On going back in time

NPR had a recent article discussing the dangers of stray bullets, something which I agree is a problem.

Unusually, a few sentences in the comments section attracted my interest; I typically don’t participate in comment threads on news articles and try to avoid them where possible. However, a comment by an individual going by the name “Sean Gay” attracted my attention. This comment starts with,

Yet another reason to go back to the pre-2008 second amendment and allowing the implementation of gun laws to restrict access.

In a separate respond to some other commenter, Mr. Gay says:

Right, but all decisions prior to 2007 included the full text of the second amendment as a right for state-sanctioned militia. The decision of 2007 fundamentally rewrote the second amendment and the McDonald v Chicago decision exacerbated the situation. By striking down a completely reasonable restriction in 2007 it opened the gate for other reasonable controls to be broken down. It was a bad decision that went against the Constitution, precedent, law, and common sense.

I’ve seen a few articles and comments of this type recently, no doubt spurred on by media coverage of some recent, high-profile crimes. (As an aside, I note how individuals and the media basically ignore more routine crimes in places like Chicago.)

Some have gone to the extreme of comparing the Heller and McDonald cases to Dred Scott and other cases where the Supreme Court got things very, very wrong and suggest that the court ought to change their rulings on Heller and McDonald. Of course, such comparisons are absurd: Dred Scott and other similar cases are clear examples of the court ruling to explicitly deny or restrict people’s human rights (which is objectively wrong), while Heller and McDonald serve to protect people’s rights.

However, most of the comments avoid such explicit comparisons and are of a “Why can’t things be like they were before?” nature. They always seem to ignore the case law and historical context of the Second Amendment, which is well-cited by the Supreme Court in the Heller case, and erroneously assume that Heller made things up out of whole cloth.

They seem to think that if only Heller and McDonald were undone, the Second Amendment would be no obstacle to restricting guns. Perhaps they’re right, but it seems unlikely that they’d gather much traction: in addition to state constitutions protecting the right to keep and bear arms, the right to self-defense is an inherent one, and that right exists absent the protections of the Second Amendment or particular court rulings. Firearms have a long tradition of being used for defensive purposes, both in the US and abroad, and there’s certainly a lot of legal precedent that does not rely upon the Second Amendment and which supports the right to own firearms for self-protection and other lawful purposes.

Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that there are ordinary people out there who think that a complete ban on handguns (in the case of Heller) is a “reasonable restriction”. Such a position is both unreasonable and extreme, and serves only to restrict the rights of ordinary people. Readers would do well to remind their legislators of that fact, and to keep that in mind when voting in upcoming elections.

Update: I foolishly forgot to include a title in this post before publishing it. This has since been corrected.

Cool things seen today

While not a large city, Bern is the national capital of Switzerland and strategically located in regards to train travel.

Thus, the main train station is a hub for all sorts of stuff: local commuter rail, intercity trains, high-speed international trains going to or coming from France, Germany, etc.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a steam locomotive with old-fashioned passenger cars cruising through the station next to its modern, electrified counterparts.

I’m not really a train buff, but that’s pretty cool to see.

Open Carry Rally this Saturday in Texas [corrected]

Updated: Whoops. Turns out I didn’t check the date on the DMN article — the event was this last Saturday and has already occurred. Mea culpa. Additionally, it looks like the group didn’t have permission from Home Depot and may have violated Home Depot’s “no solicitation” policy, which might end up getting open carry banned at Home Depot. Way to go, guys.

In the army we had a name for people who screwed over their buddies: “blue falcon“. It’s fair to say that applies to these guys.

Original post continues below:

Heads up to any readers in Texas: according to the Dallas Morning News, there’ll be an open carry rally in North Richland Hills this Saturday:

Starting at 11:30 a.m. supporters will fill the back of the parking lot at the Home Depot on Precinct Line Road to listen to speakers, have an open-carry education session and hold a raffle. Prizes include revolvers, an AR 15 rifle, over 1,500 rounds of ammunition and Rangers tickets, according to the group’s Facebook page.

