Oct 27

On the Squirrel Hill shooting

To my Jewish friends and followers:

I’m grieving with you today. I know the neighborhood where Tree of Life synagogue sits – it’s a quiet, well-off, slightly Bohemian ‘burb with a lot of techies living in it.

I’m not Jewish myself, but I figured out a long time ago that any society which abuses its Jews – or tolerates abuse of them – is in the process of flushing itself down the crapper. The Jews are almost always the first targets of the enemies of civilization, but never the last.

But I’m not posting to reply only with words.

Any Jew who can get close enough to me in realspace for it to be practical and asks can have from me free instruction in basic self-defense with firearms and anti-active-shooter tactics. May no incident like this ever occur again – but if it does, I would be very proud if one of my students took down the evildoer before it reached bloodbath stage.

Jun 18

The critical fraction

I’ve seen analyses of the long odds the U.S. government would face if it ever attempted to confiscate civilian firearms before. The Mathematics of Countering Tyranny seems like a particularly well done example.

The authors compute that under very generous assumptions there are about 83000 door-knockers available to perform confiscation raids. Dividing that into the estimated number of semiautomatic rifles in the U.S. and assuming that each raid would net three rifles confiscated (which I think is optimistic in the raiders’ favor) each doorknocker would have to execute and survive 864 raids in order for the entire stock of rifles to be seized.

Notice that we’re not even addressing the far larger stock of handguns and other weapons yet. But I’m willing to tilt the conditions of the argument in the confiscators’ favor, because that makes the conclusion more difficult for them to rebut.

There’s a different way to slice these numbers. Applying the 3:1 force ratio military planners like to assume, this means the number of violently resistant gun owners – people willing to shoot a doorknocker rather than watch their country sink into tyranny – needs to be about 249000.

Is this a plausible number?

The NRA has about 5.2 million members. That’s about 1 in 20 NRA members.

According to the General Social Survey in 2013, about 1 in 4 Americans owned guns. That’s 79 million gun owners, and probably an undercount because gun owners are chronically suspicious of the intention behind such questions. But we’ll go with it as an assumption that’s best-case for the doorknockers.

That means that in order to stop attempted gun confiscations dead on a purely force-on-force level, only one in 317 American gun owners needs to remember that our first American Revolution began as spontaneous popular resistance to a gun-confiscation order. Only one in 317 American gun owners need to remember their duty under the U.S. Constitution as members of the unorganized militia – “the body of the people in arms”. Only one in 317 American gun owners need to shoot back.

Is that a plausible fraction? Yes. Yes, I think it is. Count me as one of them.

Why am I publishing these numbers? To persuade the would-be confiscators that their enterprise is doomed to fail in fire and blood, so freedom-loving people never actually have to take on the moral burden of killing them. The fact that we’re ready to do so if we have to does not mean we want that terrible day to arrive.

But eternal vigilance is not the only price of liberty. Eternal deterrence against would-be tyrants – including the threat and in extremis the use of revolutionary violence – is part of that price too. The Founding Fathers understood this. The question is whether a critical fraction of American gun owners today know our duty and would do it.

Here is why I am optimistic on that score: every estimate in this back-of-the envelope calculation has been pushed to the end of the plausible range that favors the confiscators. In fact, the stock of weapons that would need to be confiscated is much larger. The number of gun owners is pretty certainly underestimated. Even getting full compliance with confiscation orders from the agents and local police is unlikely, reducing the effective number of doorknockers.

Correspondingly, the critical fraction of American gun owners that would have to be hard-core enough to resist confiscation with lethal violence in order to stop the attempt is lower than 1 in 317. Probably much lower.

Especially if we responded by killing not merely the doorknockers but the bureaucrats and politicians who gave them their orders. Which would be more efficient, more just, and certain to follow.

Feb 21

If you blow up the Constitution, you’ll regret it

Predictably, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting has triggered some talk on the left – and in the mainstream media, but I repeat myself – of repealing the Second Amendment.

I am therefore resharing a blog post I wrote some time back on why repealing 2A would not abolish the right to bear arms, only open the way to the U.S. government massively violating that right. Rights are not granted by the Constitution, they are recognized by it. This is black-letter law.

Thus, repeal of any right enumerated in the Constitution is not possible without abrogating the Constitutional covenant – destroying the legal and moral foundations of our system. The ten in the Bill of Rights are especially tripwires on an explosive that would bring the whole thing down. And of all these, the First and Second are especially sensitive. Approach them at your peril.

I will now add a very sober and practical warning: If the Constitution is abrogated by a “repeal” of 2A, it will be revolution time – millions of armed Americans will regard it as their moral duty to rise up and kill those who threw it in the trash. I will be one of them.

