Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Open Letter to Arizona House Committee on Appropriations, RE: Proposed Amendment to SB1432

Dear Sir or Madam,

In response to Phoenix's so-called "Bathroom Bill", there is an attempt to make it a crime for a transgender person to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. This attempt, currently an amendment to SB1432, is nothing short of discriminatory, heterocentric, and counterproductive to it's claimed purpose of preserving "the public peace, health or safety."

The reasons that this or any similar legislation should never be passed have nothing to do with whether you agree with, or even believe in a person's choice to live their life according to their gender identity, instead of their assigned sex.

First, and foremost, the common refrain of those who support this amendment is that they are trying to avoid men dressed as women being in the same restroom as their wives and daughters. This is a vitriolic statement implying that all, or a large majority of trans-women are predators. It also incorrectly implies that people who are sexual predators only victimize those of the opposite gender. Neither statement has any basis in truth.

If the State is going to discriminate against transgender people based on our heterocentric view of their sexual preference, then it should mandate that gay men should not be allowed to be in the same restroom as our sons, and gay women should not be allowed in the same restrooms as our daughters. That however, will never happen, and rightfully (and hopefully) so.

There is no public safety concern over a transgender person using the restroom that matches their gender identity. However, there will be a serious public safety concern if this amendment becomes law, and they are forced to use the restroom of their assigned sex.

CeCe McDonald. Brandy Martell. Paige Clay. Coko Williams. Crissy Lee Polls. The list goes on and on. These transgender women, among others, were assaulted and/or murdered for being transgender. If the State is going to mandate that these women use the men's restroom, or vice-versa, it must do so knowing that it is sending these transgender persons into the face of danger. If the transgender women above were assaulted just for walking down the street, or being in a restaurant, how many more will be assaulted when they enter the men's restroom, when all outward appearances indicate that they are female, and it is discovered that they are transgender? How many transgender men will be assaulted when the same husbands and fathers see them walk into or out of the women's restroom?

This amendment is based solely on false and discriminatory beliefs, and is counter to its intended purpose of promoting public safety. This amendment, or anything like it, should never be passed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How Would I Vote: H.R. 141 "Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2013"

H.R. 141 - "Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2013" (Bill Summary)

Rationale: Gun sales by private unlicensed sellers at gun shows do not go through the standard background check, allowing restricted persons to obtain firearms.

My vote: As drafted, No.

This particular bill, I would not be against personally, if it was drafted better. The general premise behind this bill, however, is the erroneous belief that gun shows are filled with unlicensed vendors, who sell large quantities of guns to people, some of which may be restricted persons and unable to pass the standard background check. However, if you have been to a gun show before, you would know that the majority of the vendors at the show are in fact federally licensed dealers, who are required by law to do a background check on all sales.

There are, however, a small number of unlicensed private citizens who do peddle a small number of firearms at gun shows. I am personally not a fan of private person to person gun sales. Similar to selling or buying used cars, the reason for buying or selling in a private transaction versus going to a firearms dealer boils down to money. I can get more for the weapon I'm selling, or spend less on the weapon I'm buying, if I avoid the dealer. However, though I have sold a gun in a private transaction before, the risk of selling to a complete stranger without a background check isn't mitigated by saving or making a few extra dollars on the sale.

So, if there was a bill that would require the current background check to be performed on all gun sales, and all private transactions to be handled by a dealer transfer, I would be more inclined to support it.

This bill, however, does not to do that.

First, its definition of a "gun show" is flawed. For its definition, it states:

‘(36) Gun Show- The term ‘gun show’--
‘(A) means any event at which 50 or more firearms are offered or exhibited for sale, exchange, or transfer, if 1 or more of the firearms has been shipped or transported in, or otherwise affects, interstate or foreign commerce;
But later states:

‘(C) does not include an offer or exhibit of firearms for sale, exchange, or transfer at events--
‘(i) where not more than 100 firearms are offered or exhibited for sale, exchange or transfer;
The vast majority of firearms, if not all, can be considered to affect "interstate commerce". So this particular definition of a "gun show" is unnecessarily confusing. By my best understanding, it seems to define a gun show as any event where "50 or more firearms" are offered for sale. If less than 50 firearms are offered, it is not covered by this bill.

