Clear Thinker

Nov 212011
 

HR822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, has now passed the House

One of our ‘holy grail’ objectives is to replace the current crazy patchwork quilt of state level laws about concealed carry reciprocity with other states, and create instead an integrated nationwide program whereby a single license from your home state would be recognized throughout the country.

Sounds impossible?  Sounds impractical?  Well, certainly before the renaissance in concealed carry laws over the last two decades, it would have been both (and pointless too!) because few states allowed any type of concealed carry at all.

But there has been a steady restoration of concealed carry rights, state by state, and as our earlier article on the steady improvement of state concealed carry laws shows, we have gone from only eight states permitting concealed carry in 1986 to now only one state outright forbidding it in 2011.  Sure, there are a few other states that don’t play very fair with their issuing policies, but no-one can deny there’s been a huge change in concealed carry policies.

This has revived hopes for a framework whereby one state’s concealed carry permit would automatically be recognized by all other states.  At present it is tremendously difficult to know, for sure, which other states your home state permit may entitle you to carry in, and the truth changes fairly regularly as states add or remove other states from the list of states they will accept concealed weapons permits from.  Those of us who travel regularly typically end up with two, three, or even more permits in our wallets, and even with all of that, feel somewhat nervous and anxious!

There’s a clear analogous example – driving licenses.  A car is every bit as lethal a weapon as a pistol, and there are for sure way more auto deaths and injuries each year than there are firearms related deaths or injuries.  Different states also have slightly different driving laws (eg turning right on red, speed limits, talking on a cell phone, child car seats, etc) and these variations have not presented any problems in enabling a license issued in one state to be recognized in all other states (and most foreign countries too).

For the last many years, there has been a growing swell of support for a nationwide carry law, and just last week, the House of Representatives passed the ‘National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011’, currently in the form of HR 822 (click the link to see the text of the bill).

The bill was passed by a solid majority of 272 to 154 (click the link to see how your congressman voted).  A rush of amendments that would have massively watered down the provisions of the bill were all defeated by similar or even greater margins.  Anti-gun amendments were most recently proposed by Reps Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla), Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and by a Republican too, Rob Woodall (R-Ga).

Before it becomes law, two more steps remain.  It needs to also be passed by the Senate, and then signed into law by Barry Soetoro Barack Obama.

There is of course a Democrat majority in the Senate, unlike in the House, so this makes for a tougher passage.  But as the most recent opinion polls show, gun ownership is enjoying the most favorable level of public support in decades, and so at least some Democrat senators may prove sensitive to the winds of public opinion and join the Republicans to pass the measure.

Which leaves our President’s approval as the remaining obstacle.  For whatever reason, the current President has shied away from overt anti-gun acts, and in total, he has only vetoed two pieces of legislation in his almost three years in office.

He has been silent so far on whether he would support the legislation or not, so who knows what would happen at that point.

Criticism of HR822 – Is it a ‘Trojan Horse’

Some normally pro-gun rights groups have spoken out against HR822, claiming that it would create a new federal right to interfere in state level gun rights.  These people believe that any time we pass any element of gun related rights and legislation to the federal government, to the Department of Justice and to the BATF, we risk having those rights surreptitiously diminished and taken away.

We can certainly understand the cynicism of such people.  But if you read the text of the bill that has been referred on to the Senate, there is nothing in it at all to be concerned about.  Furthermore, the various amendments that would have indeed added provisions that would be negative or constraining were all soundly defeated.

So, if HR822 passes as it presently is written, we would seem to have a great bit of legislation that removes rather than adds gun control restraints on us.  And if there are attempts to rewrite HR822, at least at present there is little reason to believe such attempts would be successful.

The Inequity of HR822

Although we are enthusiastically supporting HR822, we have to observe that it is not without its problems.  We can understand the reasons some states require its citizens to pass a formal education course, and in a few cases, even to pass a range test too, before allowing its citizens the right to carry a concealed firearm.  It could be said this is similar to the process of getting a driver’s license – every state requires its residents to pass both a theory and practical exam before giving them a driving license.

At present, many of the states that require a format course of study prior to granting a concealed weapons permit have chosen to only recognize permits issued by other states that have similar training requirements, and have refused to recognize permits from states that issue permits without requiring any training at all.

HR822 would now obligate states with more restrictive training requirements to accept permits from out-of-state citizens who were granted permits on a more liberal basis.  And so you might have two people walking down the street, both with a concealed weapon, one a resident of the state who had to attend an eight hour class and then pass a range test for safety and accuracy in shooting, and who has to renew his license every five or fewer years, and the other, a visitor from another state who has a seven year permit which he got simply by paying a fee and filling out a form back home.  That feels a bit wrong, somehow.  At least there are some elements of standardization on driving license testing across the country.

But we’d much prefer ‘a bit wrong somehow’ to the situation instead where the out of state visitor can’t carry at all.  Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that people who have attended mandatory classes are any more (or less) likely to pose a risk to public safety when carrying their weapon than is the case with people who have not attended any mandatory classes.

What You Can Do

Please phone or email or fax or write to your two Senators, asking them to support HR822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, and to ensure its speedy passage through the Senate.  You can get contact details for your senators here.

If you are writing a letter, you could adapt one of these two letters and personalize it a bit before sending it.

To a Republican senator

Dear Senator (name)

HR822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, passed the House last week by a strong majority of 272 to 154, including almost every Republican Congressman.  It now needs to be passed in the Senate, too.

I know we have to carefully consider the implications of all legislation that may potentially either expand or diminish current gun rights in this country, and I know we must be respectful of state rights.  But with now 49 of the 50 states recognizing, in some form or another, the right to carry a concealed firearm, this legislation is not an end-run around the states.  It is merely a necessary national codification of the currently very confusing patchwork quilt of state/state reciprocity agreements in terms of which states will accept carry permits from other states.

