A fascinating computer analysis of the linguistic context around the 2nd Amendment

The Second Amendment is perhaps the most controversial part of the U.S. Bill of Rights. But that's not just because of our grander cultural debate around gun rights and gun violence — it's 'cause the damn thing is such a grammatical clusterfuck.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

27 words in 4 dependent clauses with no clear anything to link them. It's not clear if the thing that shall not be infringed is the well-regulated militia, or the right of the people to keep and bear arms, or if it's all dependent upon what is or is not necessary to the security of a free State. And anyone can make any one of those arguments, and have evidence to back it up that can't be definitively refuted, either.

Over at The Atlantic, James C. Phillips, a Fellow with the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, and Josh Blackman, a Constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, discuss a novel approach to figuring out what, exactly, the Founding Fathers were actually trying to say: by creating and scanning through a massive database full of more than a billion words culled from formal American and British texts from 1475 to 1800. They specifically searched for instances where phrases such as "bear arms" and "keep arms" were used, and noted the context, the context, and adjacent language that accompanied the phrases to better understand how these terms were actually being used in their historical context. Read the rest

White nationalists planned to murder cops and pro-gun protesters in Virginia

From the bail hearings of three men arrested on gun charges, whom police claim were members of the white nationalist group The Base: the men planned on using the gun rally in Virginia to start a civil war by gunning down their fellow pro-gun demonstrators, and they discussed murdering police officers in order to obtain arms and tactical equipment. Read the rest

A Pittsburgh church held a gun buyback in honor of MLK Day and ran out of money in 40 minutes

Cities across the US have been holding gun buyback programs since at least 1974. Most of these events have been organized by local police departments, who typically offer between $50 and $250 in cash or gift cards in exchange for a turned-in firearm with no questions asked.

The Episcopal congregation at the Church of the Holy Cross in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania tried their hands at a similar program on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, largely inspired by a double homicide that occurred in front of the church in November 2019. Church leaders had planned to remain available all throughout the afternoon, offering $100 per gun.

In the first 40 minutes, more than 50 people showed up, and the church ran out of the $5,000 they had budgeted for the event.

Many gun advocate argue that events like these are nothing more than symbolic acts of virtue-signalling that ultimately make no real impact on curbing gun violence. And statistically speaking, they're probably right. But that shouldn't diminish the hope, inspiration, and community building that can be derived from such events.

That's why the Church of the Holy Cross is planning to hold another similar event soon. If you do want to donate to the cause to help buy back more guns, you can send money directly to the church at 7507 Kelly Street in Pittsburgh; unfortunately, they don't take donations online.

With so many guns turned in, Pittsburgh buyback program runs out of money in 40 minutes [WPXI]

Image via Frankie Leon/Flickr Read the rest

Gun Violence Isn't a Problem — it's actually 5 Problems, with Different Solutions

I’ve written extensively on gun violence, spoken on international TV and radio on the subject, and even pursued a gun license in the strictest city of one of the strictest states in the country. Despite my first-hand experience, the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment — like those who marched on Richmond, Virginia this weekend to protest "Jim Crow" gun laws — will still tell me things like, “We don’t need more laws! We need to enforce the laws on the books!” or “We can’t stop every shooting because that’s just the price of freedom.” Those same #2A Avengers will of course acknowledge that yeah, okay, maybe NICS has some problems, or maybe those Parkland cops should have done something earlier, and then swiftly retreat back into the same tribalistic mindsets that always prevent human progress.

So I wrote this essay, hoping to have a rational conversation. It was originally published on Medium in 2018, but it remains frustratingly relevant, so I'm posting it here.

Naming something gives you power over it.

That’s the basic idea behind all the magic in every folktale dating back for centuries, from “Rumpelstiltskin” to the Rolling Stones’ “Hope you guessed my name.” Ancient shamans didn’t practice “magic”; they just had knowledge, and names for things like “eye of newt” that no one else could understand. To name something is to know it, and knowledge is power.Think about the relationship between “spelling” and “spells” and you won’t be so surprised that Harry Potter has been all over the gun violence conversations lately, on both the Left and the Right—which makes sense, considering that they have a word you memorize and practice reciting in order to kill people. Read the rest

The Alpha Gun Angels are Israeli gun influencers

Earlier this year, Vox looked at the popularity of female influencers showing off firearms on Instagram. Facebook/Instagram forbids advertisements promoting the sale or use firearms. So, marketers pay influencers to dodge the rule:

There are dozens of women (it is mostly women who are gun influencers) making partial or complete livings off Instagram grids full of guns and perfect smiles. Some of them are hunters, some of them are veterans, some participate in professional shooting sports, some also swing-dance, some play soccer. Some look really good in a pair of camouflage overalls or a red, white, and blue onesie or wearing almost nothing, and all of them have come up with their own rules about how best to monetize these physical realities.

