Monday, July 23, 2012

Firearms Terminology 101: Assault Rifles vs. Assault Weapons

In the wake of the Aurora, CO shooting I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about how we ought to have tighter controls on people buying assault rifles. It’s kind of an odd thing to say in the context of the Aurora incident because the shooter didn’t have an assault rifle. This confusion is due to a bit of obfuscation on the part of the gun control lobby.

“Assault rifle” is a well-defined military term. It is a rifle intended to be used by an individual with provisions to be fired from the shoulder, capable of full automatic fire, using a cartridge more powerful than a handgun round but less powerful than a standard rifle, uses a detachable box magazine, and has a minimum effective range of 1000 feet. The requirement for full automatic fire capability is an important one because it means assault rifles are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1968.

“Assault weapon” is a term coined by the gun control lobby. It’s not particularly well defined and is generally applied to any weapon they want to demonize with the intent of confusing people and making them think they’re talking about an assault rifle. The closest “assault weapon” has ever come to being defined is probably the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 aka the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. That defined assault weapons as semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns that had two or more cosmetic features from a list provided in the bill.

Note the difference. Assault rifles are defined by how they operate. Assault weapons by how they look. Notice also that the one criterion for how an assault weapon functions, that it be semi-automatic, disqualifies it as an assault rifle. Semi-automatic guns fire only one round per pull of the trigger. Assault rifles are capable of full automatic fire, allowing them to fire multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger.

The Aurora shooter used an AR-15 rifle. The first AR-15 was built by a company called ArmaLite as an assault rifle to be used by the US military. Colt bought the design from ArmaLite and it was rebranded as the M16. Colt then created their own AR-15, a semi-automatic version of the M16 intended for civilian use. As a semi-automatic rifle, i.e. one that only fires one round per pull of the trigger, the AR-15 is not an assault rifle. It can be modified for full automatic fire but doing so involves using parts regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1968.

The National Firearms Act of 1968 controls the transfer and ownership of machine guns. Assault rifles are classified as machine guns because of their full automatic fire capability. Under the NFA of 1968 you need the permission of both the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of your area to transfer (sell) an assault rifle. It should come as no surprise that they are very reluctant to grant such permission. An extensive background check will be performed on the buyer and even if it comes up clean permission may still be denied. Legally owned assault rifles aren’t much of a problem when it comes to civilian gun violence. More regulation seems unlikely to impact illegally obtained assault rifles because, well, they’re illegally obtained.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Miss USA

The Miss USA pageant is back in the news again this year. The Arab-American Muslim winner was asked the hard hitting question of whether or not health insurance should pay for contraceptives.

Meanwhile Miss Oklahoma was asked the softball question of if Arizona's new immigration law should be mandated by the state or by the federal government given that critics claim it amounts to racial profiling.

Seriously? In what world are these questions remotely equivalent? There's really no right or wrong with Miss Michigan's question. People might disagree that insurance should pay for birth control but no one is going to get really worked up about it. On the other hand, whatever side of the question Miss Oklahoma took, someone was going to be angry. How about asking Miss Michigan a harder question on the order of the one asked of Miss Oklahoma? Something like this?

Now I don't think Rima Fakih is a Muslim extremist. I mean not only is a burqa nowhere to be seen in her Miss USA photos but the woman won a pole dancing contest back in 2007. I just think if you're going to ask one contestant a loaded question that you should ask all contestants a loaded question.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Untold Story: Hollywood Gets It Wrong

It's 80 degrees in the house and I'm drenched in sweat. Every time my mother sees me she urges me to sit down and rest. She's afraid I'll hurt myself and she has a point. I weigh in excess of 350 pounds and am severely out of shape but I do not stop. Up and down the stairs I go, over and over. This is not part of a plan to get in shape and lose weight. It's about protecting my parents.

Middle aged men who still live with their parents are losers. Middle aged men who are close to their parents and take care of them, particularly their mothers, are spineless milquetoasts. When they're not psychopathic killers that is. Children who place their parents in nursing homes are cold, callous, and uncaring. Their only desire is to be rid of the burden of caring for those who raised them and showered them with love their entire lives. These are the views presented in countless movies and television shows by people who clearly have no experience with the things they are writing about.

Turn the hands of the clock back a few months. I'm reading a forum attached to a slice-of-life semi-autobiographical web comic that I like to read. Another poster is lamenting that his romantic prospects are null because he's a loser who still lives with his parents. Questioning reveals that his parents lost their house so he took them into his home and now supports them. This makes him a loser. It shows what a corrosive effect the entertainment industry has. He owns his own home. Financially he's doing well enough to support a family. He cares enough about his family to take them in even though he clearly feels doing so comes at significant cost to himself. And he's convinced this makes him someone no woman would want to date because that's the message he's heard over and over in movies and on television. Loser.