My next issue is the following, included in the definition of a "gun show":

‘(B) does not include an offer or exhibit of firearms for sale, exchange, or transfer by an individual from the personal collection of that individual, at the private residence of that individual, if the individual is not required to be licensed under section 923; and
This allows private transactions of firearms, as long as the firearms are being sold from the private residence of an unlicensed owner (Title 18, Section 923 is the US Code regarding federally licensed firearms dealers).

Also, under the (C) header above:

‘(ii) that are conducted by private, not-for-profit organizations whose primary purpose is owning and maintaining real property for the purpose of hunting activities; and
‘(iii) that are attended only by permanent or annual dues-paying members of the organizations, and the members of the immediate families of the dues-paying members.

So "good ol' boy" hunting clubs, and the like, are also exempted from this legislature.

Ultimately, this bill focuses on a very narrow subset of private transactions, the small amount of guns that are sold by unlicensed individuals at gun shows. It however, continues to allow private transactions at the owner's home, at private hunting clubs, or small events where less than 50 guns are offered for sale. In essence, though the bill may have good intentions, it is basically impotent, and any support it would get is largely based on an unfounded belief that there is a "gun show loophole."

If it were to be redrafted to require background checks or dealer transfers on all private transactions, I would be more inclined to go against the grain of the gun community and support it. However, this flawed bill mostly restates requirements and penalties of federally licensed firearm dealers, which are already covered under section 922, 923, 924, and 932 of US Code Title 18 regardless of the location or event at which the dealer is operating, with a weak prohibition on private sales at these shows.

How Would I Vote: H.R. 138 "Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act"

H.R. 138 - "Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act" (Bill Summary)

Rationale: Smaller magazine size reduces the amount of rounds fired, and the speed of which the rounds are fired, which should reduce the number of victims in a mass shooting situation, and allow the victims a greater chance to fight back.

My vote: No

First and foremost, "Large Capacity", "High Capacity", "Massive Amunition Magazines", or other similar terms, referring to a magazine with a capacity over 10, are misnomers. Read here for why these terms are used.

Senators Lautenberg and McCarthy claim that "the only reason to supersize a handgun to two or three times its original bullet capacity is because you want to kill a lot of people very quickly", when defending their bill to ban magazine capacity over 10. The number of rounds that a magazine holds is dependent on the size of the weapon, and the size of the individual cartridge. It has nothing to do with increasing the lethality of the weapon.

This bill's main flaw is that it focuses on mass shooting scenarios, which make up roughly 1% of the gun related deaths in the United States (FBI stats, with a mass shooting defined as an incident with more than 4 victims).  It is a broadly restrictive law that is intended to curb a tragic, but uncommon and extremely specific crime. On top of that, it will have negligible effect on its intended goal: reducing the deaths in mass shooting scenarios.

Primarily, it is flawed because it is not retroactive, there is no buyback of  "large capacity" magazines, allowing them to be grandfathered in if they were purchased before the act is enacted. Also, though it is often stated to the point of becoming cliche rhetoric, those who are intent on commuting mass shootings are not going to be too concerned with adding up to 5 years to their prison sentence. Those who are planning such a crime would have no qualms about using an illegal magazine.

Even if they were to make this restriction retroactive, it would still have negligible effect. With all the mass shooting events in recent memory, not only did the shooters have multiple guns, they also had multiple
magazines for each gun. In the Tucson shooting, while the shooter did have one 33-round extended magazine, he also had two standard 15-round magazines. In the Columbine shooting, the shooters had 13 10-round magazines. There is very little difference between 13 10-round magazines, 10 13-round magazines, or 4 33-round magazines. The time to change out one magazine for another is measures in tenths of seconds, especially if retention of the empty magazines is not an issue.

In fact, the 33-round extended magazines are generally unreliable, causing jams and other feeding problems. Some reports from the Tucson shooting indicate that his gun jammed while trying to feed rounds from the extended magazine, and that jam is what slowed down his shooting enough for people to fight back.

This law does not include law enforcement or military organizations, so it will have no effect on them. This law will be ignored by criminals, or will otherwise have no effect as stated above. For those who shoot for sport, this law will have minimal effects, annoyances more than anything.

