Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How gun maker propagandizing has shot up Wikipedia

I looked up "assault weapon" on Wikipedia and, as a Wikipedia editor, I made the following entry in the "talk about" page concerning this article. These "talk about" pages are where Wikipedia editors can hash out their differences.

: I concur with those who say that this edit reads as though it was written by the NRA on behalf of the gun manufacturers. I'm not surprised, because in my experience debating with NRA types online, I've found that they police discussions of firearms online vigilantly, and frequently use their knowledge of firearms to deceive people who are not as knowledgeable about small arms as they are. In this case, throughout the entry I see a consistent effort to delegitimize the term as being vague and misleading. However, what they're really doing is de-emphasizing important similarities between civilian assault weapons and their military cousins while at the same time over-emphasizing differences between civilian assault weapons like the AR-15 and military-issue assault weapons like the M-16 and AK-47. Their purpose is to head off the possibility of an assault weapons ban, as President Obama proposed today, in fact.

This starts with omitting the historical context, which explains why assault weapons exist, and what their various design elements mean as a gestalt. That would be included in a legitimate encyclopedia entry. Basically the iconic firearm of WWII was the M-1 Garand rifle, a gas-operated semiautomatic that takes an 8-round internal clip, not an external magazine, and fires a .30 cal. round. The rifle is accurate at long range and the round has considerable penetrating power--as through the metal door of a vehicle, for example. However, military science found that in combat soldiers tend not to use their weapon in the way that the M1 is optimized for. Soldiers needed what became the assault rifle, a much lighter weapon carrying a much lighter round, so they could carry a lot more ammo into combat, and so the rifle could be maneuvered more quickly than the older, more ponderous rifles like the M-1, and fired automatically or semi-automatically. However, they soon discovered that assault weapons ran out of ammo too quickly in full-auto mode and these lightweight guns also tended to jam and cook off rounds if used in full auto mode. Now small arts tactics dictate using them either in single shot mode or in 2-3 round bursts. The goal is to lay down suppressive fire on a charging enemy force at close enough distances so that the greater maneuverability of the weapon is vital.

Consequently the difference in being able to be fired automatically or just in single-shot mode is an inconsequential difference between the M-16 and the AR-15, especially since civilian assault weapons like the AR-15 can be fired with amazing rapidity (and poor aim) in "bump fire" mode, using the effect of the gas-operating mechanism on the trigger to fire nearly as rapidly as you could in full auto mode. In the Aurora shooting incident the shooter was timed at getting off 30 rounds in 27 seconds (heard via a 911 call made by one of the theater goers). The NRA is highly incentivized to claim that full-auto capability is the be-all and the end-all of the term "assault weapon" so they can avoid another assault weapons ban. It is highly likely that most profits of arms manufacturers come from sales of assault weapons. They've sold literally millions of these weapons at premium prices.

This has been paralleled in arms manufacturer marketing, which sold these weapons as assault weapons--emphasizing the "commando" context with ads showing the guns being used in what appear to be combat patrols--until very recently, when the marketing suddenly changed on the part of the manufacturers so they could pretend these guns were never sold as assault weapons.

What does make a significant difference from older-generation combat arms like the M-1 is the assault weapon's ability to accept extended magazines. In a number of spree killing incidents, people nearby were able to take down the shooter when he had to reload. Even if reloading only takes a few seconds, that was enough to stop the Arizona shooter in the Gabby Giffords incident, for example. Because weapons like the M-1 use an internal clip instead of an external magazine, it can only fire 8 rounds before needing to be reloaded, and can't be reloaded as quickly as an external magazine can be swapped out, and can't accept clips with more than 8 rounds. The Arizona shooter was able to do as much damage as he did because his Glock assault weapon--a pistol in this case--had a 30-round extended magazine, and he was able to prevent anyone from getting to him before he emptied that magazine.

Likewise the .223 round used by the AR-15 and the M-16 differs greatly from the .30 cal. round of the M-1 and the .22LR "plinker" round of standard lightweight hunting rifles. At the shorter ranges found in most spree killing incidents, and absent body armor on the intended victims, it's the ideal round for mass murder, with a "wobbly" bullet that achieves far more damage upon entry in a body than a standard .22LR round does--especially since it has three times the muzzle velocity of civilian rounds like the .22LR. Coupled with the light weight of the .223 round, it means that a spree killer can carry many more rounds and fire them much more quickly and have them inflict much more damage.

