Skin on Fire: A Firsthand Account of a VX Attack

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Police say that Kim Jong Nam was killed with VX, the same nerve agent the Aum Shinrikyo cult used on Hiroyuki Nagaoka in Japan in 1995:

The first sign that Hiroyuki Nagaoka had been attacked with VX, the nerve agent that Malaysian police say killed Kim Jong Nam, came when the room he was in appeared to go dark.

Mr. Nagaoka then felt an intense burning sensation inside his chest and lungs that quickly spread throughout his body. He dropped to the floor screaming as his wife cried out, “Are you OK?! Are you OK?!”

He tore at his skin, which felt like it had caught fire. His body was soaked in sweat. Soon after he lost consciousness. When he awoke two weeks later in a hospital, Mr. Nagaoka said his wrists were tied to the bed frame to stop his constant thrashing around.

Nerve agents like VX cause muscles to experience constant stimulation.

[...]

Mr. Nagaoka, who is now 78, survived in large part because when he was sprayed with VX by religious cult members it landed on the rear of his sweater, below the collar.

He didn’t even notice the attack at the time, the details of which were revealed when the cult members described it at a trial. Mr. Nagaoka was attacked outside his home in Tokyo but continued on to post new-year greeting cards before the agent took effect when he returned home.

Mr. Nagaoka was targeted because he led a support group of parents whose children had become members of the cult, Aum Shinrikyo. Mr. Nagaoka’s son had joined the cult but left it before the attack.

The cult attacked two other men with VX around the same time as Mr. Nagaoka, one of whom died. Cult members sprayed the three men with syringes while pretending to be out jogging.

[...]

Mr. Nagaoka, who had to quit his job as an office worker because of harassment by Aum before the attack, also recovered because a doctor at the hospital in Tokyo where he was treated recognized his symptoms after he had treated victims of another Aum attack with a similar nerve agent called sarin in 1994.

Aum Shinrikyo would go on to orchestrate one of the worst terrorist attacks in Japanese history.

On March 20, 1995, five members of the cult boarded three separate subway trains in Tokyo with plastic bags that contained sarin. They punctured the bags with their umbrellas just as the morning rush hour was peaking, killing 13 people and wounding 6,300.

Mr. Nagaoka says his eyesight became weaker after the VX attack and that he continues to experience numbness in his right arm.

Very, very bad at gun journalism

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

The mainstream media lobbies hard for gun control, but it is very, very bad at gun journalism:

It might be impossible ever to bridge the divide between the gun-control and gun-rights movements. But it’s impossible to start a dialogue when you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.

Media stories in the wake of mass shootings typically feature a laundry list of mistakes that reflect their writers’ inexperience with guns and gun culture. Some of them are small but telling: conflating automatic and semi-automatic weapons, assault rifle and assault weapon, caliber and gauge—all demonstrating a general lack of familiarity with firearms. Some of them are bigger. Like calling for “common-sense gun control” and “universal background checks” after instances in which a shooter purchased a gun legally and passed background checks. Or focusing on mass shootings involving assault weapons—and thereby ignoring statistics that show that far more people die from handguns.

Anti-Helicopter Mines?

Friday, January 20th, 2017

The U.S. Army is now concerned about anti-helicopter mines:

Bulgaria, which seems to have developed these devices as far as as the late 1990s, offers several mines such as the AHM-200, a 200-pound device which looks like a mortar tube mounted on a tripod. The mine, which is emplaced on the surface rather than buried in the dirt, has an acoustic sensor which arms the weapon when it picks up the sound of the helicopter as far away as 1,500 feet. At a range of 500 feet, a Doppler radar tracks the target. When the helicopter gets within 300 feet, the mine detonates both an explosively formed projectile and an explosive charge packed with steel balls.

A 2012 Russian news video shows what looks a similar device. A Russian expert in the video claims that anti-helicopter mines were developed because shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles are ineffective against helicopters flying lower than 300 feet.

Other nations have also developed anti-helicopter mines. Poland has one, while Austria has developed an infrared-guided version.