However, this law will have a drastic effect on one particular group: those who carry in self defense. The majority of those who carry for self defense purposes carry only their gun, without additional magazines. In a self defense situation, they are limited to the number of rounds currently in their gun. While it is always a good idea to carry at least one spare magazine, styles of clothing, intended destination, and the stigma against guns often prevent them from being varied.

In the recent story of the mother who protected her twins against an armed intruder, she fired 6 shots, 5 of which hit the intruder, and he still survived. If there had been two or more intruders, the 6 rounds in her revolver may not have been enough. In a situation where you may not be able to carry a spare magazine, the 7 round maximum enacted in New York or the 10 round maximum being proposed nationwide may not be enough to protect you and your loved ones.

What's in a name?

I'm sure it's getting as tiring to hear it as it is to say it, but those who look to protect gun rights are often caught refuting terms such as "assault weapon", "high capacity magazine", "automatic rifle", etc. Why is there this adamant need to correct someone when these terms are used?

As I have said previously, an assault rifle is an accurate term, referring to a military fully automatic or selective fire rifle. Assault rifles, or "automatic rifles" which were built after 1985 are already banned for civilian ownership. Assault rifles built before 1985 require extensive paperwork and fees, and that's even before you pay the exorbitant cost of one of these weapons, which easily go into the tens of thousands of dollars.

However, there is no such thing as an "assault weapon." It is a term crafted by legislators that refers to a "military style" weapon who's only resemblance to an assault rifle is outward appearance. But the key to referring to it as an "assault weapon" instead of the more accurate "semi automatic rifle", is that the former sounds more menacing. Reminiscent of an Eddie Izzard routine about the Death Star, where when asked what the Death Star did, Vader replied "it does death!", one would naturally assume that an "assault weapon" lives up to it's name, and is used to assault. Not in the military sense of the term, but in the civilian sense. It implies that the only purpose of these rifles is for assaulting or killing another person.

The same goes for "high capacity", "large capacity" magazines, or my recent favorite, uttered by President Obama during his State of the Union address, "massive ammunition magazines." These terms are used to describe any magazine which holds over 10 rounds. The term is unfortunately misguided, as a large majority of semi-automatic weapons come standard with magazines that hold over 10 rounds. The Glock 23, considered a compact sized gun, holds 13 rounds in the standard magazine. The full size version, the Glock 22, which is probably the most common side arm of police forces across the country, comes standard with a 15 round magazine. The Glock 17, which is a close second behind the 22, has a standard 17 round magazine, due to the smaller size of the 9mm round.

13, 15, and 17 round magazines are standard. But by referring to them as "large" or "high capacity", it gives the impression that these magazines somehow hold more rounds than normal, and are intentionally oversized to increase lethality.

This is the reason that we get up in arms (pun not intended) over these oft used misnomers. A semi-automatic rifle with a standard magazine does not sound as ominous as an "assault rifle" with a"high capacity magazine." When attempting to create legislature against these rifles, it is easier to gain the public support if you can make them sound more ominous and scary than they actually are.

And never the twain shall meet?

Oil and water. Toothpaste and orange juice. Me and clowns. Some things in life just don't mix. Common knowledge seems to think that Science and Religion should be added to that list. But are they really mutually exclusive? Is there no way to reconcile a belief in both?

For those religious types who are of the "tide goes in, tide goes out" variety, bereft of critical thinking skills, then the answer is no. Their complete refusal to acknowledge the truths of science is not only idiotic and a little bit scary, but ironically, makes impotent that very concept of God that they so blindly cling to.

"If that’s how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on." - Neil deGrasse Tyson

But the religious camp is not the only one preventing a merger of scientific and religious belief. Spend any time on the /r/atheism subreddit, and you'll be inundated with the extremists from the other side of the spectrum. Their opinion is nothing short of "Religion is stupid, because Science", mocking others who hold religious beliefs, not realizing that they are exhibiting the same lack of critical thinking, and are simply parroting rhetoric.

Neither extremist point of view progresses any sort of common dialog between the two, as is the case with most controversial debates. So if the only players in this game are the two extremist groups, then the answer to my original question is a resounding "no".

