The Federal Courts Review Concealed-Carry And The NRA Ain’t Pleased.

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In a surprising event, the NRA actually lost a major legal argument in a Federal court, and America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ predictably responded by calling the decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (U.S. v. Robinson) “the most anti-gun ruling from any court of the modern era.” Which only goes to show how rarely the NRA loses a big one in court. But forgetting for a moment the NRA’s attempt to engage in a bit of Trump-like hyperbole about this new threat to all law-abiding gun owners, the decision does put something of a crimp in Gun-nut Nation’s plan to realize their most cherished ambition, namely, the extension of unquestioned concealed-carry to all 50 states.

ccw            The NRA has been pushing the idea of letting everyone wander around the entire country with a gun in their pockets ever since then-Senator Larry Craig took some time away from his public toilet stall and sponsored a national, reciprocal concealed-carry law back in the Clinton years. Since then, Gun-nut Nation has built up a small but solid phalanx of academics and commercial hucksters who will tell you that walking around with a gun in your pocket is a good thing.

Here’s how it works today and here’s how Gun-nut Nation wants it to work. Licensing for gun ownership is and has always been a state-by-state affair.  Ditto carrying a gun.  Some states make it easier, some make it a little more difficult, but the bottom line is that a gun license isn’t like a driver’s license because no matter where you drive, basically the rules of the road are the same.  In the case of guns, however, the rules covering concealed-carry (CCW) are different in every state.  Which means that if you want to cross a state line with a concealed weapon, you have to make sure that you are meeting the different CCW laws for each state through which you travel, which means you might as well leave the gun home.

Every time a new Congress gets to work, one of the Congressional toadies for Gun-nut Nation introduces a bill to establish national CCW, and every time such a bill is introduced it gets ignored.  But this time may be different because now we have a champion of CCW in the White House and he owes the NRA big-time.  So Gun-nut Nation thought that maybe this time their ship was finally coming home.

The case began when a resident of West Virginia was frisked and an illegal gun was discovered on his person after the cops got a tip that the individual in question (Robinson) was armed.  In this instance the cops were operating under long-established rules which allow for a limited search if the officers believe that the suspect might be ‘armed and dangerous’ even if an arrest has not yet occurred.  Robinson challenged the search, claiming that West Virginia law allowed him to carry a gun.  Possessing a gun may have made him ‘armed,’ but it didn’t necessarily make him ‘dangerous.’  A local judge agreed, but the 4th Circuit tossed Robinson’s argument out.

What the 4th Circuit basically said was that it was reasonable for the cops to assume that someone walking around with a gun, even someone walking around with a legal gun on his person should not only be considered armed, but might be dangerous as well.  And he would be dangerous, as far as the cops would be concerned, simply because he was carrying a gun.

Do you realize what this argument does to Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished dream?  It stands that dream on its head.  Because what the NRA and all their syncophantic CCW-advocates have been saying is that walking around with a gun makes everyone safe and constitutes no threat or danger to law-abiding citizens at all. But the 4th Circuit came down on the side of cops who need to be protected against ‘unnecessary risk.’  And believe it or not, walking around with a gun increases risk.

Do We Need The ATF? Not If A Wisconsin Lawmaker Has His Way.

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Ever since November 8th, the gun violence prevention (GVP) community has been waiting with bated breath to see how Trump will reward the NRA for helping him get to where he sits today.  And Trump made no secret of the fact that he was strongly in favor of gun ‘rights’ even going so far as to say that the massacre in the Pulse nightclub could have been stopped if someone in the house that night had been armed with a gun.  He had to pull back when the NRA made it clear they didn’t think people should be armed when walking into establishments that served alcohol, but this was nothing more than a minor flap – kissed and made up so that Trump could remind every rally that the 2nd Amendment was here to stay.

atf              In that respect, the GVP folks have been buzzing the last couple of days having discovered that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has filed a bill that would, if enacted by Congress and then signed by der Fuehrer, abolish the ATF. And when I say abolish, I mean getting rid of the entire agency, lock, stock and barrel, and transfer all of its functions, its personnel and its property to the FBI.  The bill, which has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee on which Sensenbrenner happens to sit, is entitled “The ATF Elimination Act,” which basically sums it up.

Incidentally, the bill does state that all ATF staff will continue at their current grade and salary for a period of no less than one year. That’s not a bad severance deal, come to think of it, particularly when the new wind blowing in Washington keeps whistling something about the federal government being way too big. But if there’s one thing that Gun-nut Nation has always said, it’s that they don’t need government gun regulations hanging over their heads.  And if you get rid of the regulators….