How Japan has almost eradicated gun crime

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

The BBC naively explains how Japan has almost eradicated gun crime:

Japan has one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world. In 2014 there were just six gun deaths, compared to 33,599 in the US. What is the secret?

If you want to buy a gun in Japan you need patience and determination. You have to attend an all-day class, take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test with a mark of at least 95%.

There are also mental health and drugs tests. Your criminal record is checked and police look for links to extremist groups. Then they check your relatives too — and even your work colleagues. And as well as having the power to deny gun licences, police also have sweeping powers to search and seize weapons.

That’s not all. Handguns are banned outright. Only shotguns and air rifles are allowed.

The law restricts the number of gun shops. In most of Japan’s 40 or so prefectures there can be no more than three, and you can only buy fresh cartridges by returning the spent cartridges you bought on your last visit.

Police must be notified where the gun and the ammunition are stored — and they must be stored separately under lock and key. Police will also inspect guns once a year. And after three years your licence runs out, at which point you have to attend the course and pass the tests again.

This helps explain why mass shootings in Japan are extremely rare. When mass killings occur, the killer most often wields a knife.

It’s quite reassuring that mass-killers there use other tools.

It’s also impressive how Japan’s gun-control laws keep Japanese-Americans from committing gun crimes. (Some estimates place Japanese-American gun crime rates even lower than the Japanese rate.)

The U.S. Army’s Radical Idea to Save Its Tanks from Enemy Missiles

Friday, January 13th, 2017

The U.S. Army’s radical idea to save its tanks from enemy missiles involves a shield:

OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate a model for a mechanism capable of moving an armor panel of at least 1 square foot with an areal density of 100 pounds per square foot (PSF) 10” horizontally in less than 5 seconds. The movement is intended to be repeatable and controlled from the interior of the vehicle and shall not pose harm to dismounted personnel.

DESCRIPTION: Conventional armor solutions currently being integrated are “not adaptable” in providing increased threat capability and protection from a greatly expanded set of threats. A solution is needed for threats that are not feasibly addressed with conventional armor systems. Conventional armor systems are essentially static and unable to respond to unanticipated changes in threats deployed against the system; essentially the army has limited potential to increase the capabilities of current static armor recipes in order to balance size, weight, and performance requirements.

Increased threat defeat using conventional armor is prohibitive due to the significant weight burdens associated with increased protection. Any increase in weight has secondary effects such as limited off-road mobility and increased logistics burden.

This SBIR topic solicits new, innovative approaches to incorporate mechanisms into an armor system to provide protection against increased threats. For the purpose of this effort the system shall be designed to interface with a 1” plate of Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA) Plate that represents a surrogate vehicle structure. The mechanism needs to be capable of moving a 100 PSF armor panel 10 inches horizontally in less 5 seconds. The mechanism needs to be able to withstand automotive loading as well as environmental conditions typical of a combat vehicle. The proposal should discuss in detail how the system could be incorporated onto a vehicle platform and what the projected Space, Weight, Power, and cooling (SWAP-C) at the vehicle level.

The proposal shall not include a system that could be describe as an Active Protection System (APS). A system is considered an APS system if any of the two statements apply: 1. A light-weight hit avoidance vehicle defense system which, when integrated on a ground combat vehicle, can detect, track; and then interdict by diversion, disruption, neutralization, or destruction of incoming line-of-sight threat munitions. 2. A system that deploys a counter-measure that does not providing any inherent protection to the vehicle system when the counter-measure does not perform as designed.

The Gun Industry’s Lucrative Relationship With Hollywood

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Hollywood and the gun industry see themselves as mortal enemies, but they have a lucrative, symbiotic relationship:

“Until they stop making films and outlaw weapons altogether, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” says Gregg Bilson Jr., president of the American Entertainment Armorers Association and head of the Independent Studio Services, one of Hollywood’s biggest prop houses.