We can do it for driving licenses (and I’m sure I don’t need to quote the appalling levels of deaths and injuries suffered as a result of vehicle accidents, massively in excess of those resulting from firearms).  We need to do it for concealed carry licenses too.

I’ve been licensed to carry a concealed pistol for many years, and have never created any problems.  But as soon as I cross the state line, I either lose that right entirely, or risk ending up in a twilight zone of uncertainty – an uncertainty shared by each other state’s law enforcement agencies, too.  Who knows what the most current and correct situation is in each state for each of the other states’ licenses?  Probably no-one!

This necessary legislation makes it easy, simple and straightforward for everyone.  It doesn’t trample over state rights, because out of staters still must follow all the applicable rules of the state they are visiting (the same as with driving).  It merely allows a person duly approved and licensed to carry a handgun in one state the certainty of knowing they can safely do so in other states without risking becoming an accidental felon.

Please may I ask for your support of this sensible measure and to help its speedy passage through the Senate.

Respectfully

(your name)

To a Democrat senator

Dear Senator (name

HR822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, passed the House last week by a strong bi-partisan majority of 272 to 154, including 43 of the Democrats.

I know we have to carefully consider the implications of all legislation that may potentially either expand or diminish current gun rights in this country, and I know we must be respectful of state rights.  But with now 49 of the 50 states recognizing, in some form or another, the right to carry a concealed firearm, this legislation is not an end-run around the states.  It is merely a necessary national codification of the currently very confusing patchwork quilt of state/state reciprocity agreements in terms of which states will accept carry permits from other states.

We can do it for driving licenses (and I’m sure I don’t need to quote the appalling levels of deaths and injuries suffered as a result of vehicle accidents, massively in excess of those resulting from firearms).  We need to do it for concealed carry licenses too.

I’ve been licensed to carry a concealed pistol for many years, and have never created any problems.  But as soon as I cross the state line, I either lose that right entirely, or risk ending up in a twilight zone of uncertainty – an uncertainty shared by each other state’s law enforcement agencies, too.  Who knows what the most current and correct situation is in each state for each of the other states’ licenses?  Probably no-one!

This necessary legislation makes it easy, simple and straightforward for everyone.  It doesn’t trample over state rights, because out of staters still must follow all the applicable rules of the state they are visiting (the same as with driving).  It merely allows a person duly approved and licensed to carry a handgun in one state the certainty of knowing they can safely do so in other states without risking becoming an accidental felon.

Please may I ask for your support of this sensible measure and to help its speedy passage through the Senate.

Respectfully

(your name)

Nov 182011
 

You never know when a safe environment won't turn lethally dangerous

Here’s an appalling story of a 70 year old man who was abducted and gang-raped by four other men.

When you’re 70 years old, and when four younger men come up to you and accost you, you don’t have a lot of options, do you.  But that is where a handgun could make all the difference.  A handgun truly is ‘the great equalizer’, and in the hands of a 70 yr old gives him as much say in the outcome as the four younger, stronger, men seeking to attack him.

The key thing here is that this was not a surprise ambush.  The 70 yr old would have had time to react and turn the tables on his attackers.  They apparently drove up to him in a van while he was out walking.  They had to stop the van close to him, all four get out, group together, and then approach him en masse.

If the 70 yr old was following through the color code of mental awareness, he would have been on a regular yellow level of low alert to start with.  This yellow level means he would have noticed a van pulling up to stop alongside him on his early morning walk, and the unexpected action should have pushed him up to orange.  At that point he should have started to initiate an avoidance reaction – maybe cross the road or turn around and start walking back.

This avoidance action does four things.  First, it helps you to avoid the possible threat.  Second, it forces the people who may be about to  threaten you to more clearly telegraph their actions.  A van stopping beside you might be a harmless coincidence.  But if you cross the road and the people in the van get out and walk towards you, that changes the odds from harmless coincidence to something possibly more sinister.

Thirdly, it helps maintain or increase distance between you and your potential attackers, buying you more time to decide on a response as the situation evolves.

And fourthly, by making it harder for the bad guys to catch you unawares, they might simply give up and go find an easier target.

When the four men started to approach this man, he should have gone to condition red, and taken control of the situation.  At this point, he would have been less than a second away from possible attack, and needed to urgently do something to change the dynamics of what was about to occur.  Presenting a gun and calling out to the four men to ‘Stop Right There!’ would have done that.

If he had earlier taken passive evasive action but the four men had countered that action and still approached him, and if he then took active measures to turn them away and they did not comply, clearly he was in grave danger and (depending on the state he lives in) would probably be justified in shooting them.

Generally, it is likely that an authoritative presentation of a ‘serious’ pistol may be enough to defuse a situation.  Most (but not all!!!) would-be attackers are not wanting to get into a gun fight.  They are wanting to ‘skim the cream’, to ‘pick the low hanging fruit’, and to take ‘the easy pickings’.  It isn’t as though they are contract professional hitmen who have been paid to specifically attack you, or people with a specific grudge against you and wanting to get even.

They are simply cruising looking for some ‘fun’ and some easy money from some easy targets.  If you show yourself not to be an easy target, they will give up and go attack someone else.  Sure, they’ll mouth off at you, and make all sorts of threats to preserve their ‘honor’ but they’ll leave as quickly as they can.

Of course, the group dynamic with four is a bit different to being confronted by a single individual.  Assuming a single individual is not drug crazed (or crazy for any other reason) he is already at somewhat of a disadvantage (ie one on one) and he doesn’t have to worry about embarrassing himself in front of his buddies.

But with four, there is a danger they might feel they have the numbers on their side.  This means they can tell a different story to the police – ‘We just wanted to ask this guy for directions, and when we approached him he pulled a gun and started acting all crazy’, and it means they have a more socially and strategically dominant position to start with (four against one).  One or more of them might even have a gun, and if all four of them were to respond to your pulling a gun by reaching for their own guns, one, two, or possibly even three of them are going to be able to get shots off in your direction, no matter how quickly you start shooting first.