Left-liberals, you do not want this. I’m a tolerant libertarian, but many of the revolutionaries I’d be fighting alongside would be simpler and harder men, full of faith and hatred. If that revolution comes, you will lose and the political aftermath is likely to be dominated by people so right-wing that I myself would fear for the outcome.

You should fear it much more than I. Back away from those tripwires; you are risking doom. Ethnic cleansing? Theocracy? Anti-LGBT pogroms? Systematic extermination of cultural Marxists? In a peaceful, Constitutional America these horrors will not be. If you blow up the Constitution, they might.

Feb 18

In the face of uncertainty, buy options.

Yesterday I posted about how the streetlight effect pulls us towards bad choices in systems engineering. Today I’m going to discuss a different angle on the same class of challenges, one which focuses less on cognitive bias and more on game theory and risk management.

In the face of uncertainty, buy options. This is a good rule whether you’re doing whole-system design, playing boardgames, or deciding whether and when to carry a gun.

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Dec 02

Decentralized threats as the mother of liberty

Dave Kopel gives us a fascinating account of the divergence between American and British gun culture in The American Indian foundation of American gun culture. I learned some things from this article, which is not a trivial observation because I’ve studied the same process from some different angles.

While Kopel’s article is excellent of its kind, it stops just short of some large and interesting conclusions that immediately present themselves to me, upon reading his evidence, because I think like a science-fiction writer. A significant part of that kind of thinking is a broad functionalist perspective on how societies evolve under selective pressure – a drive to look beyond specific historical contingencies and ask “What is the adaptive pressure motivating this social response? Can we deduce a general law of social evolution from this case?”

I’m going to anticipate my conclusion by coining an aphorism: “Decentralized threats are the mother of liberty.” Kopel’s account of how the American and British traditions of citizen arms diverged illustrates this brilliantly.

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Oct 07

NRA loses the plot

Dear NRA leadership: are you out of your fucking minds?

Supporting a ban on bump stocks in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre is a terrible idea, for all the usual reasons that there has never been any case in the history of the known universe in which supporting a ban on firearms or their gear was a good idea. You used to know this.

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Sep 24

Dilemmatizing the NRA

So, the Washington Post publishes yet another bullshit article on gun policy.

In this one, the NRA is charged with racism because it doesn’t leap to defend the right of black men to bear arms without incurring a lethal level of police suspicion.

In a previous blog post, I considered some relevant numbers. At 12% of the population blacks commit 50% of violent index crimes. If you restrict to males in the age range that concentrates criminal behavior, the numbers work out to a black suspect being a a more likely homicidal threat to cops and public safety by at least 26:1.

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Jul 03

Count the SKUs

The Washington Post is running a story alleging that surveys show gun ownership in the U.S,. is at a 40-year low. I won’t link to it.

This is at the same time gun sales are at record highs.

The WaPo’s explanation, is, basically, that all these guns are being bought by the same fourteen survivalists in Idaho.

Mine is that the number of gun owners with a justified fear that “surveys” are a data-gathering tool for confiscations is also at a record high, and therefore that the number lying to nosy strangers about having no guns is at a record high. videochat

I think there’s a way to discriminate between these cases on the evidence.

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Jan 17

What Amending the Constitution Cannot Do

An underappreciated fact about U.S. Constitutional law is that it recognizes sources of authority prior to the U.S. Constitution itself. It is settled law that the Bill of Rights, in particular, does not confer rights, it only recognizes “natural rights” which pre-exist the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and which – this is the key point – cannot be abolished by amending the Constitution.

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Jan 12

What killed the duel?

A&D regulars will probably not be much surprised to learn that I’m something of a topic expert on the history of the duel of honor. This came up over on Slate Star Codex recently when I answered a question about the historical relationship of the duel or honor with street violence.

I’ve read all the scholarship on the history of dueling I can find in English. There isn’t much, and what there is mostly doesn’t seem to me to be very good. I’ve also read primary sources like dueling codes, and paid a historian’s attention to period literature.

I’m bringing this up now because I want to put a stake in the ground. I have a personal theory about why Europo-American dueling largely (though not entirely) died out between 1850 and 1900 that I think is at least as well justified as the conventional account, and I want to put it on record.

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Jan 03

Why I joined the NRA

After 20 years of evading joining the NRA, I finally did it last week.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the NRA because, despite the fearsome extremist image the mainstream media tries to hang on it, the NRA is actually rather squishy about gun rights. A major symptom of this is its lack of interest in pursuing Second Amendment court cases. Alan Gura, the civil-rights warrior who fought Heller vs. DC and several other key cases to a successful conclusion, was funded not by the NRA but by the Second Amendment Foundation. Also, in the past, the NRA has been too willing to acquiesce to unconstitutional legislation like the 1986 ban on sales of new automatic weapons to civilians.