So a lightweight assault weapon shooting .223 rounds via extended magazines in semi-automatic mode with occasional bump firing is a very different weapon than a standard hunting rifle trying to do the same thing, even those that are semi-automatic. It's the mobility of the weapon, the ability to prevent people from grabbing the shooter due to the large capacity magazines, and the lethality of its munition coupled with the easy of carrying a large amount of ammo that makes assault weapons assault weapons.

NRA types poo-pooh the "atmospherics" of the assault weapon in the article--the way it looks. However, as I indicated earlier, the gun makers considered these atmospherics important marketing tools until the prospect of another assault weapons ban arose. And spree killers commonly see themselves as commandos on a mission, as the rants by the Virginia Tech shooter demonstrated. For example, a folding stock is the functional equivalent of a wooden stock in most applications, but for a spree killer folding up the stock would help in maneuvering the weapon in close quarters to kill as many people as possible in a short time, and of course it contributes to the overall light weight of the weapon.

Also, famous military experts such as General Colin Powell and General Stanley McChrystal (both infantry officers) both used the term "assault weapon" in interviews in the last few days, without feeling the need to launch into more definition than mentioning the Bushmaster as an example. And both generals said that they believed there was no justification for assault weapons--naming the Bushmaster as example--being in civilian hands in most circumstances (one notable exception would be for hunting wild pigs from helicopters, which is less hunting than pest management). When authorities like these men use the term and voice a strong opinion about assault weapons, that should be included in this entry. Their mention and evaluation of assault weapons should be included in the article.

I believe that NRA members generally know all of this, but choose to be deceptive, here as elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The big Gun Grab

Here's who talks about confiscating everyone's guns, and why:

1. The gun makers, their lobbying organization the NRA, and their political arm, the GOP
Reason: profit. Every time the gun makers and their minions mount a campaign about some mythical "gun grab,"gun sales skyrocket.

2. The Angry Billionaires' Club (including such luminaries as the Koch brothers), and their well-paid servants the RWM (Right Wing Media)
Reason: profit. The ABC makes more money for themselves the less they are regulated--this is not money for any Americans but the richest .1%, which is why all the enormous gains in productivity by American workers over the last 40 years has been appropriated by the .1%, leaving Americans working harder and harder, longer and longer, with nothing more to show for it. The ABC wants Americans not to notice this. It has succeeded. The ABC wants to prey on individual Americans--polluting their air, poisoning their water, working them to death--without the Americans organizing and without the Americans' government protecting them. Thus the ABC has been carrying on a multi-billion dollar campaign dedicated to making Americans hate and distrust the federal government, so as to weaken it. This has succeeded largely--hence no bankers going to prison over their crashing the American economy in 2008.

3. The RWM (Right Wing Media), whose compensation from the ABC is proportional to their influence--especially the size of their audience. Well, their audience increases whenever there's an emergency, whenever they can scare or enrage their audience.
Reason: profit, consequently. Ad rates are based on eyeballs. The more eyeballs, the more advertising, the more money per ad and the more subsidization from their patrons, and the more speaking fees, and the more book sales. So profit comes from pandering.

4. Right Wing Politicians (I don't call them Conservatives, since they've upended the original meaning of that word).
Reason: profit. Most right wing politicians "represent" congressional districts so gerrymandered that whoever the GOP nominee is will win; so they only fear a challenge from their own right in the primaries, and as Bob Bennett can attest, you can never be right wing enough to eliminate that fear. A majority of Congressmen leave office vastly wealthier than they are when they enter, and the longer they hang onto their seat the wealthier they become.

And in terms of rhetoric, the way to defend the indefensible is through the straw man argument. Few gun owners--much less non-gun owners--think it's a good idea for people to be able to buy guns without a background check. But the NRA and its patrons don't want the law changed, so they can sell guns to criminals and crazy people--a gun sale is a gun sale, after all. This is indefensible, so the NRA and its lackeys in politics starts screaming about gun confiscation, and the Democrats start talking about how they aren't trying to confiscate guns, and the original point--universal background checks--gets lost, just as the NRA wants it to be.

Talk about gun confiscation is a diversionary tactic. Anyone who takes it seriously is being played for a fool by the gun makers and their lackeys.