Not to say that the FBI couldn’t do what the ATF currently does. In fact, the FBI already plays a major role in regulating gun ownership because they run the phone bank in West Virginia which handles all those background checks known as FBI-NICS. The form that is used to conduct the check is designed by the ATF, and it is the ATF which comes into gun shops and inspects those forms in order to make sure that the dealer is following the relevant regulations every time a gun is sold. But the background check itself is done by the FBI.  And despite what the ATF likes to say about how its important law enforcement functions keep us all secure and safe, the truth is that beyond occasionally going after someone whose background check was rejected because they didn’t tell the truth, there’s not a hell of a lot the agency does beyond that.

Oh, they’ll tell you that they don’t have enough budget, they can’t go  beyond tracing the initial gun sale (which is simply not true) and every time they get a new Director he quits after a year, but if you think that just because a conservative, Trump supporter like  Sensenbrenner is giving the ATF a shove as a way of helping the 45th President square things with the NRA, think again.

Back in May, 2015, the leading liberal think-tank, the Center for American Progress, issued a detailed report which argued that ATF should be moved to the FBI. And the reasons cited for this proposal basically boiled down to the fact that among federal law enforcement agencies, the ATF has always been a weak sister when compared to the power and visibility of the FBI and the DEA. But no matter where ATF ends up, the real question is whether gun ownership should be regulated or not. And on that issue, the two sides don’t agree.

 

Jeff Sessions May Believe That Longer Sentences Curb Gun Violence But He’s Wrong.

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The moment that the 45th President nominated Jeff Sessions to be the People’s Lawyer, everyone on both sides of the gun debate began to shout out. The NRA posted television ads saying that “our nation’s chief law enforcement officer will work tirelessly to defend our rights while protecting us from violent criminals.”  As to the former, Sessions was an outspoken champion of the 2005 PLCAA federal law immunizing gun makers from tort suits; regarding the latter, he is known to be ‘tough on crime,’ in particular violent crimes caused by a gun.

sessions             Sessions is one of a number of public officials who has been fervently impressed by a gun-control initiative in Richmond, VA known as Project Exile, which mandated lengthy federal prison time for anyone convicted of a gun crime in a city whose gun violence rates in the early 1990s ranked it as one of the most violent urban centers in the entire United States. In 1997, when the program first began, Richmond experienced 140 homicides, or an annual rate of 73!  In 1998 homicides dropped by 36%, and continued to dwindle down over the next few years.

The good news is that by 2005, homicides in Richmond dropped to 84, then to 76 in 2006 and to 31 in 2008.  From 1997 until 2010, more than 1,300 people were convicted of gun crimes and received prison sentences which totaled more than 8,000 years, for an average prison stay of more than 6 years per crime.  No wonder Tough Guy Trump has praised Project Exile, but in all fairness the program was strongly supported by a Richmond City Councillor named Tim Kaine.  The program was also supported by folks in the GVP community, including the Brady Campaign, then known as Handgun Control, Inc.

There were also some dissenting voices, most notably from various Gun-nut groups like saveourguns.com, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and, of course, Larry Pratt.  And lost in the rhetoric were complaints from federal judges who heard these cases and claimed they were an ‘overreach’ of federal authority, along with the charge that the program was inherently racist and led to over-incarceration of black defendants who always end up as the chief victims of any over-zealous response to crime.

Like most special law-enforcement initiatives that cost extra dough, Project Exile petered out in the mid-2000s after funding was cut by Congressional Republicans in 2003.  But meanwhile, homicides in Richmond remained well below levels recorded before Project Exile went into effect in 1997-98.  That is to say, until this past year.  In 2016, the final murder number may end up at 60, the highest since 2007, and this would bring the annual murder rate back up to 30, which puts the former capital of the Confederacy back in the high end of gun-violence cities big time.

Nobody really knows for sure how come gun killings in Richmond have suddenly spiked last year, just as nobody really knows how come they dropped so significantly twenty years ago.

Back in 2002 several noted public policy and gun researchers, Steve Raphael and Jens Ludwig, published an assessment of Project Exile for Brookings, and decided that the “reduction in Richmond’s gun homicide rates surrounding the implementation of Project Exile was not unusual and that almost all of the observed decrease probably would have occurred even in the absence of the program.”  Why did Raphael and Ludwig come to this conclusion? Because the same drop in violent crime occurred at roughly the same time in many cities which didn’t have any special anti-violence programs running at all.

