Vultures

December 12th, 2014

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A group of families, organized by the law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, is planning to bring a wrongful death suit against Bushmaster Firearms because one of the company's rifles was used in the Sandy Hook shooting. In theory, such a lawsuit would be forbidden by the Protection in Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. In practice, it's not as clear.

A Bushmaster rifle was also used in the 2002 DC Beltway shootings. The Brady Campaign brought suit against them, and the company eventually settled. Doing so set a terrible precedent, and the lawyers smell blood in the water.

Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder has taken a keen interest in product-liability lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and their campaign contributions run a close parallel to those of the Brady Campaign. I expect to see a statement from the latter supporting this in the coming days.

BTW, the screen grab in the header was from a loopy media campaign the Bradys did a few years back. The domain must have lapsed at some point, and now…well, now it's something in Japanese about exterminating ants with a flamethrower.

The Markus Kaarma Case

December 5th, 2014

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Self-defense statutes commonly known as "stand your ground" laws have come under a great deal of scrutiny the last couple of years. Though not a stand your ground case, the George Zimmerman situation was quoted as proof that Florida's law was unfairly biased against minorities. Michael Dunn's attempt to cite the law in his defense made things even worse.

Now we've got a case in Montana that critics are attempting to lump into the same category. The issue at hand doesn't involve stand your ground laws, which generally cover self-defense outside the home. Kaarma is claiming immunity under Montana's castle doctrine law, which covers the defense of home.

Castle doctrine is a much older legal theory, and one about which there's less controversy. It hinges on the idea that there are certain privileges and immunities regarding the use of force in defense of the home. However, Montana's law is quite clear that lethal force is only allowable to prevent an assault or forcible felony.

Laying a trap for someone and laying in wait to shoot them doesn't fit that bill.

According to the court filing [pdf], Kaarma had been a victim of prior break-ins. An exchange student named Diren Dede entered Kaarma's garage, and Kaarma fatally shot him.

What was Dede doing there? Well, Kaarma's wife left a purse in the garage, with the door left open. In and of itself, that casts Kaarma's motivation into question.

In addition, Kaarma made comments to responding officers that he didn't want the burglar to escape and that the police couldn't catch the burglar in the act. That's strike two, and it's eerily similar to George Zimmerman's "these punks always get away" utterance to 911 operators prior to the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

To worsen things, he'd made prior statements to a hairdresser that he was waiting up at night with a shotgun to catch and kill potential burglars. Whether or not he meant to, he tainted his defense, perhaps hopelessly.

He will likely claim that he made these statements under emotional stress and that he didn't mean them. Even if we assign some truth to that, there's an abject lesson here: after a shooting, make no statements to responding officers about motive.

Here's lesson number two: watch the chest-beating rhetoric. In a homicide case, prosecutors can and often will scour social media and other online communications. A track record of statements like "I don't dial 911, I dial 1911" and suggestions that certain people deserve to be punished with violence isn't going to play well for a jury.

I'm Five Years Old Again

November 29th, 2014

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The first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is live. Here's what we've got:

  • John Boyega as a stormtrooper. The armor's new, and it's a first to see one of them as person. Rumor has it he's a protagonist.
  • A beachball-shaped R2 unit. It's less annoying tha Jar-Jar. Then again, so are head lice.
  • Menacing stormtroopers being airdropped somewhere. Does this mean some remnant of the Empire is still around?
  • Daisy Ridley riding a giant speeder bike. Is that a lightsaber lashed to the side?
  • A desert planet, but possibly not Tatooine. Notice the single sun in the final shot.
  • X-wings skimming over a lake. The pilots' uniforms look familiar, but the s-foils are different. Freakin' x-wings, dude.
  • A creepy guy with a red lightsaber. It looks more like a heavy claymore than the agile swords we're used to seeing. It also looks angry.
  • Cue up the John Williams and ermagherd the Falcon. This is where Abram's style shows up. It looks like it's actually cutting the air, and the way the camera follows loosely it through its roll feels great (also, lens flare). It looks like Han replaced the radar dish Lando wrecked during Jedi.

So, yeah, Abrams. Don't screw this up too much and we'll throw unimaginable amounts of money at you.

Weasel Words

November 27th, 2014

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"Scientists say" is an ambiguous and manipulative phrase when not backed up by actual data. It's right up there with "according to experts" and the ever-popular "studies have shown."

