Tuesday, November 3, 2015

If the discussion is not reasonable, neither will be the outcome

Sent to Editor, Santa Fe New Mexican (11-6-15)

If we want buy-in from the gunsport community to reduce gun violence, we need policies drafted with their help. Careless legislation and rhetoric ensure a continued standoff.

We squandered an opportunity to strengthen background checks after Newtown due to New York Sen. Charles Schumer’s poorly drafted legislation. At face value, it would have criminalized honest sportsmen swapping guns while target shooting in the woods and would have created a back-door gun registration system, a poison pill to gun owners. Thus, nothing happened.

A NY Times piece reprinted here in the New Mexican threw out numbers without a context, suggesting concealed weapons (CCW) holders are reckless.  The editorial carefully omitted that if one actually runs the statistics, they show that CCW holders have far lower homicide rates than the general population. CCW holders are, statistically, safe.

Here are some ideas I think worth discussing:

CCW training in New Mexico includes safety and violence prevention modules.  Reduce its cost and encourage enrollment. Society benefits (less crime, fewer trauma victims) so let’s expand such programs and offer violence prevention and gun safety classes to gun owners via every law enforcement department, free or with a nominal cost.

Make it easy for any private party to obtain a background check when selling a gun to someone they don’t know well. Perhaps, with proper legislation, this can be done on the laptop of the nearest county sheriff’s deputy.

Support the background check bill introduced by Texas Sen. John Cornyn and supported by the NRA that would close some of the reporting gaps that have caused spectacular failures.

The National Shooting Sports Federation’s “Don’t Lie For The Other Guy” program can work alongside Federal prosecution of straw purchasers. Add jail time to straw purchasers whose actions lead to gun crime.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms must clearly define “engaging in the business” of selling firearms,  thus who needs a Federal Firearms license. This provides a level playing field for background checks. The “gun show loophole” is not about gun shows, but low volume resellers who fly below the radar of a Federal license.

Trigger locks should be handed out by police. Gun safes or locking cabinets should be a staple of responsible gun ownership. Theft and accidents can be reduced.

Through counseling, peer awareness, and better mental health programs, divert people from becoming mass shooters.

Eliminate the “revolving door felon program" that is responsible for much violent crime. Add much tougher penalties for using guns in the commission of a crime and for felons in possession. Make it stick.

Defuse a culture that, whether with cars or guns, is ready to elevate any petty dispute into lethal violence and rage. There are reasons New Mexico has higher gun crime than WY or VT and its not because we have more guns.

Banning "assault weapons" with millions already sold would penalize millions of honest citizens. But if we cannot prevent rare but catastrophic misuse, we must consider the risk these weapons pose even if it is a rare event.  Perhaps a graded regulatory approach between low capacity semiautomatic and fully automatic weapons can be designed. Keep them out of immature or raging hands.

End the failed War on Drugs and revitalize our urban economies, thus providing options other than crime.

There is no magic bullet, but with enough normal ones, we can reduce tragedies and preserve rights.  Rights and responsibilities are different sides of the same coin. Until we meet each other halfway, we will not create reasonable policy, nor will we reduce the level of gun violence.

(I posted a longer discussion along these lines a couple weeks ago. Click here if you have not had enough already!)

Monday, October 19, 2015

NY Times Sez Justin Trudeau Headed For Victory Over Stephen Harper in PM Race

Lets see how this plays out, but sometimes you just have to restrain from snickering....unsuccessfully, of course...

For a more recent version of the sing-along, just before the election, see below. Original is on the Harperman web site.

I've really not got that much of a dog in this fight (other than my usual center-left tendencies) except that as a more or less government scientist myself, I found it outrageous that Tony was summarily suspended from his job for what we in the States would consider a 1st Amendment right: singing a protest song about a Federal election. No sooner did word get out about Turner being booted from his job as a Government scientist than the song went viral on every social media and as you can see below, ended up being sung live across Canada. Beware of social media, eh?  I wonder how much of that unexpected landslide to the Liberal Party resulted not from "Harperman" but because of the Canadian Government's ham-handed dealing with Turner, which turned a song into a movement.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What would "reasonable gun safety laws" do for us?

This is (still) a draft, as it seems an exercise in continued reading and rewriting. Starting question: how can you have a reasonable public discussion about something that is a mystery to the public?

In spite of concerns,
 the trend is in the right direction
click graph to enlarge
FBI stats

"The U.S. rate of gun homicides and other crimes fell after 1993, according to two studies released Tuesday. But a (Pew) survey showed that only 12 percent of Americans said they felt gun homicides had fallen. "--NPR Report.