My own path to living with my parents wasn't quite so noble. Like many people I was laid off and haven't been able to find steady work since. I tried my hand at being self-employed but frankly, while I'm good enough at what I do, I don't have much of a head for business. Eventually having gone through my non-retirement savings and finding myself at the end of my apartment lease I decided to move back in with my parents. Loser. Of course before my parents retired they were homebuilders and one of the last houses they built is the one they live in right now. It's a nice little 5 bedroom/4.5 bath house and I'm living in the master bedroom because they've never used it, except for guests, and my old bedroom is filled with papers and other assorted junk so no basement for me. Did I mention the 60+" widescreen HD television?

Still I wasn't happy moving back in with my parents. It was the ultimate symbol of what a failure at life I am. I knew this because Hollywood told me so. Over and over and over again. But I was to discover that Hollywood was wrong. With the passage of time I've come to realize that I'm where I need to be. As a religious man I've come to see the hand of the Divine in my moving back in with my parents. Living with them I've come to discover they've reached a point in their lives where they can no longer take care of themselves. They took care of me, now it's my turn. If I hadn't lost my job and been forced to move back here, I might never have seen the warning signs until it was too late.

The first anniversary of my moving back in is approaching. Ironically it is my birthday. In the year that I've been back I've had to learn how to help an elderly person get back on their feet after falling down because they've both fallen multiple times. Mom has been laid up a couple of times, first due to illness and then because she hurt herself in a fall. Dad's mental state has rapidly deteriorated. I've had to take over the grocery shopping, the laundry, the housecleaning, and the cooking because they're not capable of doing it themselves anymore. I take them to church and the bank and out to eat.

Today was spent hauling newspapers out of Dad's room and taking them to recycling. It's a daunting task because he's been accumulating papers almost from the day they moved into this house almost 30 years ago. You see, my parents are hoarders. They believe in letting nothing go to waste. Dad was a workaholic. He often had no time to read the paper but he wasn't about to throw out a paper that he'd paid for without reading it and so he piled them up in his room until there was just a path from the door to his bed, the little attic office that he worked in, and the bathroom. Recently he's fallen twice in his bedroom. The first time I discovered him lying on the floor next to his bed. The second time Mom woke me up at 2 AM to tell me that Dad had fallen again. I ran upstairs to discover that he had managed to get himself wedged between a couple of stacks of old newspapers and a card table on which more papers were piled. He actually wasn't in an uncomfortable position, he just couldn't get up. So I had to dig him out and it wasn't as simple as just taking away the relevant newspaper stacks as I had to make sure that other stacks weren't going to fall over on him when I pulled the confining stacks out. Plus I discovered broken glass on the carpet, covered with paper, that I had to clean up so that I didn't get broken up further and ground into the carpet where someone might step on it. The whole process took about an hour during which he kept yelling about how the situation was hopeless. I kept trying to explain to him what I was doing and reassure him but with his current mental state I don't think he could really understand me. All I could do was keep working on it and as soon as I reached a point where I could finally start removing the stacks that were penning him in he calmed down and shortly afterwards I was able to get him back into bed.

So today I worked on his newspaper hoard. It wasn't particularly fun but I'm sure his two recent falls are related to stepping on papers and then slipping. I also did some laundry because in a separate incident he soiled his clothes. Then I get to go scrub Mom's bathtub thoroughly with bleach because she thought it would be a good idea to wash his clothes out there before putting them in the washing machine. I've also had to sterilize the kitchen sink because she thought it would be a good idea to use the cooking tongs to wash his clothes so she wouldn't have to handle them directly and then she put the tongs in the sink because they needed to be washed. What can I say? I'm the very image of Hollywood's definition of a loser.

Of course if I put my parents in a nursing home instead of taking care of them myself, Hollywood would say I'm a bad son who doesn't love his parents. Yet love is why I find myself thinking more and more about putting them in a rest home. I don't think it's possible to imagine just how physically and emotionally demanding it is to take care of your parents. People might think that it's about the same as caring for a child but it really isn't. There are profound differences between the two. For example, with every day that passes your child becomes more able to take care of themselves. Caring for your parents it's the exact opposite. Every day they're a little less capable of taking care of themselves and you, as their caretaker, have a front row seat. My father was once the most intelligent man I knew and this morning he told me mother and me that he had no idea who we were.

Despite that, despite all the unpleasantness, I don't consider caring for them a burden. I'm glad I can be here for them. I'm glad that I'm getting to spend this time with them. And every day I wonder if they wouldn't be better off in a nursing home where they can be taken care of by trained professionals who know what they're doing and are better able to see to my parents needs.

Loser. Bad son. Cold. Callous. Unfeeling. Just ask Hollywood.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Illegal Immigration Pt. 4: Papers, Please!

Only the Nazis want to see your papers. At least that's what the Open Borders crowd claims. Fact is that they're wrong. Law enforcement officers have been asking to see people's papers for years and not just immigrants.

Have you ever been pulled over while driving in your car? The first thing the officer does is ask to see your papers, i.e. license and registration. He wants to verify that you have a license to drive, that it's your car, and that you have the requisite insurance and so he needs to see your papers. Here in Texas, if the officer finds you carrying a concealed weapon he's going to want to see your concealed carry license as well. Papers, please!