ISS is a massive, family-owned business — renting everything from Chinese takeout containers to canoes. With more than 16,000 guns in its arsenal, nearly all real, ISS is the largest armory in Hollywood (about 80 of the guns at the NRA’s Hollywood exhibit are on loan from ISS). Bilson’s crew of armorers and gunsmiths helps finicky directors from Michael Mann to Oliver Stone find and use historically appropriate weapons, train A-list actors (like Bradley Cooper, Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) in how to wield them safely and shepherd complex projects to completion. “You can’t have a modern movie without a car rolling down the street or someone taking out an iPhone,” says Larry Zanoff, an ISS armorer who has worked on many big Hollywood productions. “Seventy-five percent of the time there’s at least one gun involved.”

This bit of trivia amused me:

To serve Hollywood’s marquee felons like Mark Wahlberg (currently brandishing a Glock 17 as a cop in Patriots Day) and Danny Trejo (most recently armed with an M1911A1 pistol in 2013′s Machete Kills) — who aren’t allowed by law to bear arms — ISS has a roster of realistic electronic guns (also known as e-guns or non-guns) that can stand in for everything from Smith & Wessons to Uzis. “They get a lot of use on hip-hop music video shoots,” says one weapons specialist. Producers working with ex-cons or shooting outside in neighborhoods with noise restrictions rely on them since they discharge at a much quieter level. They also are used in close-fire situations like a point-blank execution scene, where real weapons firing blanks are deemed unsafe (e-guns don’t eject shell casings).

Filmmakers now have much more incentive to get things right technically:

IMFDB.org is a wiki list-serve that functions as a clearinghouse for every possible bit of trivia, analysis and commentary on the interplay between guns and movies. Able to be cross-referenced by virtually any metric — actor, movie, firearm or manufacturer, for instance — the site is a testament to the appetite for information on Hollywood guns. There are 71 gun manufacturers listed and more than 1,500 pages in the “gun” category, along with thousands of actors and more than 5,000 movies.

“The only other product that gets people as excited when it appears in movies is cars,” says Chris Serrano, 32, the self-described “geek” who started IMFDB in 2007 from his home in Glendora, 30 miles east of Hollywood. At the time, there was much discussion but little agreement about guns in movies on the web. Serrano, who worked in real estate at the time, thought IMFDB would be a good way to crowdsource consensus.

Interest was immediate. The first visitors were fans of Westerns eager to weigh in about history and authenticity. Some modern movies generated intense discussion. The entry on Michael Mann’s Heat now tops two dozen pages. When Chad Stahelski and David Leitch debuted the 2014 thriller John Wick, IMFDB editors began itemizing the array of weaponry on display in the gun-heavy film. “As soon as it came out, it was big on the site,” says Serrano, a gun enthusiast who says he likes “a nice lever action” rifle.

Today, IMFDB gets more than 1 million unique visitors a month and has a team of 12 administrators and editors scattered around the world. “I’ve gotten word that Hollywood people do come and do research,” says Serrano. It’s mostly prop masters and armorers, but sometimes actors also come to the site to do research for their shows.

I didn’t know they traced this one back to its origin:

Sometimes armorers find that their onscreen handiwork worms its way back into real life. John Patteson, a Florida-based armorer (Cape Fear and Bad Boys II), recalls an experience on a 1980s TV show that he will not name in which a director wanted two guys with semiautomatic handguns to fire while standing next to each other. Patteson pointed out that the ejected rounds from one gun would hit the second man, at best creating an annoyance and at worst a potential safety hazard. “The director says, ‘How about we ask the left guy to tilt his gun sideways, so brass goes up and arcs away?’ ” Patteson adjusted the scene accordingly, but “next thing you know, I’m seeing guys in 7-Eleven videos holding the guns sideways.” There’s no way to trace whether incidents of sideways shooting in real life increased as a result of movie portrayals, but the anecdotal trace of his craft in real-life criminal activity left Patteson feeling disconcerted. At some point, he says, people do get “educated” by cinema: “A lot of the time, unfortunately, it takes on a life of its own.”

