26 February 2013

A Humorous Detour - Examining the Joe Biden Armed Home Defense Method

Vice president Joe Biden has a wealth of experience in government – in the Senate, as vice president, as a dealmaker, arm-twister, cajoler and fundraiser. All of these are relevant job skills in politics.

Whether you like him or not or like his policies or not, you have to concede that he is effective.

Most of the time.

Last Tuesday, the VP gave an interview on guns and home defense. He recounted his wise advice for home defense, the same advice that he has given his wife.

He advised his audience to “buy a shotgun.” He explained you really don’t need an “assault weapon” with 30 round magazine to defend your home. (By the way, I’m inclined to agree there, insofar as “need” is concerned.)

Then he explained his plan. He owns two shotguns, apparently of the double-barreled variety. If his wife detects an intruder, here is the VP’s plan:

“I said, Jill, if there’s ever a problem just walk out on the balcony here ... take the double-barreled shotgun and fired two blasts outside the house.”

His theory is that the sound of the shots will scare off the bad guys.

Let’s take this advice apart:

Shotgun – That part is fine. A shotgun is an excellent home defense weapon. There are a number of different loads available, that is, a number of different types of projectiles. There is less threat of over-penetration, that is, it’s less likely that projectiles will punch through four walls and hit an innocent neighbor.

The only criticism I have so far is that it’s not a great idea to publicize the inventory of one’s home weaponry. If the bad guys come around and actually commit acts which necessitate a response, what that response will be should be the homeowner’s little surprise.

Oh, the VP also talks about locking the weapons up. This is an absolute necessity. You do not leave weapons unlocked and available unless they are on your person. There are lots of varieties of vaults and lockboxes available which permit reasonably rapid access.

So what’s the problem?

Holy home defense, Batman – Walk out on the balcony!? Discharge a weapon at random!? This is advice coming from a supposedly responsible public official?

Let’s think this through, Mr. VP:

You hear intruders. What do you conclude? Well, you’re right or you’re wrong – it’s a person or it’s not a person. If it’s a person, that’s likely to be more dangerous so that’s the safer assumption to make initially. Then you will continue to collect information.

If it’s a person, there is a chance that they are there without any bad intent. Maybe they are making a delivery, or have a mistaken address, or it’s the meter reader coming in or some family member who has lost his or her key.

Or the people coming in may have a bad intent. That also is the safer assumption to make while you continue to gather more information. By now, your defensive arms should be readily at hand and you should be seriously considering calling 911.

But so far, discharging or even pointing the weapon is not justified. You don’t know that you have a person with bad intent. Even if it’s a person with a bad intent our hypothetical does not yet contain a danger to life which justifies the use of deadly force. Indeed, if in the unlikely event that you hear someone say, “I’m a burglar! I’m stealing your downstairs TV and then I’m leaving. Have a nice day,” that alone still doesn’t justify shooting anybody.

(There are numerous exceptions, which are beyond the scope of this post.)

If you have identified the intruder as a bad guy, it’s reasonable to assume that the intruder is prepared for a confrontation and further reasonable now to assume that the intruder is armed.

And here’s the advice you’re getting from Mr. Biden: Let’s go out on the balcony and expose ourselves to someone who may be armed. Then let’s take our double barreled shotgun which can shoot twice without reloading and shoot it twice. Now, we’re standing out on the balcony holding an empty shotgun. And, since we fired randomly to “scare” the bad guy, we have announced to the intruder that we are armed. As I ran this scenario past my buddy, he noted that this seems to turn the situation into a fair fight. That’s not good planning. You don’t want a fair fight against someone armed.

Mind you, maybe this scaring off thing will work. The intruder may head for the hills. Another possibility is the intruder may reach for his firearm.

Oh, where did the projectiles go which were shot randomly? Isn’t it rather cavalier for someone worried about gun violence to say, hey, let’s point a weapon randomly and let ‘er fly? Projectiles follow the laws of physics. If there is something in their path, it becomes the physics of material strength and destruction.

Also, even in the keep-your-powder-dry mecca of the Mountain State, generally it’s illegal to discharge a firearm in a residence randomly.