Though people are not required to carry a driver's license or other photo identification, provided they're not engaged in an activity that requires such things like driving a car, about half the states have laws allowing police officers to require suspects identify themselves if the officer has reasonable suspicion they are engaged in a criminal activity.

It's not Nazi-ism. It's just law enforcement. And guess what? Federal law already requires foreign nationals to carry proof that they're in the country legally so it's not like AZ SB 1070 is forcing anyone to carry any extra paperwork.

Illegal Immigration Pt. 3: The Illegal Founding Fathers

Here's a big one with the pro-Open Borders crowd. They claim that the European colonists who founded the United States were illegal aliens. It's based on the flawed assumption that the Native American tribes had similar laws governing immigration that we do.

The reality is that prior to the appearance of the Europeans, the Native Americans had no real immigration issues to deal with and so no real laws governing them. They weren't ocean-going so they had no real concept of what lay over the horizon; how many people were there, what their culture was like, or what they might do if they gained a foothold in the Americas.

When the Europeans reached the Americas they were frequently welcomed by the natives. Sometimes this was because the Europeans brought them presents, trade goods they couldn't provide for themselves. Sometimes it was because the Europeans offered to be valuable allies in wars with neighboring tribes. The Europeans weren't illegal aliens because the native tribes largely had open border policies and those policies ultimately lead to their being forced out of their homes and confined to what lands the European immigrants deigned to give them.

The founding of the United States actually provides a perfect example of why open borders are a bad idea. If a nation fails to control its borders it will ultimately be overrun by people who do not have the nation's best interests at heart.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Illegal Immigration Pt. 2: Guilt

One argument that the pro-Open Borders crowd uses is that we should allow anyone to freely enter the country out of guilt for what we did to the Native Americans. I'll admit I feel bad about what happened to the Cherokee and the Cheyenne and the Sioux and the other native tribes. Thing is, they're not the ones demanding we open our borders to everyone. The people demanding we give them free access to our country are the descendants of the Spanish conquistadors that crushed the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan civilizations among others. Because someone feels guilty about what European colonists did to the native tribes they're supposed to open their borders up to the descendants of other Europeans who committed similar atrocities only on a much larger scale? I don't think so.

If anything I'm amused by the irony of Mexicans being upset that the Anglo colonists they brought in to help them take Texas away from the Native Americans then proceeded to take Texas away from Mexico. Now that's funny.

Illegal Immigration Pt. 1: Stolen Land

With the debate raging over Arizona's SB1070 I thought now might be a good time to take a look at some of the arguments offered up by the pro-Illegal Immigrant side of things. I'll start with the claim that the United States stole the southwest from Mexico.

The interesting thing about this claim is that Mexico didn't even exist until 1821. Before then it was known as New Spain. New Spain was founded in 1521 after the Spanish conquered the Aztec, Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Maya, and other cultures who lived in the area.

I live in Texas. If anyone can make a claim that Texas was stolen from them it is the Apache, Comanche, Caddo, Wichita, Kiowa, and Karankawa tribes, among others, that lived here prior to the region being invaded by Mexico. In fact, the word Texas is a Spanish corruption of the Caddoan word taysha which means "friend." The Spanish and Mexicans stole Texas from them. In New Mexico, Arizona, California and the rest of the southwest this was repeated with Mexico taking the land from the native tribes that lived there first.

Now members of these tribes may complain about their lands having been stolen from them but they don't generally do it in the context of an illegal immigration rally. Probably because they're natives who aren't in any danger of being deported but also, I suspect, because the ones who are angry about their land being stolen aren't likely to rally in support of the Hispanic culture that stole it from them in the first place.

Make no mistake, despite the fact that they aren't lily white Caucasians, Hispanics are just as much a product of European imperialism and colonialism as the North American WASP. The very word "Hispanic" tells you that by denoting, as it does, a relationship with Spain. There's a reason that Hispanics speak Spanish or Portuguese rather than any native tongue after all. In fact, an argument can be made that of all the European powers, the Spanish were the worst when it came to their approach to the New World. While everyone else was sending colonists, people who were looking to build new lives for themselves in the New World, Spain was busy sending conquistadors or conquerors. Soldiers whose job was to claim territory and plunder riches for Spain. That's why the English and the French and the other European powers only managed to lay claim to part of North America and some islands in the Caribbean while Spain and Portugal managed to lay claim to the rest of North America and the Caribbean along with all of Central and South America. And the conquistadors weren't particularly nice people. This isn't that surprising when you consider that while they were busy conquering the Aztecs and the Mayans and the Incans, etc. the Spanish Inquisition was at the height of its power back in Spain. Greed and avarice coupled with religious intolerance that says its okay to do anything you want to pagan heretics is not a good combination. A lot of natives died very unpleasant deaths in the quest to fill holds of ships heading back to Spain with treasure.

So when Hispanics complain that the United States stole the land from them remember that they, in turn, stole the land from the original inhabitants. They are thieves complaining that what they stole was, in turn, stolen from them. That doesn't make me feel particularly sympathetic to them.