Today's exhibit is a hysteria-inducing broadside regarding e-cigarettes. Apparently, scientists say they contain ten times as much formaldehyde as cigarettes. So, where's the data? The article, of course, doesn't provide it.

It comes from a Japanese study, available here. The methodology is questionable, and the results contradict what we've been hearing from other scientists, like this guy I'm citing. It should be mentioned that this comes from a nation with a male smoking rate 60% higher than that of the United States, and one in which the government controls the tobacco industry.

The real motivation behind things like this is economic. Tobacco marketers [pdf] and pharmaceutical companies have long held monopolies on nicotine products. They're not happy to see an open-source alternative biting into their market share, and they're doing everything they can to kill it.

No Justice, No Peace

November 24th, 2014

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That very slogan is a mockery of our system of justice. The protesters demanded a grand jury, and they got it. It turns out the eyewitnesses were unreliable, and the physical evidence shows no criminal activity on Officer Wilson's part. The system did its job.

Many of those calling for an indictment never cared about the process. They simply care about punishment. They want someone to suffer, and they assume that will happen if they get enough people to scream. They believe that public opinion should drive criminal proceedings.

This tendency towards vengeance is the basest of human instincts, and it's exactly what our system of justice is designed to counter. The very definition of justice is not the whim of a mob.

There are some serious issues with law enforcement in Ferguson. Why is a majority black community policed by a force that's overwhelmingly white? Why are there not dashboard cameras in every squad car in St. Louis?

What worries me most is that those questions will be forgotten in the weeks to come. When the clouds part and the protesters aren't in the news anymore, how many people will still be pushing for answers?

I fear it will be too few.

More on Pistol Braces

November 24th, 2014

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I've been over the issue of pistol stabilizing braces before. Attaching one to a pistol is perfectly legal. It is also legal to use it as a shoulder stock, though that's not the intended purpose. The BATFE issued a very specific letter to clarify this.

Black Aces Tactical recently manufactured a shotgun with the brace, and they've been informed that this is impermissible. People are now under the impression that this affects all uses. That is not the case.

The answer is simple and short. In legal terms, a shotgun is not a pistol. They are two different things.

As per 18 U.S.C., § 921(A)(5), a shotgun is defined as,

a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile

A shotgun is a smoothbore weapon designed to be fired from the shoulder. It has its own set of legal restrictions.

This ruling prohibits the use of a pistol brace on a shotgun. It has no applicability to actual pistols.

Jay Leno Weasels Out

November 23rd, 2014

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Jay Leno was scheduled to speak at the 2015 SHOT show but has cancelled under pressure from gun-control groups. This came from his spokesperson:

When it came to his attention that this was actually a pro-gun lobby show, he immediately cancelled his appearance. He found out that it was not what he was originally told it was, and he decided to cancel.

OK, what else would the National Shooting Sports Foundation be? I find it incomprehensible that he would be ignorant of that, or of what the SHOT Show promotes. He could at least have been honest about it.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (formerly the National Coalition to Ban Handguns) had this to say:

The writing is now on the wall for celebrities who would consider getting in bed with the gun lobby: Don't do it. Because if you do, your reputation and brand will be damaged forever, without repair.

And these are the guys who talk about respecting the 2nd Amendment in their rhetoric?

The NSSF covers a lot of bases. Hunting and safety are foremost among them. Guess who distributes education literature to dealers to advise them on responsible selling practices? It's the NSSF, not CSGV. I've yet to hear one word from Moms Demand Action, and I've never seen Everytown for Gun Safety distribute a single piece of literature on, well, gun safety.

So, this happens…

November 20th, 2014

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Here's a Cobra .380 pistol, gone asplodey on the range. Notice the texture of the crack: that's not steel. It's a zinc alloy.

One shouldn't trust such things to handle 21,000 psi with any real grace.

I-594: Curios and Relics

November 16th, 2014

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The ATF has long recognized that certain firearms fall into a category known as "curios and relics." As defined, this includes weapons that "are of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons." Most are firearms over 50 years old, or for which the value is historical rather than functional.

Collectors of curios and relics (C&R) can acquire a Type 3 FFL, which allows them to bypass some of the transfer requirements of the Gun Control Act and Brady Act. To the best of my knowledge (and please prove me wrong), Borchardt pistols and Clement carbines are hardly the preferred weapons of gang violence and mass shootings.