Depending also on their group dynamic, they may be unwilling to back down and shame themselves in front of each other.

In such a case, you need to be as assertive as you can be, because if you can’t control the situation with a credible threat of lethal force, you will be left with only two options – either to surrender to the bad guys (who will now be seriously pissed at you after your pulling a gun on them) or shoot them, and you don’t really want either of those two outcomes.  You need to be as much like Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry, and as little like Peewee Herman as you can manage in this terrible situation.  Maybe hold your gun closer to your chest, with your shooting arm elbow wedged into the side of your body, so as to reduce the visible amount of trembling.

One more lesson from this real life tragedy.  There were four bad guys.  If the man had to shoot, a five shot revolver would not be enough (some of your shots are going to miss, no matter how big and close the targets, and one shot per attacker is seldom enough at the best of times).  A six or seven shot compact semi-auto would probably also not be enough, and you’d have no time to reload either the revolver or the small semi-auto in the middle of the encounter.

So what would you do, if it were you, and you had to pull a gun on these four people?

First, call out, as loud and forcefully as you can, ‘Stop Right There!’  The louder you say that, the better – not only will this help establish your dominance, but it also increases the chances of someone else, somewhere nearby, hearing you say it, too.  This will help you enormously if you have to proceed to use your weapon and then claim self defense.  The bad guys can’t say ‘he started shooting at us with no warning and for no reason’ if a passerby can say ‘I heard someone call out ‘Stop’ in a loud voice, then a second later, I heard shots fired’.

If they don’t stop, depending on their distance, their posture, and what they are doing in response to you – particularly with their hands – you might have a chance for a second warning – ‘Stop or I Shoot!’ or ‘Stop Right Now!’; and this time have your gun pointed in at the most dangerous of the four people.

If you don’t have time for a second warning, and/or if they still don’t comply, assuming they are now in the ‘danger zone’ where they can reach you sooner than you can defend yourself, you have no alternative but to start shooting.

Think about it.  You crossed the road or turned around to avoid them.  They came after you.  This is not an innocent coincidence by four harmless strangers.  You warned them off and they ignored your warning, and they are continuing to approach you, even though you’ve pointed a gun at them and ordered them to stop.  These people are not your friends.  You’ve done all you can in the circumstances to avoid a confrontation, and to avoid needing to save yourself via deadly force, but they are forcing the confrontation on you.

If, however, they do stop, what next?  That’s a subject for another discussion, another time.  Suffice it to say, for now, that you need to keep their hands in plain view, you need to get them turned around so they can’t see you, and you need to call the police.  You must be the one to get your version of what happened told first.

Nov 082011
 

Very bad things can happen, even in very nice places

A sleepy quiet little town of 220 people in rural Washington state with the unusual name of Humptulips, described by writer Terry Pratchett as his favorite place on earth (although it is far from clear if he has ever visited).  A law-abiding couple in their 80s, well known locally for how fastidiously they cared for their house and garden, who have been living there peacefully for many decades.

Evil seems a long way away from such an idyllic scene.

Maybe you are fortunate enough to live in a similar environment – your own house and land, a nice quiet crime-free town where the most exciting action is the neighbor’s cat getting stuck up a tree.  Or, if not you, maybe your parents, or your brother/sister – anyone you know – lives that type of lifestyle.

If so, you probably feel there’s little need for any degree of alertness or preparedness.  And if you see a stranger coming towards you, you approach him as a friend and ask how you can help.

Besides which, you have a local police force who everyone knows has almost nothing to do apart from operate a couple of speed traps and occasionally give warnings to local teenagers for under age drinking.  If anything ever did go down, they’d be on top of it faster than you could dial 911.

If you find yourself nodding in agreement, prepare for a surprise.  Read this horrific story of the elderly couple described above, and read what happened when a deranged 31 year old man unexpectedly entered their lives.  The husband was killed by this madman, and the wife hacked up with an axe (at the time of writing it is uncertain if she will survive or not).

Read one more thing too – even after the killer told a friend what he had done, even after he told the police the same thing, it took the police 18 hours to get to the house and discover the critically wounded 83 yr old lady lying and dying on the floor.

Lessons to be Learned

Most of us consider our home to be our ultimate ‘safe’ place – but not so much from a security point of view, instead from a state of mind point of view.  And so we let our guard down, and our level of mental alertness slips to the lowest ‘white’ level, which (perhaps paradoxically) makes our home a risky place to be.

Additionally, our instinctive reaction to be friendly and helpful when a stranger approaches blinds us to the unknown risk factors and the potential threat that any stranger poses.

The report doesn’t go into the specifics of how the madman shot the 88 yr old gentleman with a crossbow, but it does indicate that there was at least some period of time when each was visible to the other, and a crossbow is a hard sort of weapon to conceal and also a hard one to instantly deploy.  If the victim had been more alert, if he had more of a defensive mindset, and if he was armed, even while ‘safely’ pottering around in his own beautiful flower garden, it could have been the madman who died, not him, and his wife would still be in perfect health, too.

Instead – and excuse us for being brutally blunt – this man’s complacency not only cost him his own life, but also may lead to the death of his wife, too; while the state and legal system now has a lengthy, complicated, and expensive case to prosecute and a criminal to hopefully incarcerate for many decades to come.

It is probably too much to expect a couple living in a ‘safe’ township to lock their doors and secure their windows, even in the middle of the day while one is in the garden and the other in the kitchen, but it is an unavoidable thought that if the house had been secure, the woman would have been saved.

Lastly, you have probably heard the expression ‘when seconds count, the police are only minutes away‘.  In this case, it should read ‘when seconds count, the police are only 18 hours away’.

