Feinstein: “Gun owners” have “hammerlock” on Congress

From Politico:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport underscores the need for an assault weapons ban and greater gun control measures.

That’s strange, I thought that “assault weapons” were already illegal in California. Same thing with standard-capacity magazines, transporting a loaded firearm, public endangerment, assault, attempted murder, murder, etc. Go figure.

A strong supporter of an assault weapons ban, the California Democrat said, “the weapon was a .223 MP-15, where the MP stands for military and police, clearly designed not for general consumption … Same gun that was used at Aurora. Would I do a bill? Sure, I would do a bill. I mean, I believe this down deep in my soul.”

She evidently thinks that the name thought up by the S&W marketing guys in 1899 for a revolver means that a modern gun bearing the same brand name is only meant for military and police. That doesn’t really make much sense at all.

But Feinstein said that such a bill would be very difficult to pass. “There’s a hammer lock on the Congress by the gun owners and gun people,” she said.

Good. In addition to “gun owners” and “gun people”, there’s this pesky thing called “the Constitution”, several Supreme Court decisions, and the pesky lack of evidence as to the effectiveness of such a ban.

That said, I like the fact that she credits gun owners and “gun people” rather than the nebulous “gun lobby”.

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, but the bill stalled.

“Stalled” is putting it mildly. “Was utterly crushed by a 40-60 vote in the Senate” is somewhat more accurate.

Honestly, I don’t know why she keeps bringing it back up: it isn’t going to reduce crime, every time she mentions it gun owners get whipped into a frenzy, and there’s substantial opposition to the bill among both the citizenry and the legislature. Fortunately for the pro-gun-rights side, this often ends up poisoning other less-restrictive-but-still-infringing gun control measures so they rarely gain any headway. You’d think after several years of this she’d learn to avoid this particular topic.

On pro-gun Democrats and the future of gun rights

As usual, Sebastian has a way with words and groking politics that I wish I had:

Part of making the Democrats pro-gun again is just to create a perception that gun control is a losing issue by continuing to defeat anti-gun Democrats, and to do that, we need single-issue Dems that are willing to cross the aisle when it counts. I think the overwhelming defeat of Angela Giron in Colorado is strong evidence that such folks exist.

So that’s what we ultimately need: single issue voters in the Democratic Party willing to vote in Democratic primaries for pro-gun candidates, and become involved enough in their local party races so that the people in the party know that there’s a gun vote to be pandered to. More importantly that those party leaders know that that gun vote will cross the aisle in a heartbeat if an anti-gun candidate wins. There really isn’t any insurgency involved. It just takes winning elections.

Read the whole thing.

Personally, I’m more of a mixed bag when it comes to politics. I’m quite socially liberal, somewhat fiscally conservative (particularly on the federal level or things involving most corporate subsidies, but I support taxpayer funding of things like libraries, education, basic healthcare, etc.), and generally want to be free to live my life as I see fit without my interfering with others (I’m not a terribly nosy person) and without others interfering with my life (at least insofar as my actions don’t harm others). I typically vote for the candidate that I feel would best represent and benefit both myself and my community (or state or country), regardless of what party they belong to.

For various reasons, gun rights seems to more connected with the American political right (likely due to the Republicans having a strong presence in rural areas with large numbers of gun owners, while Democrats tend to have a strong presence in urban areas with fewer gun owners, and suburbs being a mixture of the two to varying degrees) and I think that’s unfortunate, as I consider gun rights to be a “liberty” issue, similar to free speech, privacy, etc.

Linking gun rights to a specific party is dangerous: civil rights should not depend on a particular party’s success (or failure) in the polls — such links end up being highly divisive and can have a significant negative effect. As an example, look at the recent Virginia gubernatorial election: McAuliffe is publicly anti-gun and mentioned that in his campaign. Cuccinelli, on the other hand, was pro-gun but also had a lot of political baggage that turned off pro-gun Democrats who might be willing to vote for him otherwise. That is, in the minds of pro-gun Democrats, the cost of voting for Cuccinelli in terms of non-gun issues would exceed the pro-gun benefit. Since it’s difficult to separate out the specific issues that motivate voters, I wouldn’t be surprised if McAuliffe (and Bloomberg) trumpets his victory as referendum on gun policy even if it was a relatively minor issue in the election.

Separating gun rights from a specific political party would be far more productive, beneficial, and stable over the long term: if both Democratic and Republican voters nominated pro-gun candidates in their respective primaries, it would be clear that gun rights is something that is widely supported by members of both parties, making it easier to form a consensus, and avoiding divisive party politics on this particular issue.
If we, the gun-owning community, want to preserve our rights in the long-term we need to work to get the pro-gun-rights message heard by all candidates by members of their own party and to separate the pro-gun issue from a specific party and the baggage that comes with it.

