ISIS in Afghanistan

Friday, November 20th, 2015

I watched the latest Frontline, ISIS in Afghanistan, and had a few thoughts.

Frontline correspondent Najibullah Quraishi seems rather… credulous. Apparently Afghan fighters are defecting from the Taliban to the new, better-paying Islamist group, ISIS — and ISIS is running schools where they teach the children how to fight unbelievers.

Only no one at the school they visited seems to know much about gun-handling. The boys at the ISIS-run school have clearly never handled the guns before, and the teacher doesn’t seem to have many technical pointers to offer.

Also — random thought — I can remember reading years ago — in Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen, I believe — that blond hair is attractive because it suggests youth, and that seemed odd to me, because I hadn’t noticed kids being blonder than adults while growing up. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, the difference in color between children and adults is stark. Almost all the adults have dark hair and skin, but many of the children are blond.

How Gun Traffickers Get Around State Gun Laws

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

The New York Times is shocked — shocked! —  that gun traffickers get around state gun laws by buying guns one state over — and get around federal laws by not buying them legally at all:

Many guns follow a complex path from the original sale to the underground market. Most guns are originally bought from retail stores, but people who can’t pass a background check typically obtain guns from friends, family or illegal dealers.

According to an anonymous survey of inmates in Cook County, Ill., covering 135 guns they had access to, only two had been purchased directly from a gun store. Many inmates reported obtaining guns from friends who had bought them legally and then reported them stolen, or from locals who had brought the guns from out of state.

What a U.S.-Russian War in Syria Would Look Like

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Joe Pappalardo imagines what a U.S.-Russian war in Syria would look like:

The escalation begins with a strategic sacrifice. Russian helicopters in Syria are loaded with fuel drums and flown on a flight profile that mirrors a barrel bomb mission. The Raptors take the bait, immolate the Russians in midair, and give the Kremlin a talking point about “slain Russian troops.” Now it can say the Americans fired first and cast its next steps as self-defense.

The Moskva‘s radar spots the tankers easily as they make racetrack patterns in the sky. The refueling aircraft are 135 feet long and have virtually no defenses. They fly without escorts. The Russians wait until fate deals them a good hand—one aerial refueler from Greece is heading back to its base, over the Mediterranean. Another is loitering near Aleppo, tanking U.S. fighters. All are within range of the Moskva‘s 48N6E2 missiles.

The Med is crowded with warships. The United States has four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers off the Syrian coast, and part of their job is to shadow Russian warships. They’ve followed miles behind as the Moskva creeps along the coastline, north of their new airbase in Latakia.

And when the pair of SAMs rise from the Moskva, the crew on the bridge knows this war has entered a new, scary phase. They go into combat alert and radio to their base in Rota, Spain. By the time the news reaches commanders, the refueling aircraft are obliterated, the eight crew members onboard killed instantly.

Any tankers readying for takeoff are held on their tarmacs. Combat sorties are canceled. Airborne fighters and bombers are ordered to return to airbases. One fighter runs dry and flames out on the way and the pilots eject into Kurdish territory.

The Air Force operates more than 400 KC-135s, so in theory, losing two should not cripple an air campaign. Yet the threat alone keeps them grounded. And with tankers grounded, very few missions to support anti-ISIS and anti-Assad forces can proceed. (B-1 bombers flying from Turkey still operate over northeastern Syria, but only out of the range of the Moskva’s missiles.)

While Russia claims its right to self-defense and takes to the world stage claiming its “limited actions” are meant to deescalate the conflict in Syria, Pentagon planners are preparing a response within hours. The humiliation of the attack and forced cessation of combat missions are just too great.

Orders are passed to the American guided missile destroyers. The Mediterranean is about to erupt.

South Carolina Toddler Shoots Grandmother in Car

Monday, October 26th, 2015

A two-year-old South Carolina boy found a gun in the car he was riding in and shot his grandmother in the back:

According to police, officers were called to the 1100-block of Stanley Drive Sunday afternoon around 1:24 p.m.

Officers met with a woman who says she picked up her great-nephew and was driving him around, with his grandmother in the passenger seat.