It is impossible to understand how it took the police 18 hours to discover the wounded woman inside her house.  The offender had said he had killed two demons.  The husband was dead in the garden.  The wife was nowhere to be found.  Hello?

A Better Approach

If the elderly gentleman had responded cautiously to discovering a stranger walking up his driveway, he could have taken control of the situation.  An assertive authoritative demeanor might have discouraged the madman.

Alternatively, by ‘drawing a line in the sand’ – ie, by telling the stranger ‘STOP’ and, if he didn’t stop, presenting his weapon and saying ‘STOP or I shoot’, and if he still didn’t stop, shooting the attacker, he would have been in control of the situation – he would have been managing the OODA loop – and he would have merely been protecting himself and his wife and their lives.

The reason we present these types of real life examples (there are others in our archives) to you is because they vividly indicate how sudden, deceptive and deadly danger can be, especially in places where we mistakenly perceive ourselves to be relatively safe.  The things unaware people take for granted can get them brutally killed and injured.

Don’t be a victim.  Don’t be unaware.  Embrace the concept of situational awareness and the multi-level series of awareness levels, and never be surprised when things go bad.

 

Nov 072011
 

Use each Daylight Savings switch as a trigger to check through your general emergency preparedness.

Hi, folks

Just a quick reminder – check out our article that gives a list of five different things you should do each time that daylight saving switches over.

Actually, many of these things should be done more often than every six months, but the chances are they tend to be overlooked and forgotten, so each daylight savings switch is a good time to review through this list.

Our list is of course far from complete.  There’s a lot more to do with not just weapons based defense, but more general defense and emergency planning, too.

For example, we talk about checking batteries, but if you have an emergency generator, you should be giving that a test run at least every six months too (and replacing its fuel too).  And checking the pressure/level in your fire extinguishers (and your vehicle spare tires).  And so on and so on.

Use our list as the start of your own six monthly checklist of things.  And feel free to recommend items we should add to our own list.

Nov 022011
 

This chart from the Gallup survey clearly shows the drop in numbers supporting handgun bans and the rise in numbers of people opposed

The Gallup organization holds an annual ‘crime poll’ every October, and this year’s results have now been released.  And while one does not normally associate Gallup with pro-gun attitudes, the results of their survey this year were so strongly skewed that they couldn’t find any way to try and disguise the sentiments expressed.

A record low of only 26% of Americans now favor an outright handgun ban, with an all-time high of 73% of Americans opposed.

In answer to the more generic question about if gun laws should be made more strict, less strict, or kept the same, an all time low of 43% of the population favored making laws more strict.  44% wanted to keep laws as they are, and 11% wanted to make laws less strict.

Even the guns that the media most love to hate – so called ‘assault rifles’ were not so vilified this year.  An all time low (gosh, I like typing those words) of only 43% supported a ban on assault rifles.

But unable to suppress all snide comments, Gallup closes its report by saying

Diminished support for gun-control laws may also be tied to the lack of major gun-control legislation efforts in Congress in recent years.

The moral of this story is that although the general population is becoming more gun-friendly, we’re still very vulnerable to the efforts of gun haters in Congress and the media to spin things against us.  And with the sampling error being at least +/- 4%, these numbers are not as significant as we might hope them to be.

In another section of Gallup’s Crime Poll, the survey found that 47% of adults admitted to having a gun somewhere in their house or on their property.  This is the highest number since 1993 and steeply up on last year’s 41%.

Some of the data in this part of the poll seems inconsistent.  For example, women (who unsurprisingly report themselves as being less likely to own a gun themselves) also report a much lower likelihood for a gun being in their household (43%) than do men (52%).  If we accept that the largest majority of households have both a man and a woman in them, while there could be understandable differences between personal ownership of men and women, the household ownership numbers should be more closely matching.

This discrepancy reminds me a bit of polls about sexuality.  Heterosexual men generally claim to have twice as much sexual experience as do heterosexual women – a clearly impossible result because each sexual experience by a heterosexual male clearly involves a heterosexual female too.  The numbers should be close to identical.  The huge difference suggests either than men exaggerate or women diminish their sexual experiences – and quite possibly, both men and women are simultaneously lying.  So it is possible that there is some ‘inaccurate answering’ in the gun survey, too.

Gallup themselves postulate that the increased results for gun ownership might not be accurate, based on whether or not people are willing to admit to a stranger on the phone that they own guns or not.  This is an understandable issue, so one should view the numbers Gallup reports as being the absolute lowest levels of gun ownership, rather than the likely exact numbers.

Our guess is there are elements of both real increases in ownership and also a greater willingness to admit to gun ownership.  The other relevant data point is the number of guns being sold every month/year – this being a number that has been steadily and consistently rising over the last some years.  With guns having a very long life before being eventually scrapped/discarded, most of the new guns being purchased are adding to the total inventory of guns in the country, rather than simply replacing existing guns.

As we calculate in our article about increasing gun sales, over the last decade it seems likely than an average of more than one new gun per US household has been sold.  Add that to the inventory of guns already out there, and this poll’s suggestion that 47% of households have a gun in them – while the highest number in 18 years – is probably still very understated.

Here are links to the two sets of Gallup results – on attitudes towards guns and on gun ownership.

Oct 172011
 

Not all dogs will or can attack all burglars

Conventional wisdom says that if you want an easy way to protect your property against burglars, you should get a dog.  The reasoning goes that even the smallest dog will deter many burglars, and larger more fearsome dogs will be even more effective against more motivated burglars.

Well, yes, that’s right, as far as it goes.  If a burglar has a choice between breaking into a house with nothing more fearsome can a pet hampster in a cage, or breaking into a house with any sort of dog inside, of course he’ll risk being attacked by the hampster rather than the dog!

