You’re on your own

Unfortunately the people calling the police in an active shooter event (or an armed robbery, or a home invasion, etc) don’t have three minutes. Lethal violence typically happens in seconds, not minutes. The bad guys do not announce their presence or intentions ten minutes before they start the fireworks. The police are almost always going to be reacting to an act of violence that is ongoing, meaning they are going to be rushing to the scene where people are already bleeding in a valiant effort to limit the carnage. Not to prevent it. To quote from the report: “Approximately half of the events (49 percent) ended before law enforcement arrived on scene. This points to the phenomenal speed with which these incidents occur.”

The FBI report is acknowledging a simple, inescapable truth: You are on your own.

- Tim at Gun Nuts Media (Emphasis in original.)

Read the whole thing.

On Useless Laws

Slashdot user MBGMorden has written one of the most concise, insightful summaries of why gun control laws are essentially useless. I’ve reproduced their post here for posterity:

 

Murder is against the law, and rightfully so, but that’s because the actual act being outlawed is exactly what you want to prevent. Once a murder has occurred grave harm (literally) has already occurred to another party. Same with theft. Same with rape. Same with assault.

See, all those things are directly harmful to another individual. Making laws against them certainly won’t ever stop such crimes from being committed at all, but it will reduce the frequency.

The issue with plastic guns (or gun laws in general) is that the very act of having a gun isn’t harmful. You can do harmful things with it, but just having one doesn’t cause any harm in and of itself. The people that would use those guns to harm another person are already willing to break laws to do so – laws with much stiffer legal consequences.

Think of the number of guns in the US. There are more guns in this country than there are people. The VAST majority of them are never used in a harmful way, and the vast majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens. Passing gun laws affects most of them (because most of them actually follow the laws), but it does nothing for the tiny fraction of them that do not adhere to the law anyways, and those were the ones you really needed to worry about.

Its not that laws in general are useless – merely that laws that exist solely as an attempt to keep someone from breaking another law are useless.

 

Emphasis mine. That last line sums things up quite nicely.

Veterans for Responsible Solutions: a new anti-gun astroturf group

So, Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords have started a new branch of their gun-control group, Americans for Responsible Solutions. This group is supposed to bring “the experience of military veterans who’ve sworn to defend the Second Amendment and have themselves been well versed in the use of firearms”, according to CNN, who continues with the following:

“I’ve been shot at” while flying, Kelly told reporters on a conference call organized to promote the initiative.

Moreover, there are guns in the Arizona home Kelly shares with Giffords he said, guns used for self-defense and target shooting.

The point Kelly was trying to prove is that neither he nor any member of his organization is looking to repeal or limit Second Amendment rights, likely because the perception of any move against gun ownership in the United States is bound to incite fierce opposition from the powerful pro-gun lobby.

Ok, let’s focus on the last paragraph, where Kelly says he and this group are not trying to repeal or limit Second Amendment rights. While I agree that he’s not trying repeal the amendment (you can’t repeal rights), I’m curious how he can claim to not want to limit the right when his group states that its policy goals are:

  • Criminal Background Checks
  • Limiting High Capacity Magazines
  • Limiting Assault Weapons
  • Stopping Gun Trafficking

The only one of the four policies that wouldn’t infringe or limit the Second Amendment is the last one, as it focuses solely on criminal traffickers of guns. The other three goals seriously infringe on people’s rights: mandatory background checks on all sales would be ineffectively without a registry (else how would you know if a check had been performed?), limiting magazines with a capacity greater than some arbitrary limit (7 in NY, 10 in CA, 15 in CO) puts artificial limits on what people can use for sport or self-defense, and banning the most popular types of guns in the country (which are almost never used in crime) serves no purpose at all except to restrict people’s rights.

In short: essentially everything this group wants to do ends up restricting and limiting the rights of ordinary, law-abiding people while doing essentially nothing that would be effective against crime.

Also, CNN talks about “the powerful pro-gun lobby” as if it were some nebulous, diabolical group instead of tens of millions of law-abiding, gun-owning (and/or gun-rights-supporting) fellow Americans.

Vance Coleman, a retired Army major general, said on the call that he also owns guns. But not everyone should, Coleman continued, namely criminals and the mentally ill.

“They should not own guns and the Congress needs to do something about that,” Coleman said.

Incredibly enough, it’s already illegal for criminals and the mentally ill to own firearms. Their rights can be restricted after due process (e.g. being convicted of a disqualifying crime or being adjudicated mentally defective, involuntarily committed to a mental institution, etc.).

The exact functions of the veterans initiative remains fluid.

In short, it’s an astroturf group that intends to use appeal to authority (that of military vets) to push it’s unconstitutional agenda, but they haven’t quite worked out the details.

Politically, gun control has proven largely unpalatable, particularly with the successful recall elections in September of a pair of Democratic legislators in Colorado who helped push gun control measures.

Indeed. It’s probably wise for politicians to remember this point.