But folks in Washington state decided to do things their own way. Whether through haste or design, I-594 now makes it pointless to hold a C&R license there.

The background check requirement applies to all sales or transfers including, but not limited to, sales and transfers through a licensed dealer, at gun shows, online, and between unlicensed persons.

Type 3's aren't dealers, so they can't conduct background checks. As such, they'll need to have all transfers done through a Type 1 or 2 dealer. That pretty much invalidates the very point of a C&R license.

What about the federal rules exempting C&R weapons? There's no equivalent in I-594. The only exception for the background-check requirement is for guns defined as antiques, which are:

(…) a firearm or replica of a firearm not designed or redesigned for using rim fire or conventional center fire ignition with fixed ammunition and manufactured in or before 1898, including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system and also any firearm using fixed ammunition manufactured in or before 1898, for which ammunition is no longer manufactured in the United States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.

That's, well…that's pretty much everything. There might be merit to a lawsuit challenging this conflict between federal and state law.

(Sorry, Crufflers: I hadn't considered this wrinkle before. I went back and checked last year's federal background-check bill. Its definitions would have presented the exact same problem.)

Hollis v. Holder

November 8th, 2014

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A guy named Jay Aubrey Isaac Hollis has started a crowdfunding campaign. His goal is to bring litigation against Attorney General Holder on the grounds that the National Firearms Act and 1986 Hughes Amendment are unconstitutional.

In short, he submitted a Form 1 to the BATFE for approval to build a machine gun for personal use, even though it's illegal for him to do so. Somewhere along the line, somebody got their wires crossed, and it was approved. The BATFE recognized the error and revoked their approval the same day.

Mr. Hollis seems to think this is his big Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment, and he's presenting a batch of Hail Mary passes to the Northern District court in Texas. Seriously, this is what he asks for in the opening pages:

  • overturning Wickard v. Filburn
  • declaring "unjust taking" under the 5th Amendment because an erroneous approval was reversed
  • applying strict scrutiny to all matters involving the 2nd Amendment, despite the fact that most Circuit courts have rejected the idea
  • revisiting the legislative process behind the passage of the Hughes Amendment

This guy is going to crash and burn in oral arguments, and we'll all suffer for it. Whatever you do, don't encourage him.

Continued »

I-594: A Recipe for Disaster

November 6th, 2014

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It only cost $13 million, but Washington State voters have passed a bill [pdf] mandating "universal" background checks for all transfers of firearms. This is bad law. It will punish those whose only failing was not knowing its stipulations in detail, and it will do nothing to deter crime.

Under the law, a transfer is pretty much any situation in which possession of a gun changes. It doesn't just cover the sale of firearms–a transfer occurs whenever someone besides the registered owner is in possession of the gun. So, "hold my rifle while I tie my shoes" is a transfer. If a background check hasn't been done, with a licensed dealer as the intermediary, both parties commit a gross misdemeanor.

I'm afraid it's going to take a few innocent people getting thrown in jail or losing their right to own guns in Washington before the defects of this law come to light.

Continued »

On Referendums

November 4th, 2014

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The Republicans are looking to pick up six or more seats in the Senate tonight. Mitch McConnell looks to be winning in Kentucky, and he'll probably replace Harry Reid as majority leader.

Tomorrow morning, the Republicans are going to be basking in optimism and satisfaction. That would be a tremendous mistake. They need to have viable plans in place right now, or they'll be back in the wilderness in two years.

Pundits are calling this election a referendum on the President and his policies. That's not the case. If anything, that would have been the 2010 election. The "take back our country" rhetoric and tricorner hats won Republicans a few seats, but the Tea Party forked the message and turned their narrow majority into a tool for little more than squabbling obstructionism. They seemed to think the public didn't notice.

Next came claims they'd take the White House in 2012. That didn't happen. Presidential candidates bickered among themselves over who was more conservative and did little else. When the dust settled, they were left with Mitt Romney. Tea Party freshmen in the House lost seats. In New York and New Hampshire, they lost their seats back to the Democrats they'd unseated in 2010.

They were left with just enough votes to force one government shutdown and threaten another. They've little else to show for their work.

This year, they seem more focused, but their victory will be transitory at best.

Continued »

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