While she was driving, the young boy found a .357 revolver in the pouch on the back of the passenger seat. He then accidentally shot his 40-year-old grandmother through the passenger seat.


“It was in a pouch behind the passenger seat, somehow the child reached in and got ahold of it, that’s something our detectives are working on today,” Bollinger said.

Who would leave a loaded revolver in the pouch behind the passenger seat? With a little boy back there?

I don’t know, but I will note that the 40-year-old grandmother was in the passenger seat of an orange Camaro — and the two-year-old, in the moving car, apparently was not in a car seat, or belted-in, for that matter. Hmm…

Naturally Boing Boing illustrates the problem of toddlers shooting people with photos of middle-class white children receiving responsible gun-safety training, like this girl holding an airsoft pistol, with her finger off the trigger:

A man shows a girl how to hold an airsoft gun during the NRA Youth Day at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston, Texas

A Not-So-Skeptical Look at Gun Control

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Michael Shermer drops his usual skepticism to argue that we’re better at killing Americans than our enemies are:

If your gut tells you that mass public shootings are alarmingly common, your gut’s right.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a mass murder as four or more deaths during a single incident with no distinct time period between killings. By this definition, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, between 1980 and 2010 there were an average of 20 mass murders per year, or an average of one every 2.6 weeks.

I would expect a skeptic to point out that those are really small numbers in a population of over 300 million, with 15,000 homicides per year.

If we could easily stop the hundred or so deaths per year by previously law-abiding young men who are legally sane but alienated, that would be wonderful, but that leaves the other 99.3 percent of homicides by common criminals.

This is the least skeptical argument though:

In other words, the fantasy many of us have of facing down an intruder with a firearm is belied by the fact that a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.

Guns aren’t randomly sprinkled amongst the population. They’re owned, illegally, by common criminals, they’re bought by suicidal men, and they’re owned by a third of ordinary Americans — who range from extremely conscientious to extremely negligent, with most in between.

Gun ownership isn’t the cause of gun-homicides, gun-suicides, or gun-accidents, and buying a gun does not mean that the gun is likely to be used in a criminal assault, etc. It depends on who is buying the gun and what the buyer’s intentions are.

For most owners, a gun has a negligible chance of going on to be a part of a homicide, suicide, or accidental death.

In the other direction, is a firearm useful for self-defense? Not if you accept Shermer’s straw man:

If you own a gun and keep it safely locked up and unloaded with the ammunition somewhere else (recommended by gun safety experts), do you really think that, in the event of a break-in, you could get to your gun, find your ammo and load it, engage the intruder, accurately aim and kill him, all before he takes your things? If you do, you’ve been watching too many movies. Go to a firing range and try shooting a handgun. It isn’t easy to do. It requires regular training.

If a gun is going to be out of your control, you keep it unloaded, etc. If it is going to be in your control — say, in your holster — you keep it loaded. If it’s going to be somewhere in between — say, on your nightstand — you can keep in an in-between state of readiness — say, unloaded, but with a loaded magazine in reach, or in a quick-opening safe.

A well-practiced shooter can load a magazine and be ready to shoot in a couple seconds.

Shooting a handgun quickly and accurately does take practice — and tens of thousands of shooters do practice regularly. But even “naive” shooters can shoot quickly and accurately across a room.

I’m appalled by the inverted skepticism of this claim:

A 2009 study corroborated these findings. Conducted by epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and published in the American Journal of Public Health, it found that, on average, people with a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

Perhaps people who are likely to be shot in an assault choose to go get a gun?

Jerusalem Mayor Urges Residents to Carry Weapons

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has called on residents who are licensed to carry weapons to do so on a daily basis:

“One advantage that Israel has is that there are quite a few ex-members of military units with operational combat experience,” Barkat said. “Possessing weapons increases the confidence of residents, who know that in addition to police there are many people who are not afraid to intervene. If we look at the statistics in Jerusalem and elsewhere, we see that aside from the police, civilians carrying weapons have foiled terror attacks. They will increase the likelihood of fast intervention.”

Gun Safety and Personal Responsibility

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Scott Adams looks at the American gun problem and suggests how a master wizard of persuasion could fix it:

Stop calling it a gun problem. Stop talking about gun control or even common-sense restrictions. Start calling it gun safety and personal responsibility. (High ground maneuver.) Ask the NRA to propose a gun safety plan that addresses the nation’s legitimate concerns. (Ask them to take responsibility for their freedom.)