Rally organizer Kory Watkins, 30, wants to make it clear that Saturday’s event is not a protest.

“Protesters are angry; and we are not angry people. If you come up to us, you will see we are smiling and friendly,” he said. “We are demonstrating, demonstrating our rights and demonstrating how the law lets you carry a long gun, but you can’t open carry a pistol.”

While I personally find the open carry of rifles in built-up areas a bit off-putting, so long as things are cool with Home Depot that sounds like a fun event and a good use of a large, otherwise-unused section of parking lot.

When you’re having a big event, it makes sense to coordinate with the property owner rather than just showing up. Doubly so when people are openly armed.

However, it’s not quite clear if that’s the case:

Watkins said his group has been meeting at the Home Depot for almost a year, and unlike other businesses and cities like Arlington who have clashed with the group, the home improvement giant has “stayed neutral.”

“They respect the rights of the people and we realize that,” Watkins said. “Their parking lost are always huge so we can park in the back and not bother nobody.”

A representative for the North Richland Hills Home Depot said he had no information about the rally.

“That’s not something Home Depot sponsors,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “They are not going to on the Home Depot property.”

Stephen Holmes, Home Depot’s corporate communications director, told Forbes, “Our feeling is that, ultimately, the voters direct the laws on gun carry issues, so we defer to the prevailing ordinances in states and communities.”

Emphasis mine.

Good for Home Depot to stay neutral, but it sounds like the group — even though they’ve met there regularly — hasn’t really coordinated with the store itself. That’d probably be a good idea.

Fortunately, they’ve let the police know ahead of time so there shouldn’t be trouble from the cops:

[A]ccording to Watkins, the North Richland Hills police have been helpful with the planned rally.

“The police department has been notified and is coordinating with us,” he said. “Everything is legal, as always.”

Naturally, the Demanding Mommies and a few others have posted to the Home Depot Facebook page saying they’re unhappy about the situation and will not shop at the store until they change their rules.

Honestly, Texas really should just allow open carry of handguns like Arizona and other states: with few exceptions, very few people notice or care a handgun holstered on a belt but they sure as hell will notice a slung rifle. It’d benefit gun owners in Texas and take the steam out of MDA by removing a point around which they can rally support and get media time.

On Caching

A flurry of new visitors from Tam’s (hi everyone, welcome!) got me thinking a bit about the performance of this site. Combined with not much going on with gun-related topics here in Switzerland, I figured I’d write a bit about tech.

This site runs WordPress on a S-sized Simple Hosting instance at Gandi‘s Baltimore facility. As a sort of hybrid of shared hosting and a VPS, it has a surprising amount of “oomph”: it has dedicated Apache, PHP, and MySQL processes, uses APC to cache PHP opcodes, and sits behind a series of load-balanced Varnish cache servers which cache static content. It’d make sense to take advantage of those resources to ensure things are speedy.

Out-of-the-box, WordPress dynamically generates each page entirely from scratch: this involves about a hundred database calls and a bunch of PHP work. Considering that content here changes relatively infrequently (yeah, I should write more), it doesn’t make sense to generate each page anew for each visitor since this takes a fair bit of resources.

That’s why I use Lite Cache to cache static content: the first time a visitor requests a page, it’s dynamically generated and sent to them as normal, but the now-generated page is saved on the server in the cache. If a second visitor requests that same page, the cached version is sent to them; since this is just a static file that doesn’t need to be generated from scratch, the server can send it right away, so it loads faster for the visitor. In addition, the static file is stored on the Varnish caches, which are specifically designed for high-performance caching. If the content ever changes (e.g. I make a new post, someone leaves a comment, etc.), the cached version is updated to reflect those changes.

Combined with the front-end Varnish caches, this can swiftly serve up content to large numbers of users — I’ve load-tested it with over 1,000x the typical daily traffic and it doesn’t break a sweat.