A dog helps protect your property two ways.  First, it will bark at burglars, possibly drawing someone’s attention to the burglar’s presence.  Second, it may attack the burglar.  You’ll be unsurprised to learn that burglars don’t like drawing attention to themselves, and they doubly don’t like being bitten by a dog.

So your ordinary burglar, just prowling up and down the street, looking for the easiest house on the block to break into, will not select any houses with dogs inside – there are plenty more without dogs to choose from.

Unfortunately, this same logic doesn’t apply to a burglar who has specifically targeted your property, due to something that attracts him to your property.  Maybe he somehow knows that you have something valuable in the property, or maybe the property is very vulnerable in other respects and there is only the dog preventing the burglar from being able to go through your house from one end to the other at his leisure.

What will the burglar do then?  How can the burglar protect himself against the dog and keep the dog quiet?

If you’re a dog lover, you may be genuinely puzzled by this question, or you might think ‘Oh, I’ll feed the dog treats and get him to like me and be friendly’.  Well, for sure, that’s one possible approach, but if you’re a dog owner, you’ll know that even the finest 22 ounce steak will only keep your dog quiet for a minute or two before he’s finished eating it and then resumes normal duties.

On the other hand, if you’re a dog hater, you’ve probably already thought of a more effective solution to a guard dog.  Poison it.

Yes, this seems heartless, cruel, even unthinkable.  But that’s when approached from the perspective of an average ordinary and honest person (such as you) – someone who isn’t planning a burglary to start with.

Burglars can, will, and indeed do poison dogs if they have specifically targeted a particularly property they wish to break into.  Now some dogs can be trained only to eat food from their master, but this is a difficult thing to train.  Most dogs will respond to an offered slab of fresh raw meat the way you’d expect them to – they’ll eat it up with gusto.

Here’s a recent story of burglars who poisoned four Boxer dogs so as to get into the property’s back yard and steal some marijuana plants growing there.

We’re not saying you have marijuana plants.  But we are saying that if for any reason you think your property might be at risk not just of semi-random burglaries but also of specific motivated burglary by villains who believe there may be something in particular of value in your property, then you need to realize that they won’t think twice before poisoning or in any other way putting your dogs out of action.

Dogs are good.  But they’re only one part of a home defense/hardening solution.

Aug 312011
 

The scene of the fatal shooting in CO, from gazette.com

We can learn from other people’s experiences.  Hopefully if we take such lessons to heart, we won’t be as unfortunate as to repeat their mistakes.

So whenever you come across an account of any situation where deadly force was used, don’t merely skim through it, but read it carefully and ask yourself “What is the ‘takeaway’ item I can learn from this”.

Sometimes the takeaway item – the bullet point or elevator summary – of what occurred is subtle and hard to find.  And then, sometimes, it hits you between the eyes, and there’s not just one or two but plenty of learning experiences to embrace.

Here’s a useful example from Colorado.  This story tells how the daughter of a shot (and killed) burglar was awarded $300,000 in a civil suit against the business owner who shot him.  An earlier story provides more background into the incident.

Civil lawsuits are sometimes the second part of the many downsides you should be aware of which follow from the use of deadly force.  And whereas a criminal prosecution requires proof ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ for the prosecution to succeed, a civil suit only needs ‘a preponderance of evidence’ to prevail.  In other words, think of a 99% or higher requirement for criminal convictions, but merely a 51% requirement for a civil suit to succeed.

And just because either the police decline to prosecute, or even if they do and you’re found not guilty, that doesn’t mean you’re safe from a civil lawsuit – think back to the OJ Simpson case where he was found not guilty in the criminal court but guilty in a civil trial that followed.

In the Colorado example above, and to my amazement when looking at the apparent facts as reported in the two articles, it seems the local district attorney declined to prosecute, and a Grand Jury also declined to return an indictment.  I’ll guess their thinking was along the lines of ‘It wasn’t really a 100% justifiable shooting, but the guy who was shot was definitely a low-life bad guy, and on balance we don’t think we should send the shooter to prison for killing a low-life, and we can understand how he felt, even if it was probably not the best decision he made’.

But in the civil trial, the jury there probably thought in different terms, perhaps more like ‘Okay, so the dead man was a criminal, but he didn’t really deserve to be shot and killed while hiding in a shed, and for sure, his 3 year old daughter now needs some help’, and because it was a civil trial, the jury could find for the dead man’s daughter and the ‘worst’ that happened to the shooters was that they had to pay damages to the daughter, with the jury probably reasoning ‘They can better afford to give some money to the girl, who needs it more than they do; it is the least they can do after killing her father unnecessarily’.

You can’t always rely on prosecutors and grand juries being so lenient, but you can pretty much always anticipate reasoning such as guessed at above in a civil case, any time that the shooting circumstances are less than very clearly 100% justifiable and unavoidable.

Now for the takeaway items in this case.  Here are four obvious ones.  First, Colorado doesn’t have a ‘castle doctrine’ type law that applies to people protecting their businesses, only to people protecting their homes.  The shooter and his two associates/relatives did not have the force of the law backing up their actions.  Second, the facts of the encounter were such to make it very difficult for the shooters to claim they were in imminent and certain fear of their lives, and were shooting in self defense.  Third, they had told various people they would shoot trespassers in the future.  Fourth, the shooter hid the gun he had used to shoot the burglar.

The moral of the story, quite apart from the obvious one of only using deadly force when you’re in deadly danger yourself, is not to go around boasting about your intention to kill burglars in the future, whether they pose deadly threats to you or not.  Clearly, those stories will come back to haunt you if you subsequently use deadly force, no matter whether it was or was not justified at the time – in this case, even an employee of the shooter voluntarily approached the police to report the shooter’s earlier claims about shooting trespassers.  This person probably risked his future employment with the shooter by doing this, but did so anyway.  Your own friends and associates might do the same.