Trying to figure out why America experienced a 50% decline in violent crime from the mid-90s until the mid-years of the following decade has become an academic cottage industry, without any real consensus as to the cause. Senator Sessions may believe that getting ‘tough’ is an effective to what has now become a new upwards spike in gun violence, but it won’t work until and unless we figure out why sometimes violent crime goes up and other times goes down.  The solution hasn’t yet been found.

Hunting Deer In Pennsylvania? Don’t Bring A Modern Sporting Rifle.’

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At the end of this month the Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold their first quarterly meeting of 2017, and the agenda will include approval of new changes in hunting regulations which go into effect.  Hunting is a big deal in Pennsylvania; only one state (Wisconsin) issues more resident hunting licenses, and the only state which derives more licensing revenue is Colorado because buying a license to hunt elk ain’t cheap. So when the Game Commission sits down to revise hunting regulations, the changes will affect a lot of Pennsylvania hunters this year.

hunting             Yet despite these impressive numbers, the truth is that hunters in Pennsylvania, like everywhere else, are a vanishing breed.  Since the early 1980’s, the Pennsylvania deer-hunting population has dropped by more than 25%, and in a 2004 survey, more than one-third of all Keystone State hunters said that declining health and increasing age would keep them from engaging in the sport any more.

So what do you do if you’re an industry that depends, in part, on hunters to buy your products and those particular consumers tell you that they no longer want or need the products you sell? You come up with a new type of product, sell it to a new group of consumers and let them decide how best it can be used.  Voila! – the modern sporting rifle, a marketing slogan of the gun industry whose nomenclature bears absolutely no resemblance to even the remotest definition of the word ‘truth.’  But now that we have a President who also seems unable to discern the difference between the words ‘true’ and ‘false,’ what difference does that make?  Well, in the case of the Pennsylvania Game Commission it seems to make a big difference, at least when it comes to the 2017 version of their hunting regs.

What the Commission is proposing is a rule change which will define the capacity of any rifle that can be used to hunt big game, which in Pennsylvania basically means the ol’ white-tail deer.  Pennsylvania contains some of the most rural (and beautiful) uninhabited landscapes in the eastern half of the Lower 48, and the deer abound, even if the number of hunters keeps dwindling down.  And what the new regs say is that if you want to go into the woods to take a pot-shot at Bambi, your rifle cannot have a ‘total aggregated capacity’ (breech and magazine) of more than five rounds.  Which means that you can’t go hunting with an AR-style rifle and only put 5 rounds in the mag. It means you can’t take an AR-style rifle (that’s an assault rifle, by the way) into the woods to go hunting at all.  Period.

Try as they might, the geniuses in the gun marketing community have obviously not convinced the Pennsylvania Game Commission that an AR-style rifle is no different in form or function than the old, semi-automatic Remington or Winchester hunting rifles that have basically stopped selling because the kind of people who used to buy them are either too dead or too old.  The industry has been lying about ‘modern sporting rifles’ ever since Chuckie Schumer and Di Feinstein first started going after assault rifles in 1994. And the NSSF has convinced a lot of people who should know better that any rifle that can’t fire all its ammunition with one squeeze of the trigger is just another type of sporting gun which can and should be used for any kind of shooting at all.

The military rifle – M4 – that our troops use in battle theaters does, in fact, allow its user to pull the trigger once and shoot a three-round burst.  But the gun can also be set to fire one round at a time, just like any other semi-automatic rifle.  So when a soldier decides that the tactical situation calls for using his rifle in semi-auto mode, does this mean he’s going into battle with a ‘sporting’ gun?  At least the Pennsylvania Game Commission seems to understand the difference.

 

When It Comes To Guns, The ‘Truth’ Will Really Set You Free.

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Now that the 45th President has started dismantling the Affordable Care Act, I feel it incumbent upon myself to remind all my gun-nut friends that they might now be facing a serious, indeed highly-threatening assault on their 2nd Amendment ‘rights.’  What?  The 45th President taking away all the guns?  Wasn’t that what the 44th President tried to do?  Isn’t the 45th President the best friend that gun nuts ever had?  Oh…my…God.

wayne              The reason that Gun-nut Nation better figure out how to deal with this problem is because the ACA actually contains a provision which, believe it or not, protects gun owners who refuse to tell a physician whether or not there’s a gun lying around the house. But this section of the ACA is always conveniently overlooked when the Gun-nut noise machine pushed out its usual quotient of fake news about doctors and guns.  Here’s a comment from the NRA Blog: “The reality is, I should be able to receive medical care without being subject to a politically motivated inquisition regarding a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution.” The comment is found in a post entitled, “Should a doctor be allowed to ask if you own a gun?”

