Thursday, December 14, 2017

14 December, 2012-14 December, 2017

Pile the bodies high at Newtown and Columbine.

Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Orlando
And pile them high at Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs.
Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

With apologies to Carl Sandburg

There is a danger to relying on bombs and bullets to keep the peace, whether domestically or internationally: sometimes they go off. The world has lived with nuclear deterrence since the start of the Cold War and as an astute reader knows (“The Limits of Safety” by Scott Sagan, “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser), we had several pretty close shaves with disaster, either because a bear crawled over the fence at a US installation, someone mistook a prerecorded air raid drill for the real thing, or otherwise sane leaders like Khruschev and Kennedy stood, joined at the hip at the nuclear precipice, just to make a geopolitical point. Fortunately neither jumped. What worries me now is that I have far less faith in the likes of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Kim Jong-Un to know when to hold them and when to throw them. Like, as in never throw them.

Likewise, on the domestic front, the recent Sturm und Drang on concealed carry reciprocity suggests we citizens rely on being perpetually armed and dangerous in order to ward off evil doers and neer do-wells. Like Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump playing with nuclear bombs, the average citizen lacks the training and experience and in some cases, probably the common sense to always do the right thing with a personal weapon. The fact that the House bill would appeal to the lowest common denominator in concealed carry reciprocity rather than impose bona fides is not a comforting thought. Its one thing to pull out the hand cannon or shotgun inside one’s own home as the door is being kicked down and that’s what Antonin Scalia and his merry men agreed to in Heller v District of Columbia. It’s in a little more of society’s interest to attach qualifiers when we are trusted to carry a deadly weapon in the public square. Its called a social contract. And we haven’t even discussed mass shootings or S. Chicago yet, although if you catch the significance of the title...

On the fifth anniversary of the Newtown Massacre, we need to think carefully about the role of armed deterrence. The grass may cover all and the 24/7 media coverage might dull our senses, but sooner or later that loud retort, either from small arms or from the re-entry vehicle of an ICBM, might get our attention. If we don’t deal with the underlying problems before that day, it will be too late. Or, to cut to the chase, if my house was a firetrap, I would clean up my house rather than buy a bunch more fire extinguishers.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Concealed carry reciprocity bill coverage on KUNM

Elaine Baumgartel, KUNM News

Gah, Elaine. I sat by the radio with my coffee to hear the story but it left me less than informed.

That was a pretty superficial story. Anyone following this debate could guess that New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence would oppose the concealed carry reciprocity bill but no real reasons were provided. Were those edited out? KUNM could run a longer piece for those who want details. Several problems with the bill were glossed over.

It is likely to be difficult to defend against Constitutional challenge.** No higher court has claimed that citizens have a right to concealed carry; Heller was actually a pretty limited ruling. So far the appellate courts have upheld state laws regulating concealed carry. SCOTUS recently declined to grant certiorari in Peruta v California on CA’s strict and highly restrictive “may issue” system. Congress is skating on thin ice. Its rationale on using an interstate commerce justification to let a Federal law trump state law is bizarre.
** http://www.nationalreview.c...

The bill would bypass many state requirements, including our own in NM, which mandates 16 hours of training including demonstrated proficiency on the range. According to two law scholars, people could shop for out of state permits from “easy” states and bypass their own state requirements. That is going to alarm both conservatives interested in Federalism and liberals and public safety professionals wanting to keep guns out of the wrong hands. I see Death by Lack of Cloture in the Senate assuming supporters even muster 51 votes.

Although both the NRA and its historical, gun hating opponents make grandiose claims about this bill (either its effects on empowering citizens against bad guys is overhyped or claims are made by opponents that blood will be running in the streets), the results would probably be more subtle. Most crime is home grown, not resulting from mythical hordes of concealed carry killers running between states. That said, there is no scientific evidence that citizen concealed carriers (statistically) make the nation safer and some work, such as by David Hemenway of Harvard, suggests (to paraphrase) that guns are no better than hollering or cell phones in deterring crime. Except, perhaps, to those reasonably well trained and situationally-aware private citizens who actually take self defense training, something that this bill doesn’t think is an important consideration. But if more people are carrying on trips, there are likely to be more guns left in cars or hotel rooms to steal and gun issue researchers know theft is a major conduit for guns to crimes.

