“Van Control”

(I’m re-posting a Facebook comment here, because it might be useful in the future. All snark has been preserved, because I’m sick of this crap.)

The post:

When a 64 year old white man kills 58 and wounds 500 in fifteen minutes from 1200 feet with a knife, I will absolutely call for knife control. Until then, you've made the world's shittiest point.

The response:

A van killed 86 people in less than 3 mins, van control anyone????

The comment:

Oh, you sweet, sweet man. You’re obviously new here.
Continue reading


So We Don’t Have Background Checks. Big Whoop.

450px-Open_Carry_of_a_9mm_Browning_Hi_Power_in_Eagle,_ColoradoI’ve been thinking about the vote in the Senate yesterday, and how a handful of red state Democrats supposedly betrayed the rest of the country, and so forth. The first thoughts that popped into my head were (1) just because a majority of Americans want something does not, by itself, make it a good idea or the right thing to do, and (2) legislation often works best as a formalizing process of a society-wide shift in attitudes. These two somewhat-contradictory ideas apply to gun regulation in the sense that, while most people seem to want background checks and other relatively modest regulations, and while the NRA can’t seem to address these issues without hyperbole and mendacity, the fact is that background check legislation, and similar laws, will be doomed to failure as long as the self-described “law-abiding” gun crowd seems predisposed to fight tooth and nail against them. I have seen no arguments against modest gun regulation that weren’t reduceable to “Regulation, registry, Nazis, oh my!” and quite frankly, I’m tired of trying to argue with people who refuse to address the issue at hand and tend to speak of everything in apocalyptic terms. As long as we tolerate people who have more respect for their guns than for their fellow citizens, none of this is ever going to get better.

The odd thing about all of this is that I’m actually pretty pro-gun rights, but I can’t stand shoddy arguments and uncompromising, extreme rhetoric. So here’s my point: Continue reading


Defense against tyranny

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” –Not Thomas Jefferson (cf)

We are not supposed to talk about tragedies in anything other than the most treacly way for some undetermined period of time after they occur. I’m going to violate that unwritten rule of society today, because of something that happened yesterday, not too far from me. Some guy in College Station, Texas shot six people, killing two, before being killed by police gunfire. One of the deceased is a Brazos County constable named Brian Bachmann, who was reportedly serving eviction papers on the gunman when he opened fire from inside his house. The other victim was a 43 year-old “civilian bystander” named Chris Northcliff, who was the shooter’s landlord. You can look elsewhere for the shooter’s name. His family told the media that they knew it was just a matter of time before he snapped, but they never told authorities. He also loved guns a lot.

I am a vehement supporter of sane and reasonable gun rights. I’m not sure how many people actually want to ban all guns, but those people have zero chance of succeeding in today’s America, and that would be a terrible idea anyway. But people who advocate for unrestricted, or near-unrestricted, gun rights, have some issues to address. The right to bear arms is often cast in terms of the right to defend oneself, to defend one’s home, or as a defense against tyranny. It is entirely possible that the College Station shooter believed he was doing all three, or some combination thereof, in his possibly-warped mind (I’ll buy into this mental-health-treatment-not-gun-control argument when someone actually does something beyond talk about it). When you cast something as a struggle between liberty and tyranny, you cannot count on anyone interpreting “tyranny” the same way as you.

Police, in large part due to the First Rule of Policing, get rather wide discretion on the use of force in a specific situation. As the law currently stands, civilians do not. Whether or not this is fair is a debate that will likely rage on for years. What happened yesterday seems to be exactly what the more hardcore gun rights advocates, in promoting defense of self, home, and liberty, are talking about. It was also, by all accounts, an unspeakable crime and tragedy. See the problem?

Will College Station police now send SWAT teams to serve legal documents? It would not be unprecedented. Hopefully a revolution will not be started by gun-toting mouth breathers who can’t see past their own front door.


You are not John McClane. Neither is anybody else.

If only other people in that theater had been armed, maybe this wouldn’t have happened…

This sentiment has made its way around since Friday. For the most part, it is a fantastical load of bull. Here’s why.

Dark theater, loud movie, intense action sequence. Add to that a deranged gunman and a room full of people who were not expecting real gunfire. I have never attempted to shoot a specific person in a crowded theater full of panicked people, and neither has almost 100% of the American public. It sounds prohibitvely impossible. Did I mention that this all occurred in the dark. In. The. Dark.

Experienced Delta Force operators would have difficulty with that sort of situation, I imagine, because once again, no one expected gunfire.

In a crowded, chaotic, dark environment, several questions present themselves. What if you shoot and miss, and hit an innocent bystander? What if you see someone with a gun, you shoot, and you then learn that the person you killed was a fellow CHL carrier, also trying to take the shooter down? What happens when the cops show up? They are, in all likelihood, not going to know that you are a heroic defender of the innocent. They are going to see an asshole with a gun, and it is highly likely that they are going to take you down. They may or may not conclude that you were not an aggressor, but by then you’ll be dead, and the cop who shot you will probably still get a medal.

It is very comforting to think that an armed citizen could have handily taken the shooter in Aurora down, and it is possible that someone with sufficient training and skill could have. The odds are very much against it, and pondering it is really just a comic-book fantasy that we use to make ourselves feel better and to tell ourselves “I would have done it differently.”

David Weigel at Slate looks at the reality of trying to shoot this guy in the context of a darkened, noisy theater filled with what might have been tear gas. He discusses past situations where a bystander did successfully stop a shooter, noting that they all occurred in open spaces and in broad daylight. In a follow-up piece, Weigel talks to Greg Block, a federally-certified firearms safety trainer with twenty-nine years of experience. Block, to put it mildly, knows more about firearms than most people talking about arming the moviegoers will ever, ever know. Block thinks that he, personally, could have gotten the drop on the shooter, but for the fact that it was dark, crowded, and full of disorienting smoke. He says he could have gotten shots off within two seconds. Among anyone reading this, or anyone that anyone reading this knows, how many people could fire multiple accurate shots from a pistol within two seconds of drawing their gun? Again, I can’t say for certain, but I suspect the answer, if not zero, is asymptotic to zero. How many people who want to carry guns in public could even have the reaction time to draw, identify the correct target, and shoot in under two seconds? Very, very few, I reckon. Unless, of course, you are a current or former Delta Force operator.

We stopped being the kind of society that spends a significant portion of its free time preparing for gun battles over a century ago. Do we really want to go back to that? Because that is the only way that arming the moviegoers would have even stood a chance of success, i.e. if everyone had gone in there mentally prepared for battle.

What Happens When Bystanders Have Guns

Two fairly recent stories cast doubt on any guarantee of a happy outcome when law-abiding citizens are armed. Continue reading