Monday, July 30, 2012

Jason Alexander Is Scared and Ignorant

Jason Alexander tweeted about how he did not understand how people can support private ownership of "assault weapons" and then links to the wikipedia link about the AR-15.  He received, predictably, a number of heated responses to his tweet. Salon subsequently posted the entirety of a longer message from Mr. Alexander about why he feels the way he does and his thoughts about the responses he received.  In this particular post, I won't be presenting arguments about the legal, historical, philosophical and practical reasons I think Americans should retain their rights to own so called "assault weapons."  I think it is important to point out factual errors in the statement Mr. Alexander has made.

I'll admit I'm picking on this particular statement and Mr. Alexander with this post.  Over the last week there have been many similar statements in a variety of media outlets saying similar things.  I could have responded to any one of them but choose this one because it filled with factual errors.  Many of the others have the same factual errors but no single one of them seems to be quite as riddled with ignorance as this one. You can read the entire article at

"Despite these massacres recurring and despite the 100,000 Americans that die every year due to domestic gun violence – these people see no value to even considering some kind of control as to what kinds of weapons are put in civilian hands."

100,000 is way off.  The 2011 crime stats are still in a preliminary form so I'll go with the 2010 stats.  According the FBI, there were a total of 14,748 murders.. Table 20 of the FBI's Uniform Crime Report breaks down murders by the method used by the murderer. According to the FBI, in the year 2010 the total number of murders with firearms were 8,775. Private citizens killed 232 criminals during the commission of a felony. Combining the two we come with roughly 9,000.  That's a 90% difference between his number and the FBI's number.  I'll be generous and add the 18,000 suicides (about half of all suicides) then we get a ballpark figure of 27,000 deaths via firearm. Automobiles kill more people than guns do.  The flu kills more people than guns do. Diabetes kills twice as many people.

To get an idea of how often AR-15's are used for murders, I looked at the number of deaths attributed to rifles, of all types. In 2010 rifles accounted for a total of 358 deaths. It wasn't separated into categories for "assault rifle" or "hunting rifle." 358 is less than one half of one percent of all homicides.  While the Aurora, CO shooting is a terrible, terrible event; it is very rare.

There are controls on what sorts of weapons can be in civilian hands.  I'm not allowed to own an automatic weapon, a mortar, an artillery piece or a rocket propelled grenade launcher for example. Semi-automatic rifles are also regulated.  Properly licensed individuals are allowed to own automatic weapons but there are very tight controls on them and machine guns are extremely expensive. Felons and the insane are not allowed to have firearms at all.  States are allowed to make limitations on what firearms are allowed by civilians and some of them do.  Massachusetts has retained the assault weapon ban.  It hasn't prevented the state from having one of the highest murder rates in the north east.  California has considerable limits on the ownership of assault rifles but still has one of the highest violent crime rates in the US.

"Constitution says citizens have the right to bear arms in order to maintain organized militias. I’m no constitutional scholar so here it is from the document itself:"  Mr. Alexander then proceeds to prove the statement that he is no scholar.  He claims that gun owners are not members of militia, which is false. He is apparently ignorant of the fact that he is a member of the militia by the thinking of the late 18th century. In the 1958 Supreme Court case United States v. Miller it was observed by the court

"The significance attributed to the term Militia appears from the debates in the Convention, the history and legislation of Colonies and States, and the writings of approved commentators. These show plainly enough that the Militia comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. 'A body of citizens enrolled for military discipline.' And further, that ordinarily when called for service these men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time"

Nearly all constitutional scholars agree that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to own firearms.  The Supreme Court of the United States ruled about this in United States vs. Emerson and District of Columbia VS. Heller.  This is settled scholarship and settled law. The only way it can be changed is by a constitutional amendment.

He makes a number of common errors I've seen in many of the assault weapon rants over the years. The term "assault weapons" is not a very useful one. The primary difference between an AR-15 and a semi-automatic hunting rifle chambered in .223 Remington ammunition is that the AR-15 has a synthetic stock because it is less expensive and can take more abuse than a wood stock.  That's it.  They shoot similar projectiles, they can shoot similar volumes of fire, many guns for hunting can hold large amounts of ammunition.  A hunting rifle can be more or less accurate depending on how much money the owner wants to spend.  It all comes down to the intent of the person with the gun and their skill with the weapon.

"What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let’s see – does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality."

Mr. Alexander is not aware that a growing number of hunters are using AR-15's.  One of the most popular applications for AR variants right now is for coyote hunting. The gun is reliable, has a minimal recoil, there are a number of aftermarket gadgets for customizing the rifle for a hunter's specific applications and the ammo is widely available at a reasonable price. The specific features of the AR-15 that some hunters like come down the convenience of the gadgets that can be attached to it and that the semi automatic action that allows the hunter to take follow up shots without operating the action.

