Election Thoughts

Today, the day after the midterms, is always an interesting day to look things over.

Nationally, things went about as I expected: the Democrats took the House, while the Republicans held the Senate. The Arizona and Florida Senate races are still tight (and indeed, the Florida election is now going to a recount), but look to be leaning R. This was tighter than I wanted to see in Florida, but I’ll take it. Perhaps the Florida GOP will realize how close this was, and that not completely alienating gun owners (who may hold their nose to vote for the less-bad candidate, but won’t be excited to do it) is a bad electoral strategy. Texas was also closer than I’d like.

Still, the Republicans had a distinct advantage in the Senate this election, with the Democrats as a whole on the defensive due to the seats in play. 2020 doesn’t seem to be as favorable of an electoral map for the Republicans, so I’m a little worried about that going forward.

For the time being, it looks like federal gridlock will be the rule of the day, in terms of laws getting passed, which is pretty typical. Short of things going completely crazy, I feel reasonably confident that no federal gun control measures will make it to Trump’s desk in the next two years and with solid control of the Senate, the Republicans will continue to appoint pro-gun judges to various federal courts (and, perhaps, to the Supreme Court). I won’t even begin to speculate about what might happen after 2020.

California and New York, while never all that great for gun owners, have turned the corner (with the Democrats flipping the NY State Senate and having complete control of the legislature and executive, and with Gavin Newsom winning the CA governor’s race) and will likely turning the states even more gun-hostile than before. CA Governor Jerry Brown, while never really a pro-gun-rights guy, at least acted to temper the anti-gun forces in CA by occasionally vetoing their more outrageous proposals. Between Newsom and very anti-gun incumbent CA attorney general Xavier Beccera winning his race, that restraint is gone and I’m definitely getting a “BOHICA” feeling. Gun rights haven’t been great in CA for decades, but I suspect a lot of stuff is going to move fairly quickly in the near future. Even if the courts ultimately overturn some things (which is by no means assured), that process is slow compared to how fast they can draft new bills. This is very concerning to me.

New York also worries me: with the Democrats in complete control of the legislature and executive branch, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more gun control going forward at the state level. The most concerning thing to me is the weaponization of the bureaucracy relating to finance and insurance to pressure pro-gun groups. Again, I’m hoping the courts step in to put a kibosh on that, but I’m not holding my breath.

At the local level, the choices here in Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area were pretty bleak as far as gun rights were concerned. The choices were pretty much between “Standard California Democrat” vs. “Extreme California Democrat”. A race between a local incumbent Republican (who is basically a standard Democrat anywhere else in the country) and an far-left Democrat challenger ended up with the Republican winning, which surprised me. The fact that the challenger kept spamming our house with mailers talking about her anti-gun bona fides made her defeat all the more sweet for me, though not too sweet: the incumbent isn’t pro-gun by any stretch, but is slightly less anti-gun than the challenger. Her “no” votes on things like magazine confiscation without compensation being based on the “without compensation” detail, not the fact that confiscating long-grandfathered magazines is a bad thing.

Another “positive”, so to speak: Dianne Feinstein won her senate race against far-left Kevin de Leon. Feinstein is definitely anti-gun, but she’s been stuck in her Quixotic ways for decades (e.g. “Ban evil black rifles!” with little other ideas or proposals) and isn’t likely to have any major surprises. She’s also really good at bringing out the opposition when it comes to resisting gun control bills. de Leon, on the other hand, is much more aggressively anti-gun and would likely have tried pushing a lot more new and creative bills that may have garnered more support. For once, I’m glad Feinstein won. Now I need to take a shower.

Predictions for today’s march

So, today is the March for Our Lives, the multi-city Bloomberg-funded gun control march. Here’s my predictions for today and the time following the march. Anyone want to bet on how many are true, or add their own predictions? Comment below!