Apparently the initial article referred to Clint Eastwood’s iconic Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum — “the most powerful handgun in the world” — as a “massive Smith & Wesson Colt .44″. Sigh.

USMC F-35B pilots speak about their aircraft

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Four USMC F-35B pilots speak about their aircraft:

Guts; My first “aha” moment was a seemingly simple thing. I was executing a familiarization flight near MCAS Yuma. I was coming back to the airfield and I basically just turned the jet and pointed its nose at Yuma. Immediately the jet is providing me the information of all the traffic that is out there in the airspace. When I talk to approach for the first time they are telling me about the traffic that is out there that I already know about and I see it. I can tell who everybody is that he is talking about and the jet also saw traffic that ATC hadn’t seen yet and I asked about it. And I thought, “Holy Cow!” here I am coming back to the field from a simple familiarity mission and my jet is telling me everything about the operational environment I am about to go into. In this case, something very simple, the traffic pattern coming back there, but I didn’t have to do anything to have that level of SA [Situational Awareness]. I can start making decisions about what altitude I wanted to go to, if I wanted to turn left or right, speed up or slow down. There’s somebody coming up next to me, I want to get in front of them — or whatever. It is a very simple example, but I thought WOW this is amazing that I see everything and can do that.

The other was the first time I vertically recovered the airplane. The flight control law that the airplane has is unbelievable and I always tell the anecdote. Flying AV-8B Harrier IIs, I only had one specific aircraft I felt like I could kind of go easy on the controls and it would sit there and hover. I love the Harrier, love flying that aircraft, but there was work involved to bring it back for a vertical landing. The very first time I hovered an F-35B I thought, I am the problem here, and I am just going to let the jet do what it wants to do. The F-35 was hovering better than I could ever hover a Harrier without doing a thing. That’s back to that workload comment I said earlier. I am performing a vertical landing, and I have the time to look around and see what is taking place on the pad and around me. It is a testament to the jet.

BC; I was conducting a strike mission and Red Air was coming at me. In a 4th Gen fighter you must do a whole lot of interpretation. You see things in azimuth, and you see things in elevation. In the F-35 you just see the God’s eye view of the whole world. It’s very much like you are watching the briefing in real time.

I am coming in to perform the simulated weapons release, and Red Air is coming the other direction. I have enough situational awareness to assess whether Red Air is going to be a factor to me by the time I release the weapon. I can make the decision, I’m going to go to the target, I’m going to release this weapon. Simultaneously I pre-target the threat, and as soon as I release the A2G weapon, I can flip a switch with my thumb and shoot the Red Air. This is difficult to do in a 4th Gen fighter, because there is so much manipulation of systems in the cockpit. All while paying attention to the basic mechanics of flying the airplane and interpreting threat warnings that are often very vague, or only directional. In the F-35 I know where the threats are, what they are and I can thread the needle. I can tell that the adversary is out in front of me and I can make a very, very smart decision about whether to continue or get out of there. All that, and I can very easily switch between mission sets.

Mo; I was leading a four ship of F-35s on a strike against 4th Gen adversaries, F-16s and F/A-18s. We fought our way in, we mapped the target, found the target, dropped JDAMs on the target and turned around and fought our way out. All the targets got hit, nobody got detected, and all the adversaries died. I thought, yes, this works, very, very, very well. Never detected, nobody had any idea we were out there.

A second moment was just this past Thursday. I spent a fair amount of my life as a tail hook guy — [landing F/A-18s on US Navy Supercarriers] on long carrier deployments. The last 18 seconds of a Carrier landing are intense. The last 18 seconds of making a vertical landing on this much smaller USMC Assault Carrieris a lot more relaxed. The F-35C is doing some great stuff. Making a vertical landing [my first this week] on the moving ship, that is much smaller than anything I’ve landed on at sea — with less stress, was awesome.