There’s lots of training available, in person or online. Every person who owns firearms should be familiar with them and trained in their use. I will not presume to summarize any “right way” to use a firearm in the home. There are way too many variables for any one post. Moreover, there are a LOT of people in the United States far more qualified to give those instructions.

I do know to avoid doing stupid shit like going gunning for an intruder at random and shooting at nothing.

Fortunately, Mr. Biden and his family are protected by the Secret Service. If an intruder comes into their residence, I don’t think the Secret Service will follow the Biden defense plan.

21 February 2013

(A Break from the Gun Series) - Winning the Ban on Assault Roadsters

It is sickening to see car nuts slobbering over yet another assault roadster – a car with an excessively high engine capacity and features that nobody needs to exercise safely any constitutional right to travel.

These killing machines are designed for speed professionals. Civilians have no business parking them in their garages.

The latest entry in the orgy of assault roadsters was unveiled on American shores in Miami last week. It is the 2013 Lamborghini Aventador.  For $440,000, untrained civilians can obtain – without a background check – a two-seat power demon with a 6.5 liter V-12 engine and AWD drivetrain.  The engine produces 700 hp in a vehicle having only a 4100 pound curb weight, creating a ridiculously high power to weight ratio. The reported acceleration is 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds with a top speed in excess of 210 mph.

Why? Why the name of all that’s holy are we unleashing these speed wagons on the vulnerable people who ply the highways in our society?

Mind you, whenever anyone dares suggest rational limits to the capabilities of automobiles, such reactionary forces as the American Automobile Association and Motor Trend Magazine organize a carefully scripted terror campaign on right-thinking citizens. Even though the opinions of their membership/readership do not reflect the opinions of the vast majority of law-abiding American car owners, these and other auto hate groups intimidate government with mass mailings, phone campaigns and the threat of withholding political contributions. They frighten the general public with silly rhetoric. They suggest that if government can take away your Lamborghini, surely it can take away your Toyota Corolla. 

Let us carefully define what we’re working with. What is an assault roadster?

Assault roadsters they take many forms.  Their most common characteristic is the engine. They all have fossil-fueled, internal combustion engines with more than six cylinders and more than 2 liters of displacement. In addition, other features frequently appear:, such as:

  1. Aerodynamic styling with drag coefficients equal to or less than 0.33.
  2. Spoilers on the front and/or rear.
  3. A height less than 47 inches
  4. Ground clearance less than 5.5 inches
  5. Tires with an aspect ratio less than 50%
  6. Carbon fiber or carbon-ceramic brakes
  7. The use of exotic materials – e.g., carbon fiber – in the monocoque.
  8. All-wheel drive
  9. Multiple air intakes
  10. Turbochargers

The assault roadster ban will prohibit the manufacture, possession or transfer of any vehicle with an engine having more than six cylinders or displacement more than 2 liters which also has any two of those 10 characteristics.

The radical car lobby depends on a strained reading of the Constitution in claiming that assault roadsters cannot be controlled.

The right to travel, some say, is based in the Privileges & Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution, Article IV, Section 2. Other say that the right to travel is a more basic human right, on a par with defending oneself from a murderous attack.

But the devil is in the details. Assuming that citizens have some sort of basic travel right, this does not mean that the government cannot regulate travel and prohibit dangerous abuses in the implements of travel. We have a right to a free press, and yet the courts support a cause of action for libel. We have a right to bear arms, and yet no one seems to object to banning machine guns.

What was the Founders original intent? Could it have encompassed conveyances with rapidly firing engines and the other characteristics of the assault roadster? Certainly not. The swift horse and the sleek carriage were the speedy conveyances of the wise Founding Fathers. It is disingenuous to say that lethal speedsters such as this Lamborghini were within their contemplation.

And so, the possession and use of assault roadsters is without legal foundation. Moreover, they are marketed without moral compunction. Carefully edited footage from the debut of the Aventador in Miami included conventionally attractive young females talking about these assault roadsters as being “turn-ons.” What stronger evidence to we need for us to realize that marketers are selling these are some sort of perverse fertility symbols, not as a reasonably necessary method of conveyance.