Magazine capacity is not an inherent feature of the rifle unless the rifle's magazine is built into the rifle.  Most modern hunting rifles have a detachable box magazines and some have large capacity magazines.  Mossberg released a bolt rifle this year designed for predator hunting that can use 30 round magazines from an AR-15. It doesn't allow the gun to fire faster, further or be more deadly.  It just hold more ammo with refilling the magazine. The AR-15 is not known for it's accuracy.  Bolt action rifles achieve far greater accuracy than the AR-15 design. It can be made more accurate but requires a trained gunsmith to tune the gun at considerable expense.  It also doesn't fire further than any other rifle. Hunters and target shooters often reload their ammo to reach further distances and improve accuracy beyond the capability of the mass produced ammo that the military uses.

The 5.56mm ammunition the AR-15 fires is not a "more lethal payload" than a hunting rifle.  In fact, few hunters will use the 5.56 cartridge on any animal weighing more than 50lbs. Soldiers have long complained since Vietnam that the AR-15/M16 can require several hits to kill an enemy combatant. Did you note that the Aurora gunman killed 12 and wounded 58?  If the gun was more lethal then you might imagine that there would be more dead than wounded.  The AR-15 design was, in fact, intended to be less lethal.  When a combatant is wounded but not killed, several people are put out of the fight to take care of the casualty.  The designers preferred to wound but not kill.  Hunters much larger calibers that will produce a reliable single shot kill. Killing with a single shot reduces the animal's suffering and the possibility of loosing a wounded animal.  The AR-15's cartridge only provides a reliable single shot kill on small predators and varmints.

I don't think Mr. Alexander is ill intentioned but he is a human.  He doesn't want these sorts of events to happen any more than the rest of us.  He sees that a terrible mass shooting that makes the news.  Because guns, shooting and hunting are not part of his daily life his reaction is a visceral one.  Completely understandable.  We fear what we do not understand.  What is really unfortunate is that some of the response he received was just as absurd as his statements.  2nd Amendment rights advocates don't help matters by hyperbolic outbursts born of ignorance as deep and pervasive as that spewed by the anti-gun activists.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

EDITORIAL: The left's war on rednecks - Washington Times

EDITORIAL: The left's war on rednecks - Washington Times

In my experience people who are "political", that is very interested in and very focused on politics, are some of the most obnoxious intolerant people you'll meet.  It doesn't seem to matter whether they are "left" or "right" they are assholes when it comes to their ideological stances on various political issues.  Quite often, the concept that they may have a fact skewed or lack a certain point of view will never occur to them.  Or even worse, they will often deny that someone else with a different ideological viewpoint may have a legitimate point.  I have had the experience of pointing to gold standard incontrovertible evidence that the person's point of view is wrong and still watched them deny that their position may require even a bit more consideration.  It is a common practice amongst the politically oriented to make every effort to silence their ideological opponents.  Failing that, they will do everything they can to discredit those with whom they disagree.  It seems that civilization has not progressed so far that we will allow that other people may have a different point of view and different opinion without asserting they are evil.

In part, I agree with the Washington Times editorial linked above. Some of the people on the left, particular those who call themselves "progressives" are intensely bigoted against working class white people.  This is clear if you just think about it a bit.  If a white guy in a suit made the sort of stereotypical remarks about working class blacks that are made about working class whites, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would be calling for firings and public apologies.  Likely they would get both along with a public outcry.  Bigotry and stereotyping directed toward low income whites is no different than bigotry and stereotyping toward low income ethnic minorities other than the fact it is commonly tolerated and engaged in by urbanites of all ethnic backgrounds.  The implied assumption seen in this bigotry is that rural working class whites are incapable of having opinions based on reason, and that we are irreparably deficient.  

There are plenty of issues in low income rural communities that drive me a up a wall and they ought to be talked about.  We ought to be talking about and stamping out racism where it exists, though it isn't anywhere as prevalent as some progressives hope it to be.  We ought to be talking about how women and children are treated in rural communities.  We ought to be talking about how corporate America is not the friend of the rural communities and nor are their cronies in the political classes, both Democrat and Republican.  In the rural community I grew up in, the arts and humanities are not very well supported and intellectual pursuits for some purpose other than getting a better paying job is considered an absurd idea.  This anti-intellectualism needs to be discussed and addressed. 

These problems won't be addressed in a productive fashion as long as the people who have control over policy and the financial resources continue remain closed off to what rural people are saying.  These issues need to be considered from the context of the people who are living with the social, economic and cultural situations found in rural communities.  Rural education won't be able to deal with its problems by applying urban solutions that come from looking at urban schools.  Rural social problems won't be corrected with solutions designed for urban places.  Rural people won't to listen to urban policy makers and urban pundits if those professionals are mocking rural culture and rural values.  Rural culture and rural values are, in many cases, the only thing keeping rural communities from completely disintegrating.  