Sack; It was my first flight at Edwards AFB Jan ’16. I got in the airplane and started it up. I was still on the deck and there were apparently other F-35s airborne — I believe USAF, I was not aware. I was a single ship, just supposed to go out and get familiar flying the aircraft. As the displays came alive there were track files and the SA as to what everyone else was doing in the airspace, and I was still on the ground. I mean, I hadn’t even gotten my take-off clearance yet. I didn’t even know where it was coming from. It was coming from another F-35. The jet had started all the systems for me and the SA was there. That was a very eye opening moment for me.

The second one, took place when I came back from that flight. In a Hornet you would pull into the line and had a very methodical way in which you have to shut off the airplane and the systems otherwise you could damage something. So you have to follow a sequence, it is very methodical about which electronic system you shut off. In the F-35 you come back, you do a couple things then you just shut the engine off, and it does everything else for you. Sounds simple, even silly — but it is a quantum shift.

Why Saddam and Gaddafi Failed to get the Bomb

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, author of Unclear Physics, explains why Saddam and Gaddafi failed to get the Bomb:

While dictators with weak states can easily decide that they want nuclear weapons, they will find it difficult to produce them. Why? Personalist dictators like Saddam and Gaddafi weaken formal state institutions in order to concentrate power in their own hands. This helps them remain in power for longer, but makes their states inefficient. Weak states have fewer instruments to set up and manage complex technical programs. They lack the basic institutional capability to plan, execute, and review complicated technical projects. As a result, their leaders can be led to believe that the nuclear weapons program is doing great while, in fact, nothing is working out. In Libya, for example, scientists worked throughout the 1980s to produce centrifuges, with zero results.

[...]

As my book shows, these programs were afflicted with capacity problems at every stage, from initial planning to their final dismantlement. These problems were worse in Libya than in Iraq, because Gaddafi dismantled most state institutions as part of his Cultural Revolution during the 1970s. Saddam created a bloated state that was difficult to navigate for his officials, with competing agencies and programs blaming each other for various problems as these emerged. This made oversight difficult, from Saddam’s point of view, and caused endless infighting and backstabbing inside the Iraqi nuclear program. As a result, scientists spent days in endless meetings, blaming each other for delays, rather than working together as a team to solve problems they were facing.

Even when Saddam tried to put more pressure on his scientists to deliver results, he failed. After Israel destroyed a research reactor complex in Iraq in June 1981, Saddam became more determined to get nuclear weapons. But the program made little progress. In 1985, his leading scientists promised Saddam that they would achieve a major breakthrough by 1990 – without specifying what exactly they would achieve by that time. By 1987, it was clear that they would not be able to make a significant breakthrough by the deadline. This created plenty of shouting and conflict inside the program, and led to an in-house restructuring, but even at this stage no one was willing to tell Saddam the bad news. When the delays could no longer be denied, the scientists blamed another agency. This was a strategic blunder – because this agency was led by Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamil. Saddam put Kamil in charge of the nuclear weapons program. Even Kamil, who was notoriously brutal against his employees, became so frustrated with the nuclear program that he threatened to imprison anyone found to intentionally cause delays. Tellingly, this threat was never implemented.

In contrast, Libyan scientists often did not show up for work. The regime couldn’t just fire them, partly because there were too few scientists in Libya to begin with. The regime was unable to educate enough scientists and engineers, and had to hire foreigners (including many Egyptians). Some of the Egyptian scientists went on strike during a 1977 conflict between the two states – and, apparently, managed to negotiate better conditions. Not quite what we would expect from a brutal dictator, is it? But, as the history of Libya’s nuclear program demonstrates, the regime invested enormous sums in buying equipment without getting significantly closer to the nuclear weapons threshold. In fact, nothing worked – including phones, photo-copiers and expensive laboratory equipment. Some of the equipment broke, and no-one knew how to fix them, whereas other stuff was left unopened because the technical staff was concerned that fluctuating voltage in their electrical system could break the equipment. The Soviet research reactor also faced problems, because the Libyans were unable to filter the water cooling the reactor system, which meant the pipes became clogged with sand.

