Monday, December 31, 2012

That was then, this is now

Obama, 2008:

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away…I am not going to take your guns away. So if you want to find an excuse not to vote for me, don’t use that one because it just ain’t true. It ain’t true.”

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rights, responsibilities and guns

Advocates of still more gun laws are now saying "everything should be on the table"  in a great national dialog on guns and violence. I wonder if they really mean that, or simply mean that they want all kinds of new restrictions on gun ownership. Below I talk about the things I would particularly like to see on the table.

Safe storage requirements

We probably don't need new laws about this; the matter is covered in most states' law codes. We do need a talking-up campaign to emphasize the importance of keeping your guns secured from improper use. Though the laws are on the books they are frequently overlooked or ignored. We see that in stories where a little kid brings mommy's gun to school. That should be impossible. 

I have from time to time advised people who have particular challenges storing a gun safely at home--kids from the neighborhood in and out of the house, or a visiting batty relative or whatever--to look into off site storage. A rental storage locker will do. Another option: Some gun clubs and target ranges will store your guns for you, for a modest fee.

Though the details are likely unknowable, both eyewitnesses being now deceased, it may be that the Newtown massacre involved, to some extent, improper gun storage. It appears that the lawful owner and user of the guns was not the only one who could put her hands on them. All we know for certain is that her disturbed son got her guns, killed her and then undertook the massacre.

Nut control

As the federal law is now written, you are barred from buying or owning a gun if you have been adjudicated mentally incompetent or committed to a mental institution. That was a good and robust safeguard to society when it was written into the law, years ago. The trouble is that today, mental health professionals are hesitant to expose their patients to the indignity of being declared insane. Adjudications of incompetence and involuntary commitments are often not undertaken when they are due, or even overdue. In trying to practice a kinder and gentler psychiatry, the profession is letting down society as a whole, for society needs protection from violent lunatics. In the Tucson shooting in 2011, the shooter, Jared Lee Lochner, was well known by those around him to be way off. His shrink, a faculty member of the college he attended, had alerted campus security that Lochner could be dangerous, but no further steps were taken, toward commitment or adjudication or even to alert area law enforcement about Lochner's condition. 

It emerges after the fact, in many of these horrific shootings, that everyone knew the shooter was crazy but no one did what was necessary to get him put away. Kinder and gentler? To whom?

The problem of parity

The Second Amendment has deducible purposes behind it. Those purposes should inform our discussion of in what ways it is proper to limit the rights involved. Rule making and restrictions must preserve the people's ability to protect their lives and their liberty. States must retain the ability to call up an armed defense force of the people. These purposes require effective arms. The flintlock rifle was good at the time these rights were reviewed and protected in law; it is useless, for Second Amendment purposes, today. We need up-to-date guns.

We know that after any ban, criminals continue to get whatever guns they want. They are criminals; circumventing laws is what they do for a living and they are quite good at it. Crazies will be able to get whatever guns they want, as well--from the criminals. Never underestimate the determination and resourcefulness of those following their inner demons.  So while criminals and crazies will be as well armed as ever, 'we the people,' the rest of us, will be less well equipped to deal with them.

Then there is the potential use of the people's privately owned weapons to deal with a tyrannical government, should one arise. That possibility was very much in the minds of the Constitution's framers. You can be sure that if we face a tyranny in the future, whether its origins are foreign or domestic, that tyranny will not limit itself in what rifles its henchmen may carry or how many bullets each magazine holds.

In short, the good guys need something close to parity in personal weapons with the bad guys. Has the government forgotten that we the people are the good guys, and that the armed citizen is the final guarantor of our liberty and safety? The sane and law abiding citizen needs to be well enough armed to stand up to the threats he may face in this unsafe world--criminals, lunatics, societal disorder and even the specter of tyranny.

If all of the nasty and scary guns are taken away from the law abiding, they will not serve their deterrent purpose, which is to scare the people they are supposed to scare. The local drug thugs have thirty round magazines; no one can do anything about that. Why is it a problem if their honest neighbor has one?

The return of moral teaching

I've written elsewhere on this blog about the breakdown of Western society's ideas of true and false, right and wrong, good and evil. It is now okay for everyone to do what seems right in his own eyes. A thing may be "true for you but not for me." We are urged not to "impose your morality on other people."

What has that gotten us? We ought not be surprised when a certain number of children grow up morally depraved or thoroughly amoral. After all,they have heard since birth that there are no absolutes, right and wrong are arbitrary categories that vary with the individual, and the like. They are told that only unsophisticated rubes take seriously the absolute requirements of moral standards that stand higher in importance than the individual.

This pseudo-philosophical stance is not helping us. People, unless they have been taught otherwise by a parent, pastor or maybe some good reading materials, will not know how to say "I won't; that's just wrong." They no longer have an intuitive sense of "just wrong." And that is just wrong. 