They’ve done something that the companies in the firearm industry cannot do on their own: make the gun lifestyle as attractive and aspirational as all the others on Instagram.

One such group is the Alpha Gun Angels.

View this post on Instagram

Such a Badass! 🤩 - happy thanksgiving everyone! With love, AGA family 💞 . . Beautiful @sapir_elgrabli w/ @iwi_intl 📸 @omershapira_ 👑 #alphagunangels #sapirelgrabli #iwi #tavor #meprolight #bullpup #bullpuprifle #rifles #gungirls

A post shared by Alpha Gun Angels | AGA (@alpha.gun.angels_aga) on Nov 29, 2019 at 8:22am PST

Writing for Jewish Currents, Sophia Goodfriend looks at the business:

The Alpha Gun Angels, who bill themselves as Israel’s premier gun-modeling and social media–marketing agency, are a team of nine active and veteran IDF combat soldiers turned Instagram celebrities.

Read the rest

These are the bullets that killed JFK

The above GIF was created from new 3D scans of the bullets that killed president John F. Kennedy. The GIF shows two bits of the bullets that killed the president along with another mostly complete bullet plucked from Texas Governor John Connally's hospital stretcher. The National Archives temporarily removed the historic projectiles from the vault so that the National Institute of Standards and Technology could create digital replicas of them at microscopic resolution. Next year, the digital replicas will become part of the National Archive's JFK Assassination Records publicly available online. From Smithsonian:

These bullets now enter the National Archives’ digital collection alongside three others thought to hail from the same firearm: two discharged as test shots, and another from an earlier failed assassination attempt on Army Major General Edwin Walker. All were imaged with a specialized microscope that scanned their surfaces, charting their features much like a satellite recording the topography of a mountain range. The pictures were then stitched together by NIST ballistics specialists to generate a vivid 3-D rendering detailed enough to show grooves left by the barrel of the gun.

Read the rest

Six-year-old brought a loaded gun to school for show-and-tell

In Roswell, New Mexico, a six-year-old elementary school student carried a loaded revolver to class. According to police, the student had "no malicious intent" but rather brought in the gun for show-and-tell. According to KOB4, the police confiscated the weapon, notified the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, and "escorted the parent and student to their home for further follow up and investigation."

You'd think it goes without saying, but apparently not: If you have children in your house and insist on keeping firearms around, lock them the fuck up. The guns, that is. Read the rest

AK-3DP: 3D printed AK receiver

I've been semi-seriously joking about "AK-3DPs" (3D printed assault rifles) for years, and while the attempts to limit the spread of 3D printed guns have been sloppy and poorly formulated (as have the Trump admin's attempt to roll them back) the state of the art is still progressing. Read the rest

Most "black market" guns in America are purchased legally across state lines

States' rights are one of the greatest impediments to reducing gun violence in the United States.

This was something I noticed when I chronicled the journey of getting my gun license in Boston. It's also all-but-confirmed by the recent release of the ATF's gun tracking data. From The Trace:

According to the most recent ATF statistics, released in August, the bureau traced 332,101 guns in 2018. The average time-to-crime of those weapons was 8.8 years. That’s why a particularly short time-to-crime raises red flags for law enforcement, since it often suggests the weapon was acquired for criminal purposes.

[…]

In California, for example, 12 percent of the guns recovered in the state had a time-to-crime of less than one year. When you isolate only those guns that originated in Nevada and were recovered in California, the figure jumps to 23 percent — almost one in four. (Nationally, 10 percent of all guns had a time-to-crime of less than one year.)

For the pro-gun NRA crowd, this essentially proves that gun regulation doesn't work; that's a reason they love to talk about Chicago so much, even though most of the illegal guns there come from Indiana. But I don't actually buy that at all. The issue is and always been about ease of access. Most people aren't going to go out of their way to navigate the black market, trading Bitcoin over Silk Road just to get a gun. If you live in California, and have a cousin in Nevada (or even just know a guy who knows a guy), it becomes less of a "black market" trade, and more of a favor. Read the rest

Hunter was likely killed by a deer he shot

In Yelville, Arkansas, a 66-year-old experienced hunter died after he was gored by a buck he shot. From CNN:

When his nephew found him, the hunter was alert and talking, and was even able to call his wife. But he stopped breathing by the time paramedics could get him to the hospital, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. Officials are not certain that the antler wounds are the official cause of his death, the commission said in a statement. He may have died from other medical issues such as a heart attack, the statement said, but there will be no autopsy.

Injuries resulting from wounded deer are not uncommon, said Joe Dale Purdom from the Game and Fish Commission.

