accidents while the majority of gun-related fatalities are due to intentional acts (either suicide or homicide), I thought it would be interesting to do a quick apples-to-apples comparison between guns and cars:

Regulations on Cars/Guns

The “strict regulations” on cars were almost exclusively related to actual safety concerns of passengers in cars: seat belts, laminated windshields, safety glass, air bags, having electric lights instead of kerosene lamps, not exploding when rear-ended, generally not being made of flimsy materials like wood, etc. Compare, say, a Model T to a modern vehicle and the differences in regards to the safety of the occupants are obvious.

There’s also the matter of the environment in which cars are operated: in the early 1900s, cars were operated alongside pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, etc. where collisions were much more likely. Modern cars are operated on dedicated roads and highways that are more isolated from pedestrians and slower-moving vehicles.

Guns are similar: guns that fire without the shooter desiring it (e.g. when dropped) are broken, as are guns that explode in normal operating conditions. Such guns are defective and are recalled or replaced. Guns have had many safety mechanisms for a long, long time: the 1911 has both a grip safety and a manual safety. The only major improvement I can think of that modern pistols have made in that regard is the addition of drop safeties.

Modern holsters are extremely safe (more so than just dropping a gun loose into a pocket) and retention holsters are available for modest cost to those who wish to buy them.

If anything, guns are far ahead of cars in regards to the safety of the operator.

Regulations on Drivers/Gun Owners

The “strict regulations” on those wishing to drive on public roads are basic vision tests that my grandparents had no trouble passing, a few hours of lessons in high school followed by a short written and behind-the-wheel exam by the DMV and you’re good to go for life.

Similar standards exist for those wishing to carry firearms in public: a few hours learning the basics of the legal issues regarding self-defense (e.g. when the use of force is appropriate), basic instruction on safe gun-handling, and a little time at the range. Typically such licenses must be renewed every few years.

No license or training is necessary for someone to operate a vehicle on private property. In most states guns that are used only at home or the range, but not carried in public, don’t require any license or permit,

Regulation of Roads/Ranges

In regards to roads, older roads are little more than paved country paths. Modern roads are well-engineered and safe.

The only things that’s really comparable for guns are organized ranges, which are typically well-managed and extremely safe.

All the ranges I know are extremely attentive about keeping the property well-maintained, in good repair, clean, etc. They all have regular clean-ups of the range as well as extraction/recycling of bullets from berms/backstops.

Discussion

Nearly all of the changes to laws regulating cars and drivers over the last century or so have related to genuine safety concerns and there is clear evidence for the effectiveness of seat belts, air bags, non-exploding cars, well-maintained electric lights, etc. in regards to improving safety.

Other important regulations have been in regards to improving fuel efficiency and reducing pollution, and while many people have been encouraging mass transit and improving street/city design to minimize the necessity for cars, there has been no non-lunatic-fringe efforts to dramatically reduce or eliminate the number of cars.

The same cannot be said for firearms: the majority of laws enacted regarding firearms have nothing to do about the safety of the operator of a firearm. A few, such as those requiring safe storage of firearms and mandating that gun locks are sold with each new gun, are nominally about safety but there’s no evidence that they’ve actually done anything positive for safety.

Also, essentially all of the so-called “gun safety” are, in fact, “gun control” groups that seek to significantly reduce the number of privately-owned firearms. Some groups and their members are willing to let hunters and sportsmen maintain guns suitable for those activities while eliminating “undesirable” guns like handguns, modern rifles, and so on, while others aren’t even willing to allow that and seek total civilian disarmament.

None of those groups promote things that would actually improve safety, like age-appropriate educational safety classes for children and adults.

 In Short

With very few exceptions, cars and guns are safe to use. Saying that more legislation is needed so guns can be “safer” is disingenuous, especially when there’s not really any pressing need (that is, guns exploding or otherwise accidentally injuring their users is very rare, and not typically the fault of the gun).