Both sides are equally impeding the progress of science. Religious extremists who deny the truth of science, are denying themselves knowledge of the universe. Often, this denial is passed down to their children, preventing generations of people from exploring and expanding the world of science. However, the extremist atheists, who contend that the belief in God is antithetical to the world of Science, force any religiously devout individual to shy away from Science, perpetuating the issue just the same.

Personally, I believe in both. The universe in all its glory, and the laws of science that are intertwined throughout all of it, are a glory to behold. But it is all meaningless unless there is some higher power, some reason for all of it. Extremist atheists, defining everything in the equations of science, drain all the beauty out of the universe.

You can describe in detail behind why sunsets are colorful, but  you can't describe why they're beautiful. You can describe the creation of the S106 "Snow Angel" nebula, but you can't describe why it's a majestic sight to behold.

And even if you could, I wouldn't want to know, because in describing it, you take away the beauty of it. You take away the human experience.

The theoretical physicist Michio Kaku spoke of a shirt at MIT, which explains my personal view the best. The shirt, a version of which is seen here, makes reference to Genesis 1:3:

"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light."
However, instead of "Let there be light", it has lists the integral forms of Maxwell's equations, which deal with electromagnetism and the creation and motion of light.

I believe in science, I believe in God. My God is not a God of the gaps. My God is not an "ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance." My God is the creator of the universe, a God of order, a God of laws. Science is not the proof that He does not exist, Science is our still growing understanding of His powers.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A test

As an addendum to my previous blog about gun control legislature, I have decided to create this little test. Don't worry, it's not hard. But if you're in the camp of gun control, it might be interesting.

- - - -

Congratulations! You are chosen to draft the new Assault Weapons Ban of 2013! You can ban anything you want, with the exception of weapons used for hunting, and those for sporting/recreational purposes. Lets begin!

Which of these three guns would you ban?

If it helps you out any, all three are manufactured by Colt, hold 20-30 rounds in a detachable magazine, and shoot a projectile just under 1/4" in diameter.

Did you choose all of them? Consider this:

The top one is what is commonly incorrectly referred to as an "assault weapon". It is a semi-automatic only AR-15, chambered in .223 Remington (interchangeably 5.56 NATO). It is not a military weapon. It is not an assault rifle. One trigger pull fires one round, and it is commonly used for recreational shooting, or less commonly, for home defense.

The second one is usually referred to as an AR-22. It is similar to the AR platform, but instead fires the much weaker .22LR round, which is usually only used for small game. It is also semi-automatic only. It is also used for recreational shooting, but is wholly ineffective for home defense.

The last one is an M4A1. This is the military assault rifle. It is chambered in 5.56 NATO, and is capable of either semi-automatic or fully automatic fire. An automatic rifle will fire as long as the trigger is pressed, either until the trigger is released or the magazine is empty. The average civilian cannot own this weapon.

All three were banned under the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (AWB); the first two, only because they looked like the third, and shared a few minor attributes (namely, the telescoping stock).

As a side note, it is commonly believed that the "AR" prefix to the model name stands for Assault Rifle. It does not. "AR" refers to Armalite, the company which first developed the AR platform, and sold it to Colt, where it was renamed the M4/M16 for military use.

"Assault Rifle" is actually a translation of the WW2 German MP44 or StG44, the Machinenpistole or Sturmgewehr, designed in 1944. "Sturmgewehr" translates literally into "Storm Rifle". This refers to "storming" a fortification, so it is more accurately "Attack Rifle" or "Assault Rifle." Because of it's origins, an "assault rifle" is only a fully automatic military weapon. Again, these are not available at your local gun store or gun show, nor are they available for average civilian ownership.

So if anybody on my side of the fence says that there is no such thing as an "assault weapon", they are correct. But if they say there is no such thing as an "assault rifle", correct and impress them with your new found knowledge!

Back to the test, here's your second question. Remembering the requirement that you cannot ban a gun used for hunting, which of these would you ban?

Did you choose to ban the bottom one? You would be wrong.

The top one is the Ruger Mini-14. It is modeled after the Springfield M14, which is a military weapon. It is a semi-automatic rifle, chambered in .223 Rem, a round which is illegal for hunting use in most states, due to its underpowered performance. Besides the underpowered round, the Mini-14 is notoriously inaccurate, and is not a hunting rifle.