Once more, the Debt Ceiling...with feeling

The Republican pitch sounds plausible--they won't vote for raising the debt ceiling unless the Democrats get serious about spending reduction, because the deficit is the single most important issue before America today.

But the more you unpack their pitch, the less plausible it becomes. And the real reason becomes more visible: the Republicans' attempt to achieve minority rule over America.

Start at the end. Not only is the deficit not our most pressing issue (not that it isn't pressing), but the behavior of the Republican Party has demonstrated a complete disregard for the deficit over the past 13 years.

You can't be sure of what a party's spending priorities are when it isn't in power. Nowadays the GOP acts as if a different party was in power during the Bush II era of misrule. As if they collectively had a conversion "on the road to Damascus" the instant President Obama took the oath of office in 2008. But it's the same people. Even the so-called Tea Party Republicans aren't new to politics. Nearly all Tea Party activists are long-time Republican activists who are both social and fiscal conservatives, but who conceal their social activism until they gain office, and then go to town on their pet social issues, mostly oriented towards retrofitting women to the 1950 standards Tea Party types fondly recollect.

So--why talk about deficits if you don't mean it? To conceal the real goal, which is to cripple the federal government.

Why want to cripple the federal government? To prevent them from being able to effectively regulate the rich and powerful, who almost invariably have as their life goals becoming even more rich and more powerful. Only government stands between the solitary individual citizen and the rich and powerful, especially since the American union movement has been largely destroyed outside the public sector (and that's well on the way down the tubes--in part due to public sector employee avarice, to be honest).

The other reason to trumpet the deficit deceitfully is Southern white revanchism. Many white Southerners (and their rural soulmates in other states) are still fighting the Civil War. Look at their near-psychotic hatred of President Obama for a hint about this. Leftists hated Bush, of course, given his unusual mixture of towering ambition coupled with mediocre abilities--but they never claimed he wasn't an American citizen. They never claimed he wasn't a Christian. They never claimed he hated America. They never compared him to a monkey. And, of course, Bush was by historians' estimates the 6th worst president in American history, while Obama was rated as 15th best. Meaning that leftists' dislike of Bush was also more justifiable.

One more sign of the deceitfulness of the GOP's talk about the deficit being the most important thing is their rejection of ending the Bush tax cuts across the board--which would be best for reducing the deficit in immediate terms. And their rejection of any cuts to military spending. And their unwillingness to state just which so-called entitlements they'd cut, beyond general platitudes. It all makes their talk about the deficit a hollow trojan horse.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The NRA Fake Fact Factory is working three shifts!

Anytime there's a mass murder committed with assault weapons, the gun lobby's Fake Fact Factory kicks into high gear, cranking out the same sort of supposedly accurate information that the cigarette industry put out for decades in its successful effort to protect its equally deadly profits.

The irony is that the gun lobby--through its political wing, AKA the Republican Party--has effectively banned agencies of the federal government from studying gun violence or even reporting the statistical data accumulated.

Using private research, though, you can draw some conclusions:

1. Almost every single thing a gun rights advocate says is factually incorrect.

2. Guns turn violence into homicide.

3. Assault weapons turn homicide into mass murder.

Here's the c>>onclusion of, the most reputable nonpartisan factchecking organization:

>>among advanced countries, the U.S. homicide rate stands out. “We seem to be an average country in terms of violence and aggression,” says Harvard’s Hemenway. “What we have is huge homicide rates compared to anybody else.”

Says Wintemute: “The difference is that in this country violence involves firearms and firearms change the outcome.”<<

The gun lobby and its shills tools also make mathematically impossible claims about all the lives saved by defensive gun use. Turns out the hundreds of thousands they cite are more like a few hundred (compared to the 10,000 lives lost because of our gun culture). The most popular fake "study" (which turns out to be a methodologically invalid survey by a gun nut with a PhD) was subjected to a statistical analysis by people who actually understand statistics, and ripped it to probabalistic shreds:

ScienceBlogs: How many lives are saved by defensive gun use?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Woman uses gun to defend herself!

Yes, a woman used a gun to defend herself. A gun nut stated this on an forum triumphantly, as if that proved that everyone should be armed to the teeth. 

This was my response:

re: A civilian successfully uses a gun in self-defense.

In 2% of car crashes, the driver/passenger(s) would have been better off if they hadn't worn seat belts.

Therefore cars shouldn't have seat belts.

That is your reasoning.

