Impossible?

The Arizona Wildcat, the university’s newspaper, ran an AP story yesterday about a measure in Texas that would legalize concealed carry on college campuses by permit holders.

Evidently due to space limitiations, the Wildcat cut off the article after the 8th paragraph, which ended in “Texas campuses are gun-free zones.” Of course, the part of the article that was snipped had nearly all the quotes and text explaining why one would want to carry on campus, or that people with permits can carry just about everywhere else and that the campus border is just an imaginary line.1

One quote from Woods, a student whose girlfriend was killed in the Virginia Tech shooting, stood out to me:

“Then I learned pretty fast that wouldn’t solve anything,” said Woods, who is now a graduate student at UT. “The idea that somebody could stop a school shooting with a gun is impossible. It’s reactive, not preventative.”

Impossible? Impossible? To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Last time I checked, cops carry guns, and they’re able to put an end to murderous violence pretty effectively with those guns. There’s a lot of private citizens who carry guns, and numerous stories about how those people use their guns to stop violent crime.

One might not be able to prevent a school shooting, but one certainly would have the potential to stop it.

I know that if a person bent on murder came barging into my classroom, I’d prefer a means of resisting them that’s more effective than a thrown textbook.

  1. Bias? What bias? []

Changed Worldview

I always thought that the “fire and brimstone” style of preaching was a metaphor for a general “doom and gloom” style of preaching, rather than mention of actual fire and brimstone.

Similarly, I always thought the term “bible-thumper” was a metaphor for particularly devout, evangelical Christians, rather than an behavior.

I was wrong on both counts. My worldview is irevocably changed.

A preacher, Brother Jed1 , occasionally comes to campus with his wife and aggressively preach2 to students. He was giving a no-shit fire-and-brimstone speech to a bunch of students outside the university’s administration building. On occasion, he’d thump his bible. I must admit I was somewhat stunned by his behavior; I had never thought that anyone would ever actually preach like that.

Unfortunately for him, his methods didn’t seem to be garnering any followers. Indeed, people seemed to be more amused by his behavior than they were interested in his message. I wonder if this guy has actually run a cost/benefit analysis to see how effective his methods are.

  1. Search for the guy on YouTube for some examples of his behavior. []
  2. Calling sorority girls “whores”, frat boys “fornicators”, making blatantly racist comments towards blacks and hispanics,  etc. []

Testing Gear

Like many of my readers, I have a safe full of guns that I use for all sorts of ordinary, everyday purposes (mostly recreational shooting). I consider such ordinary uses to be effective tests of these guns for emergency purposes. What better (or more fun!) way to make sure your emergency gear is in a constant state of readiness than to test it regularly? Better to have a part break at the range when you have the time and resources to replace it than in the middle of an emergency when one cannot order replacements. (You do have spare parts for your guns, right?)

But how often do you test the rest of your gear?

I keep a Grundig FR-200 emergency radio in my emergency kit. It’s a handy little thing that runs on 3 AA batteries, but also has a DC input and a hand-crank that charges a small internal battery back. Every month or two, I take it out of its pouch, inspect the various parts (antenna and battery contacts, in particular) to make sure they’re in good working order, clean it as necessary, test the batteries, crank it for a few minutes and make sure that it’ll run off the battery pack for a while.

I do something similar with my Garmin eTrex GPS unit to make sure it’s ready to go.

Canned food, as great as it is, won’t keep forever. I’ll go through my closet now and again to ensure that stuff is getting rotated out and replaced as need be.

Being prepared for an emergency is a good thing, but be sure that your gear hasn’t given out on you when you’ve not been paying attention. Regular testing and maintenance can keep your stuff in good working order when you need it most.

How long has it been since you last checked your radio, flashlight, or canned food?

Useful Math Site

It’s been a while since I’ve written about science here.

Recently, I’ve had need to exchange rather complicated math formulas with someone via email.

Sending formulas like
[hat{x}hat{p},frac{hat{p}^2}{2m}]=[hat{x},hat{p}]frac{hat{p}^2}{2m}+ frac{hat{p}^2}{2m}[hat{x},hat{p}]
is difficult to do clearly via email, as there’s no real means of formatting one’s text with math markup.

Fortunately, there’s LaTeX, an excellent typesetting system that is the de facto standard for marking up documents containing math. I hear it’s also common in the publishing industry, but have no personal knowledge of that industry.

For a long message, it’s probably easier to create a LaTeX document and attach it to the email, but my messages are often less than a page, and that is a bit of a hassle. Sending the raw LaTeX markup via email would also be unsuitable. That assumes the other person (a) has the software installed to read it, and (b) the time to copy-paste the code into their program and render it.

Similar problems exist for computer programmers, and the pastebin service exists as a highly effective way of exchanging programming code with other users. Surely there’s a similar thing for math and science folks, right?

Turns out there is: the Mathbin site allows one to enter text marked up with LaTeX and display it to others without any installed software. Very handy.