The other moral is not to lie to the police and act in a guilty manner.  Hiding the gun that was used to fire the fatal shot was not the act of an innocent person.  It shows the shooter to have been feeling guilty about his actions, and if you’re feeling guilty about your actions, it is difficult to simultaneously take the moral high ground, as you must, and say ‘I’m very sorry, I didn’t want to shoot him or anyone else, but I had no choice but to do so because I was in fear of my life’.  How can you simultaneously be saying you reluctantly but properly had to use deadly force to protect yourself, but at the same time, you are hiding the gun you used in self defense?

If you have more time, you might want to read through the pages and pages of police reports on the incident (linked from the original article).  If you do, you’ll get more of a feeling for police procedures, and you’ll also realize one more important thing.  Everything you say or do, and how you act and behave, is going into the police reports, and will subsequently be read by prosecutors, grand juries, and possibly regular juries too, and when these other people are reading these reports, they will be reading them out of context.

You want the reports to say that you were cooperative and helpful.  They can certainly say that you seemed distressed and upset – because you will be, indeed it is probably better to be recorded as being distressed/upset rather than jubilant, relaxed and happy!  But you don’t want them to say you were uncooperative, cagey, changing your story, argumentative, belligerent, and so on.

That is not to say you need to ‘cooperate’ with the police beyond a point of prudence, and it is also not to say you need to volunteer additional testimony at the scene beyond the obvious essentials, particularly if it might be rushed out before you’ve had a chance to calm down and understand, yourself, as best you can what happened.  Remember – when the police attend a shooting, they are looking to charge someone with a serious felony offense – you need to make sure that they don’t mistakenly fixate on you as the person to be charging.

Aug 112011
 

A clip from the video linked below showing a mugger at work. He surprises an unaware woman and steals her phone.

We regularly come back to the need for situational awareness.  You want to live most of your life in ‘Condition Yellow’ and try not to be caught out in ‘Condition White’.

Which brings us to the video you can see in this article, showing a woman walking down a surprisingly empty street in San Francisco, talking on her phone.  As she walks into the camera’s field of view, we then see that she is oblivious about being stalked by a ne’er-do-well behind her – we can only guess as to how long he has been back there, checking out the area and getting a feeling for how vulnerable she is.

Even though there are only the two of them on an otherwise empty street, she is completely unaware of his presence and so gets a nasty surprise when he suddenly leaps at her and wrestles her phone away, then runs off with it.

Fortunately, all the woman lost was her cell phone, and she even ended up getting that back, thanks to the volunteered help of the taxi driver who was filming the incident from his dash cam.  But it could have been worse, and – most of all – it could have been prevented, if she’d turned around and briefly looked directly at the bad guy, then put her cell phone away, crossed the road, and continued where she was going.

Learn from this incident, and make sure it isn’t you being featured next time.  You want to live most of your life in ‘Condition Yellow’ and try never to be caught out in ‘Condition White’.

Aug 092011
 

This WSJ prepared graphic vividly shows how US spending on entitlements has more than doubled in the last generation

There’s been an appalling amount of nonsense put forth in justification of the differing points of view regarding how to solve our nation’s terrible debt crisis, and an even more appalling amount of nonsense is now being spewed out of the usual sources to try and shift the blame for our nation’s first ever credit rating downgrade onto anyone else but themselves.

So here are the simple truths that you need to understand.

Government ‘Spending Cuts’ Don’t Exist

The simplest truth of all is that the deal – the ‘compromise’ that was reached between Democrats and Republicans – contained no real cuts to anything at all.  It was a political fiction which politicians from both parties eagerly supported.

The ‘$900 billion in spending cuts over ten years’ that we were triumphantly told had been reluctantly agreed to are not cuts at all.  In reality, the government spending will increase by $7 trillion over these same ten years!

The ‘cuts’ are in reality reductions in spending increases.  They are meaningless.  Imagine a smoker proudly telling you ‘I’m cutting back on my smoking, I’m reducing the number of cigarettes I smoke by five a day’.  And he tells you that he currently smokes 20 a day.  So you’d expect him to drop down to 15 a day, right?

But no, he then tells you, without embarrassment, that after cutting down by smoking five fewer cigarettes a day, he will now be smoking 30!  How is that possible, you ask him in amazement.  He answers ‘Oh, I had been going to increase to 35 a day, so I’ve cut down by five and now will only be smoking 30.’

You end up wondering ‘How can a guy who smokes 20 cigarettes a day tell me he is cutting down by five a day and now be planning to smoke 30 a day?’.

It is the same with government ‘spending cuts’, and here’s how their game works.  You take a federal program and increase its budget request massively for the next few years.  You then make this new requested amount the baseline, rather than the actual amount spent in past years, and any reduction in this ridiculously inflated projection of expenditure for the future becomes a ‘budget cut’ – even though the program ends up getting a generous increase!

This is exactly what has happened.  The government is not reducing its expenditure compared to what it is currently spending or what it spent last year.  It has merely reduced its future fanciful increase.

If the government wanted to ‘reduce its spending’ even more, it could have projected a $10 trillion increase and then allowed it to be cut back to the same $7 trillion, and boasted/agonized over the $3 trillion in ‘cuts’.

So, do you understand, that the ‘reduction in federal spending’ claimed by so-called fiscal conservatives in government is nothing of the sort?

But who has been passing this truth back to you?  Has your congressman or senator told you ‘I tried my best, but the government is still going to increase its spending by a humongous $7 trillion over the next ten years’?  Or have they written impassioned letters to you about how any reduction at all will destroy the nation’s social fabric (if they are a Democrat) or about how the time for financial austerity is now and these bold cuts are necessary (if they are a Republican)?  Both sets of claims are ridiculous, because the government has allowed itself to continue to increase its rate of expenditure.

And has the mainstream media had headlines ‘Government fails to cut any spending and will instead boost it by $7 trillion’?  Nope.