But what happens if the ACA is scrapped and isn’t immediately replaced with some other health-insurance law?  It means that the poor, defenseless gun owner won’t have the 45th President around to protect him, and this means that the doctor can not only ask whether the poor guy owns guns, but can immediately report gun ownership to the cops.  Think I’m being a little bit over the top?  Think again.

Recall that after Sandy Hook, the 44th President issued a series of Executive Orders covering guns.  Basically Obama’s action had one result, namely gun sales shot up and remained at historically-high levels until a few weeks before the 45th President was sworn in. But if you had listened to the noisemakers who pander to the Obama-burnished craziness of the NRA, you would have thought that Obama was planning to call out those ‘jack-booted government thugs’ (as Wayne LaPierre once characterized the ATF) to invade every gun-loving American home, grab all the hardware and cart it away. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, but since the 45th President is now blatantly lying to the Congressional leadership about how many votes he did or didn’t receive, who cares about the truth?

Actually, there is a professional group out there which does try to base its behavior on information that is evidence-based, and that group happens to be physicians, who know a lethal product when they see one.  And the reason they know that guns are lethal is because physicians have to repair 85,000-thousand or so bullet wounds each year, and also have to pronounce some 30,000+ whose bullet wounds can’t be repaired.

There is simply no other consumer product lying around an American home which is as lethal as a gun. Which is why physicians have been advocating that guns shouldn’t be in the home.  By the way, they also advocate that other lethal things, like cigarettes and pills that aren’t in bottles with child-proof caps, also shouldn’t be in the home. But somehow guns are different because many Americans have come to believe that it’s a gun’s lethality which makes it such a valuable item to own.  After all, what if Mister Bad Guy comes crashing through the back door?  What better way to protect yourself and your loved ones than with a gun?

There’s only one little problem. All the talk about how armed citizens constitute a necessary line of defense against violence and crime is just talk.  Even the NRA can’t seem to produce more than 8 or 9 instances each month in which an armed citizen made the difference protecting anyone from crime.  But let’s not forget that we’re no longer in a time when the truth counts for anything at all.  And that’s the reason that the NRA worked so hard to help elect Donald Trump.

The Army Buys A New Pistol But It’s The Ammunition That Counts.

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It’s official!  After a year’s worth of testing at their Picatinny Arsenal, the U.S. Army has announced that after a forty-year run, they are retiring their current service pistol, the Beretta M9, and replacing it with the Sig P320, a polymer-framed gun featuring interchangeable backstraps to more snugly fit different-sized hands.  The pistol has been on the civilian and cop market for a few years, like every Sig it’s a nice-looking gun and there haven’t been any complaints about reliability or holding up under normal wear and tear.

sig320             The deal could be worth upwards of $580 million to Sig over the next ten years, assuming that various military units purchase 500,000 guns during that period of time. While this works out to $1,100 a pop, don’t think for one second that Sig is laughing all the way to the bank. Because in addition to the gun itself, Sig also has to supply holsters, cleaning rods, modular backstraps, multiple barrels, suppressors and ammunition, all of which will probably eat up half of the total cost that the military services will pay for each gun.  On the other hand, when the military decides to outfit its troops with a new weapon, the civilian version of said product usually sells very well, as does the gun when it is offered to consumers and tax-exempt agencies overseas.

Why did the U.S. military decide to outfit its troops with a new gun?  The actual design and functioning of the weapon was a secondary consideration, the real issue which has stayed in the background of all the chatter about this deal, has to do with the ammunition that the gun will use.  Because if you look at the official RFP that the Army published to define the testing for the gun, any manufacturer who wanted to submit a test weapon also had to submit the ammunition that would be used in the test, the gun  has to accommodate standard military ammunition known as ‘ball’ ammo, as well as something else called ‘special purpose’ ammunition, which must meet functionality and reliability standards as well.