Loss of moral standards may lie somewhere close to the center of our violence problem. When you say there are no absolutes, "Thou shalt not kill" gets thrown out with the rest.

But are these things really up for discussion?

Obama says, at least, that he isn't all about new gun laws. He wants to look at every angle of a complex issue. I hope he means it. My fear, of course, is that he is so thoroughly the leftist ideologue that when he says all angles, he means something else--all angles that accord with his own slant on things. He says, at least, the right thing:

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.
Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Keeping schoolchildren safe...

The Israeli way.

The problems we create for ourselves by declaring gun free zones would be obvious if we were to examine the matter logically. Saying, as if wishing would make it so, that there will be no weapons in a certain place is a denial of the world we actually live in. Only the law abiding observe the laws. 

Side note: That looks like an M1 Carbine. It is nearly an ideal weapon for schoolmarms, for it is handy, light and it earns high marks for being easily controllable in rapid fire. 

H/T to AZMulder77 on Twitter for posting a link to the picture.

Tactical grimness

Google credits me with the first use, on the Internet, of the term "tactical grimness." That is what I call the overserious attitude and dire words of many people when they talk about guns and shooting. I think it is an emotional response to their inner discomfort with the idea of shooting people or animals. If you are not comfortable shooting living targets, don't do it. Problem solved! The cop who has never fully come to terms with the thought that he might one day need to drop a felon, DRT, should change his line of work. The hunter who has issues over what he did to the animal should probably get his meat from the grocer.

On the other hand some of the tactically grim people you meet just talk that way because they think it is expected. Some people behind the counters of some lesser gun shops talk that way, but it is just part of their sales patter. I'm so impressed I shop elsewhere.

It's not that shooting is not a serious matter. But it is serious in a different way. Safe gun handling calls for a meticulous approach and unflagging self discipline. Accurate shooting calls for self discipline and close attention to technique. The moral responsibility of being armed is a matter for deep reflection. Seriousness of this kind comes through in a different way. It's recognizable and recognizably different when you encounter someone who has fully come to terms with the danger of guns and the moral implications of owning something deadly.

Instructional video: basic revolver shooting

I do not want to give the impression that nothing the government does ever suits me. This old video from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center is excellent. It explains and demonstrates the use of the double action revolver. Thanks to PublicResourceOrg for making it available on Youtube.

My ideas about guns were formed back in an era when it was widely assumed that all of one's sidearm needs were adequately met with a small revolver and a big one. The classic pairing of a pocket snubnose and a full sized belt revolver, of the same brand, made particular sense in that both guns worked the same way, so you did not have to remember to do anything differently when changing from one to the other. I still think a fellow is pretty well armed if he has a couple of good revolvers and knows how to use them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

External ballistics of buckshot

A ballistics calculator for round ball shooting is available as a free download via this link: . Hats off to the programmer for creating this calculator and making it freely available; it's a very nice tool.

I'm not much into muzzle loaders myself, but I do shoot buckshot out of a newfangled breechloader. Because buckshot is just a lot of small round balls, you can use the calculator to take note of the exterior ballistic factors affecting the flight of your pellets.

Among the things you can learn is how much buckshot drops at 100 yards if you know where to hold to hit at 30 yards, or at some other distance. I was interested to see that standard velocity 00 lands a little more than a foot low when held for 30. Smaller sizes and lower velocities drop even more. You can also find out how buckshot blows around in the wind and find out how much velocity and energy your pellets have at various distances. I have no intention to shoot buckshot at 100 yards, unless it is at zombies, but it is interesting to check the numbers. You may find more realistic uses for the program. Let's say you have a buck load and barrel combination that patterns well enough at 40 yards for ethical hunting, but you want to check up on the projectile energy out at that distance. The calculator has that covered.

To get you started with using the calculator, here are the nominal sizes of buckshot. There may be shot size  differences, small ones, from one shotshell manufacturer to another but these are the standard dimensions. If you want to be very precise you can mike the pellets and weigh them, but that's unnecessarily fussy: Buckshot is not a precision munition. The nominal sizes and the Connecticut Muzzleloaders calculator will tell you what you need to know.

Buckshot sizes (see also )

#4 -------.24 cal
#3 -------.25 cal
#2 -------.27 cal
#1 -------.30 cal
#0 -------.32 cal
#00 -----.33 cal
#000 ---.36 cal

Why communism fails inevitably

It is rather puzzling that some people continue to promote communism, the most thoroughly self-discrediting creed in history. Perhaps this video I found on Youtube will help to explain my puzzlement.  It traces communism's development from its beginning as an altruistic attempt to help the poor through its transformation into totalitarian police states that killed millions. The video includes pictures of some the victims, graphically dead. If you are deeply disturbed by that kind of thing, you should not watch it.