Hat tip to Sebastian. How he keeps up with all the news to find these stories, I have no idea.

WSJ: How to Stop Mass Shootings

I recently read a post by John over at No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money referring to an article by the Wall Street Journal regarding mass shootings, why they take place, and what can be done about it.

If you forgive my quoting from the article, I found this part particularly interesting:

[M]assacre killers are typically marked by what are considered personality disorders: grandiosity, resentment, self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement. They become, says Dr. Knoll, ” ‘collectors of injustice’ who nurture their wounded narcissism.” To preserve their egos, they exaggerate past humiliations and externalize their anger, blaming others for their frustrations. They develop violent fantasies of heroic revenge against an uncaring world.

Whereas serial killers are driven by long-standing sadistic and sexual pleasure in inflicting pain, massacre killers usually have no prior history of violence. Instead, writes Eric W. Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies, in his 2009 book “Serial Murderers and Their Victims,” massacre killers commit a single and final act in which violence becomes a “medium” to make a ” ‘final statement’ in or about life.” Fantasy, public expression and messaging are central to what motivates and defines massacre killings.

Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.

Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.

What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda. The public spectacle, the mass slaughter of mostly random victims, is meant to be seen as an attack against society itself. The typical consummation of the act in suicide denies the course of justice, giving the shooter ultimate and final control.

We call mass shootings senseless not only because of the gross disregard for life but because they defy the ordinary motives for violence—robbery, envy, personal grievance—reasons we can condemn but at least wrap our minds around. But mass killings seem like a plague dispatched from some inhuman realm. They don’t just ignore our most basic ideas of justice but assault them directly.

The perverse truth is that this senselessness is just the point of mass shootings: It is the means by which the perpetrator seeks to make us feel his hatred. Like terrorists, mass shooters can be seen, in a limited sense, as rational actors, who know that if they follow the right steps they will produce the desired effect in the public consciousness.

All right, that’s a lot of good detail on why people commit these horrible crimes, but what can we do about it? Here’s what they say journalists and police should do:

  • Never publish a shooter’s propaganda.
  • Hide their names and faces.
  • Minimize specifics and gory details.
  • No photos or videos of the event.
  • Talk about the victims but minimize images of grieving families.
  • Decrease the saturation.
  • Tell a different story.

While there is a brief mention of guns (“Massacres also would not be nearly so lethal without the widespread availability of guns and high-capacity magazines designed more for offense than for defense.“), overall the article discusses what motivates mass shooters and some practical, sensible methods of breaking the cycle of killing. The issue is not one of what tool is used to commit such a heinous crime, but why the killer decided to commit it.

The article concludes with the following hope for the future:

The massacre killer chooses to believe it is not he but the world that is filled with hatred—and then he tries to prove his dark vision by making it so. If we can deprive him of the ability to make his internal psychodrama a shared public reality, if we can break this ritual of violence and our own ritual response, then we might just banish these dreadful and all too frequent acts to the realm of vile fantasy.

I agree wholeheartedly and share that same hope.

Intermittent hosting issues

My apologies if you’ve tried accessing the site and seen error messages, timeouts, slow responses, or other similar issues over the last week or so.

My hosting provider has a rather clever setup that allows for extremely high performance while minimizing resource use. This has generally worked well, but they recently had some issues with their routing hardware that implements this cleverness as well as some moderate attacks against customers.

Although things are stable for now, they’re looking at replacing nearly-overloaded components with higher-capacity models, implementing better monitoring and responses so they can alleviate attacks and detect problems sooner, and otherwise be able to improve things going forward. There may be some instability in the immediate future, but things should improve.

Sorry about the trouble.

Popularity of pro-gun and anti-gun groups on social media

Gun control groups routinely tout that they’re representing some large fraction of Americans in order to boost their claims to legitimacy. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about this, since various public records seem to show extremely low numbers of paid members among gun control groups, and high numbers of paid members of gun-rights groups.

I generally consider paid membership numbers to be more reflective of actual interest, as paid members are putting their money where their mouth is. Still, knowing how popular various groups are on the two major social media services — Facebook and Twitter — can yield some insight, particularly into how interested slightly-to-moderately motivated subset of the population is in what they say. Clicking a button to “Like” something on Facebook or “follow” them on Twitter requires basically no effort and allows one to get updates from those that they “Like” or “follow”. Since there’s essentially no barrier to entry, I’d expect that social media numbers would be a good way to measure the relative interest in what the different groups have to say.

