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.

ShotSpotter in DC

David Hardy found an interesting article by the Washington Post, who reports on the use of strategically-located “ShotSpotter” devices which can automatically detect and localize gunshots being fired within an area (Washington DC, in this case). These devices have been installed in roughly one-third of the District.
From the Post,

About 39,000 separate incidents of gunfire [over the last 8 years -AZR] have been documented by ShotSpotter?s unseen web of at least 300 acoustic sensors across 20 square miles of the city, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The data, obtained through a public-records request, offer an unprecedented view of gun crime in a city where shooting a firearm is illegal in virtually all circumstances.
The gunfire logged by ShotSpotter overshadows the number of officially reported felony gun crimes by more than 2 to 1. More than one-half of the incidents detected by the network have involved multiple rounds of gunfire. In 2009 alone, ShotSpotter captured more than 9,000 incidents of gunfire.

That sounds really interesting, and they probably get a lot of cool data from it. If it works as advertised (that is, it only listens for gunshots and isn’t snooping on conversations and whatnot), ShotSpotter seems like a powerful tool for crime detection and public safety.
In the comments section of the article, user Wiggan has an interesting proposal:

Now the follow up piece should develop a similar map for registered gun owners, as the District requires them to be fingerprinted and registered at their local police stations.
The plot I would like to see would be an overlay between registered gun owners and shooting density. 2nd amendment advocates say carry permits reduce crime. Gun control advocates say gun ownership contributes to crime. Here we could have an objective test to see who is right.

I for one would be highly interested in seeing such a map. While it might not be completely conclusive, it’d certainly provide fascinating insight.
Another commenter inquires if the ShotSpotter sensors are connected to surveilance cameras operated by the police. While CCTV can provide useful information in regards to crime (particularly if they are able to focus in on an area where shots were just fired, or are placed strategically based on ShotSpotter data), I have some reservations in regards to privacy rights. Still, with proper privacy protections in place, such a system could be a valuable crime-fighting system.

Robb Allen on gun liability insurance

Robb talks a bit about why the proposals that “gun owners should carry liability insurance, just like car owners” are a bad idea.
Here’s a quick summary for those who don’t want to read the whole thing:

  • The vast majority of damage, injury, and death stemming from cars is accidental. The vast majority of damage, injury, and death stemming from guns is intentional (e.g., suicide, assault, murder, etc.). Insurance does not cover intentional acts.
  • Existing liability insurance (e.g. homeowners or renters insurance) already cover true accidents (not intentional acts) both in and away from your home.
  • Damage, injury, and death due to guns is — while certainly meaningful to those affected — statistically rare enough that mandatory gun liability insurance would be extremely inexpensive.
  • Those proposing additional liability insurance are not doing so in good faith: their goal (based on the context of their other gun-related statements, proposals, history, etc.) is to price people out of being able to lawfully on firearms.

Robb goes into a bit more detail and I recommend reading the whole thing.

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?na?ve 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.

Sierra Bullets: shutdown of the Doe Run lead smelter shouldn’t affect ammo supply

The recent shutdown of the Doe Run primary lead smelter has some people wondering what effect this might have on lead supply for bulletmakers. Sierra Bullets issued the following statement, which I’ve quoted in part:

First, Sierra buys lead from several different vendors to maintain constant supply.? Second, this facility only smelts primary lead or lead ore.? This is lead ore that has just been brought out of the earth.? Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility.? The lead we buy from Doe Run comes from their recycling facility in Boss, MO that is about 90 miles away from the smelter that is closing.
The facility we buy from is still going strong and delivering to us as scheduled.? The lead from this facility is from recycled lead, mostly coming from car batteries.
[snip]
Our supply should not be in jeopardy and we do not anticipate any changes in our supply chain at this time.? Could the lack of primary lead create a little more demand for recycled lead?? Sure, but how much is unknown.? Could this increase in demand also create an increase in price?? Sure, but again, by how much is unknown at this time.

Emphasis mine. Hat tip to No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money: Sierra Bullets On The Shutdown Of The Herculaneum MO Lead Smelter.
Edit (2013-06-11): I mis-spelled “Sierra” in the title. This has been corrected.

The Capacity Question

Tim over at Gun Nuts Media has a great piece on why capacity matters.
Read the whole thing. It has gems like:

We do not know what it will take to actually stop a violent attacker. People often make the mistake of believing that somehow a gunfight or a shooting is going to happen on their terms. Think logically about that for a second: We?re talking about a situation which has spun so far out of control that your last option to resolve it without ending up in a wheelchair or a body bag is to aim a firearm at another human being and shoot them.

and

We?ve discussed expressing capacity as time, but here it?s important that we also see capacity as opportunity. More opportunity to make a tough shot against a hostile moving and using cover. More opportunity to get a fight-stopping round on target, ending the bad guy?s hostile actions. More opportunity to win. When the bullets are going both ways, more opportunities to fire at the threat is always superior to fewer ones.

(Emphasis in original, but in italics. Changed here to bold for clarity since WordPress’ “blockquote” feature italicize all the quoted text.)

MDA not interested in gun deaths, suicide prevention — only banning guns

A few days ago the Twitter user @deborahdouhner tried making some in-roads with Moms Demand Action and its founder, Shannon Watts. You can read about their story here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that Ms. Watts and MDA really don’t care about reducing violent crime or suicides (which account for 61% of all gun deaths). Rather, they only care about getting rid of guns.
Ms. Watts isn’t some random person who supports gun control; she is the founder of a new anti-gun group that’s been getting a little bit of media attention. I think it’d be fair to say that she reasonably represents the aims of the group: neither she nor MDA are interested in reducing deaths, nor working toward any sort of compromise — they simply want to ban guns.
This should be clear from their website, where they list their objectives:

  1. Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases;
  2. Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds;
  3. Track the sale of large quantities of ammunition, and ban online sales;
  4. Establish product safety oversight of guns and ammunition, and require child-safe gun technology;
  5. Support policies at companies and public institutions that promote gun safety;
  6. Counter the gun industry?s efforts to weaken gun laws at the state level.

Those points have been the objective of extremist groups like the Brady Campaign for decades. There simply is no “middle ground” or compromise with these groups. They must be opposed at every step.
Hat tip to mike, a commenter at SNBQ. The linked-to post at SNBQ is also quite telling: it turns out that Ms. Watts defines an “assault weapon” as any gun that can fire 10 shots per minute — that includes essentially every gun except muzzleloaders. Even lever-action guns and single-shot shotguns can fire more than 10 shots per minute.