That looks rhetorically strong, but we obviously have two sides that have dug in, and neither side wants to concede anything.

Adams suggests that there’s a simple explanation for this absurd situation:

We make the same mistake every time when it comes to domestic issues: We look at averages and pretend those averages are useful for anything but starting fights. We do the same thing with all of our social issues.


All gun arguments are based on average people doing average things in average places. I agree that the average person should live in a world with far fewer guns because that guy is an idiot with no common sense, no gun safety training, and no gun locks. Luckily, the average person does not exist. Instead, you have some people who are smart enough to safely own guns, people who are far too dangerous or dumb to own guns, and a lot of people in the middle.

Every individual has a different risk when it comes to guns.

His list of potential policies is hopeless, of course. Gun safety measures don’t help against common street criminals or uncommon mass murderers.

Marines’ Small Arms Modernization Strategy

Monday, September 21st, 2015

The Marine Corps’ Small Arms Modernization Strategy includes some long-overdue elements:

The Corps is considering allowing camouflage painted rifles for every Marine and suppressors for rifle squads, Woodburn said. It’s part of an effort to help Marines blend into their surroundings and communicate better. The moves could also give every Marine an “operator” look, although both initiatives are just now being researched.

Driving the effort is the idea to bring rifles in line with the rest of Marine gear. While millions of dollars have been spent developing and fielding Marine Pattern digital camouflage in desert and woodland color schemes, Marines still carry black rifles with a distinctly mechanical shape.

A near-term fix could give commanders the authority to allow Marines to paint their rifles to match the environment to which they’re deploying, Woodburn said. It is something many civilian hunters and members of elite units like Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command already do. The Army has also authorized the move since 2010, when the service recognized the need for better concealment in Afghanistan.

Some achieve the effect with commercial spray paints, while taking care to properly mask optics and other sensitive parts of a rifle. However, Woodburn said the Marine Corps is working with the Office of Naval Research to develop something that can withstand high temperatures and possibly provide other benefits, like concealment in the non-visible spectrum.

The more photos of American forces I see, the more it bothers me that perfectly camouflaged troops are carrying black rifles, while wearing black sunglasses, with black night-vision goggles mounted on their helmets.

Pancor Jackhammer

Friday, September 18th, 2015

I had never heard of the Pancor Jackhammer before, but Ian of Forgotten Weapons got hold of the only existing example, an early prototype, and took it apart to explain its unusual action:

When I first heard of the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver, I thought, that might be a good action for a combat shotgun. I didn’t realize someone had already done it.

Boys with Sticks

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Simcha Fisher tells a tale of boys with sticks:

Several years ago, a nice family came over our house. It was partly for a social call, and partly to see if our family would do well as a daycare for their two kids when the mom went back to work. The girl was about four, and the boy was about six.

As we adults chatted, the kids explored the house. At the far end of the living room were the toys, including a tidy bucket full of weapons belonging to our sons and daughters. There were bows and arrows, swords of all kinds, scimitars, light sabers, pistols, slingshots, rifles, daggers, and machine guns. I watched a little nervously, because I knew this mom leaned progressive, and was raising her kids to be non-violent.

Her little girl immediately found a baby doll, sat down, and put the doll to bed. The little boy scuttled over to the weapons, and before I could say more than, “Um–” he had grabbed two swords and swung them, with a natural expertise, in a gleeful arc over his head.

“HAHH!” he shouted, and held that pose for a moment, swords raised. Eyes on fire, happiest boy in the world.

I slewed my eyes over to his parents, not sure what I would see. Horror? Disgust? Outrage? Dismay?

They both looked . . .  immensely relieved. “Well, there goes that,” said the dad, apparently referring to the no-weapons policy they’d followed strictly for the last six years. I tried to apologize, but they both said, “No, no, it’s fine.” And it was fine. There was no tension in the room. Their son had hands made to hold weapons, and now he had some.