  1. Speeches and signs will condemn the NRA, gun owners, and pro-gun-rights politicians, accusing them of being complicit in the murder of innocents. The media will report this without question.
  2. Accusations will be made that the NRA, gun owners, and pro-gun-rights politicians care more about guns than the lives of children.
  3. Speeches and signs will accuse the NRA of being in the pocket of the gun industry, while this is demonstrably false. The media will report this without question.
  4. People will claim that “nobody is going to take your guns” while speeches and signs will call for the banning and confiscation of broad classes of guns or all guns entirely. The media will not comment on this contradiction.
  5. People will discuss how their “right not to be shot” outweighs the right of people to own guns.
  6. The media will favorably compare the march to past civil rights protests. Nobody will mention that the proposals the marchers support reduce civil rights.
  7. All public credit for organizing the march will be given to students, with no acknowledgement of the millions of dollars of funding given by Bloomberg, et al., or the behind-the-scenes planning, organizing, and coordinating done by his gun control groups.
  8. Anti-gun-rights politicians will join in, to much public fanfare. Few of the marchers will recognize anyone other than Bernie Sanders.
  9. Marchers and politicians will propose various anti-gun laws that wouldn’t have had any effect at preventing any of the recent mass shootings and they will claim such measures are “common sense”. They will be hailed in the media as heroes, and those who oppose them as being injurious to the rights of millions and ineffective at their stated goal will be vilified as monsters.
  10. Many people will be quoted as saying “I support the Second Amendment, but…[list of gun control talking points]”
  11. Claims that “this time something is different” will be made incessantly by the media, by protesters, etc. No (or weak) evidence will presented to back up that claim.
  12. The protesters will leave behind substantial amounts of waste, garbage, and litter in their wake.
  13. The vast majority of protesters will return to their homes feeling accomplished but otherwise take no further action; they will continue to vote for the politicians they were going to vote for anyway, maybe send a letter or two to their legislators, but then other things get in the way. Many students will head off to college in the next year or two, making it harder for them to coordinate. Some will be seen in the media for a few months, but ultimately will drop off the radar until the next mass shooting happens, at which point they’ll be trotted out in front of the cameras for their next 15 minutes of fame.
  14. Some pro-gun-rights groups or individuals will stage laughably small, uncoordinated marches that will not accomplish anything. Some will be holding guns and generally make fools of themselves on the news.
  15. Ultimately, little will change: some anti-gun-rights states will pass anti-gun-rights laws, some pro-gun-rights states will pass pro-gun-rights laws, maybe some minor things will happen (e.g. bump stock bans), and politicians will make various noises in public about wanting to do something. Regardless of what happens, lawsuits will be filed and pro- and anti-gun-rights groups will send out desperate pleas for money. The inertia of the status quo will prevent major changes.

 

Thoughts on the March for Our Lives

I’ve got no problem with people gathering together to protest. That’s their right, and part of what makes America great.

To those who are marching out of a genuine interest in making schools and society a safer place, welcome to the club. I support you and your objectives as I also want to see safer schools and a safer society.

To those who are marching to support gun control, I oppose you and your objectives, as they would make people, schools, and society less safe. You are marching for laws that deprive millions of honest Americans of their rights while doing nothing to make anyone safer, and I urge you to reconsider your position.

Cancelling a Citibank card, buying gun stocks

Sebastian notes that Citibank is pushing some “common-sense” measures like requiring all gun-related “clients who offer credit cards backed by Citigroup or borrow money, use banking services or raise capital” to raise the required age for buyers to 21, not sell bump stocks or Magazines of UnusualNormal Size, or sell to buyers who haven’t passed a background check (clearly they’re not familiar with federal law).

My wife has a Citibank card. We will be cancelling it immediately. We have other credit cards at banks that are at the very least gun-neutral, so this doesn’t affect our day-to-day spending at all other than not supporting Citi at all.

Update: my wife was one step ahead of me, and had already cancelled the card. Excellent.