The New Mexican ran a constant staple of editorials (Miranda Viscoli, Dr. Bruce Merchant and imported from elsewhere), since the Umpqua Community College shooting. Most boil down to this--there is too much gun violence, and we need to do something to tightly control guns and their owners. These writers critical of gun ownership don't use "gun control" because the term is politically sensitive. Rather, we see "gun safety", a euphemism, in most cases, for gun control. Gun safety is typically taught in Hunter Safety, concealed carry, or other gun handling classes. Cutting gun violence is distinct from making guns safer, as most gun violence is deliberate use of the weapon for its intended purpose--to shoot something. In this case, wrongfully shoot a fellow human being. A lot of the so called "gun safety" proposals may marginally reduce gun crime, but none attack, head on, the underlying reasons people shoot each other.

The usual "reasonable" suggestions to cure gun violence are: universal and more careful background checks, eliminating the three day default for approving instant background (i.e., NICS) checks, having more effective mental health intervention, and banning or restricting high capacity semiautomatic weapons, including "assault rifles". How effective these would be individually or in tandem is a good question. Or, as alluded to by Viscoli, do we need to "...simply got rid of the guns...", which is certainly not the track the U.S. is on right now.

The background check system stops some potentially bad sales but is not foolproof.  Some of our more infamous shooters passed theirs, including the recent Oregon example. Sometimes the system fails. Dylan Roof got his gun because local and Federal authorities missed their handoff, as he should have been a prohibited person. The Virginia Tech killer got his because of a loophole in psychiatric reporting, later fixed by legislation. Plus, for the system to work, it needs data. Even though his college was terrified of him, reported him to campus police, and suspended him subject to a mental health evaluation, Tucson shooter Jared Loughner was never arrested by campus police or otherwise put on a no-buy list. James Holmes' psychiatrist was apparently doubtful whether she had grounds for an involuntary commitment. Indeed, the opposite can happen. When a Los Alamos police officer allegedly made alarming statements about harming the public, and was involuntarily hospitalized for evaluation by his Department, the acting police chief was fired and the county sued by the officer.

The three day NICS limit, roundly criticized after the Roof debacle, was put into the background check system in the Brady Bill. After three days, a hold on an applicant is lifted unless supported by evidence and the sale can go through by default. This has sometimes been a concern, as in the example of Dylan Roof, where bad communication between the FBI and local authorities was not resolved. An arbitrary deadline should not empower a prohibited person, but neither should an indefinite wait be an option for the rest of the public.  If an extension is required beyond the mandated 3 day period, it should require a well defended reason in writing and a firm date of resolution. We need to fix these systems rather than accept confusion, ineptitude, and delays.

The so-called gun show loophole is actually a failure of Federal code to define clearly who is "engaged in the business" of selling firearms. Small volume private sellers need not acquire a Federal Firearms license and do not need to do background checks. Federal law still prohibits these private individuals (as well as you and I, when we sell grandpa's old deer rifle) from selling a firearm to a resident of another state, or to someone they know or have reason to believe, is prohibited from owning a firearm. But without a formal NICS enquiry, how does one know the history of a stranger? There is concern that such small volume sellers are a conduit for illicit sales, but several studies (here is one) have not indicated small volume private sellers are the single major market for illicit guns. Other avenues include theft or straw purchases made through FFLs, such as Dawn Nguyen buying guns for convicted felon William Spengler, Jr, who used one of those guns to ambush and murder two volunteer firemen. Nonetheless, some clear definition of what constitutes a firearms business and thus broadening the scope of who needs an FFL might stop illicit purchases that are eventually linked to crime. Likewise, a greater Federal crackdown on straw buyers and sloppy sellers is critical.

 The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

 People with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than those without a mental health disorder. In fact, those with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime.

Mental illness can be blamed for some gun crime, but we need to be careful not to engage in some-all fallacies or pretend we can paint with a broad brush. Most mentally ill people are not violent. Further, some of the mass murderers were never adjudicated as mentally ill. Better national mental health care treatment is critical to reducing incidents such as the James Boyd shooting (where Boyd was the victim) as well as intervening with folks like Loughner, Lanza, and Holmes. In retrospect, it seems that huge signals were missed in some of these cases, but how to make sure we don't overlook the Adam Lanzas of the world (even if their parents are oblivious) while not stigmatizing all others needing or looking for help, or treating all the mentally ill as potential killers, is the question. If Malcom Gladwell's essay about school shooters, who he posits see mass school shootings as in some bizarre way validated to the shooter by earlier acts, says anything, it is that we don't fully understand school shooters. Gladwell also tells us that parents are often oblivious to their actions.  The seventeen year old John LaDue who amassed firepower and explosives, with his parents oblivious to his plans to create mass carnage, suggests some of these events would be stopped if parents were simply paying attention. Plus, the psychology of school shooters, and how to counteract it, seems one excellent field for research into gun crime, a topic that has been a political football.