The ban on assault roadsters is an idea whose time has come. The elimination of automobiles with excessively large engines and other speed paraphernalia violates no one’s legitimate rights.  We would merely protect citizens. The Aventador, the Corvette, the Challenger, the Mustang, these and their sad sisters have no place in responsible citizens’ driveways.

Ample precedent exists both for congressional banning of constitutionally inappropriate automobiles and congressional approval of moral and safe transportation alternatives which protect adequately the right to travel. Just as the “Feinstein Bill” lists certain approved firearms, so can the “Assault Roadster Bill” reassure citizens by providing a list of what automobiles are approved for their transportation enjoyment. They will be happy to see the blessing of the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Ford Focus, the Honda Accord, and the other automobiles used by the great majority of Americans for responsible work and recreation.

This battle will take the tireless efforts of those who care more deeply about the safety of the children, the elderly and indeed the average citizen than for the simple bloodlust of hearing the V8 rumble.

America, our time is at hand.


18 February 2013

West Virginia's Solicitor General and the King of the Cowboys; How I Nearly Insulted Both

Our ever-smiling new Attorney General walked right into a perfect storm. Walked into it? Heck, he created it.

Patrick Morrissey created a top position in the AG’s office and called it “Solicitor General” Then, he hired a Washington lawyer to fill it for the unheard of salary of $132,000 per year.

And then – drum roll – it turns out that the new Solicitor General doesn’t have a West Virginia law license!

Oh, the irony is delicious. We endured 20 years of occasional gaffes from Darrell McGraw, but now the White Knight Reformers have stumbled right out of the starting gate. This is all a scribbler of little political diatribes could wish for.

And so, a blog post full of pious sarcasm perked away in our mind.

Then, just to look for some “color,” I checked out Elbert Lin, the almost-Solicitor General. After all, he could be a PETA activist or Bilderberger or something. Dirt, we want dirt!


There is a lesson here, even for a banged up scribe with a few miles on the odometer.

Elbert Lin is qualified. He really doesn’t deserve the noise he is getting.

Mind you, he’s a Yalie and a DC lawyer. We don’t tend to like those folks. They’re just not “people like us.”

The only Yale-trained lawyer I know is my friend Justice Richard Neely. He’s a caustic son of Fairmont and New Haven. I’ve always loved to argue with him and to read anything he writes. And, it does appear that Yale Law School gives lawyers a pretty decent education.

The whole DC lawyer thing is a problem, but you have to pause when you find out how he got there. Right out of law school, Mr. Lin clerked for federal judges. Then he was hired to clerk at the United States Supreme Court for Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas is not my favorite judge by far, but he signs learned opinions which I cannot make heads or tails of. The law clerks write much of those opinions. Traditionally, only the very best law graduates clerk at the Supreme Court.

Some of Lin’s writing is available on the Internet. While it lacks the folksy mountain patois, his writing shows that he is a really intelligent and thoughtful fellow.

From the Supreme Court, Lin went to the litigation department of a huge DC law firm. Maybe if we criticize that, there’s a little jealousy thing going on.

Some stones are thrown at the notion that Lin took a pay cut to come to Charleston and earn his $11,000 per month. Okay, we figure he’ll be eating regularly on that wage. But it’s still a wage cut. He didn’t have to do it.

The lack of a law license for “Solicitor General” is confusing. Does a solicitor general need a license? Beats me. We never had a solicitor general before. It’s not defined by state law. (There is a code section that puts “solicitor” next to “pimp and panderer,” but that’s probably not what’s intended.) Let’s face it, it’s kind of a pompous title, but it’s Morrissey’s office. He could have called his top assistant “King of the Cowboys.” Does the King of the Cowboys need a law license? Beats me.

What we have is a well-qualified guy coming to West Virginia, carpet bag in hand. That alone is enough of a hurdle for him to leap. He deserves a chance to show his merit.

I do have one criticism: The AG showed political weakness in changing Lin’s title to “senior assistant.” He could have told critics to kiss off because Lin was not going to violate any of the rules of law practice until his license came through.