I Don’t Care

Marko’s excellent post about the female side of the shooting sports is enlightening and should give people something to think about when it comes to interacting with others((In short, don’t be a jerk.)).

In my case, I don’t care if someone’s male or female, tall or short, red, white, black, brown, yellow, or any other descriptive term. I was raised by good parents to treat others with respect. The army reinforced that with the lesson that “in the army, everyone is green.”

While there are certainly differences between the sexes (being male I cannot, for example, bear children), there is absolutely nothing about one’s wibbly bits that has any bearing on shooting. To think otherwise is stupid to the extreme. For an example of such stupidity, see this quote by Tam in the comments to Marko’s post:

For the doubters out there, who believe there aren’t any mouth-breathing dumbasses in the gun world, I offer the eleventeen jillion times I’ve been at a gun show and some cretin asks the guy I’m with how much he’s asking for the gun I’m carrying.

[…]

At one of my first Indy 1500’s, one guy asked the total stranger standing next to me how much he wanted for my 6.8 AR.

While I haven’t seen anything so blatant as what Tam describes, I’ve certainly seen some of my female friends get some condescension from people at the range. They let it roll off their respective backs and laughed about it in the pub afterwards, but it’s still disrespectful and has no business happening.

That said, there are certainly important differences between individuals which are relevant to shooting and need to be considered when purchasing or handling guns.

For example, I’m left-handed, and so have some difficulty effectively operating bolt-action rifles meant for righties. Some pistols, specifically Sigs, have their controls placed in positions (like the very left-rear of the grip) that are quite difficult for me to manipulate. Some people lack the upper body strength to effectively hold larger, heavier guns like the M1 Garand or to operate the slide on a particular pistol. Some people’s bodies are smaller or larger than others, so “one size fits most” stocks don’t fit them well (which is why I am a huge fan of adjustable/collapsible stocks). Some people’s hands are larger or smaller than others, so a gun’s grips may or may not feel comfortable in their hands.

Nearly all of these issues can be resolved with either training (e.g. building up strength or endurance, practice with the mechanisms of the gun, etc.), accessories (adjustable stocks, different grips, etc.), or choice of guns. None of them have anything to do with the sex of the shooter (I’ve yet to see a gun that requires a penis to operate.), but rather individual characteristics.

Be polite and friendly to everyone, regardless of what they’ve got between their legs, and you’ll do fine.

Conflicted

I recently received an update from the AzCDL about a proposed piece of legislation. Here’s a quick summary, as quoted from the email notice:

HB 2439 provides for an alternative 4 hour CCW course, dealing only in legal issues, mental conditioning, and judgmental shooting decisions, for qualified individuals who can show proof of prior firearms training, such as:

  • Completion of an NRA pistol course.
  • Completion of pistol related courses at the college level, or at places like Front Sight, Gunsite, etc.
  • Completion of certain law enforcement training.
  • Current military service or an honorable discharge.
  • A competitive rating or ranking in an organized shooting competition.
  • A CCW permit from another jurisdiction that required training or testing to obtain.

I’m a bit conflicted about such a measure. While I’m a huge advocate of CCW and advocate for Vermont/Alaska-style carry (where no permit or state approval is necessary, so long as one is a law-abiding person), measures like this trouble me by setting different standards for people.

I’m a firm believer in training, and encourage everyone who owns a gun to seek training in the safe handling and use of their arms. That said, I believe that such training should be encouraged, but not mandatory. I think that most reasonable people will agree that the use of force, including lethal force, in self-defense is justified if and only if a bad guy poses a clear and present danger of serious bodily injury or death.

However, if the state wishes to require reasonable training prior to issuing CCW permits, so be it. However, such training must meet a clearly-articulated standard. NRA pistol courses are great, but they don’t cover “legal issues, mental conditioning, and judgmental shooting decisions” specific to armed self-defense. Neither does having served in the military — I’ve served in the military as a tank crewman and was routinely armed with a pistol. The pistol training offered by the army was basic at best, mostly covering the mechanical aspects of the gun and how to shoot a basic course of fire. No shoot/no-shoot training, and certainly no other training that would be relevant to a civilian self-defense scenario. Honestly, I was surprised at how little weapons training the army did.

Being a competitive shooter also doesn’t meet those standards. While some aspects of competitive shooting may exceed the state training requirements, competitions rarely cover the legal aspects that the state presently requires. Sure, action shooting can prove useful, but it’s not a self-defense training course.

Again, I’d prefer if training were optional (but strongly encouraged), but so long as the state requires training I think such training should be as uniform as possible. Making exceptions for specific groups of people who, while perhaps trained and skilled in firearm use, haven’t had the same training as other CCW permit holders seems like a bad idea. The only exceptions for the training requirement that I could see would be (a) those with permits from states with substantially similar training requirements and (b) those facing a dire, immediate danger where the time needed to complete a training course would put them in mortal peril. In the latter case, the person should complete the necessary training as soon as practical.