"The carbine is a great weapon system for its time," he said. "...It will increase the war fighter's lethality and mobility." --1st Marine Division gunner and marksman, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Vince Kyzer, Marine Corps Times.

In 1999, five years into the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the Columbine High School massacre occurred. One of the perpetrators, Eric Harris, was armed with a Hi-Point 995, an "assault weapons ban-legal" version of an "assault weapon". http://www.assaultweapon.info/

"As I've dug into it, I'm not sure that's the answer because the definition of an assault weapon has not much to do with what it actually does but more with what it looks like," says Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

There are legitimate questions as to why a private citizen should own weapons primarily developed for the battlefield with no strings attached ( I find the difference between semiautomatic and full auto capability a distinction without a difference in the present context). Indeed, the Swiss and Israelis, who have allowed citizens to keep arms for their universal "militias", have increasingly put  restrictions on them. That said, efforts at eliminating or regulating "assault rifles" have been introduced long after the horses left the barn. Civilian,, semi-automatic versions of the M-16 and AK-47, which with their various sister and successor rifles have become iconic in some circles, were introduced half a century or more ago. No serious thought was given to restricting civilian versions of modern military rifles before they became popular; once a very porous ban was finally proposed in the nineties, it became an "out of my cold, dead hands" controversy. Further, the ban made no real sense as it left millions in circulation and finally, the ban was often based more on appearance than function.  Even millions more are now out there and although they are used in a few high profile slaughters (Aurora, Newtown, etc,), they are largely not the weapon of choice for street crime shootings. Furthermore, they are ideal home defense weapons for the same reason the Marines want them for close quarter combat. That all said, if lunatics continue to use them to deliver high velocity carnage to schools, theatres, and fire departments, some sort of regulation is inevitable on public safety grounds. We let everyone drive (and some do a bad job of it, leading to 30k deaths a year). We don't let everybody drive a Freightliner.

As far as crime, according to FBI data, most gun homicides are performed with handguns while rifles are less commonly used than blunt objects. Yet the spectre of an Adam Lanza mowing down a classroom with a high capacity semiautomatic rifle is definitely a public safety concern and frankly, these mass shootings happen in nice places where one does not expect them, not the inner city.  Probably nothing short of an "assault weapons ban" and buyback would satisfy the most vocal critics of these weapons, but find this an impractical idea politically and operationally. The threat of occasional misuse of high capacity rifles and handguns on a gruesome scale (Aurora, Newtown, VA Tech) remains, though as long as these are out there. Note: According to NPR, a Federal appellate court upheld most of New York's SAFE Act, but the Supreme Court may review it.

So what? Indeed, if various "common sense" measures were implemented, individually or in tandem, these would likely reduce shootings and gun homicides incrementally, but probably not by a sea change. But perhaps one or two fewer mass shootings per year would be worth incremental improvements. Charles Krauthammer, in a recent editorial, is more hard-headed. To precipitously reduce firearms violence, we would need to precipitously reduce firearms, as President Obama alluded in a comment about Australia--and its not entirely agreed that there was cause and effect there. We have 300,000,000 guns and 300,000,000 cars for 300,000,000 people; the death toll from cars is about what it is for guns. Both can be dangerous when misused and in spite of universal competency-based licensing of vehicle operators (something we cannot require of a citizen in order that he/she exercise an enumerated Constitutional right) and universal registration of cars, the per capita carnage from gun and car ownership is similar.  Mistakes, carelessness, and criminal behavior ensure some cars and some guns are misused. But as far as the Australia solution, we have cultural differences and the Second Amendment. Drastically curtailing gun ownership would take a sea change in American politics resulting in a reversal of recent Court rulings or an overhaul of the Second Amendment. Sadly, law abiding gun owners are caught between the rock of mass murderers and the hard place of gun abolitionists. Hence the stridency of the discussion.