I wasn’t surprised to see the boy taking so naturally to swordplay, but I was fascinated to see his parents taking so naturally to the rules of our house, which were so different from the rules in their own home.  Once their son’s unsullied hands first made contact with the weapons of war, the whole family relaxed into that reality immediately.

There’s a larger point:

It doesn’t make violence go away when we always tell boys, “Put that stick down.” Instead, it’s making a world where people, boys and girls alike, have no idea what to do about unjust violence.


Boys who are never allowed to be wild are boys who never learn how to control that wildness.


Don’t banish fighting; banish cruelty.

In the issue of violent play, as with so many other issues, we’re forgetting there’s such a thing as balance and middle ground. Parents believe that there are only two choices: we can raise our sons to be quiet, passive, nurturing empaths who could easily slide into a princess dress without making a ripple — or we can raise them to be swaggering, slavering beasts who exist only to give orders and mow down anything in their path.

There is, of course, an in-between. There are men who are strong and tough and in control of their strength, and these men were once boys who grew up with both weapons and rules.


Violence doesn’t take over when boys are allowed to have sticks. Violence takes over when no one tells boys what sticks are for.

Shooting Records

Monday, September 7th, 2015

Exhibition-shooter and fast-draw record-holder Bob Munden noticed that The Guinness Book of Records dropped most shooting records:

In 1981, the year most shooting records disappeared from the Guinness Book, I called David Boehm of the Sterling Publishing Company and asked why. He told me that there is a committee that approves books to be used in school libraries across the nation. The committee informed Mr. Boehm that it would only approve the Guinness Book for continued use as a reference book in school libraries if gun records were removed. To protect the Guinness Book from a black list, that’s what the publishing company felt it had to do.

If you look at recent editions of the Guinness Book of World Records, you will notice that most gun records by shooters using real firearms (not gimmicked with things like light-weight aluminum barrels,) are no longer listed, including those set by the famous Annie Oakley, Ed McGivern, Tom Frye and myself. It is a shame that a small group of people on that education committee, people who probably grew up in cities away from the shooting sports millions of Americans and citizens of many other nations appreciate and enjoy, can have the power to effectively erase history.

Number One with a Bullet

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Number One with a Bullet is clearly by right-wing gun nuts, for right-wing gun nuts, so it won’t be persuasive, but I’ll admit that I enjoyed it, even if it was a bit too smug:

Welcome to Texas

Friday, September 4th, 2015

They say the state bird of Texas should be the construction crane, and Ryan Holiday finds that there’s a certain freedom and ridiculousness to Texas that he loves:

Sure, let’s have a 20 oz. chicken fried steak for breakfast. Sure, let’s put queso on everything and have tacos for every meal. I remember shortly after moving there, asking an employee at Cabella’s if he had any recommendations for a gun safe. “Well, son,” he said to me in complete seriousness, “m’boy moved away to college a few years ago so I reinforced the door frame and just turned the whole guest room into a gun vault. Have ya thought ‘bout doing sumthin like that?” Good God, I thought. And then, when we moved into a new house this year, it had a walk in closet turned into gun vault. Welcome to Texas.

New Amsterdam Reload

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Pirates really were bristling with weapons, as the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum explains:

To survive battles in close quarters, pirates had to be walking arsenals. Pistols took time to reload, so most pirates carried more than one. Blackbeard carried six in addition to a cutlass and a dagger.

Jim Cirillo would approve of the New Amsterdam Reload.


Friday, August 21st, 2015

The cape has become synonymous with drama. In the Italian fencing tradition, it served as a shield and a distraction. The Japanese had their own useful cape, the horo, which resembled a small parachute:

Horo were used as far back as the Kamakura period (1185–1333).

When inflated the horo was said to protect the wearer from arrows shot from the side and from behind.

Horo on Maeda Toshiie

Wearing a horo is also said to have marked the wearer as a messenger (tsukai-ban) or person of importance. According to the Hosokawa Yusai Oboegaki, the diary of Hosokawa Yusai (1534–1610) taking of an elite tsukai-ban messenger’s head was a worthy prize. “When taking the head of a horo warrior, wrap it in the silk of the horo. In the case of an ordinary warrior, wrap it in the silk of the sashimono”.

(Hat tip to Wrath of Gnon.)