The Army has been using ball pistol ammo since it first adopted the 45-caliber Colt pistol prior to World War I.  When the Colt was replaced with the 9-millemeter Beretta in 1977, ball ammunition continued to be used.  This ammunition is a conical-shaped bullet which is completely solid and hence, tends to easily slide up the loading ramp which moves the cartridge from the magazine into the barrel of the gun. It turns out that ‘special purpose’ ammunition is a bureaucratic euphemism for ammunition with a hollow point, which means the round expands on impact and makes a much wider and deeper hole. Problem is that such ammunition, although more lethal than ball ammo, also requires a slightly different angle for the feed ramp so that even without a solid tip, the bullet will slide right up the ramp and away we go.

The Beretta 9mm pistol was engineered only for ball ammunition because that’s what the military decided to use when they began buying that gun. The decision to stick with ball ammo has now evidently gone by the board.  But wait a minute – isn’t there something called the Geneva Convention which prohibits the use of hollow-point ammunition precisely because it’s considered too lethal and destructive even by troops at war? These treaties cover such things as the treatment of POWs, outlawing chemical weapons and hollow-point ammunition, among other things.  But guess which country never actually signed those treaties, which means that this same country isn’t bound by any rules about using hollow-point ammo, in case you didn’t know.

The reason the United States follows some aspects of the Geneva accords is because, for example, if we mistreat POWs of another country, then that country will no doubt mistreat American POWs as well.  But pistol ammunition?  Who cares, particularly when we’ll use that ammo to, as Mister 45 said today, “eradicate Radical Islamic Terrorism completely from the face of the Earth.”

Want To Protect Yourself From A Bear? Betsy DeVos Tells You How.

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You knew it was going to happen.  Sooner or later one of Trump’s Cabinet nominees was going to say something so crazy and stupid during a confirmation hearing that the comment would end up becoming the most-used line by every comic and satire show on tv.  And right now that honor belongs to Betsy DeVos, whose loony, right-wing views on just about everything no doubt qualify her to advise the 45th President on the educational needs of America’s 50 million school-age kids.

grizzly             But what I didn’t know about Betsy is that her expertise also evidently extends to wildlife and guns.  Because at some point during her confirmation hearing, she told the Senate committee that using guns to protect teachers and kids in schools should be a local decision, and to prove why this was necessary she mentioned a Wyoming elementary school that had been menaced by a grizzly bear so they probably had a gun. In fact, there is no gun in that school, nor are guns allowed in any Wyoming public schools.

Turns out that the particularly grammar school in question is circled with a big fence because it happens to be located on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, home to more than 700 brown bears. So I’ll give Betsy the benefit of the doubt and simply put her answer down to the possibility that like the guy who nominated her for a Cabinet position, she probably doesn’t know the difference between what’s true and what’s false.

But as soon as she shot her mouth off, the liberal watchdogs in the media took issue with the idea that an effective response to a threatened grizzly attack would be to use a gun.   The Washington Post trotted out a wildlife expert, Tom Smith, who using a bear spray was preferable to using a gun; he told PolitiFact that good bear sprays were available on Amazon for $40 or less.

Since I’m a gun guy, I always find it interesting when someone says there’s a better way to protect yourself against anything and everything than using a gun.  So I went to Amazon and checked out one of their bear sprays called Counter Assault, which claims on its website that its products have been tested by an outfit called the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) at its Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center located right outside Yellowstone National Park.

There’s only one little problem.  The test involves seeing if a real bear can get into a storage barrel or other device used to protect out-of-door food, garbage or some other item that might attract bears.  They aren’t testing sprays.  And if you have to figure out what would happen if you test-sprayed a bear and the test failed, that’s all the proof you need to be considered dumb enough to serve in the Cabinet of the President-elect.

Couple of years ago a guy came into my gun shop, told me he was going to hike in the Rockies, and wanted to buy a small, high-powered handgun to carry in case he was attacked by a bear.  Just at that moment a car drove past the shop, I pointed at it and asked the guy if he could hit that car with a gun.

“Are you crazy?” he said, “I wouldn’t even come close.”

“The speed limit in town is 35 mph,” I answered, “which is about a grizzly’s top speed.”

He didn’t buy the gun and neither should any school system that thinks the kids need to be protected against animal or human threats.  I don’t have any grizzlies where I live but we do have some pretty big black bears.  And the last time one of them came on my property he had a good time gobbling up the half pizza that we had dumped in the trash. Then Smokey went across the road and had another good time eating the bird seed that my neighbor had set out in his yard.  We had a much better time watching that bear than we will have watching Trump take the oath.

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