I think we will have to think outside the box. Regulation alone is a bad idea, and its results are largely over-promised. You don't eliminate a market through prohibition, as drugs and alcohol showed. A combination of mutually agreed on refinements to controls such as background checks, better mental health care, and broader vendor licensing will help. As will a better ability to find and intervene with people who are contemplating violence, before they snap. As will vigorous prosecution of gun crimes including straw purchasing. As will a de-emphasis on violence in our culture (video games, Hollywood, rhetoric--see embedded video in my previous post). As will parents having some control over their offspring and investing in a gun safe to prevent theft or unauthorized use.

"...Something dawned on me a couple of years ago because I go out on patrol regularly with our officers here. The criminals in Chicago do not drop their firearms, and I was struck by this. I said, why don't they drop the guns? Well, it turns out that the sanction from the gang for losing the gun is greater than the sanction from the criminal justice system if we actually catch them with it..."
--Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, in an NPR interview

Since handguns seem to be the real weapon of choice for bad guys, we might try to reach across the abyss between the two sides and discuss some meaningful ways to keep them out of the wrong hands. First of all, make the crime tougher. As discussed by Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on NPR, the high rates of gun crime in Chicago compared to New York City can be explained in large part by the difference in illegal possession penalties. In Chicago, the penalties are so insubstantial that gang members worry more about retribution from fellow gangsters if they toss a gun than they worry about being arrested with the illegal gun. In NYC, quite the opposite. Small wonder, as McCarthy tells us, that Chicago is rife with illegal guns.

We need to end the War on Drugs and take a different tack on that issue, which drives so much urban crime.  Abdicating control of drugs to the underworld means we have no control over drugs and further, that they will inexorably lead to criminal activity, hence, guns. We need to tighten up sentencing standards where violent crime and gun related crime is concerned and take a harsher stance towards early release. If the latest shooting of an Albuquerque cop by a man who the Federal prosecutor called 'the worst of the worst" tells us anything, its that some people really need to be in jail, hence a tougher three strikes law. The Bill of Rights was not written to turn our streets into free fire zones.  We need to return some stability and optimism to the 98%. Guns, like drugs and alcohol, will be misused by people who are disposable parts of an economy that has some of the worst wealth distribution and fewest guarantees on the value of tomorrow in a century. Whether it be despair, anger, poverty, or demoralizaton, the economic maladjustment in the U.S. will lead to trouble. Fix the trouble first. Finally, we need to teach some responsibility and self restraint to go with all those 1A and 2A freedoms. Being a hothead with a gun, as the shooter of a four year old in a road rage incident points out, is a bad combination. We need something analogous to the fire triangle for guns.

Finally, as far as knowing who has handguns and keeping these real weapons of choice away from criminals, perhaps some controls can augment the above actions which go more to the root of why these weapons are misused. If the gun controllers would forever renounce any form of confiscation or retroactive changes in ownership laws, would the firearms community agree to a national standard for handgun permits? This would be a "shall issue" system, not replace a separate concealed carry system, and would not only allow hunters and competitors to move between states (e.g., to attend competitions at Camp Perry, OH or here at Whittington, NM) but might make it easier to track and prosecute straw purchasers and illegal possessors.

Guns alone don't automatically mean violence, as states like Vermont and Wyoming, with astonishingly low rates of gun crime, can attest. Guns are used improperly when the social context is present to do so, which is why Vermont and Wyoming have many guns, few restrictions, and little gun crime, while Chicago and Washington, D.C. have a lot of illicit guns, lots of violence, and lots of ineffective laws. We need to do better than bicker about the same old things if we are to make progress on this issue, something we badly need to do. The current gun control debate seems to be "the answer is gun control, now what was the question?"

As Brian Calvert says in his excellent High Country News piece, if we cannot live up to the freedoms our Founding Fathers left for us, we may well lose them.  Firearms enthusiasts need to help solve the problems that universal gun availability, an enumerated right, sometimes causes. After all, in some respects, we are subject matter experts in all things guns.

Required reading: "Lessons Learned, And Unlearned, From A Life Around Guns" Brian Calvert, Managing Editor, High Country News. (Like Brian, my first gun was a single shot, break-open 20 Ga)

"Both sides of the gun violence debate usually miss the point. We don't have to choose between owning, using, and enjoying guns, on one hand, and preventing gun violence, on the other. Both sides need to come together to support commonsense solutions to gun violence, like keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like the young man who shot me. That's why I'm fighting this fight. That's why I'm working to bring people together to support gun rights and reduce gun violence. I hope you join me." Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, 3/14/2013
By the way, there is no correlation between gun ownership rate and gun homicide rate. Stay outa Dee Cee and Louisiana and you are OK.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hollywood and Gun Violence

Someone posted this to an NPR story. I think it was taken down shortly afterwards. Indeed, I hated waiting for Bill Maher to come on because the advertisements just before the show reeked with gratuitous violence. So answer me this: how can you worship violence in the media, make money off of it (its not just the gun industry that takes home their bacon with guns), and demand that gun violence stops?