I strongly recommend taking a free, online course in statistics before you pontificate on comment threads again.

Here's a good one--very entertaining, by one of the best online teachers, Salman Khan:

Oh, and the relevant stats here:
Lives saved by gun defense each year: around 200.
Lives lost by gun homicides each year: about 10,000.
Ratio of homicide (gun or otherwise) in the US vs. other rich countries: about 8 to 1. The level of violent crime is comparable--but ours are more likely to result in homicide due to this country being awash in guns.

Of course the gun industry lobbying organization, the NRA, put out scads of fake facts about all this. assessed them and found them self-serving and largely fact-free, to put it mildly.

Here's the link:

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's all about the deficit, stupid. Or is it?

If the national debt is, as the Republican leadership says daily, the Number One problem facing America, then they should have been voting for all the Bush tax cuts expiring and the sequestration happening, since those would reduce the national debt substantially.

Only they're against both those things, which means right off the bat that they don't think the deficit is our number one problem. The deficit uber alles meme is propaganda. We have a deficit problem, but the Republicans are using it as a cover for their real agenda--as their opposition to letting the tax cuts for the richest of the rich expire, and to shrinking some of the costliest aspects of government. Above all they're not serious about the deficit because they refuse to name exactly what government benefits they'd shrink or cut off.

It's easy to talk about the debt as this huge problem in the abstract. But fixing it requires doing things nearly everyone doesn't want: reducing particular government services and raising nearly everyone's taxes. 

Of course Republicans want to reduce the size of government. Or so they say. But one of the biggest contributors to the size of government is the military. And that's sacrosanct, despite the complete absence of another world power capable of meeting us on the battlefield anywhere, and the fact that we spend more on our military than the next 13 nations combined.

Another very large source is overspending on medical care by doctors and hospitals doing tests and procedures that have been proven not to be useful for the patient's situation. But Republicans cry "death panels" if you bring up this little $700 billion item. 

And another very large item is rich people's tax dodges--fake company headquarters in overseas tax havens and other dirty tricks that rob the treasury of the nation's fair share of their income. But that's sacrosanct too, because apparently rich people are emotionally fragile and will withdraw from commerce if we hurt their feelings. 

Yet another huge component is welfare, all right--corporate welfare. Farm subsidies to giant agribusinesses. Oil subsidies to companies with a bigger GNP than half the world's countries. And a welter of industry-specific, taxpayer-funded special deals for every business sector that can send a team of lobbyists with bags of campaign donation money to Washington. 

So it's not the size of government per se that the Republicans want to cripple. It's the ability of government to protect you and me from being stomped on by the kind of people who keep teams of lawyers on retainer that bothers the corporatists, along with the ability of government to protect minorities from the Southern white establishment in the states of the old Confederacy. 

The Republicans want to turn the federal government into a giant, toothless cash cow for the financial benefit of the GOP's corporate/Wall Street benefactors and "bigotry benefit" of its undereducated, aging white Southern/Midwestern "base." 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Let's give up on the Constitution?

That's the title (sans question mark) of an op-ed piece in the December 30 New York Times. Written by a constitutional law professor, its main point is that Constitution is frequently violated and we just pretend we didn't do so; every non-unanimous Supreme Court decision means one or more veteran Supreme Court justices believe that ruling was unconstitutional.

Moreover, several other rich nations have no constitution at all, and none have collapsed into chaos or dictatorship (while many tyrannies do have constitutions).

And our Constitution is un-Confederational. That is, it was written in defiance of the orders of the American government of that day, which had tasked the Framers with offering some amendments to the Articles of Confederation--not to supplant it with something else.

But above all, our Constitution was written for an almost completely different country. The USA of 1789 was a rural country where nearly everyone lived by farming; where there were no means of communications other than riders on horseback and newspapers; where we had almost no foreign trade in either direction; where we kept slaves, denied blacks, women, and men without land the vote; where "arms" to be borne meant flintlock muskets...need I go on?

The op-ed writer says we should be deciding on the validity of laws based on today's America rather than trying to divine what a handful of men who lived 200 years ago wanted for their infant country.

Naturally the RWM (Right Wing Media) are in their usual apoplexy about this--but instead of speaking to the argument's merits or weaknesses, they claim that the author is a Leftist and may therefore be ignored.

Yet another proof of the profound lack of critical thinking skills on the part of so many self-style conservatives.