I still like “King of the Cowboys” better.

13 February 2013

Chris Dorner Deserved to Die - Didn't He?

Chris Dorner, who went on a killing spree in California, was cornered in a cabin in the Big Bear resort area on Tuesday. The cabin caught fire (cause unknown) and Dorner died (cause unknown). Dorner left in his wake two dead police officers, two dead civilians and several injured persons. All but one of the deceased died in ambushes.

I enormously respect Larry Winget. On his Facebook page/blog today, there was a discussion of whether Dorner “deserved to die.” It was a heated discussion. Some folks expressed that eternal optimism that anyone can be rehabilitated. Larry in typical straightforward fashion termed that hogwash and expressed satisfaction that the guy’s dead. (I’m not quoting him exactly – go to Facebook and read it for yourself – it’s a fascinating discussion.)

This sort of discussion let’s passion (and bile) flow. After all, there’s nobody we dislike more than criminals. There is little we regret more than giving criminals rights and protections that they have denied their victims. We love stories of cosmic justice, and sometimes justice (at least in our hearts) has a strong element of retribution.

I remember when I was teaching criminal justice students about the judicial process and the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” series of movies was in the theaters. I really love those flicks and I still catch the late-night reruns. The students would make fun of me when I admitted that on the one hand we had this rule of law but on the other hand, I really liked those movies.  I still love seeing the plastic criminal characters catch a well-aimed bullet. There’s just a certain “all’s right with the world” balancing.

Okay, not really, but remember what is required to enjoy good fiction: A willing suspension of disbelief.

Fiction aside, the whole argument about what Chris Dorner “deserved” is pointless.

For the last 35 years, I’ve dealt with discontent over the (hopefully) objective and (hopefully) low emotion rule of law in America.

A low emotion approach is not at all morally satisfying. It’s dry and at times it’s dull. What it does is it gives us a shot – just a shot – at actual justice.

And what is justice? (Good heavens, I’m channeling Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?”)

Justice in criminal cases, by my lights, is the process of objectively applying necessarily subjective opinions to protect the community covenant into which the citizens have entered. 

In fashioning the result of a criminal case, the decision-makers should consider the feasibility of isolating the offender; the feasibility of rehabilitating the offender; the feasibility of deterring the offender; and the methods of deterring others from similar conduct by making an example of the offender. To do all this, we have to look at what the offender did, why s/he did it, what harm resulted and the foreseeability of that harm. And, of course… here’s the rub… we have to be willing to consider other relevant things because every case is different.  Then, we should fashion a result which is sufficient but not "too much."

There’s always a conundrum about what to do with the victims’ voices. Certainly, they did not volunteer to be victimized. Should they have a voice in the result? Should they have a controlling voice in the result? Almost always, I have found victims to be sincere in their beliefs. Often, I have found them to be irrational in their beliefs. No doubt, some of the victims of Dorner – say, families of the deceased – would have been glad to see macabre medieval tortures applied to him. I can’t say that they are “wrong” and I cannot blame them a bit for that opinion.

I can just say that’s not the law.

And I can say that our rule of law is a better way.

I am not qualified to say what Dorner deserved or deserves. According to my beliefs, he is due an accounting before God. I certainly won’t predict the decisions of the Lord God Almighty.  Dorner’s on his own there.

I can say what our rule of law dictated. And our rule of law was very clear.

Had Dorner dropped his weapons and surrendered, it would have been the duty of the officers to take custody of him without unduly and permanently harming him. Then, he would have been entitled to a fair trial. For that matter, We the People would have been entitled to a fair trial, too. There is no wiggle room there. No matter how justifiably angry the police were or citizens were, the rule of law is absolute.

Someone on Facebook asked if Dorner’s “manifesto” which indicated a specific intent to murder negated his rights.  Answer: Absolutely not.  It just made proving the case against him beyond a reasonable doubt really, really easy.