I’ve also made the choice to buy some shares in publicly-traded gun-related stocks, specifically Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and Vista Outdoors (owners of Federal Premium Ammunition). It’s not a huge investment, only a few hundred bucks in total and a small fraction of my well-balanced portfolio, and I don’t think such investments will get me rich, but it makes me a voting shareholder which is nice. I mainly invest in index funds that, as part of their index tracking, own such shares, but I wanted to explicitly own those individual shares in addition to the index funds.

Stupid Laws

Twelve years ago (where the hell did the time go?) I bought a Bushmaster XM15 AR variant in Arizona. It’s a great rifle and has a fixed stock, A3-style detachable carry handle, 20″ barrel, etc.

It’s also specifically banned by make and model number by the state of California who, in their infinite wisdom, decided it was too dangerous for mere mortals to own. Possessing such an evil “assault weapon” in the state is a serious crime regardless of whether or not I install a fixed magazine.

However, if I were to strip the lower (that is, remove the fire control group, springs, pins, etc.), get a new lower such as those made by a variety of companies and which can cost as little as $50 or make my own from an 80% lower, install a fixed magazine, assemble the new lower with the parts from the stripped lower, and mount the original Bushmaster upper on that newly-assembled lower then everything would be perfectly legal so long as the lower marked “XM15” is not brought into the state.

Literally the only difference is that the lower is a chunk of aluminum — forged by the same company, no less — with different writing on the side, yet one is legal in California and one isn’t.

Hooray for stupid laws.

Some good news about California ammo laws

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 63. It, in conjunction with related legislation, requires that — among other things, like banning the mere possession of magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds — ammunition buyers undergo a background check prior to buying ammunition in California.

Until 2019, the background check information is conducted by the state, but the only records are kept by the local dealer. Starting in 2019, ammunition purchases from dealers are required to be registered with the state, just like gun purchases.

In addition, direct ship-to-home purchases are forbidden, though one can have ammo ordered and delivered to a local dealer who handles the background check and state registration, as well as the collection of relevant state sales tax. Importing ammo from other states is a misdemeanor, if caught.

As someone who values both my gun rights, my privacy, and the convenience of online ordering, this is a major issue.

Fortunately, the relevant section of law has several exceptions, which I discovered today (other, more informed people likely knew of this long ago but it’s new to me). Let’s look at the relevant section of the California Penal Code:

30312.

[Skipping over part (a).]

(b) Commencing January 1, 2018, the sale, delivery, or transfer of ownership of ammunition by any party may only occur in a face-to-face transaction with the seller, deliverer, or transferor, provided, however, that ammunition may be purchased or acquired over the Internet or through other means of remote ordering if a licensed ammunition vendor initially receives the ammunition and processes the transaction in compliance with this section and Article 3 (commencing with Section 30342) of Chapter 1 of Division 10 of Title 4 of this part.

In short: you can order ammo online, but it needs to go to a local dealer who needs to do the background check, state registration, etc. That’s a pain, but it still leaves the option open for those who are willing to jump through the hoops — they could have forbidden all online sales entirely.

(c) Subdivisions (a) and (b) shall not apply to the sale, delivery, or transfer of ammunition to any of the following:

Following is a long list of exceptions, such as exempting police departments, individual police officers (my non-lawyerly interpretation is that it exempts individual police officers, even if they buy ammo for personal use, so long as they are authorized to carry a firearm in the course and scope of their duties), federally-licensed ammo importers or manufacturers, FFL (including standard 01 FFL and C&R 03 FFL) holders residing outside the state (though why they’d need CA approval if they’re not in CA is beyond me), target ranges (so long as the ammo is kept on the range at all times), training facilities for police, etc.

Of particular interest is this section:

(6) A person who is licensed as a collector of firearms pursuant to Chapter 44 (commencing with Section 921) of Title 18 of the United States Code and the regulations issued pursuant thereto, whose licensed premises are within this state, and who has a current certificate of eligibility issued by the Department of Justice pursuant to Section 26710.