Of course, some blue states brought this on themselves by imposing law that treats an honest mistake like a felony, i.e, New Jersey. The real purpose of a consensus concealed carry law would have been to bring states together rather than drive them apart.

I think this is a lousy bill and once again, a contest between the left and right to whip up support from their bases. Meanwhile, public safety and reasonable discussion is secondary in importance.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Deer Hunt

Or, how I became a vegetarian.

Sitting quietly in the woods
Warmly dressed in blaze orange goods
Listening, observing, watching for that fleeting shape to appear

Out of nowhere I hear the familiar, cautious sound of crunching leaves
A face comes into view through the trees
It’s a four-pointer

As I raise the Ithaca to my eyes
The Williams receiver sight showing the deer through the trees
Not a good shot yet

The deer stops, uncertain
I hold my aim, waiting for it to show itself from the brushes’ curtain
But the deer freezes

It takes a step back, wary
I think I see a clear shot through a small clearing
A single shot rings out, the deer stumbles

Deflected. A single small branch flies apart
The deer instead of dying has a shattered limb
It crashes into a ravine in a loud, long din

It takes me a while to reach his side
He is terrified, wounded, unable to rise
Writhing with terrified, wide eyes
Two final shots at a thrashing neck and his demise

I was stunned, shaken
At my bad shot taken
No animal should have to die in such a state
That was the last time I raised my rifle a life to take

-KJS, 2017

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Concealed Carry vs a mass shooter at 300 yds?

Figure 1. Beretta PX4 Storm Subcompact,
9mm Parabellum
Someone tell me how this (figure 1) would stop a mass shooter bursting into a church in a surprise attack using an AR, or taking aim at a crowd with a bump stock equipped rifle at 300 yards from the twenty something floor? The best one could hope for would be an armed person who took self defense seriously and trained for a close encounter of the wrong kind, available to exchange fire at relatively close range. And who had some warning rather than being caught flat footed.

Surprise attacks, such as those in Dallas, Sutherland, or Las Vegas, work. Recall that armed to the teeth as it was, we lost most of the Pacific Fleet and air force on 12-7-1941, as it was caught unawares. By the time what little was left of our military got its guns in the air, the Japanese lost 29 airplanes and a minisub in return. Like the recent Sutherland slaughter, this was not exactly a fair exchange.

So any semblance of rational discourse seems to be missing in action as Congress debates H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. I seriously doubt this bill, if passed, will significantly impact crime rates. Sure, if you convince more people to pack, some fraction will be idiots who will mishandle guns.  Some guns will be stolen and diverted to crime, or once in a while used in error. But CHL holders per se are not the problem as they are not going to commit crimes; statistically, they are good bets to not do so. Crime is driven by motive and opportunity.

The major problem with firearms availability is that 300-plus million guns in the nation means some are available to disgruntled spouses, fired employees, meth heads, career criminals, and those left MIA by the American Dream who decide on do-it-yourself brain surgery.  Last if not least, ARs that are freely available and owned by that occasional law abiding citizen inexplicably turned lunatic. So by convincing more of us that we need guns for self-defense, we ensure that more guns are available to fall into the wrong hands, either because the right hands become the wrong hands or because the right hands leave the little bangers laying around for wrong hands to pick up. As the police are saying in Albuquerque, criminal access to guns means that crime becomes more dangerous. Meanwhile, if that bill becomes law as written, anyone with the price of a pocket cannon and who can pass muster on their 4473 will be encouraged to slip the little banger into their coat pocket and take on God knows what with no training or idea what they are doing. As Charles Clymer says in this piece, this is not a good scenerio.