The Iraqi and Libyan programs failed for different reasons. The Iraqi program was beginning to make some progress after the internal restructuring. Kamil decided to ignore Saddam’s rule to not seek help from abroad, and bought equipment for the nuclear weapons program from Germany and other countries in the late 1980s. But then, Saddam miscalculated badly and decided to invade Kuwait in the summer of 1990. After the invasion, the Iraqis launched a crash nuclear program. Kamil told Saddam that they were on the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons in the fall of 1990, which wasn’t true. But, if Saddam hadn’t invaded Kuwait, which led to the 1991 Gulf War, he would most likely have acquired nuclear weapons. The Libyan program never even got close.

Gun Control Is Tax-Subsidized Marketing for Illegal Submachine Guns

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Gun control Is tax-subsidized marketing for illegal submachine guns, J.D. Tuccille notes, because submachine guns are terribly easy to make:

“DIY submachine guns are popping up across the West Bank,” the Washington Post reported recently in a piece about a weapon that has repeatedly played a role in Palestinian attacks upon Israelis. The guns are of a common type referred to as the “Carlo,” based on the Swedish Carl Gustav M/45, which dates to the World War 2 era. The article added that hundreds of the submachine guns have been confiscated over the past year, and raids staged on 35 mechanics’ shops that were cranking them out.

“The Carlo has remained so popular because of how little machinery and technical know-how is required to produce it,” a Times of Israel story noted earlier this year. “A drill press, some welding equipment and blueprints from the internet are all that’s needed to create one of these potentially devastating weapons.” The story lamented that “it’s nearly impossible to prevent its production.”

Ironically, Israelis themselves relied on homemade submachine guns during their War of Independence. In their case, they knocked off copies of the British-designed Sten gun and fed them with ammunition manufactured in a clandestine factory beneath a laundry. Similarly to the weapon copied by West Bank mechanics, “the Sten used simple stamped metal components and minor welding, which required minimal machining and manufacturing,” according to Wikipedia.

That simplicity is a feature of many simple, sheet-metal submachine guns dating to the war era. Desperate to satisfy the need to produce massive numbers of guns in short order, designers crafted weapons that could be made in any number of existing shops using general-purpose machinery. Long before 3D printers and CNC milling machines drove headlines about DIY firearms, those characteristics made such weapons natural choices for various insurgencies battling governments in regions across the world.

Because they’re so easy to produce, submachine guns also became a natural go-to for non-political manufacture in countries that have strict gun control regimes. Brazil seems to be an especially fertile source for homemade automatic weapons. There’s an online cottage industry in tracking Brazilian police announcements of gun confiscations and posting photos of the creative copies of commercially produced weapons—as well as weirdly innovative original designs.

Unsurprisingly, Brazil has a thriving market for Sten guns and the like made in car repair shops because it has a severely constrained legal market for firearms. Brazilians have to jump through hoops to get government permission to purchase guns, and even if they satisfy all requirements, police can say “no” on a whim. That leaves many residents of the country without a legal means to protect themselves from the country’s extremely busy criminal class (60,000 murders every year, according to some estimates). Those criminals are, of course, well-armed courtesy of that black market described above.

Some of the country’s lawmakers want to make it less-daunting to legally own the means of self-defense. But for now guns remain easily available only to those willing to break the law, which leaves opportunity for DIY manufacturers.

Australia also has famously restrictive gun laws of such exquisite legislative perfection that they bear emulation, according to leading presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Well, except that the Australian government is a tad upset about gun smuggling by outlaw gangs and the hundreds of thousands of illegal firearms in circulation. Officials plan yet another amnesty for owners to surrender the illegal weapons, although Sydney University gun policy analyst Philip Alpers told ABC News that he expects it to produce only “rubbish guns” that nobody values.

Because, honestly, if you’ve gone through the trouble and expense of purchasing one of the “perfectly constructed MAC 10 machine guns” manufactured by a jeweler turned underground arms dealer, why would you surrender it?