What’s this? Someone who has a C&R 03 FFL (which costs $30 for 3 years) and who has a $22/year (plus a ~$100 first-year fee) “Certificate of Eligibility” from the state of California is exempt from that law and can order ammo directly to one’s home without having to undergo an annoying background check at each sale, and with the state being none the wiser about what ammo one’s buying?

I asked several major ammo vendors who sell online, and they said their lawyers confirmed my interpretation of the law. Great!

But what is the “Certificate of Eligibility”? According to the state, it’s a document that “certifies the Department of Justice (DOJ) has checked its records and determined the recipient is not prohibited from acquiring or possessing firearms at the time the firearms eligibility criminal background check was performed”. It is required for “prospective licensed firearms dealers, licensed ammunition vendors, manufacturers, certified instructors, gun show promoters [WTF? -AZR], explosive permit holders, and other firearm related employment activities”. In short, you get the background check done ahead of time and you’re good to go for a year without needing to deal with the hassles the whole time.

Sure, the local police department is informed about one possessing a C&R 03 FFL, but no action is required on their part and it likely just disappears into some file somewhere or gets thrown out. The state also knows one has a Certificate of Eligibility, but so long as one orders ammo for delivery, they don’t get any information about individual purchases.

Unfortunately, even those with CoEs are required to do the full background check and registration when buying ammo at retail dealers.

These laws are a huge hassle and, while I loathe the fact that a C&R 03 FFL and CoE are required to bypass the absurd background check and state registration of ammo purchases (which ended up costing the state $25 million to start, plus unspecified ongoing costs — hooray bureaucracy!), the fact that one can bypass those absurd requirements with relatively minimal hassle and cost is at least some relief. In addition, one can personally import ammo from other states (e.g., in the trunk of a car) if one has a C&R 03 FFL and CoE.

I already planned on getting a C&R 03 FFL, as I had before I left the country, and getting a CoE means the state gets even less information about me than if I didn’t have one, so that’s not too bad as far as California goes.

NPR: “Science Provides Few Facts On Effects Of Gun Policies, Report Finds”

This article from NPR is interesting, as it refers to a recent study from the RAND Corporation (rather than some gun-control think tank) about what gun policies actually work to reduce violent crime.

The article can be summed up by the line, “The nonprofit RAND Corporation analyzed thousands of studies and found only 63 that establish a causal relationship between specific gun policies and outcomes such as reductions in homicide and suicide.”

Let’s go through the meat of the article:

“Most of the effects that we were looking for evidence on, we didn’t find any evidence,” says Andrew Morral, a behavioral scientist at RAND and the leader of the project.

This isn’t surprising: in general, criminals don’t follow laws, so gun control means little to them.

They found, for example, no clear evidence regarding the effects of any gun policies on hunting and recreational gun use, or on officer-involved shootings, or on mass shootings or on the defensive use of guns by civilians.

Again, not particularly surprising: most gun laws don’t seek to restrict hunting (other than basic things like hunting season times, restrictions on certain prey, etc.) or recreational gun use.

Officer-involved shootings and defensive gun uses by civilians (note: police officers are also civilians) are usually explicitly permitted by law in life-threatening situations, so I don’t really see the relevance.

The point about mass shootings isn’t unexpected: mass shooters tend to plan their attacks meticulously for a long period of time and are very detail-focused. All the “common sense gun laws” like waiting periods, background checks, etc. wouldn’t have any effect on someone willing to plan and wait as needed.

There were some categories with better data, however, Morral says. There is relatively strong evidence, for example, that policies meant to prevent children from getting access to firearms — such as laws that require guns to be stored unloaded, or in locked containers — reduce both suicide and unintentional injury and death.

Makes sense. Leaving loaded guns lying openly around the house when there’s kids or irresponsible adults around is an invitation to disaster. Fortunately, this is quite rare.

Guns should be secured when not under the immediate control of the owner.

Previous work has also found that places that require a permit (issued by law enforcement) for the purchase a firearm do reduce violent crime.