What the Gun Violence Prevention Community needs to do is convince people that society doesn't need to be armed to the teeth; there has to be a better, more effective way to ensure domestic tranquility.  By attacking all gun owners as statistical loose cannons, the GVP rhetoric pisses off gun people and digs that damn rhetorical moat deeper. Conversely, the NRA's suggesting that strapping one on will make the world safer and more polite is equally devoid of facts. An armed society armed society. And with Dana Loesch acting as spokesperson, the NRA is certainly not creating a polite one. But as long as the thesis that being armed as a rational and effective response to the world is not challenged, some people will want to be armed. Especially after reading that cities like Albuquerque are breaking records in homicides and the police force is understaffed.

One has to convince people that an Edsel is an Edsel and not a Toyota. Or you have lost the argument. Everyone wants a Toyota. Only collectors want an Edsel.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hypocrisy in Action: Everytown Taps Hollywood to Campaign Against SHARE Act, National Reciprocity

Right. Hollywood stars once again telling us to promote gun control.

The same Hollywood that makes a shitload of money subjecting us to media gun violence.

Maybe we need a little bit of consistency in the message? Reject Hollywood's media violence, too. With your wallet.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Science Standards in New Mexico

Sent this to the Public Education Dept. Their email address is in this New Mexican editorial on that subject.

To: Jamie Gonzales, Policy Division, New Mexico Public Education Department
RE: Proposed revisions of New Mexico Science Standards

Dear Mr. Gonzales

I am writing to you as a career professional scientist, not as a K-12 educator.My background includes a Ph.D. in geosciences from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where I studied the early evolution of the earth's continental crust. From there I went on to an appointment on the graduate faculty in geosciences at the University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology, where I researched topics in igneous petrology and environmental geochemistry. Finally, I landed at Los Alamos National Laboratory's Chemistry Division where I applied geochemical principles to nuclear forensic analysis. My comments here represent my opinions alone.

I found some aspects of the proposed New Mexico Stem standards laudable insofar as they include a lot of opportunities for teachers to teach the scientific method, which is critical to understanding how we arrive at an understanding of scientific "facts". Whether it be climate change or the age of the earth or any other natural phenomenon, the critical piece we need to teach young people is the scientific process by which we collect observations and make sound interpretations, i.e., the scientific method. Indeed, I am sometimes loath to say scientific "facts" because science is the method of weeding out what we know from what we think we know and from what we don't know and its amazing the caveats we put on what we "know". Robert Pirsig said it best in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: "The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn't misled you into thinking you know something you actually don't know".

Most important to this discussion is having excellent teachers. I was very lucky as a high school student to have an Earth Science teacher with a master's degree in Geology. He was such a good teacher that he won the New York State Academy of Sciences award for excellence in high school science teaching. Mr. Milton Babcock was a master of creating simple but challenging scientific problems out of everyday events. One I still remember was his creation of a week long "puddle watch" experiment where we made, and wrote down carefully, quantitative measurements on the evolution of rain puddles and mud cracks after a spring storm. Indeed, part of the test of a good teacher is deciding the appropriate level of how to teach the scientific method.

What disturbs me about the draft standards is where it appears we are either watering down or evading the teaching of scientific knowledge that some may find uncomfortable. I will give some brief examples and stop there.

]4-ESS1-1 NM: asks students to identify "possible" explanations offered by rock formations and fossils. What we really want are plausible, scientifically justifiable explanations based on scientific methodology. 2. MS-ESS1-4. Many have complained about eliminating the age of the earth. MS-ESS1-4 asked students to use rock strata to organize earth history but eliminated the actual age of the earth from the topic. Actually, one cannot use rock strata to determine the absolute age of the earth, so taking out the reference to 4.6 billion years is appropriate for that topic as strata give us relative time scales. But somewhere in the curriculum students must think about the actual age of the earth and how geologic ages are unambiguously determined. This is a critical oversight. Our understanding of the age of the earth evolved as we learned more about the chemistry and physics of atoms, nuclear processes (in both stars and atoms), and chemical systems. We know that lacking modern instrumentation, Bishop Usher calculated the age of the earth from Biblical genealogy. Later on, scientists estimated its minimum age from indirect means including how long it would take to salt the oceans (Joly) or how long it would take to cool the earth from a molten mass (Lord Kelvin). There were other estimates as well; I once taught an advanced Geo 101 section on how our knowledge of the age of the earth evolved. It was not until the development of radioactive dating in the mid twentieth century that we obtained an age that was based on absolute chronological measurements rather than indirect inference. Even that work, by Caltech Professor Clair Patterson, was difficult. Geochronology, by the way, is my background. The "evolution" of our understanding of the Earth's age is great story of science as it progresses.