Like Brazil, diversity is characteristic of Australia’s illegal arms makers, who also produce submachine guns inspired by the late Philip Luty, a Briton who created designs intended for home manufacture (he was imprisoned for his troubles, but his plans are widely available). Ten percent or more of illegal guns seized by Australian police are produced by underground armorers—with powerful and easily made submachine guns featuring prominently among them.

Australia is a much safer country than Brazil, and has a lower homicide rate than the United States. But at least one academic assessment has concluded that the crime rate seems to fluctuate independently of gun ownership. That new gun amnesty is motivated not just by a black market, but by a spike in crime including murders.

Collateral Alley Scene

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

When I was first learning to shoot, my defensive shooting instructor showed us the alley scene from Collateral. Here Larry Vickers takes us through it:

More than an Off-Duty Police Officer

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

The “off-duty police officer” who stopped the jihadi knife attack in Minnesota was more than an off-duty police officer:

He owns a firing range and firearms training facility called Tactical Advantage. He’s considered an expert in firearms training and education and has helped teach classes on law enforcement skills at St. Cloud State University for nine years, his company website says.
He’s a member of the United States Practical Shooters Association and has won medals in various shooting competitions.

Yeah, he’s a USPSA shooter. I don’t want to say he’s living the dream, but…

Guns Used in Crimes

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Lawful gun owners commit less than a fifth of all gun crimes — which is still more than I would’ve expected, to be honest:

In the study, led by epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, researchers partnered with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to trace the origins of all 893 firearms that police recovered from crime scenes in the year 2008.

[...]

More than 30 percent of the guns that ended up at crime scenes had been stolen, according to Fabio’s research. But more than 40 percent of those stolen guns weren’t reported by the owners as stolen until after police contacted them when the gun was used in a crime.

[...]

It’s also likely that many guns on the black market got there via straw purchases — where a person purchases a gun from a dealer without disclosing that they’re buying it for someone else. This is illegal under federal law. One potential sign that straw purchasing is a factor in the Pittsburgh data: Forty-four percent of the gun owners who were identified in 2008 did not respond to police attempts to contact them.

[...]

Additionally, past research has demonstrated that a small fraction of gun dealers are responsible for the majority of guns used in crimes in the United States. A 2000 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that in 1998, more than 85 percent of gun dealers had no guns used in crimes trace back to them. By contrast, 1 percent of dealers accounted for nearly 6 in 10 crime gun traces that year.

Don Quixote de la Garrapata

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

I didn’t watch the Tick cartoon or the live-action show, but I did read the original comics back in the day, so I made time to watch Amazon’s pilot for a new Tick show, and I must agree with this review:

The Tick 2016 throws a bravura mix of tones at its audience: it’s campily loopy yet deadly serious, satirical yet sincere, cartoonish yet fraught with dread.

I was not expecting them to take The Tick into darker and edgier territory, but it certainly makes the hero’s delusional idealism stand out even more.

If you’re interested in the original comics, there appear to be no collections in print. Sigh.

By the way, as a gun guy I got a chuckle out of the Terror’s henchmen, armed with Ruger 22/45 Lite pistols:

Tick Terror Henchmen with Ruger Lite Pistols

The Fetishistically Focused Firearms of the Olympics

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

The firearms at the Olympics are as fetishistically focused as any inanimate object can be:

The pistol, rifle, and shotgun events are governed by the International Shooting Sports Federation’s thick rulebook, and the construction and calibration of these precise firearms is regulated by strict guidelines and staggering amounts of minutia that dictate everything from trigger pull weight and barrel construction to thumb rest ergonomics and ammunition specs.

The wildest firearms are the least restricted. In “Free Pistol,” the unofficial term for the 50-meter pistol event, .22-caliber handguns are bound by the loosest of requirements and look the part. The rulebook requires only that the firearms are safe to shoot and incorporate an open iron sight (no scopes or lasers) and a grip that doesn’t extend beyond the wrist. Subsequently, these hot rod handguns tend to feature long, thin barrels (for accuracy and low weight), and a strangely stripped-down, almost steampunk look. They fire .22-caliber long rifle ammo.

