Subscribers: Modern Rifleman has Moved

Hey all,

Back in July, the growth of this site finally caught up with (and surpassed) WordPress.com’s capacity to effectively host Modern Rifleman. In the middle of that month, I moved to a new web host and to the more open WordPress.org platform. Unfortunately, my subscribers here at WordPress.com were left out in the process. Those of you who enjoy the content here are invited to join us over at the new ModernRifleman.net. Please be sure to re-subscribe using the menu on the right side of the new site!

Thanks!

Modern Rifleman

Coming Soon: SilencerCo Specwar 556 Review

My apologies for the relative silence around here as of late. A recent family emergency has pulled me away from a number of exciting projects that I’ve looked forward to sharing. Fortunately, I am currently wrapping up my experiential review of SilencerCo’s popular Specwar 556 suppressor! While my feedback won’t include sound pressure/decibel testing (look to Silencer Shop for that), I will go over some of the Specwar’s features and plan to highlight those that help it stand apart from competitors. Thanks to everyone who has continued to stop by during my time away; I look forward to hopping back in the saddle.

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Vice Writers Struggle with Facts, Blame Gun Shops for Urban Violence

On Monday, Vice News published an article by Evan DeFilippis and Devin Huges bemoaning the “fact” that “lax” gun laws enable criminals in minority communities. On the whole, the article is a poorly organized mess of fragmented arguments and links to other works, many of which were also written by DeFilippis and Hughes. Indeed, it seems as though the two wrote each paragraph in alternating fashion. Despite the authors’ inability to focus the piece on its intended subject, they do bring up some points that are reasonably simple to address.

DeFilippis and Hughes start out by criticizing gun rights advocates for apparently politicizing June’s tragedy in South Carolina. By handpicking a few statements from former Governor Mike Huckabee and former NRA Director, Charles Cotton, the authors accuse pro-gun groups of “evangelizing” gun ownership on the heels of a horrific incident. It may be true that the aforementioned individuals lacked a certain degree of tact following the event, but the authors too willingly forget that the opposite side of the political divide also seized the moment to push for stricter gun laws, even when the White House all but admitted that none of these common proposals would have prevented the Emanuel A.M.E. shooting or similar mass casualty incidents. To argue that one side exploited the tragedy without also acknowledging similar efforts from anti-gun groups reeks of a brand of bias that I had hoped Vice could rise above.

Unfortunately, the article’s assault on firearms advocates does not stop at this opening volley. After taking on Huckabee and Cotton for their comments, DeFilippis and Hughes turn their ire toward prominent criminologist, Dr. John Lott. Citing an article from 2012, the authors argue that Lott “blamed” the theater in Aurora, Colorado for the shooting there based on its “no guns” policy. In doing so, DeFilippis and Hughes had to make quite a leap. In fact, all Lott’s article explored was whether or not other theaters in the area also had firearm bans. While Lott hints that it would have been convenient for the shooter to pick a “gun free” theater, he never actually makes the jump to blaming Cinemark and does not say that the killer must have picked the theater because of the posted signs.

After finishing with Lott, DeFilippis and Hughes begin to present a solid (but irrelevant to the article’s title) argument. Using a recent study by David Fortunato, the authors posit that the possibility of meeting armed resistance is rarely a deterrent for criminals. Given that average criminals are mostly opportunists who frankly are not all that intelligent; it should not surprise anyone that they would fail to consider the possible consequences of their actions. DeFilippis and Hughes claim that pro-gun groups have distorted the truth on this matter; leading people to believe that guns are better crime repellents than they really are. Unfortunately, the writers miss a few important details that skew their analyses of both “gun free zones” and firearm carry as a whole.

Among the aforementioned issues is the obvious fact that “gun free zones” cannot actually be guaranteed to be gun free. While criminals likely do not consciously choose places where guns are prohibited, posted bans place law-abiding citizens at a considerable disadvantage. Statistically speaking, criminals are unlikely to meet armed resistance in most places they choose to perpetrate a crime, but the chances of armed intervention are even lower in places where firearms are explicitly prohibited. While it might be unfair for someone to blame Cinemark or Clementa Pickney for the crimes committed on their properties, it is absolutely reasonable to conclude that anti-gun policies did nothing to help victims in both instances.

The authors next take up a case against the benefits of gun ownership as a whole. Using a study from Stanford University, DiFilippis and Hughes argue that right-to-carry laws are responsible for crime increases in several states. Actually reading the source material highlights some of the challenges associated with this conclusion. For example, in many cases the researchers had to adjust their confidence level to .10 from the standard .05 to support such an assertion. Even so, fewer than half of their estimates actually point to such an increase. The researchers caution that such conclusions are highly sensitive to model specifications and data selection. At no point does the research state that right-to-carry absolutely causes an increase in violent crime rates. Moreover, such an assertion would seem to ignore the overall downward trend in violent crime over the last 30+ years.