Read the rest

Seattle authorities used "Red Flag" gun laws to disarm a Neo-Nazi

Kaleb J. Cole (aka "Khimaere") is the 24-year-old leader of the Washington State cell of the Atomwaffen Division, an international network of violent Neo-Nazis. Aside from generally spewing hateful rhetoric, Cole had also been seen participating in Atomwaffen's "Hate Camps," sharpening his rifle skills for more extremist violence.

Fortunately, he no longer has access to any guns. From The Daily Beast:

[Cole] had his guns seized on Oct. 1st, according to King County Court records. The move came after the Seattle Police Department filed a 62-page “Extreme Risk Protection Order” petition against Cole on Sept. 26, according to electronic court records. Among the weapons that had been in Cole's possession were a pistol and an AK-47 variant with a high-capacity drum magazine.

To be clear, Cole has not been charged on any specific crimes. As far as anyone's aware, he hasn't killed anyone—at least not yet, although there is arguably reason to believe that he plans to. In addition to the target-practice videos where he can be seen chanting "Race war now" with the rest of his buddies, Cole has openly admitted to his fascist beliefs, and support for armed insurrection.

Again: not technically crimes. But valids cause for concern. That's where the "Red Flag" or "Extreme Risk" laws come in. They're basically restraining orders, but for guns.

One of the biggest struggles with reducing gun violence in America is that a lot of the proposed legislation also infringes on civil liberties. For example: the various "No-Fly Lists" that the government maintains have no clear criteria or due process, which ends up punishing people innocent Muslims, government employees, and literal fucking babies. Read the rest

Reply All interviewed the 30-50 feral hogs guy and learned he had a point

If the Webbys have any legitimacy, than a content of the year award should go to Willie McNabb for his famous tweet.  It generated endless brilliant mockery online.  But Reply All interviewed Willie and learned two things: (1) he's a terrific sport; and (2) he had a point.

The first part of episode #149 features an interview with Willie, in which he acknowledges how goofily he phrased his tweet and thus invited mockery.  He then describes the genuinely frightening time feral hogs swarmed his children as they were playing outside.  The second part of the episode explores the widespread and seemingly hopeless nature of the feral hog problem.

You can listen here. Read the rest

Nerf unveils "DRM for darts"

Hasbro's got a new foam dart gun, the $50 Nerf Ultra One blaster, and to make sure that owners of this toy arrange their affairs to the benefit of Hasbro's shareholders, the company has engineered a digital rights management system that detects and refuses to fire third-party darts, which sell by the hundreds for just a few bucks (the official darts are $10 for 20), which means that party organizers running Nerf wars will have to scale back their ambitions or shell out like crazy. Read the rest

Colt "suspends production" of AR-15 rifles for consumers

Armalite created the AR-15, sold the rights to Colt in the fifties, and the design long ago emerged from patent and became widely-copied. The AR-15 itself will no longer be made for consumers by Colt, it says. It says they're just not that popular among consumers and the company needs to focus on institutional sales.

The fact of the matter is that over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacity. Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future. ... At the end of the day, we believe it is good sense to follow consumer demand and to adjust as market dynamics change. Colt has been a stout supporter of the Second Amendment for over 180 years, remains so, and will continue to provide its customers with the finest quality firearms in the world.

Missing in a lot of the coverage is the fact lots of companies make AR-15s. Colt not making AR-15s is like Sony not making laptops. Read the rest

Nearly 150 CEOs send letter to Congress urging action on gun violence

Some of the biggest names in business, including the CEOs of Twitter, Uber, Reddit, Conde Nast, Bad Robot and a host of others sent a letter to Congress this morning urging immediate action on gun violence. The letter follows similar pleas from Walmart after shootings at the country's largest retailer left nearly 30 people dead in less than a month.

A copy of the letter was shared with the New York Times:

Many of the requested actions in the letter have already passed the House, but have been brought to a crawl in the Senate by NRA-pawn "Massacre Mitch" McConnell. Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed frustration with a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle who asked about her decision to not bring the House back in August to keep the pressure up on McConnell and the Senate.

No reaction to the letter as of yet from Senate Republicans. Shocking, I know.

Business Leaders Call on Congress to Act on Gun Violence (NYT) Photo: Michael Spocko/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0) Read the rest

Apple and Google ordered by U.S. to provide names, phone, other data on 10,000+ users of this gun scope app

Apple and Google have been ordered by the U.S. government to hand over names, phone numbers and other identifying data of at least 10,000 users of a single gun scope app, Forbes reports Friday in an investigative feature. Read the rest

Walgreens bans openly carrying guns in its stores

Following Walmart yesterday, retailer Walgreens is prohibiting customers from openly carrying guns in its stores. It posted a succinct press release, quoted here in full:

We are joining other retailers in asking our customers to no longer openly carry firearms into our stores other than authorized law enforcement officials.

Read the rest

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