But if you are going to be critical, at least be funny.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Half a Degree and Harvest Failure. Why We Need to Understand Climate Change

In his January 8th Albuquerque Journal essay on climate, George Will made two major points. One, that since climate varies naturally, humans cannot be "primary disruptors of climate normality". There is a fallacy here: because climate varies without our help doesn't mean we can’t have an important impact. Mr. Will discusses historical climate change and the impact even minor climate variations have on human civilization,  noting that temperature changes as small as half a degree centigrade can determine crop success or failure. Because small changes in climate can have large impacts on critical human activities, we need to study and understand climate, and all the influences causing its change.

Climate responds to how much heat the earth receives from the Sun, to how much of that heat the planet retains, and to how it is distributed on the earth.  Variations in solar output (often correlated to sunspot cycles), wobbles in the Earth's orbit (Milankovich cycles), slow changes in the arrangements of the continents and oceans due to plate tectonics, eruptions of volcanoes that release climate-impacting particles and gases to the atmosphere, and variations in how ocean currents and water masses (i.e., the Gulf Stream, Japan Current, El Nino/Southern Oscillation) distribute heat to the planet influence global climate. The chemical makeup of the atmosphere controls how it retains or loses heat to space, acting as a giant radiator. In essence, its a complicated system; these processes work on different time scales and to make matters interesting, there are feedback loops between these processes.

The reason we worry about using fossil fuels is that when they are burned, they release their carbon as carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2, as well as water vapor and methane,  are important "greenhouse" or Tyndall gases. These gases, because of their molecular structures, absorb and re-radiate to the atmosphere infrared energy that would otherwise simply escape back to space, an effect studied since the early eighteen hundreds by scientists including Joseph Fourier, Svante Arrhenius, and John Tyndall. Moving large quantities of carbon as CO2 to the atmosphere from carbon sources long buried in the earth makes humans agents of climate change. This is because we are changing the atmosphere's effectiveness in retaining more of the Sun's energy. Some estimate that without any Tyndall gases in the atmosphere, the earth's climate would be some tens of degrees colder. We have, in a little over a hundred years, increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by some forty percent and we are not slowing down. Sixty to seventy percent of the Earth’s greenhouse warming is due to water vapor while carbon dioxide provides just a few degrees (NASA's Cosmos). But as Mr. Will reminds us, a few degrees can be profound. Both cooling and heating of the earth impact human and biological activities, weather patterns, and sea level.

Our ability since the Industrial Revolution to change atmospheric chemistry and thus the atmosphere's ability to retain the sun's heat, in a nutshell, is why humans can profoundly (at least with respect to our own existence) impact climate. Since as Mr. Will tells us, even small changes in climate can be the difference between feast and famine, we really do need to recognize two things. One, humans influence climate, and I've just described one important way in which we do so. There are others; not all might produce warming. Two, we need to understand how the Earth works and how we impact it if we are to manage rather than react to change, sometimes feasting, sometimes starving, often not knowing what to expect next.

This was published in the 25 January 2015 Albuquerque Journal, complete with the original comma splices.... 
Judy Curry on climate: WSJ: The global warming statistical meltdown.

Climate Heretic: Judith Curry Turns on her Colleagues (Sci American, reprinted in Nature)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Idealism vs. Idealism....

Interesting contrast in idealism.

For Jihad Recruits, a Pipeline From Minnesota to Militancy

Los Alamos Native Seeks Help For His International Battalion

In one case, Minnesota youths become radicalized Islamists and join an international assortment of young men fighting for ISIS; later two die in service of their "ideals". In another case, a young man from Los Alamos joins an international assortment of volunteers who have formed a brigade as part of the Israeli Defense Force as they head off to fight in that cauldron of violence, injustice, and evenly matched political pig-headedness, Gaza. Seems to me the last thing the Middle East needs is more young idealists heading over there to kill each other. Maslow's Hammer, you know.

I'm sure no one in the FBI or State Dept. will object too strongly if we send money to Jonathan Miller, but I would check with the Feds before I wrote a check.. Try writing a check to those Minnesota boys who joined ISIS and see how fast Uncle Sam's black SUVs will be pulling up to your door.