Until and unless Dorner surrendered, police officers had a duty to stop his depredations. Dorner was armed and using deadly force. Generally, the effective response is going to be deadly force or even overwhelming deadly force. That was not dependent on whether the police officers were angry or apathetic or positively filled with goodwill. It was their duty to stop Dorner from committing further offenses. The bullets would not care what the was in the hearts of those firing weapons. The duty of the police under the rule of law was very clear.

That people were victimized by Dorner’s crimes is a tragedy. The fact that these tragedies happen is the reason we have a criminal justice system. Handling criminals with reasonable efficiency and effectiveness requires that we do this in this terribly aggravating non-emotional fashion. It would be oh so satisfying to let our hatred flow. But that would be an affront to this Republic and would blow up in our faces in about an hour and a half.

I am completely unmoved by the death of Chris Dorner. I’m not going to miss any sleep over it. The results were dictated by his choices.

And I am glad that this justice system of ours clankety-clanks along.  I’m also glad to be a part of it.


11 February 2013

My Pretty Pink Pisol

News item: In Greenville, South Carolina, a seven-year-old girl and her three-year-old brother began playing with what they may have thought was a toy – a pretty pink pistol. As it turns out, it was an actual weapon. The weapon discharged, killing the little boy.

That children had access to a firearm is a shocking departure from good sense. Having a weapon, loaded or not, where a child can lay hands on it is unthinkable.   I have no doubt this was not intentional and that the family is prostrate with grief and regret and guilt. Departing from an ironclad safety consciousness is fraught with horrible danger.

I would also note that it is likely that the weapon had a round chambered. It is never, never, never a sufficient safety precaution to leave a semi-automatic weapon (not on your person) without a round in the chamber. However, as a rule small children do not have the hand strength to chamber a round.

The point of the news story was that the pistol was pink and so, to the children, apparently a toy.  Bad gun.  Bad gun.

I’m not sure. Children are drawn to adult things. Children are particularly drawn to dangerous adult things – guns, knives, hypodermic needles, swimming pools, motorcycles, whatever.

And yet this “pretty in pink” phenomenon is a trivial and fundamentally dishonest creation. Turning a weapon into a cutesy object of adornment is a tasteless abomination.  And it makes it more attractive to children.

Firearms are machines. To function, the steel has to be manufactured to very close tolerances, in the realm of thousanths of a inch. Firearms are subject to sudden, very high pressures, sudden violent motion, and sudden heat. They are built for a service life of decades.

There’s always the question of how to protect the metal in a firearm from corrosion. Whatever is used for protection has to be thin enough that the parts still fit. The traditional protection has been a chemical “bluing” process which gives steel a dark blue/black color. Plating with nickel or other metals has been done successfully. More recently, firearms have been manufactured of high-grade stainless steel.

Some few years ago, someone developed a hard, thin opaque coating capable of being colored. One of the first custom applications was on firearms by criminals and gangs, where guns are treated as macabre toys and status symbols. Bulletins were circulated to law enforcement agencies so that police officers would not mistake these toy-like devices for anything but what they were, operable weapons.

Inevitably, some aftermarket manufacturers saw a commercial application for consumers who want their weapons prettied up - those with a hell of a lot more money than brains. Unfortunately, I can picture the idle, airheaded idiots who might want a pink pistol.

But the whole multicolored phenomenon is just another turning away from reality. Mind you, it’s just one minor example. Something that randomly comes to mind is that those who eat fast food burgers probably cannot stand to think about what must happen to get the animals slaughtered, cut up and into the burgers. Reality is a bitch.

Prettying up a weapon does not make it less lethal.  A pistol, even a pretty pink one, still is not something to pull from storage or pull from a holster without a DAMN good reason - and showing off your pretty pistol is NOT a good reason.

No, I’m not calling for a ban on pink pistols. That would be just another little Band-Aid hiding a problem with our culture.

This polemic today is just a datum, another departure from reality which leaves victims in its wake.

09 February 2013

Scouting's Quest for Identity - The Gay Ban

Often, I wear lapel pins with the insignia of the Boy Scouts of America. One of my latest is a 45 year service pin.

Yeah, Scouting has been a big part of my life. And Scouting remains one of the most powerful and positive forces for youth in America and the world.