One of the early criticisms of a young age for the Earth was that it did not allow adequate time for evolution, as pointed out by Lyell. Evolution seems another topic with which the PED is uncomfortable but is a critical scientific paradigm that cannot be avoided, regardless of who is queasy. Indeed, biological evolution is interwound with the earth's geochemical evolution, such as oxygenation of the atmosphere, and both topics must be taught, to some degree of understanding, if students are to understand how their world got to where it is today and where it might be in the future.

Finally, it is inappropriate to talk about climate fluctuation and gloss over climate change. Both are important processes that have acted over the age of the earth. Indeed, one of the biggest struggles we have in predicting whether forward models of climate change are accurate involves understanding decade to century long climate fluctuations so as to confidently understand long term trends. But the bottom line is that by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in vast amounts, humans are now, without a doubt, an agent of climate change. Getting students to understand that dynamic is critical to their being able to make value judgements on both scientific and political issues. Let's not duck the problem.

My recommendation is to send this draft of the standards out to a knowledgeable committee of scientists and science teachers for revision. We cannot afford to get this wrong and from my read of not only the standards but this morning's Albuquerque Journal, a lot of New Mexicans think this draft needs work.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mothers Demand Action, Live at Los Alamos Voices


Well, I attended, and the event was quite civilized in spite of the worry that if some of us "black hats" attended things would get rowdy. Frankly, the most animated comments didn't come from the gun nuts in the audience and while comments were not always accurate reflections of facts, were always within the bounds of civilized discourse. I was a little uneasy when a lady glowered at me and told me that her right to be safe and secure in her home was violated by the fact that some of us own guns.  Such all or nothing scenerios don't leave much room for cooperation.

LA Monitor reporter Tris DeRoma ran into me at the end and asked me what I thought. I told him I could have spent fifteen minutes, had I been one of the presenters, trying to separate gross generalizations, inaccuracies, and assumptions from what we know is defensible observation. As it was, I felt rather uncomfortable offering as many comments as I did as it was not my show.

The topic is quite obviously polarized, even in this safe community, where one is far more likely to be hit by a car than be shot. The comment from the lady in paragraph 1 goes to the well-studied phenomena of how people rank real vs. perceived risks. To some degree, nothing was about to change that polarized state. I suggested to Moms that rather than enduring yet another faceplant in the Legislature (which is what happened to HB 50, the Everytown-sponsored background check bill in its original form), folks try to pare down their demands to those which would not only cover the critical issue (see below) but get at least some acceptance from Those Other Guys (who those "other guys" are depends on which side of the fence you are on) rather than what one side or the other demands.

Taryn Nix, who I believe is Stephanie Garcia-Richard's political advisor, was a breath of fresh air trying to keep the discussion centered, reminding the crowd that what is politically reasonable is more relevant than what the various purists desire. That was good to hear; people forget that laws are about political sausage being made. But actually, the New Mexico Constitution  (including this interpretation) is even stronger on gun rights than the US Second Amendment and that is probably worth reflecting on as the discussion moves forward.

Looks like Voices will invite New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence to speak in a few months. Stay tuned. For better or worse, I'll probably be back there, next time as a speaker as I am a NMTPGV member as well as an LA-SC member. Which explains some of my bipolar ideas on this topic.


Moms Demand Action, a gun control group supported by New York City billionaire Michael Bloomberg, will be in town this Monday speaking at the Unitarian Church for the group Los Alamos Voices. There is an article about that here by Tris DeRoma in the Monitor. I was quoted in that article.