For reasons you will have to guess at yourself, no-one wants to tell you the truth.

The Size of the Federal Budget and Deficit

In 2010, the federal budget in total was for $3.456 trillion dollars to be spent.  This is twice the size of the budget only ten years before.  If your income has doubled in the last ten years (not from promotion and seniority, but just ‘because’), then you’ll feel this to be fair.  But if your income has not doubled in the last ten years, then you’ll wonder how it is the government can double the amount it spends while you (and just about everyone around you) has not been able to double the amount they spend, too.

For 2010 the government not only planned to spend $3.456 trillion, but it also had a projected $2.162 trillion dollars in tax receipts – in other words, in 2010 we had right around a $1.3 trillion deficit.  One out of every three dollars the government spent was money it didn’t have.

In actual fact, the reality is even worse because the government engages in accounting practices that makes high profile corporate accounting fraudsters like Enron (CEO Kenneth Lay found guilty and was expected to receive 20 – 30 years in prison but died prior to sentencing) and Worldcom (CEO Bernard Ebbers received a 25 year jail term) look like saints rather than sinners.  If public companies used the same accounting tricks and outright dishonesty that the federal government uses, their leaders are sent to prison.  Even domestic goddess Martha Stewart found herself incarcerated for five months after a high profile show trial relating to avoiding a $46,000 loss by selling shares before they dropped in value.

But what are the chances of the government censuring itself?  Oh, about as likely as them voting to turn off their gold plated pensions!

The government mixes up its various different sources of revenue so that social security payments – the money we pay into our social security accounts to be held for future payouts back to us – are used to adjust their present shortfalls.  This is spending tomorrow’s money today, and is an incredibly foolish strategy that we ourselves know better than to do, but it is something the government happily does every day.

Look at this chart which shows the ‘official annual deficits’ (blue bars) after this government financial trickery and then compare them to the actual budget deficits (red bars) showing the true deficits.  (This second chart shows a projection for the future, and you just know that these projections are way too positive, rather than realistic.)

So our annual deficit is huge.  Imagine if you spend 50% more than you earn this year – and imagine that you’ve been spending more than you’ve earned for each year in the last decade, and imagine further that you’re planning to continue spending 50% more than you earn each year for the foreseeable future, too.  And also imagine that you’re not spending this money on investments like buying a house, investing in securities, or anything like that.  You’re spending it on luxuries rather than essentials, and on things that you use up and consume and which are then gone, leaving only their cost as a reminder.

What would happen to you?  How long could you continue living like this?

So, ask the same questions of our government.  What will happen to our government, and by direct extension, ourselves.  How long can our government continue spending money it doesn’t have?  And (here’s the really scary question) – what will happen when the government’s lenders stop lending it money?  (Almost the only remaining solutions then become for the government to either default on its debt or to just print more money to pay its debts, something that will create massive inflation and possibly even hyper-inflation).

The unstated huge tidal wave that will engulf us all is the growing interest on the growing balance of money we have borrowed.  Look at this chart which shows what the future holds for us – the red bar is the interest we will increasingly have to pay each year.  People like to talk a lot about the problem with the cost of Social Security (Social Security is not a cost, because it is something we have paid for ourselves) or the cost of Medicare/Medicaid, but what is the fastest growing part of this chart?  Not the green (Social Security) or the blue (Medicare/Medicaid).  It is the red – the interest on our growing debt mountain.

The Real and Very Simple Reason for the S&P Ratings Downgrade

So let’s now consider the historic first ever S&P ratings downgrade.  Is it the ‘fault’ of the Tea Party?  Did the Tea Party support a $7 trillion increase in government expenditure?  No and no are the answers to both these questions.

We can understand the real reason for the S&P ratings downgrade very simply – by reading their statement and explanation of why they downgraded the US.  There’s no need to invent other reasons, just look at the simple words they used to explain their action.

This is what they said :

Overview

  • We have lowered our long-term sovereign credit rating on the United States of America to ‘AA+’ from ‘AAA’ and affirmed the ‘A-1+’ short-term rating.
  • We have also removed both the short- and long-term ratings from CreditWatch negative.
  • The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.
  • More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
  • Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.
  • The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.

Expressed really simply, while the politicians hope to fool us when they talk about ‘spending cuts’ that in reality are quite the opposite, they didn’t fool S&P at all.  S&P can see that the ‘cuts’ are actually increases not decreases.  Hence the downgrade.  End of story.

Democrats have tried to spin this as being all the Tea Party’s fault, because S&P said they are concerned about the lack of political consensus.  But when S&P say they are concerned about the political process, what they mean is the fact that politicians have not truly faced up to economic reality and cut any of the ever larger entitlement programs that are causing the deficit increases.  All this arguing over the last few weeks was not about actual decreases in government spending at all, it was instead about how much government spending would continue to increase!

S&P are not complaining about the Tea Party trying to encourage a measure of financial responsibility; they are worried about the Republicans and Democrats who pretend to be financially responsible while acting completely the opposite.  Even after all the fuss and theatrical nonsense about ‘the debt crisis’ (didn’t we all know, 100% for sure, that after a lot of chest-beating by both sides, the politicians would get together and work out a ‘compromise’ that in reality was not a compromise at all, shortly before the point where the government was to ‘run out of money’) the politicians have continued their same-old same-old approach to spending ever more to try and keep buying votes at the next election, no matter what the underlying longer term cost to our nation’s economy may be.

Note also that S&P are saying there is a chance they might downgrade our country’s rating still further if things don’t improve.

One last comment about the S&P rating.  Unfortunately, economics is not an exact science, and jokes-a-plenty talk about how whenever you get any number of economists in the one room, you end up with more than that number of opinions (because some economists can’t even bring themselves to express a single opinion about anything).