The second one is the Savage 14. It is chambered in .308 Winchester, a common hunting round, and holds 4 rounds in a detachable box magazine. It is a hunting rifle.

The bottom one is the Remington R-25. It is also a semi-automatic rifle, but is chambered in .308 Win. It holds 5 rounds in a detachable box magazine. It is a hunting rifle, and was designed specifically with that purpose in mind.

On to shotguns. Which of the following would you ban?

The bottom one? Trick question. They're both the same gun, a Remington 870. The top is stock, with a 26" barrel, the bottom one with a legal 18.5" barrel. The only real difference between the two is looks: the bottom one has a ton of accessories, lights, sights, and the collapsible stock. As far as their destructive abilities, they are both the same. Despite that, the bottom one was banned under the AWB.

- - - -

So much emphasis is placed on these irrelevant attributes, inspiring and growing fear in these weapons. The "assault weapons" have even become to be affectionately known as EBRs, "Evil Black Rifles", because they were vilified for their black color, and numerous irrelevant features.

Even banning high capacity magazines has no real merit. Anybody who has practiced with their handgun, which all responsible owners should, can change the magazine in a gun in a matter of one or two seconds. Having a 30 round magazine has no more destructive value than 3 10 round magazines.

Much of what was included in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was visual and irrelevant. Things such as telescoping stocks and barrel shrouds offer no destructive value to the weapon, and are only visual. They were only added because they looked "scary".

An open letter to gun control advocates

Dear Sir/Madam,

I'm sure you're already wondering why you are even bothering to read this. I am pro-gun, so you're already preparing for what I'm about to say, if not tuning me out already. In just a few more sentences, I will start with the "cold dead hands", "molon labe", "if guns kill people, then spoons made Rosie O'Donnell fat", "guns don't kill people, people kill people", etc. Well, no sense beating around the bush.

Do you want to call your Congressman and tell them they need to push through gun control legislation? Do you favor the reinstatement of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban? Let me tell you what I think about that.

Good for you. No, seriously, good for you. You're standing up for what you believe in, and that's great. That's how democracy works. So if you believe in something, you should push for it. Granted, I don't agree with you, but that's irrelevant. The last time I checked, this isn't the United States of Me (thankfully too, I might add, because if it were, the circus clown internment camps alone would be a logistical nightmare). So if you believe in something, act on it.

But, I do have one small request. Make sure you know what you're talking about first. Ask yourself this question. When defending your viewpoint on why we need gun control, have you used any of the following terms or phrases: assault weapon, automatic rifle, extended clips, or sniper rifle? When talking about the Second Amendment, have you used the words "sporting", "hunting", or "muskets"? Have you referred to concealed carry permits as "licenses to kill"? If so, you may not be as well informed as you would like to believe.

If you wish to know why the above terms and phrases are incorrect, I would be more than happy to tell you. Otherwise, you'll be left looking like Carolyn McCarthy, that couldn't even explain what the items were in the legislation she crafted.

Truth be told, much of what was included in the previous Assault Weapons Ban was purely visual. They were things that made the guns "look" scary, their actual function was irrelevant. A barrel shroud makes a shotgun no more dangerous or efficient at killing than a regular shotgun. That's actually the definition of an "assault weapon", a weapon that bears only a visual resemblance to a military weapon, even though functionally they are nothing more than a semi-automatic weapon (which is the correct term). Judging things based only on how they looked has never backfired on us in the past, right?

Right now, we live in a world where misinformation spreads as fast, or faster, than truth. Whereas before, in order be published, one had to be somewhat knowledgeable on the subject, today anybody with an opinion, no matter how unfounded, has a voice. On top of that, we have an administration that devalues the Constitution. We have in our top offices a man who has in the past said that we need to "brainwash" people against guns. Now, more than ever before, it is important to make your decisions based on truth that you have researched yourself, instead of allowing others, especially the media, to riddle you with fear inducing catch phrases.

If you want to ban "assault weapons", or if handguns in general; if you want to remove the Second Amendment from the Constitution, then work toward that. But please, make sure you know what you're talking about.