So, you might well ask: why am I joining an organization I’m dubious about now, when the gun-rights cause seems to be winning? Popular support for Second Amendment rights is at record highs in the polls, a record seven states now have constitutional carry (no permit requirement), Texas just became the 45th state to legalize open carry last week…why am I joining an organization I’ve characterized as squishy?

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Nov 25

On the shooting of Laquan McDonald

One of my regulars, mindful of the forensic analysis I did on the Michael Brown autopsy photos last year, has asked me to comment on the Laquan McDonald shooting from my point of view as a pistol and self-defense instructor.javporn

The fast version: I would have said this was what cops call a “good shoot” if it had stopped at the first two bullets. It didn’t. I don’t think this was murder one, but it was at least criminally negligent homicide and those who covered it up should be prosecuted along with Van Dyke.

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Oct 06

Vox is wrong – we don’t have too many guns, we have too many criminals

One of my followers on G+ asked me to comment on a Vox article,
What no politician wants to admit about gun control
.

I’ve studied the evidence, and I don’t believe the effect of the Australian confiscation on homicides was significant.  You can play games with statistics to make it look that way, but they are games.

As for the major contention of the article, it’s simply wrong.  80% of U.S. crime, including gun violence, is associated with the drug trade and happens in urban areas where civil order has partially or totally collapsed.

Outside those areas, the U.S. looks like Switzerland or Norway – lots of guns, very little crime.  Those huge, peaceful swathes of high-gun-ownership areas show that our problem is not too many guns, it’s too many criminals.

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Jan 12

Review: Gun Control in the Third Reich

Stephen P. Halbrook’s Gun Control in the Third Reich is a book that every advocate of “gun control” in the modern U.S. and elsewhere should read – but almost certainly never will.

Most other historians have ignored or outright suppressed the role of weapons law and weapons confiscations in the Nazi imposition of totalitarianism on Germany before World War II. Thus it is forgotten that the legal pretext for the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938 was the confiscation of all firearms from Jewish owners. And that most of the first major wave of Jews sent to the concentration camps went there on charges of illegal possession of weapons.

Gun control was not an incidental feature of Nazi tyranny, it was one of the central tools of totalitarian repression and genocide. If Halbrook’s book had no other virtues, the reminder of this stark fact would be enough to recommend it.

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Aug 18

This picture tells a shooting story

Before you read any further, go look at the drawing accompanying the New Tork Times article on the autopsy of Michael Brown,

There’s a story in that picture. To read it, you have to be familiar with pistol shooting and the kind of pistol self-defense training that cops and amateur sheepdogs like me engage in.

In the remainder of this post I’m going to walk you through the process of extracting the story from the picture.

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Feb 10

Operator rules

Everybody knows, or should know, the basic rules of firearms safety. (a) Always treat the weapon as if loaded, (b) Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy, (c) keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, (d) be sure of your target and what is beyond it. (These are sometimes called “Cooper’s Rules” after legendary instructor Col. Jeff Cooper. There are several minor variants of the wording.)

If you follow these rules, you will never unintentionally injure anyone with a firearm. They are easy to learn and very safe. They are appropriate for civilians.

Some elite military units have different rules, with a different tradeoff between safety and combat effectiveness. I learned them from an instructor who was ex-SOCOM. The way I learned them is sufficiently amusing that the story deserves retelling.

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May 04

Destroying the middle ground, redux

A few weeks ago I blogged an alternate-history story in which the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was abused and distorted in the same ways the Second Amendment has been in our history. The actual point of the essay, though, was not about either amendment; it was about how strategic deception by one side of a foundational political dispute can radicalize the other and effectively destroy the credibility of moderates as well.

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Apr 15

Destroying the middle ground

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine yourself in an alternate United States where the First Amendment is not as a matter of settled law considered to bar Federal and State governments from almost all interference in free speech. This is less unlikely than it might sound; the modern, rather absolutist interpretation of free-speech liberties did not take form until the early 20th century.

In this alternate America, there are many and bitter arguments about the extent of free-speech rights. The ground of dispute is to what extent the instruments of political and cultural speech (printing presses, radios, telephones, copying machines, computers) should be regulated by government so that use of these instruments does not promote violence, assist criminal enterprises, and disrupt public order.

The weight of history and culture is largely on the pro-free-speech side – the Constitution does say “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. And until the late 1960s there is little actual attempt to control speech instruments.

Then, in 1968, after a series of horrific crimes and assassinations inspired by inflammatory anti-establishment political propaganda, some politicians, prominent celebrities, and public intellectuals launch a “speech control” movement. They wave away all comparisons to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, insisting that their goal is not totalitarian control but only the prevention of the most egregious abuses in the public square.

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