Scouting has suffered from a degenerating public image over the past two decades. Most prominent in this deterioration has been the policy of excluding homosexuals from leadership and then from youth membership.

Incidentally let me say at the outset: That gay ban policy by the BSA is stupid.  It directly contradicts Scouting values.

The public perception of a deterioration did not happen in a vacuum. It started with poor substantive judgment. It continued with memorably poor performance in communication. For some unfathomable reason, the national leadership of the BSA strayed dangerously into the realm of politics.

And the national organization was not very good at it.

In the meantime, the many Scouting volunteers working directly with youth just continued to do their jobs and continued to share Scouting skills and Scouting values with kids who need them desperately.

The national board of the Boy Scouts of America consists of about 70 members. That membership has changed in recent years, and now is considering modifying or deleting the gay ban.

Incidentally, some object to the term “gay ban” because it does not focus on saying positively what the organization promotes. But if you are isolating particular youth from this magical learning experience available in Scouting secondary to irrelevant reasons, it is still a damn ban no matter what weasel words you want to use.

As the national BSA is struggling, everyone on the outside is weighing in. Editorials spout political support (seldom support for what Scouting really does) or abuse (again without reference to what Scouting really does.) President Obama has said his piece. The president of the United States always has been the “honorary president” of the Boy Scouts of America. So far, Obama hasn’t seemed to pay a whole lot of attention to that role. We’re hearing condemnations about the lack of resolution and constancy on the one hand or the lack of instant retraction and remorse on the other.

What Scouting needs, and what the youth Scouting serves need and deserve, is the room and time to conduct a self-examination. We need to apply OUR values to ourselves. Nobody else can do it.

We cannot expect detractors to be silent. We might hope for that, but it’s not realistic. This is America and that inconvenient old First Amendment encourages all kinds of obnoxious and intrusive speech.

And yet what we in Scouting need to do is shut out all of those voices and resolve this dissonance as Scouts according to our own system of values.

Scouting is unique. What was created in England by Baden- Powell, then came to America and spread to the world, caught fire with youth everywhere it went.

Here, kids had a program which taught outdoor skills and self-reliance. Here they had a program largely directed by themselves where they moved steadily into positions of greater and greater responsibility. These kids became active. They were doing things, not just listening and being told about what they may do in the future if they were good little boys and girls.

One of the most important aspects of Scouting is advancement and recognition by fixed achievement standards. Scouting is not based on competition. Scouting does not require that there be 10 losers for every winner. To advance, to meet the universal goal of “every Scout a first-class Scout,” every kid meets the same requirements. And every kid who meets those requirements is recognized for the accomplishment. Every kid can be a winner.

For that matter, every kid is a winner, we in this society just never get around to telling some of them.

We don’t know where this attention to gays within the organization came from. Every organization involved with youth has to be aware of hidden victimizers in society. This applies with every church, scout troop, school and choir.

The BSA takes child safety totally seriously. There is not an atmosphere of suspicion but certainly one of awareness and protection. In the times I’ve been an administrative officer in the movement, I have only once run into an instance of abuse. And we reported that and I’m happy to say that the offender went to prison.

But the child safety issue is not the gay ban issue. To all of my heterosexual friends: Are you likely to target youths of the opposite gender?

I didn’t think so.

You see, sexuality is one thing that Scouting does not address. It is not relevant to the program. To those who say they would not have leaders “pushing a gay agenda,” I must say I have to agree. That’s not a part of the program. Likewise, I certainly don’t want to see leaders extolling the various methods of “getting it on” in heterosexual relationships. That’s not part of the program, either.

For Scouting, this continuing debate is important. It’s important because we’re the ones who need to decide that we can no longer swim in a political pond. We don’t belong there. We need to recognize, again, that we have a superior program for youth. Scouting has values which need to be extended to all youth possible with the aid of all adults of honorable character we can find.

WE have to decide to do that. The president, newspaper editors and nitwits with signs cannot help us.

I remain deeply concerned about the future of Scouting. This foray into politics has been tragic. We will not find our way out of it from external pressure. This is our movement and it’s up to us to restore it.