This surprised me a bit, but I’m curious how that works out: I suspect that criminals of any sort don’t end up getting permits, and that permit holders don’t commit much crime.

[a few minutes elapse as I read the linked study, available as a PDF]

Ok, the study basically says that if a state requires permits to purchase a gun, guns are less likely to end up being diverted to criminals. I wonder how much of this is psychological, in that the would-be straw purchaser is a bit more concerned that their name and fingerprints are “in the system” once they get a permit, even though their information is kept on the Form 4473 during a retail purchase anyway. Either way, permits should never be required for a constitutionally-protected right.

There is also some evidence that prohibitions against purchase by people who have been diagnosed with mental illness reduce violent crime, and that “stand your ground” laws, which allow citizens who feel threatened in public to use lethal force without retreating first, lead to an increase in violent crime.

As for mental health, that’s expected. As for stand your ground laws, the issue is not so much an increase in violent crime, as reported by NPR in this article, but an increase in homicides. How a homicide is classified — as a justifiable homicide, for example, or an unlawful homicide — is dependent on how police classify shootings. From an earlier NPR article on the topic, “Police guidelines likely vary from state to state, and police in different places may be interpreting shootings differently in light of stand your ground laws.”

Also interesting is the results of a survey of 95 gun policy experts “from across the political spectrum”, who they asked for their thoughts on effects of various policies including “universal background checks, bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, expanded mental illness prohibitions, minimum age requirements and required reporting of lost or stolen weapons”.

The vast majority of the specialists RAND surveyed agreed that the primary objectives of gun policies should be reducing suicides and homicides, and that protecting privacy, enabling hunting and sport shooting and preventing mass shootings were secondary priorities.

“That was a surprise, actually,” says Morral. “I think people on either side of gun policy debates think that the other side has misplaced values — or that it’s a values problem, in any case. But that’s not what we find. We find people prioritize the same things in the same order.”

However, those surveyed varied widely in their predictions about how different policies would affect each outcome.

“Where they disagree is on which laws will achieve those those objectives. So this is a disagreement about facts,” says Morral. “And the facts are sparse.”

So, no surprises there. Still, it’s an interesting study and I recommend you read it.

“Gun Control, Duck Vaginas, and Why Your Opinion Might Not Matter”

The title for this article is so great that I couldn’t help but reproduce it here.

Here’s the best part:

Lastly, I’ll note that recently we saw a popular cry of “No vagina, no vote” regarding women’s health issues. I personally agreed with this position 100%. If you cannot be affected by a proposed piece of medical legislation for the opposite gender, and are functionally ignorant on the topic, you clearly have no business telling a woman what to do with her reproductive organs, let alone a duck.

So the next time you hear people talking about Assault Weapons, ask them to define that term, because it’s got a different definition in almost every piece of legislation regulating them. Sometimes it includes handguns, sometimes it doesn’t. Bayonet lugs? 30 round magazines? Does the stock fold? Do they even know what they’re talking about? Do you? Are you informed enough to have a worthwhile opinion, or are you just repeating things you’ve heard that fit your preconceptions?

If you don’t know anything about guns, and won’t be personally impacted by legislation controlling them because you don’t want to own any, do you even deserve a voice in this debate?

Good advice in general.

This Is Why We Win

Today I read the following quote, presented here in its original form, warts and all:

[user to which they are directing their reply] during 1936-1959, the standard infantry rifle was the M1 Garland. It was a rapid fire semi automatic General George Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised”. Just because our military now has more efficient and powerful weapons (60 years), that does not discount the destructive power of the M1 Garland, a rifle similar in nature to the yet more powerful and modifiable AR 15, and once used in our military

-Tafari Gh, a commenter at the Huffington Post

Nearly every thing this commenter wrote is wrong.

We win because our opponents are idiots and know not about what they speak. It should really hurt to be that stupid.

Hat tip to J. KB for the original link.