There is certainly no equivalence between ISIS and Israel, but there is an equivalence of young men overwhelmed with idealism, following their bliss, and taking up arms for what they consider a just cause--and killing other people. We just don't know except in retrospect if the cause is really just. Many men came back from Vietnam pretty jaded. Or for that matter, from more recent conflicts. Heck, there was a time in my life when I lustily cheered on the IDF, my first name notwithstanding. I'm a little more detached these days. That's what age and history does to you.

It seems to me that if young American men want to join an army, it ought to be ours. Or, become a citizen of another country. Abraham Lincoln Brigade notwithstanding.

Added later.

Valerie Harris has attacked me and my letter, which is certainly her right, just as it is my right to criticize young men for volunteering to join various Middle Eastern military or terrorist organizations when it is apparent that neither military force nor terrorism have a ghost of a chance of solving the problems endemic to the region for the last half century.

Indeed, Mr. Miller's request was for equipment that would be used as his unit marches off towards Gaza, which is the latest scene of violence and devastation in a region long used to senseless acts of tit for tat attack and retribution.

Ms. Harris could not, however, do a better job of conflating Israel the nation-state with Judaism the religion or with the Jewish community in order to shut down any criticism of the nation-state by hanging the threat of an accusation of religious intolerance or hate crime over the heads of those with which she disagrees. Such conflations are highly unfortunate, and to some degree, are red herrings.

I truly hope that Mr. Miller gets home safe and sound, whether home is in the US or State of Israel, but also wish that all of the various adversaries in the Middle East would find a more constructive way than bombs and rockets to solve their problems. The State of Israel is a fact of life and it is not going away nor should it contract to indefensible borders. The inhabitants of the region would be well advised to find constructive ways to live together rather than fight each other. I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can You Tell Ferguson from Fallujah? These Guys Sure Can't.


The over-militarization of the police in many American jurisdictions, egged on by Dept. of Homeland Security grants and the Pentagon's 1033 program that gifts (taxpayer funded) surplus military equipment to police departments, is coming home to roost in excesses of violence and Constitutional infringements. SWAT teams are no longer small elite units dedicated to potentially high violence situations, but are the go-to units for a wide variety of mundane jobs as discussed in The Economist (i.e., checking barber shops for licenses, raiding low-stakes poker games, raiding homes for a thousand bucks worth of stolen clothes, checking bars for underage drinking, etc, etc).  Regulatory inspections have become no-knock, warrantless searches and mistakes are being made as trigger happy cops are shooting innocent people (and occasionally being shot themselves) as citizens, er, I mean enemies, wonder who the hell is breaking down their door.

As Radley Balco (book author, Washington Post writer) has said quite eloquently, this has gone too far.  The only beneficiary is the bloated military industrial complex, where arms suppliers can keep building and selling stuff like MRAPs to the military, which can then pawn the stuff off on the police, making it look like there is not as much waste. Meanwhile, the waste continues, in the form of  the people wasted by militarized cops, and the deluge of your tax dollars continuing to fall into a Federal black hole. Indeed, some of these police forces seem to have fallen victim to Maslow's Hammer, i.e., when all you have are warfighters and MRAPs, everything looks like a war.

Data on Transfer of Military Gear to Police Departments (NY Times)


"...Make no mistake, I don’t want to see operators in MRAPs smashing through a front door to serve a No Garage Sale Permit warrant. But I also don’t want an innocent victim to bleed out in front of a house where a lunatic is firing an AK. If an MRAP can be used to rescue that victim, I’m all for it...."  --Chris Hernandez, police officer and army vet writing "Cops, MRAPs, and the Heartbreak of Police Operator Syndrome"
 I find it rather predictable that nowhere in this latest confrontation between citizens and police who have been over-militarized by the Dept of Defense's Excess Property Program has there been a hue and cry from the militia and Tea Party types who love to rail against how Big Government has intruded on our freedoms and Constitutional rights.  I am sure the folks in Ferguson would agree, if they were asked. I wonder where those militia types who rallied behind deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy are right now. Would they give a rat's ass about these people?  Sure is quiet out there.

There was a mythical time long ago where Hill Street Precinct Captain Frank Furillo kept SWAT Team Leader Lt. Howard Hunter under a tight leash, only letting the team loose as an absolute last resort; there are times you damn well need them. But it seems to me that old Howard "never saw a situation he couldn't use to deploy a SWAT team" is now running the show. Of course, fiction preceded fact. Recall that episode when Hunter buys the flamethrowing tank?

"...Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?