If the people in the urban east and west really want to be "progressive" what they will do is set aside their assumptions and listen.  Stop assuming that we are a bunch of inbred morons who abduct paddling enthusiasts off of rivers for purposes of sodomy because our gap toothed sisters aren't putting out.  Come into the communities, open your eyes and ears. Then shut your mouth for a bit.  You might learn something.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm just a redneck but something doesn't seem to be adding up.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence released their 2011 score card.  Each state is given a score based on whether or not the state has a law on the books supported by the Brady campaign "researchers." If your state has more gun control laws supported by the Brady campaign on the books, you get a higher score.  They declare on their website that you can find out if your state has "strong gun laws to prevent gun violence."  So I figured I'd take a look.

My current state of residence, Massachusetts scored 65 out of a possible 100 on the Brady score card.  This is not surprising to me.   I had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get my license to carry concealed.  Neighboring states Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all scored 6 points out of a possible 100.  Also neighboring Massachusetts; Connecticut scored 58 and New York 62 out of 100.  The highest of all 50 states was California with 81.  If the theory that more gun control reduces violent gun crime is correct, we could come to the conclusion that the states with the highest scores from the Brady campaign would have the lowest violent crimes rates.  More gun laws = less violent crime right?  Read on, friends.

2011 crime statistics have not yet been finalized by the FBI so the 2010 rates will have to do.  This is from the FBI website and you can go look it up yourself if you like.  I'm looking at the 2010 violent crime rates per 100,000 residents.  That is based the total number of violent crimes, that's all violent crimes including those committed without firearms.  I chose to use that number because for all violent crimes, the tables weren't broken down as to whether a gun was used in the commission of the crime by state.

We'll start with those single digit Brady score card states:  VT: 130.2 / 100k,  ME: 122/ 100k,  NH 167/100k.  While I don't expect there to be a direct correlation between more laws and less violence, you ought to see a drop, if the Brady campaign is right.  Well, here's the smoking gun, if you'll excuse the expression.

Massachusetts had a violent crime rate of 466.6.  That is better than 3 times the crime rate in the neighboring states that had single digit scores from the Brady campaign.  Some might argue that the rural nature of NH, ME and VT allow for that lower crime rate and it isn't a fair apples to apples comparison.  Bullshit says I.  If the Brady campaign is going to say gun control = less gun crime then it doesn't matter where it is for that concept to apply.  If the real statement is gun control= less gun crime in urban areas, that's a different argument and it isn't the argument that the Brady's make.  Just to humor the argument a bit,  let us consider the states to the south of MA that have large cities.  Those would be Connecticut and New York.  Both states also have gun control on a level similar to Massachusetts.

Connecticut with a score of 58 on the Brady Campaign's score card has a rate almost half of MA with 281 violent crimes per 100k residents.  New York with a score of 62 from the Brady campaign has a violent crime rate of 392 per 100k.  With neighboring states that have large metropolitan areas with similar gun control measures like NY and CT and they still have a lower rate, clearly there is some other factor at work.

It is the factor that never gets discussed by the upper middle class people who are the bulk of the gun control advocates.  That factor is poverty stricken people who have no hope for the future.  If you figure your life is already shit and going to remain shit you've got nothing to loose by mugging a guy in a suit, knocking off a liquor store or killing the rival drug dealer down the street or the rival moonshiner the next holler over.  Even if you get caught selling crack, meth, moonshine etc.  or get convicted for murdering the competition, it's a good bet you're at least going to three squares and a place to sleep for the next 20 years and that's not as bad as sleeping on the floor with the rats and the roaches.

The state with the highest score in the Brady campaign's score this year, California, had a violent crime rate of 440 per 100k.   That's 26 per 100k less than Massachusetts.  Again, if the idea of more gun laws = less gun crime, we should see a considerable improvement in California.  26 per 100,000 is not a significant difference.

Looking through the data as a whole, if you compare score card scores to violent crime rates, they are all over the map.  I'm no statistics whiz, but generally if there is some correlation between two things, you don't get that kind of variation.  Several states scored low on the Brady score card and have a very low violent crime rate.  States like Alaska and Arizona with low Brady scores had high crime rates.  There weren't any states with high Brady scores that had crime rates below the national average. Maybe they would be worse if they had less gun control, I don't know.  It isn't a point I'm willing concede though because when you have such a variation in the data, how can you come to a conclusion that one correlates (or causes as the Brady campaign contends) when obviously the data shows that it doesn't?

Got me.   I'm just a redneck.  What do I know?