The video stops too soon, though, by not proceeding to point out communism's inevitable breakdown and demise. It is not a sustainable plan for it makes no economic sense. Therefore the complete progression is from altruism to murderous brutality and from there to economic failure.

It is a pretext, nothing more, when anyone who still wants communism talks about it helping the poor. The poor are not helped by declines in productivity followed by utter ruin of the economy. They are not helped when the government begins its programs of coercion. They are not helped because under communism the poor are still poor, but lack the freedom to try to better themselves.

The reason communism develops into totalitarianism is not difficult to figure out. Everyone must cooperate.  People are, though, inclined to do as they please. So cooperation must be enforced and the enforcement becomes more drastic as time goes on and the plan still isn't working. Communism's  failure to work as desired, though, is not due to insufficient cooperation; it can't work, ever. Human society must be organized in a way that takes into account people doing as they please, for they are happiest and most prosperous in broad average when left free to conduct their own affairs. That is also how you make an economy sustainable, able to meet its inevitable problems and move on.

The reason is that distributed decision making is a more robust and resilient process than centralized planning. When millions of people make their own decisions some will decide well, some badly, and it will become evident who did which. You have millions of people working on solutions, rather than a few politicians in a central bureau. Most people will copy the good outcome of the neighbor who did wisely and prospered rather than the poor outcome of the neighbor who did something stupid. Under central planning, when the central bureau does something stupid, everyone suffers and no one knows what to do about it.

Scale up the same process, whereby neighbors look at each other to see who has the right idea. Nations can look around and see which ideas about governing made people in other countries happy, well and prosperous and which did not. Hence my puzzlement that anyone is even giving a second thought to communism today: It's a stupid idea. History shows it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What is truth?

In a previous post, I mentioned the dual intellectual heritage of the West: moral reasoning from the Bible and logical reasoning from the ancient Greeks. I would like to say more about that. It is now plain that we have squandered two inheritances. Neither kind of reasoning holds sway today. Instead, what people are interested in is affirming the things they want to be true and finding pretexts to do so.

The title of this little piece quotes Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus to suffering and death. Its modern echo is  "That may be your truth, but it is not my truth." Either saying uses a little philosophical dodge and wriggle to produce a single answer that will work against all challenges. It is intellectual laziness so phrased as to seem clever and wise. Try it: If I tell you that something is surely true, you can simply respond that it is true for me but not for you.

At times it is a fair enough thing to say. If I tell you that Mossberg makes a better pump gun than Remington, you may disagree using terms much like the above, and be perfectly correct. What I have told you is a statement of taste and nothing more. As a practical matter, a hunter may use whichever he wishes, and it will make no difference in practical outcomes: it makes no difference to the bird.

There are other statements I might make, though, that have practical consequences. What today's little Pilates do is act as if every question is a question of taste. They can then fall back, without saying so, on the old bromide that there is no accounting for tastes. If I say that the drunkard or drug abuser will seem a fool to all his friends and likely die early and poor, that is hardly a statement of personal taste; it is a fact. The morally relative rejoinder: Well, what if that is an acceptable outcome to him?

I need not go into detail about how that kind of reasoning works. There are too many examples before us every day, of sound reasoning, moral or logical, denied because the hearer wants to hear a different tune.

I think the reason why the re-election of Barack Obama seems, to American conservatives, like such a watershed event is precisely that the voters who voted for him set aside so many sound reasons not to, moral and logical. They instead voted their hopes and desires. That was a majority, and in a country that decides so many things by voting, it is spooky to think of the majority acting that way. The things they voted for, benefits for everyone, free phones, health care subsidies, socking it to the evil rich, 'marriage equality,' saving the planet from the exploitative, polluting energy companies, and all the rest, were considered apart from the moral and practical downsides. Much of it amounts to unsustainable, impossible fantasy. People wanted it all to be true, though, so they voted for it.

This is the triumph of long efforts at derailing our culture's ideas about what is true and how you know. Now anything is true. Put another way, nothing is false. Matters are simply as you would like to see them. Make no mistake: It is conservatives who have sought to preserve Biblical moral reasoning and if-then financial logic from the forces on the left, whose efforts in the legal system, in education and in media and entertainment have been all to the contrary. Of course we are disappointed that the country went the other way. We were telling it not to. Now a new reasoning is in place, one that operates on contrived neologisms, knee-jerk reactions and political correctness. Four legs good, two legs bad!

The reason conservatives were holding out against all this was not simply to be annoying. There are consequences for abandoning wisdom and reason. But there is not much more we can do about it. A part of the blame for this disastrous election must, though, go to the Republican Party's curious propensities in nominating candidates. It is quite possible that some other candidate could have won, for the vote was far from unanimous.

Not everyone has lost track of the idea that a thing might be true despite one's preference in the matter, or false despite one's hope. Perhaps, as the consequences of this election sink in, the numbers who think "true" has some meaning beyond taste or preference will increase.