That’s cool and all, but why bring it up now?

Because I forgot a critical detail: I only tested it with desktop browsers, where it worked great. However, once someone hit the site with a mobile browser (perhaps on their smartphone or tablet), things went wonky: the site correctly detected that the site was using a mobile browser and generated a mobile-friendly version, which the cache dutifully stored for other visitors. Unfortunately, the cache wasn’t smart enough to tell that all the other readers were not using mobile devices, and started serving up the mobile version to desktop browsers. Whoops.

I’ll make a note to test for this sort of stuff in the future.

Since mobile users make up a tiny fraction of the already-small number of readers here, I’ve disabled the mobile-friendly theme until I can get things sorted out.

Since this is nominally a gun blog, I suppose I should try to connect this situation to guns in some way. Here goes: don’t assume everything will always work the way you think it will. Train for a variety of situations. If your training consists only of calmly standing upright in a well-lit range shooting at stationary targets with a full-sized pistol, you’re not well-prepared for a situation when, for example, a bad guy mugs you with a knife outside your office when all you have is a Beretta Jetfire and a cup of coffee. It definitely doesn’t prepare you for things that go thump in the night.Whether you’re adjusting web caches, training at the range, or sending a rocket to the moon, it’s wise to keep in mind that the universe has a perverse sense of humor.

Observing the Swiss

Since the university where I work is right next to the main train station, most of my Swiss-watching (pun very much intended) takes place in the station. The Swiss are interesting, particularly when it comes to weapons in public.

It’s common to see guys with slung SIG SG 550′s walking around the train station as they head off to military training, the range, etc. Nobody pays these guys any mind whatsoever; it’s just part of what’s normal here.

I admit to doing a double-take when I saw a guy with a slung katana picking up some groceries in the main station, but nobody else seemed to care. “Guy with a sword getting a liter of milk and some eggs. Meh.”

Even rather unusual things, like the guy wearing a full-body ghillie suit with a rifle slung on his back buying a cup of coffee from the McDonalds, go completely unremarked-upon by anyone here. It’s amusing to think of Swiss Wookie-suiters being a thing.

Relicensing

Effective immediately, I’m changing the license of my content to make it even more free.

Previously, content was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

I’ve updated to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, which clarifies several issues (particularly for people not in the US). I’ve also removed the NonCommercial restriction.

Of course, this relicensing only affects content that I’ve created. Content created by others remains theirs, and is used either with permission or under fair use.

Rifle overboard!

What’s going on here?

Based on the Facebook comments people are speculating that the man works for a marine security company and is throwing this AR-pattern rifle overboard for one of two main reasons:

  1. The rifle is full-auto and was purchased outside the US (i.e. they don’t need to comply with the NFA hoops), and they’re returning to a US port and the gun would not be legal. It’s cheaper and easier to simply discard the rifle overboard and buy another one once they leave US waters than deal with the NFA.
  2. Essentially the same situation, only they’re docking in some other port where firearms are restricted regardless of if they’re full- or semi-auto.

Thoughts? Speculation? I suspect that #2 is a bit more likely.

(Apologies if this post shows up twice in your feed reader. There were some tech issues here.)

Breaking stuff for fun and profit.

I spent a bit of the last day or two making some changes to the back-end around here, enabling SSL/TLS for the admin interface, etc.

As far as I can tell, things should be good, but if you find that some functionality has broken please let me know.

For now, I have only the admin interface accessible over HTTPS – all other content should automatically redirect back to the HTTP version and work normally, but in some odd cases browsers seem to ignore the redirects and have formatting issues (cause: the page is loaded over HTTPS but the CSS is loaded over HTTP) and may indicate redirect loops. I’ve been unable to replicate this with testing tools, and it may just be an issue with my browsers. If you see similar issues, please let me know what page you’re visiting, the date and time of the error, and the page source (Ctrl-U) so I can see what might have caused the issue.