Comments on Nick Symmonds’ article in Runner’s World

Nick Symmonds at Runners World (of all places) recently published an article calling for more gun control. Let’s take a look:

I love my Second Amendment right. I was raised in Boise, Idaho, and have been hunting the Treasure Valley for upland game and waterfowl since I was strong enough to carry a gun. I come from a long line of hunters who take pride in the time-honored tradition of stalking game, killing it ethically, and providing food for their families. I was raised to appreciate the awesome power of firearms and to treat all guns as if they are loaded. I own several guns and would be sad to part with them.

Hi there. I was born in San Francisco, and raised just outside the city. Other than shooting some .22 rifles in the Boy Scouts, I never held a gun until I was 21. My family has no history with the shooting sports and I don’t have much interest in hunting. Nonetheless, I also love my Second Amendment right (as well as all the other enumerated and unenumerated rights protected by the Constitution and other laws). I have a deep respect for firearms and I too would be sad to part with them.

All of that being said, I make this appeal to the members of the United States Congress: For the sake of your citizens, please pass some gun-control legislation.

Why? What would that accomplish?

I’m going to channel Joe Huffman by asking, “Can you demonstrate one time or place, throughout all history, where the average person was made safer by restricting access to handheld weapons?”

On Friday, I was booked to fly from Los Angeles to Eugene, Oregon. That morning, a gunman walked into LAX with a semiautomatic assault rifle and opened fire, killing a TSA officer and wounding several other people. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be booked on an afternoon flight.

As I travelled to LAX that afternoon, the scene was chaotic. It was impossible to drive up to the terminals, so people were walking to the airport from the nearest parking lots. With several pieces of luggage, I hiked two miles from the rental car agency to Terminal 7. Inside the airport people were stressed and scared. As I went through security and looked at the TSA officers, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the minds of these hardworking men and women.

Seriously, that situation sounds pretty bad. I wouldn’t wish such chaos on anyone.

Still, I’m not sure how more laws would have made the situation any different or prevented it: it’s been illegal to own or possess magazines exceeding 10 rounds in California made after 1989 (the shooter had several), many variants of the AR-15 rifle are illegal in California, it’s illegal to carry loaded firearms in California without a permit,  it’s illegal to discharge a gun in Los Angeles (and most places), it’s illegal to break through a security checkpoint at the airport, it’s illegal to possess weapons in the “sterile” area at an airport, it’s illegal to murder (or attempt to murder) people, etc.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, criminals break laws. I’m not sure what making their illegal actions more illegal would accomplish. (And no, just because I recognize that criminals break laws and that I oppose a specific proposal doesn’t mean that I think all laws are useless and we should live in complete anarchy. See here and here for a more detailed discussion on that particular topic.)

Why do we allow ourselves to live in this kind of environment? Are we seriously going to let a small, radical contingent of our population keep us living as if in the Wild West? I would gladly hand in all of my weapons if I knew that doing so would prevent any more gun-related murders in this country.

I don’t know about Mr. Symmonds’ life in particular, but crime statistics show that for the vast majority of Americans not involved with gangs, the drug trade, or efforts to combat them, violence occurs incredibly rarely. Indeed, gun-related homicide has decreased to historically low levels. In an article for the Washington Post, Randolph Roth, professor of history at Ohio State and author of a landmark study on the history of killing in the US, says the nation’s homicide rate in 2011 was as low as it’s been in the past 100 years. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the 2011 homicide rate was the lowest of any year since 1963.

And yet, even with homicide at such historically low levels, the public is largely unaware. In a March, 2013 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 56% of Americans believe that crimes involving a gun have increased over the last 20 years (in fact, gun crime has dropped significantly).

In short, the environment of chaos, violence, and confusion that Mr. Symmonds is referring to is, in fact, quite rare — gun crime has dropped by roughly 50% since he was born.

In regards to his comment about a supposed radical group of people trying to keep us living in what he imagines the Wild West to be, I’m not sure what to say, so I’ll quote Mr. Granderson in his opinion piece at CNN: “The folks spraying our cities with bullets are not NRA members or legal gun owners. And despite the tendency to tie it all together, they have nothing to do with the Adam Lanzas of the world. […] This is why gun-control advocates need to abandon the routine of using mass shootings to turn law-abiding citizens into social pariahs and instead focus on something that could work.”