Free Pistol Shooters

Air-powered rifles and pistols lack the aural impact of a .22, but they demand exceptional accuracy. Competitors fire at 10-ring targets from 10 meters. To land a bullseye at that distance, a tiny .177-caliber lead projectile must hit a circle the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The emphasis here is on extreme precision: Serious contenders miss the bullseye once or twice out of every 60 shots, and the relatively recoil-free nature of the firearms put more pressure on the shooter’s steadiness and the integrity of the tiny pellet, as the slightest distortion of its shape will affect its aerodynamic profile, and subsequently, its path.

The air rifles and pistols tend to use pressurized air to propel the pellet, which is sometimes referred to as SCUBA drive, since it relies on atmospheric air rather than compressed carbon dioxide. CO2 is rarely used, as temperature fluctuations can affect the accuracy of the shot. (Ed. note: a commenter notes that air is used for other reasons. “Many European nations strictly regulate the release of CO2, including from airguns, and that got in the way of purchase and use of CO2 airguns and filling gas,” commenter Wanlance Yates notes. “In addition, CO2 is more complex to obtain and use when filling the gas cylinders, whereas SCUBA pressure air is commonly available from dive shops (and is less regulated). There are even hand pumps that can be used to fill the air cylinders, although this requires more time and effort, and most airgun shooters just get a SCUBA tank to use for their refills.”)

Highly specialized accessories accompany air-powered competition, with rules dictating virtually every article of clothing, down to the underwear. For maximum steadiness, competitors climb into stiff leather suits not unlike motorcycle gear for additional support. Wide-soled shoes enable a steadier stance, and some events involve padded rolls for ankle support when a kneeling posture is required. To prevent eyestrain and squinting, small blinds can be attached to the firearm or headgear — a quirky detail that all but removes the cool factor from this admittedly cerebral sport.

Apart from their custom built stocks, shotguns used in Olympic level skeet and trap competitions resemble standard-issue hunting implements. But virtually everything about them is customized for competition.

Why Olympic Shooters Look Like Cyborgs

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Olympic Shooters look like cyborgs, because they’re wearing a lens, a mechanical iris, and a series of blinders:

Russian Olympic Pistol Shooter

An eye at rest would rather focus on a distant object than one that is near at hand; focusing on something in the foreground requires effort, and can lead to fatigue. Adding just a touch of lens power (+0.50 diopter, for the opticians in the house) to a sharpshooter’s prescription can help her sighting eye bring her gunsights into focus and keep them there, even as she concentrates on aligning them with the target in the distance.

But the lens presents a tradeoff: Bringing a gun’s sights into sharper focus can make the target go fuzzy. That’s where the blinders and mechanical iris come in.

“Your eye is like a camera lens,” says Tom Gaylord, a competitive air gunner known in sharpshooter circles as the godfather of airguns. And if you were armed with a camera instead of a pistol, bringing the target back into focus would be as simple as narrowing the aperture of your lens. This increases the range of distance within which objects will appear in focus (aka “depth of field,” for the photographers in the house). A greater depth of field means you can hold a target that’s 30 feet away and a pair of gunsights hovering at arm’s length in focus all at the same time.

A shooter typically mounts his mechanical iris to his shooting glasses just behind his lens. This lets him control the depth of field of his own vision. Twisting the iris narrows its aperture and reduces the amount of light that reaches the shooting eye, bringing the target and both sites into sharper focus than would be possible without the glasses. “The less light you can tolerate, the greater your depth of view will be,” Gaylord says. (Ever tried the pinhole trick, or squinted to see your alarm clock? This setup works by the same principle.)

The blinders serve a similar purpose by reducing the amount of light entering the shooter’s pupils. But the opaque plastic tiles also work to obscure the movements of other shooters and visuals that might otherwise distract an athlete. “I use them to block the vision of my non dominant eye,” says Jason Turner, a three-time Olympic marksman.