My conflict is between my desire for permitless, Vermont-style carry and the desire that if training is required (as it currently is in Arizona, at least for concealed carry — open carry has no training requirements), that such training be uniform across the entire population of those with permits to carry.

Free Stuff

Hey, everyone loves free stuff, right?

How about a free one-year membership to the NRA?

Other than the monthly magazine (which you can, of course, opt out of if you wish), it has some practical benefits, including the $1,000 in free insurance for your guns. Can’t complain about that.

Posted in NRA

On Mexico

The BBC, like many other new organizations, recently ran an article about the ongoing drug-related violence going on in Mexico.

In the article, a particular quote stood out to me:

Mexico’s gun laws are tight, but in the US it is far easier to get weapons. The Mexican government says lax US gun laws help arm the cartels and fuel the violence.

While US gun laws are far less strict than Mexico, I seriously doubt that the US is responsible for most of the weapons being used by the drug cartels. While I won’t say that US-sourced weapons haven’t been found in Mexico (they clearly have), I’m saying that the bad guys are getting most of their weapons from other sources. The ATF seems to agree.

First off, straw purchasing — where someone buys a gun for a prohibited person, which is illegal — doesn’t scale well. It’s one thing for a gang member to get his girlfriend to buy a gun or two, but it’s a different thing entirely for drug cartels to hire enough straw purchasers in cities all over the country to buy hundreds of thousands of guns and get them over the border without being noticed. It’s made worse when gun stores are routinely out of popular semi-auto guns like AR-15s and AK variants which, the news organizations claim, are the guns being smuggled.

Secondly, why would the cartels risk such high-level detection by straw purchasing from gun shops in the US? US gun dealers are regulated by the ATF, all retail purchasers must undergo FBI background checks, fill out forms, etc. Cars crossing the border are routinely searched for contraband. Seems like a lot of hassle for a marginal gain. It’d be far easier for the cartels to bribe Mexican military members or port authorities to overlook a container or two of smuggled arms than to buy guns — where they’re available — at retail prices in the US.

Thirdly, many of the guns being found in Mexico are machine guns, not their semi-auto lookalikes commonly available in the US. Machine guns are tightly regulated in the US and usually quite expensive. Legal, transferable M16s in the US tend to cost in excess of $12,000 and require both local and federal approval for purchase. Since the registry for privately-owned machine guns was legislatively closed in 1986, the number of legal machine guns has remained constant (or possibly declined slightly, as guns are damaged, destroyed, stolen, etc.). With actual machine guns being so expensive and uncommon, it would be incredibly unwise for the cartels to attempt to smuggle American-owned machine guns into Mexico.

With some skilled machine work, one can convert semi-auto guns into full-auto guns (doing so would be considered making a post-1986 machine gun, and it is generally illegal for private citizens to make or own such a conversion), but again this has problems scaling. Converting a gun or two is plausible, but converting enough guns to arm hundreds of thousands of cartel members? Unlikely, considering the number of machinists and equipment needed to do so.

Fourthly, Mexico has numerous porous borders, whether it’s the large amounts of relatively unpatrolled shoreline or the border with Guatemala. Why would cartels risk detection smuggling arms over the US-Mexico border when they could simply smuggle arms from other sources into the country by land or sea? Bribing a port official to let a container of guns in isn’t that hard, nor is unloading one’s own ships (whether with smaller boats onto a beach somewhere, or into a cove).

Fifthly, the cartels pay a lot more than the Mexican police or military does, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if guns were given or sold to the cartels from police or military armories. Since the US often trades, legally, in arms with Mexican government authorities, this may be why captured guns are being traced back to the US.

Sixthly, there are numerous international arms dealers and nations who would gladly exchange arms for currency. Why risk the wrath of the US government when the cartels could simply buy from a willing foreign government or dealer by the containerload?

Basically, I’m applying Occam’s Razor here: it’s far more simple and plausible that the cartels are getting their guns from the Mexican police and military, from international arms dealers, or from another state (say, Venezuela) than them buying machine guns at vastly inflated prices in the US or straw-purchasing semi-auto guns and then converting them to machine guns.

Unsurprisingly enough, the news media doesn’t consider this (or if they do, they don’t print it), preferring to parrot the same story over and over. The ATF says it isn’t happening. Border Patrol says it isn’t happening. Why, then, does it keep coming up again and again?

Smoke Detectors

Well, I learned tonight that my neighbor’s smoke detector is audible through the wall.

Unfortunately, this is the neighbor who goes camping a lot, and so has a few 1lb cylinders of propane in his closet. The same closet that shares a wall with my closet, where I have my safe, ammo, primers, and powder (all safely stored in accordance with appropriate regulations and common sense). Not to mention the hazmat storage container hamper for dirty laundry. Whee.

Fortunately, the alarm was set off by his cooking, and not from his apartment being on fire. When I went outside to investigate, his wife was fanning the door to blow the smoke out. I helped them silence the alarm and offered my box fan to help clear out the smoke.

At least I know that the smoke detectors are audible through the walls, which should help if there’s ever an emergency.

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