Considering there’s been essentially no negative effects resulting from the liberalization of concealed carry laws and the expiration of the federal AWB in 2004, advocating for the continued legality of handguns and modern rifles for lawful purposes hardly seems “radical”. If anything, it would seem to be “common sense”.

Mr. Symmonds is welcome to hand is his weapons if he thinks that would help prevent murders. Unless he’s inclined to murder people (which seems unlikely), I don’t really see how that action could have much of an effect on murder rates.

Moving on.

As Americans, we have a long history with firearms. We also have a government built on compromise, so here is the compromise I propose: Ban assault rifles and handguns for everyone except police and military personnel. These weapons are made to kill humans and should be strictly limited. At the same time, allow responsible citizens to own rifles and shotguns. Rifles are for hunting big-game animals, shotguns are for hunting birds; non-automatic versions of these weapons should be available for those with an interest in hunting or target shooting.

(Emphasis in original.)

Perhaps Mr. Symmonds is unaware, but hunting is no longer the top reason why people own guns. I’ll refer to a different study conducted in February, 2013 by the Pew Research Center, in which they find that 48% of gun owners say they own a gun for “protection” (vs. 26% in August, 1999). Hunting is listed as the top reason by 32% of gun owners in 2013 vs. 49% in 2013. Target/sport shooting, collecting guns, owning guns as a hobby, and owning guns simply because it’s one’s Second Amendment right, each garnered single-digit percentages. (An October survey by Gallup has similar results, with “protection” being listed as the primary reason by 60% of those polled.)

That’s not to say that hunting is not popular, but people are primarily buying, owning, and using guns for non-hunting purposes these days and the market reflects that. Concealed carry is now available (to greater or lesser extents) in every state in the country. The very properties that make a handgun dangerous in the hands of a criminal (e.g. its light weight, ease of concealment and carriage, and modest power) make it ideal for private citizens, police officers, and others for defensive purposes. Fortunately, there are far more good people in the country than there are criminals, and handguns are overwhelmingly used for safe and lawful purposes. (As with any population, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of gun owners are peaceable, law-abiding people and exceptions to this rule are exceedingly rare.)

The AR-15 is among the most popular models of guns in the United States, as it’d easily adapted to a wide range of shooting activities, sports, and, yes, protection. Hunting rifles and shotguns are quite popular as well, but they tend to be less flexible in their uses.

According to a study funded by the Department of Justice, AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles are use in only a tiny fraction of crimes involving a gun (typically around 2%). The same study concluded, “Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. [Assault weapons] were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban.”

Why should millions of ordinary, non-criminal gun owners give up a specific model (or group of models) of gun when there’s no evidence that they are in any way responsible for crimes or that such guns are widely used by criminals, nor any evidence that their giving up those particular guns would have any meaningful effect on public safety?

Of course, none of this takes into consideration that handguns and other firearms in common use are protected by the Constitution (see DC v. Heller) so banning them is off the table anyway.

On a related note, I find it somewhat ironic that he proposes banning common semi-auto guns while he, in the picture included in the original article, is holding a semi-auto shotgun.

It’s true that guns don’t kill people; people do. But when deranged individuals decide to kill, they too often use assault rifles and handguns.

Mr. Symmonds is correct about the criminal use of handguns: a majority of homicides involving a gun are committed with a handgun. The criminal use of rifles is extremely uncommon, and his statement involving rifles is not correct.

As runners, we cover a lot of territory. Our runs take us from “safe” neighborhoods to more “dangerous” parts of town and everything in between. We pound the pavement, hearts pumping, lungs aching, unarmed with only a millimeter of dry-fit shirt to protect us. To some, we look like good targets, as was the case of Christopher Lane in Oklahoma. While out for a jog in August, Christopher was shot to death by several “bored” teenagers – and the autopsy indicated the shooter used a handgun.

Runners do indeed cover a lot of territory and it’s true that criminals may well regard them as good targets. Still, such crimes are so rare as to be exceptional. As a personal anecdote, the runners I know dislike running with more than they absolutely need, so they tend to run without carrying any valuables so I’m not sure how good of a target the typical runner would be.

That said, it’s certainly not uncommon for runners (or other people) to carry various means of self-defense (including handguns) while out and about. I doubt that Mr. Symmonds intends that more people carry rifles or shotguns (even those of a more traditional style) while in public for self-protection, but in the absence of legally owned and carried handguns, what other effective means of self-protection would be available to the public?

Christopher was one of us, and we owe it to him and others to make sure his death wasn’t in vain. I have decided I will not vote for any political candidate who does not support gun-control legislation – and I implore you to join me in this stance.

It’s noble for Mr. Symmonds to honor the memory of a fellow runner and, while I have no doubts about his his sincerity, I do question the effectiveness of his proposed actions.