I reviewed the numbers of Facebook “Likes” and Twitter “followers” (hereafter referred to as “subscribers”) for gun rights groups, gun companies and industry trade groups, and anti-gun groups on November 8th, 2013 at about 9:00pm UTC. Here’s what I found:

Gun Rights Groups:

  • National Rifle Association (Facebook): 2,748,839
  • National Rifle Association (Twitter): 191,692
  • Gun Owners of America (Facebook): 276,867
  • Gun Owners of America (Twitter): 22,786
  • Second Amendment Foundation (Facebook): 119,810
  • Second Amendment Foundation (Twitter): 4,962

Gun Industry:

  • National Shooting Sports Foundation (Facebook): 157,718
  • National Shooting Sports Foundation (Twitter): 21,104
  • SHOT Show – run by NNSF (Facebook): 44,573
  • SHOT Show – run by NSSF (Twitter): 23,649
  • Glock, Inc. (Facebook): 614,185
  • Glock, Inc. (Twitter): 63,336
  • Smith & Wesson (Facebook): 680,937
  • Smitth & Wesson: (Twitter): 54,447
  • Sturm, Ruger & Company (Facebook) 345,734
  • Sturm, Ruger & Company (Twitter): 18,310

Gun Control Groups:

  • Americans for Responsible Solutions (Facebook): 89,414
  • Americans for Responsible Solutions (Twitter): 210,7081
  • Mayors Against Illegal Guns (Facebook): 19,271
  • Demand Action – MAIG on Twitter (Twitter): 26,860
  • Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Facebook): 122,938
  • Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Twitter): 12,254
  • Brady Campaign (Facebook): 58,650
  • Brady Campaign (Twitter): 17,170
  • Violence Policy Center (Facebook): 20,571
  • Violence Policy Center (Twitter): 1,934
  • CSGV (Facebook): 46,314
  • CSGV (Twitter): 9,575

What does this tell us? First off, it’s noteworthy to point out that all groups except Americans for Responsible Solutions had far more subscribers on Facebook than on Twitter. Perhaps the ability to post arbitrary-length messages on Facebook is preferable to the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter?

The fact that the NRA has the largest number of subscribers is unsurprising: they are a huge organization and have ~5 million dues-paying members and a very active public outreach group. They also have a substantial number of subscribers on Twitter.

I was surprised by the number of subscribers to the Gun Owners of America Facebook account: the GOA is a no-compromise group that, while having about 300,000 dues-paying members, also has nearly that many Facebook subscribers, about 77% the number of Facebook subscribers to all the gun control groups combined.

I was also surprised at the number of subscribers to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The NSSF is the firearms industry trade group and I don’t normally think of it catering to the general public. Still, it has more Facebook subscribers than all but one of the gun control groups. The SHOT Show, an annual trade show for the shooting sports industry, is not open to the public yet still has more Facebook subscribers than the CSGV, VPC, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns and more Twitter subscribers than all but two of the gun control groups.

Glock and Smith & Wesson, both gun companies, each have roughly 2x the number of Facebook subscribers of all of the gun control groups combined. Each has more Twitter followers than all but one of the gun control groups. Ruger has roughly as many Facebook followers as all the gun control groups combined, and more Twitter subscribers than half of the gun control groups.

Even though there’s essentially no effort involved in subscribing to a group’s Facebook or Twitter feed and people can subscribe with a single click, the gun control groups have a rather poor showing: the only group to exceed 100,000 subscribers on Facebook (something achieved by every pro-gun or industry group, with the exception of the SHOT Show) was Moms Demand Gun Sense in America. They are roughly tied for subscribers as the Second Amendment Foundation, a group more normally found successfully fighting legal battles in courtrooms rather than reaching out to the public on social media. MDA has fewer Twitter followers than any individual pro-gun or industry group with the exception, again, of the SAF.

The NRA alone has more Facebook subscribers than all of the Facebook and Twitter subscribers of all of the anti-gun groups combined. Talk about the 800lb gorilla in the room.

It’s pretty clear that the pro-gun-rights side has far more popular support, not only among dues-paying members, but also among people who need only click a mouse button to register their support.

As to whether or not these levels of support hold when extended to include the general public, I leave as an exercise to the reader and the professionals.

If anyone has details on other groups, either pro- or anti-gun that you’d like me to add to the list, please let me know and I’d be happy to add them. I just picked the groups that I happened to be aware of and that had at least a moderate presence on these two social media platforms.

  1. There is no official ARS Twitter account, so this is the sum of followers for Rep. Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, as their individual accounts are mentioned specifically on the ARS website and who have 139,800 and 70,908 followers, respectively. []

Detroit police chief: “Police wear body armor. Why would a community member be driving around in body armor?”

From NBC:

“Police wear body armor. Why would a community member be driving around in body armor?” Craig asked.

In this particular case, it’s because the bad guy wanted to protect himself from being shot while committing a crime. No surprise there. (It’s worth noting that felons are prohibited from owning armor.)

Leaving aside the fact that the wearer in this case was a criminal, I certainly don’t think it’s unusual at all for an ordinary, non-felon private citizen in a crime-ridden city like Detroit to consider wearing body armor. Type IIA or II armor will protect against the majority of common handgun rounds which one might encounter in a place like Detroit.

Is it uncommon for private citizens to wear armor? Sure, but it seems odd to question why a private person might want to wear armor. The answer is simple, and it’s exactly the same reason why a cop wears armor: they don’t want to get shot.