I'm actually a member of the grassroots group New Mexicans To Prevent Gun Violence, as well as a member of the Los Alamos Sportsman's Club. Note that I don't claim to speak for either organization, only for myself. Lord knows that on most topics even the family dog growls at me in disapproval, say nothing of the opinions of other people.  I come down sort of in no-man's land between the classic gun control and gun rights communities. Of course there is a danger in hanging out in no-man's land as you can get both friendly and unfriendly fire from both sides. But rather than expound here on my views of gun laws and gun rights, anyone that curious can peruse this blog for the many posts on that subject. The Blog Archive is on the right or you can do a search on "guns" in that little search box in the upper left hand corner of the blog page.

Although I welcome Moms to town, its not with flowers and open arms but with the hope that dialog between concerned parties can cure many ills. My principle beefs with Moms/Everytown are that they tend to treat gun owners as if we constantly need more "controls" on us, and that they tend to decide what they want to do at fifty thousand feet and as the joke goes, fly in and act like seagull managers. Last year they showed up for the legislative session after writing checks to key legislators (including our own 43rd District rep), pushed an identical background check bill here as well as in Maine and Nevada, and now are back to plan a future strategy. Their bill died in committee here, was defeated in Maine, and barely passed with 50.1 percent of the vote in Nevada, primarily on the basis of votes from urban Clark County (ie. Las Vegas, where the robbers one has to fear are of the one-armed variety in casinos).

I worked on that bill to try to craft something that would focus on the real problem, i.e., selling a gun to an unknown private party who could be anything from a nice guy in search of a deal to a grandmother murderer planning on taking out the local fire department. The bottom line should not be to micromanage all gun owners, few of whom get on the wrong side of the law, but to prevent a transfer to a bad guy like mass shooter William Spengler Jr, who obtained his guns by virtue of a naive neighbor who made straw purchases for him (hence the sometimes over-hyped background check system did not stop him). The takeaway message is that if you cannot vouch for someone from strong personal knowledge, get a background check. That should be the ethical as well as legal bottom line for every gun owner.

I had hoped to see a bill that would get at least some GOP and gun owner support. The bill's wording only changed in the waning hours of the legislature when the Everytown version was about to be taken off of life support, and too late to get something more reasonable out of committee.  Actually, the final form of the bill was near identical to a version I emailed Rep. Garcia-Richards although I don't know who actually crafted the version she introduced as the substitute bill during that last week push. The take home message should be to talk to people outside one's own bubble as well as to local sympathetic grassroots groups. Not only talk to, but listen to.

We have gun violence problems in New Mexico but one cannot treat the whole state like a black box. Anyone with a local news subscription or who researches violence knows the violence problems are localized and the guns are among the destructive tools, not the cause, of troubled communities such as found in parts of Albuquerque. It would take a historian to discover the last murder in Los Alamos.

State laws should be tuned to local needs and local solutions, not what a national gun control group wants to push for its own narrow interests. NMTPGV pushed a domestic violence restraining order bill last year that the legislature actually passed but that Gov. Martinez vetoed. That bill had broad support from family violence prevention specialists and prosecutors. I wish Moms would have pushed hard on that bill rather than pissing off gun owners and the GOP with their own poorly aimed efforts. Similarly, a bill that would provid tax credits for gun safes and for increased security at gun shops, along with carefully considered security requirements for safe gun storage, would perhaps be useful in reducing the burglary of guns and their diversion to crime. Not to mention, to help reduce the risks of kids blowing their own or each other's heads off. That said, as we know from Clovis, a gun safe only works if it is kept locked and access is restricted to responsible adults. It doesn't take many unlocked safes, or adults too generous with the combination to cause a Clovis or Spokane, which is why my fellow GVP gun guy Mike Weisser is sour on promoting gun safes.

Bottom line? I welcome Moms to Los Alamos in the hope that some dialog with the local community will make a positive difference and reduce the wrongful use of firearms. The last thing we need is a continued standoff between gun control and gun rights advocates while the shootings go on.And as Jimi Hendrix sings below, this has been going on for a long time.