Murders involving a gun are typically committed by people who have an extensive criminal history (it’s quite rare for someone to just “snap” and commit a murder) and who would, under current laws, be prohibited from owning or possessing guns. Even though their possession of a gun (not to mention the act of committing murder) is illegal, they still manage to acquire guns. The federal government banned a large number of so-called “assault weapons” between 1994 and 2004 (and several states had state-level bans from even earlier that are still in effect) and there was no meaningful effect on crime rates. Several states have (or had) extremely strict laws on handgun ownership, again with essentially no effect on crime rates.

The actions that Mr. Symmonds proposes would overwhelmingly affect ordinary, peaceful, law-abiding people who own handguns and modern rifles while likely having no significant effect on criminals. For that reason, I think that his proposal is naïve and would be ineffective at achieving his goal of reducing murders (and presumably other violent crime). There’s tons of things that would be far more effective at reducing the rate of murder and violence than banning commonly-owned firearms: helping the poor and downtrodden, providing meaningful alternatives to gang life, removing the economic incentives behind drug trafficking, to name but a few.

In summary, forcing law-abiding people to give up their most effective means of self-protection is unlikely to stop criminals from getting or using guns for nefarious, illegal purposes. I’m not sure what Runner’s World hoped to accomplish by stepping into the discussion over gun laws, but it seems that there’s a lot of people who are unhappy about their decision.

On gun control via government purchasing

As I do on occasion, I was perusing some of the various gun control groups sites and seeing what they were up to. In so doing, I discovered an interesting proposal that I had not previously known about: using the purchasing power of government agencies like police departments to implement gun control.

Although some people, including former Governor of New York Elliot Spitzer, have written about such strategies in the past, I’ve not heard of it before now. Gov. Spitzer’s explains the strategy:

Here is how it could work with guns: The Defense Department and the city of New York are among the largest purchasers of guns. If the president and the mayor truly believe that semi-automatic weapons should not be available to private purchasers, and that magazines with more than 10 bullets should not be sold over the counter, they should simply say that, from now on, the federal government and the city of New York, as a matter of public safety, will not buy any weapons or ammunition from companies that do not agree to pull semi-automatics from their stock and refuse to produce magazines with more than 10 rounds other than for sale to the government. President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg should announce that semiautomatic handguns with high-capacity magazines—the kind used in Oak Creek; Aurora, Colo.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Virginia Tech—can no longer be sold to private citizens by any company that wants to do business with the federal government and the city of New York.

The major gun manufacturers will agree to the limits imposed by their major customers.

Gov. Spitzer’s plan is certainly interesting, but it relies on a few key assumptions without which the entire scheme collapses:

  1. Government sales constitute a sufficiently large fraction of gun sales that manufacturers would be unwilling to lose their business, thus restricting what’s available for public sale to keep government business.
  2. No other manufacturer would step in to fill the gap left by those playing along with the government.

While point #1 may apply to certain companies that are particularly reliant on government sales (what’s the breakdown of government:civilian sales for companies like, say, Colt?), it’s unlikely to matter for a lot of the smaller companies — I doubt that Stag Arms, Mega Arms, Magpul, and other relatively small manufacturers of somewhat “controversial” things like AR-15s, magazines holding more than 10 rounds, or guns with black plastic bits really care much if the Defense Department or the government of the State of New York don’t buy their stuff because they probably don’t buy their products already. They can’t lose sales they’re not already making, so this strategy can’t apply any sort of leverage against them.

Point #1 also breaks down when you look at sales figures: sure, a government agency may be the largest single customer of a particular company, but they make up a relatively small amount of total sales. As an example, let’s be generous and say that the State of New York is a manufacturer’s largest single customer and contributes to 10% of the company’s total income with the rest coming from smaller customers (e.g. local police departments, say a combined total of 10%) and individual buyers (80%). Even if the local police departments play along with the state, why would a company eschew 80% of its sales to appease a minority of its customers? That wouldn’t be good publicity for the company, particularly when the government makes it clear that they’re doing this specifically to apply leverage — what’s to stop the government from asking for more in the future and cutting off purchases if they don’t get what they want?

Point #2 reflects the state of the market: ARs are among the most popular guns in the country for private citizens. Manufacturers have been running around-the-clock to keep up with demand and there’s still a backlog. It would be foolish in the extreme for one company to simply give up their share of that market, generate enormous customer backlash, and allow other companies to take their place. There’s plenty of competition in the market, and while there might be some disruption if one of the big contract forges/casting houses leaves the market, someone else will happily take their place. Again, while the government might be the largest single customer of certain companies, they almost certainly make up a relatively small fraction of their over all sales, and there’s plenty of companies who don’t really care about government sales and so wouldn’t be pressured at all.