Other rating agencies still have the US on the top rating, and so the S&P rating drop, while significant, does not conclusively mean that it is the end of the world for life as we know it.  On the other hand, S&P’s decision to do something as hugely significant and symbolic (and to risk attracting the ire of the US government and people – Michael Moore suggested that they should be arrested as criminals) as to downgrade the US economy is certainly not something they’d do lightly, without a huge amount of discussion and thought.

How Did We Get to This Point

The US economy was formerly the rock on which the entire world based its financial system.  Our economy was healthy and strong, and other nations were happy to invest in our economy and our currency, because it seemed the safest place in the world to place money, and even nations that weren’t investing in the US were happy to use our dollar as the basis for their international trade.

All those things are changing – or have already changed.

So what has happened to our economy?  I’m not even going to talk about the ‘hollowing’ of the US economy – the loss of most manufacturing type industry to other countries, and the fact that just about anything and everything we buy these days comes from China rather than from a US factory.  Yes, those issues are indeed problems, but they are not the root cause of the issues facing us at present.

The issue we’re facing at present is that we’re spending too much.  That’s the simple problem.  We – that is, our government – is ignoring how much money it can bring in, and is spending money without any thought to budgeting or fitting its expenditures to match its income.

And what is it spending so much money on?  No – not defense (something too many people love to also cite as the runaway cost that needs to be reduced the most).  And, alas, neither are we spending money on bona fide capital investments and improvements (like new highways) that will give us lasting benefits for decades to come.  It can sometimes make sense to borrow money to build something that will then give you decades of lasting benefit – that way you are paying for the asset during the time period you are using it.

The government is spending money on ‘entitlements’ – welfare programs and the like.  Increasingly, our politicians have been buying our votes each election cycle by giving ‘us’ more benefits and handouts.  In the mid sixties and through to the beginning of the 1970s, the percentage of the federal budget spent on entitlements was less than 30%.  But since that time, with the only notable exception being during the Reagan years and the first half of the Bush snr presidency, entitlement spending has been steadily growing – not just in real dollar terms, but also as a percentage of the total federal budget.

Entitlement spending is now over 65% of the total federal budget (as shown in the chart at the top of this article).  Two out of every three dollars the government spends goes towards payouts (some would say ‘pay-offs’) to individuals.  As for defense spending, that represents a mere 20% of the federal budget.  And of that 20%, about 13% goes to actually spending money on defense, and the other 7% is interest on government debt that is so-called ‘defense related’.

No wonder that half of the US population no longer pays income taxes.  And that is an unsustainable and crazy situation to be in.  If the definition of ‘truly needy’ has shifted from a point where the bottom 5% or even 10% of the nation needs support to now where the greater half of the entire nation all needs support, then we need to change the definition back again.

Because there is the other part of the problem.  Politicians love to talk about ‘the wealthy paying their fair share’.  But what is a fair share?  Is it fair that half the country pays no income taxes at all?  Is it fair that someone who has been successful, who has created jobs for other people, who spends money on things that help other parts of the economy function, and who saves some money, creating funds available to then be lent to others; should this person pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxes (or even millions of dollars)?  Who do we better trust to keep our economy stable and growing – successful businessmen, or politicians?

How about some hard-hitting talk about the ordinary people also paying their fair share?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m an ordinary person too, and I don’t like paying taxes.  But the solution to my not liking paying taxes is not to tax the wealthy guy more, it is for the government to reduce its spending.

The real problem here is the government is trying to become unaccountable for its expenditures.  By focusing on a minority of the population to get their tax income from, a government no longer has to worry about any retribution at the polls, because although the heavily taxed minority might vote against them, the 50%+ of the population who are net beneficiaries of government spending will support the government, and enough of the people in the grey area between paying no tax and paying a lot of tax will support the government to ensure its survival.

Lastly, let’s just think what the $14.3 trillion federal debt ceiling (prior to it being increased) means to us.  It means that each and every one of the 300 million US citizens have close on a $50,000 debt incurred by the government on our behalf.  If you’re a family of four, that means your share of the nation’s debt is almost $200,000.

If you think that is a lot of money to owe, there’s more to consider.  This is just the total of the federal government’s debt.  How about the money your state owes?  Your county?  Your city?  How about your school district?  Fire district?  Port Authority?  Transit Authority?  All these other organizations probably have ‘negative net worth’ as well, adding further to your overall indebtedness.

So in total, you personally probably have closer to a $100,000 share of the total government debt of all types, and your family is getting close to half a million in debt.  And unlike your own personal debt – a mortgage on a house, a loan on a car, perhaps a student loan still being repaid, and hopefully not too much credit card debt – what can you show for this huge ‘investment’?  A lovely house?  Nope.  A shiny new car?  Nope.  How about increased earnings capabilities as a result of a degree or trade qualification?  Not that either.

Which begs one final question.  If we can’t see anything as a result of the huge over-expenditures the government is making, how exactly would we be harmed if the government eased back on spending money it doesn’t have?

Sources

1.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903454504576493173381179508.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop – this shows the growth in government expenditures that are payments to individuals from 1965 to 2011, and draws its raw data from OMB.  The chart at the top of this article is taken from this source.

2.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:InflationAdjustedDefenseSpending.PNG  – this shows the makeup of defense spending

3.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:U.S._Federal_Spending_-_FY_2007.png – this shows total 2010 government spending

4.  http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/273876/mad-debt-mark-steyn – the source of the ‘government cuts $900 billion but raises spending by $7 trillion’ statement.  The article goes off on a tangent by strangely comparing our debt to Chinese military spending (and probably underestimates the Chinese military budget, too) but the first part of it is excellent.

5.  http://www.cnbc.com/id/44051683 – Alan Greenspan acknowledges that the government can ‘cheat’ by simply printing meaningless money to ‘pay’ its debts, then amazingly blames the US’ problems, not on itself, but on Italy!