This doesn’t even begin to take into account that there’s a huge number of guns that are hugely popular with private citizens but almost never purchased by government buyers — how many governments purchase imported AK clones? Saiga shotguns? Ruger Mini-14s (yes, I know they’re reasonably popular with officers in jails/prisons, but you rarely see police using them outside of that context)? How many agencies buy Kel-Tec rifles, Kahr pistols, M1As, or any of the zillions of other products that anti-gun people would restrict if they could?

Of course, the strategy doesn’t take into account the fact that the government is a purchaser of items, not a manufacturer. If the large manufacturers decided to stop selling their products to the government (Barrett was the first major company I can recall that did this, and now there’s quite a few other companies who refuse to sell guns or accessories to governments in states that infringe the rights of private citizens). I think it’s more plausible that gun companies would band together and refuse to sell or service products to governments that infringe the rights of their citizens (thus applying leverage to change policy for the better) than for governments to use their relatively minor purchasing power to influence gun companies.

As always, I welcome the thoughts and comments of readers.

Keep Up the Pressure

According to a public blog post by Moms Demand Action (I will not link there), “the other side” (i.e, pro-gun people) are calling their politicians regarding gun issues more than 5x as often as the anti-gun people, even though MDA claims there are “more of [anti-gun people]”.

Excellent. Even though things are pretty quiet right now, keep up the pressure. It’s easy to call your legislators and express your opinion. Writing a letter can also be effective. Keep things short, polite, and to the point, but take a few minutes a week to call or write and make your opinion known.

One benefit of the shutdown: Senators answering their own phones

Evidently several senators, including Sen. Manchin (of Manchin-Toomey fame), have started answering their own phones as their normal staff are not available due to the shutdown.

If you live in West Virginia you might try giving him a call. According to his Senate page, his DC phone number is 202-224-3954. This is a rather direct way of expressing your displeasure with the M-T gun control bill.

(Hat tip to Bitter.)


The folks spraying our cities with bullets are not NRA members or legal gun owners. And despite the tendency to tie it all together, they have nothing to do with the Adam Lanzas of the world.


This is why gun-control advocates need to abandon the routine of using mass shootings to turn law-abiding citizens into social pariahs and instead focus on something that could work.

– LZ Granderson, in this CNN Opinion piece.

Go and read the whole thing.

You’re Not Helping

The new Fox & Friends host, Elisabeth Hasselbeck (formerly the lone conservative on ABC’s The View) suggested during the Tuesday morning show that “the left” was trying to make Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard about “gun control.” Instead she pointed out that the country doesn’t need a national registry for guns, it needs one for to [sic] track video game purchases.

– GamePolitics

As a gun owner and a gamer, I find remarks like this to be firmly in the “you’re not helping” category. Millions of people in the country (and many more all over the world) — including myself — enjoy playing video games, including those with violent content. The vast, overwhelming majority of gamers are ordinary people who go about their lives without harming anyone.

Is there some overlap between violent madmen and those who play video games? Almost certainly, just as there’s some overlap between violent madmen and those who use toothpaste, watch movies, hold particular religious beliefs, listen to certain musical groups, hold a specific political view, etc. However, as far as I’m aware, there’s no conclusive evidence that any of these things have a causal relationship with violent outcomes.

As fellow gun-rights supporters have pointed out, violent crime rates have dropped over the last few decades while the number of privately-owned guns has increased. Over the same time period the sale of video games, including violent ones, has also increased as has their realism and detail.

Blaming video games for violent crime is a bold claim. Is it possible? Perhaps, but if I may quote Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Such evidence is not forthcoming. Making unsupported claims of this type is silly, counterproductive, and makes gun-rights advocates look absurd by association.

Gun Control Fails

Thanks to the efforts of Sebastian and Bitter over at SNBQ to liveblog the recent Senate vote and by streaming C-SPAN live video, I was able to watch the various restrictive gun control measures fail.

I was worried about the Toomey-Manchin amendment, as it would likely have been the basis for even more restrictive gun control, and given the momentum to the anti-gun-rights groups. Fortunately, all the measures failed, with Feinstein’s AWB and the magazine limit bill both failing to achieve even a simple majority.

Well done, everyone. The side of liberty won this time, but we must remain vigilant.

Political TV Ads

From what I hear from friends and the news, I’m really glad I’m not living in a swing state: I hear the political ads back in the US are essentially non-stop.

That’s one aspect of home I really don’t miss.