Based on a linked study, DiFilippis and Hughes contend that gun ownership poses substantial risks for homicide, suicide, and fatal accidents. They claim that the Boston University study’s use of hunting licenses as a measure of gun ownership is the best proxy to date. While I agree that it may be a better measure of gun ownership trends than self reporting and surveys, total numbers for hunting licenses have remained basically stagnant over the last 10+ years. Meanwhile, NICS background checks performed any time a gun is sold by a licensed dealer have considerably risen, as have the numbers of licensed concealed carriers. Moreover, the participation numbers for other shooting sports have increased drastically. For example, the International Defensive Pistol Association has reported a 69% increase in shooters over the last 6 years. Firearm ownership has always been a difficult statistic to estimate and DiFilippis/Hughes would be unwise to hitch themselves to just one proxy.

Interestingly, the authors endeavor to undermine the prevalence of defensive gun uses. DiFilippis and Hughes argue that the Kleck, NIJ, and NCVS studies all inaccurately report defensive gun uses. Instead, the two favor a sort of crowd sourced project initially conceived by Salon.com known as the Gun Violence Archive. The GVA database sources “gun violence” statistics from 1,200 different outlets, including police blotters and news media. Defensive gun uses are among the statistics that require “verification” from the site. While the methodology behind such validation is not clear, a scan of the DGU repository indicates that GVA disproportionately emphasizes incidents where shots were actually fired by the victim. This is obviously an unreliable measure as it fails to capture common cases where presentation of a firearm halts a crime. It is also somewhat ironic that the authors find issue with the survey methodology used by Kleck and the NCVS, but are fine with using surveys to measure overall gun ownership.

After complaining some more about how gun owners have politicized recent tragedies (and again ignoring similar, but opposite efforts from gun prohibitionists), the two finally come around to the point of the article, that current gun laws “devastate” minority communities. To support their argument, DiFilippis and Hughes highlight that black Americans are twice as likely to be gun related homicide victims as white Americans. They also state that 65% of firearm related murder victims between 15 and 24 are black.

The problem with the cited statistics is that they really give us no understanding as to why this crime is happening. Recent figures from Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh all indicate that most homicide victims have significant criminal records themselves. This is not to blame victims for their misfortune, but it does shed some light on the fact that most homicides are far more complex than DiFilippis and Hughes seem to think. Black Americans are also incarcerated at 5 times the rate of white Americans. Certainly all lives matter, however the takeaway here is that some minority communities exhibit challenges with criminality that go far beyond guns.

The article also ignores additional, more nuanced details about the homicides referenced. Was the perpetrator a prohibited person and unable to legally possess a firearm? Was the firearm stolen or otherwise obtained illegally? Generally, gun control advocates have struggled with the very real truth that criminals have earned the label for a reason.

Before discussing issues facing a few particularly violent cities, DeFilippis and Hughes link to a March 2013 survey from the Washington Post and ABC that indicated 75% of black Americans favored stricter gun control. Using a poll that is over two years old and that was released during the height of the post-Newtown fallout borders on dishonest at this point. The data from that survey signaled a high water mark for gun control support and the backing for stricter gun laws has fallen substantially since then. The relevant questions from the survey are also meaningless. Asking someone whether they support or oppose stricter gun control does not translate to policy in any meaningful way.

Few things destroy an argument as quickly as getting caught in a lie. In this case, DiFilippis and Hughes take two paragraphs to completely discredit themselves:

lie1

lie2

The first issue with the above paragraphs is that the gun laws in Cook County are only marginally more onerous when it comes to purchasing firearms than regulations elsewhere in the state. While the county has adopted a modified version of the old “assault weapons ban”, most other restrictions have to do with firearm storage and theft reporting. The only exception would be that the county limits gun owners to purchasing just one firearm each month. This is supposedly intended to combat illegal straw purchases, but there are much more effective ways to do so, including performing the necessary enforcement legwork to identify illegal straw buyers. Even without monthly gun limits, this is not difficult; correlations between firearms used in different crimes would inevitably identify those who abuse the system. Moreover, Cook County has gone to relatively extreme lengths to keep legal gun shops away. As a result, even peaceable residents of the county must travel to purchase a firearm.

DeFilippis and Hughes’ spin really hits its stride in the second quoted paragraph. Blaming an area gun shop for selling to Chicago residents, the authors state, “existing gun laws allow the store to sell firearms to criminals who would undoubtedly fail a background check if it were required.” This is absolutely false and is a prime example of reckless journalism. As a federally licensed dealer, Chuck’s Gun Shop MUST perform a FBI NICS background check for every purchaser. Additionally, Illinois law requires Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards for every gun owner. Thus, any Chicagoan who purchases a firearm from Chuck’s (or any other Illinois dealer) will have been subject to no fewer than two separate background checks. While private sales require no NICS check, the FOID requirements still stand and these transactions cannot cross state lines. In light of these facts, it is clear that DiFilippis and Hughes are simply lying.

While slandering Chuck’s, the two also take on a Maryland gun shop and those in neighboring states:

lie3

lie4

The story here is the same as Chicago’s. While DiFilippis and Hughes attempt to roll Realco under the metaphorical bus, the fact of the matter is that anyone purchasing a gun there MUST pass a background check. Furthermore, anyone buying a handgun from any licensed dealer MUST be a resident of the state where the dealer is located. The authors try to blame neighboring states for Maryland’s problem, but they never explain why those who “traffic” firearms from out of state are never prosecuted and they provide no evidence to support their assertion that neighboring states are to blame. There is simply no way to legally transfer a firearm between residents of different states without using a licensed dealer and performing a background check and it is illegal to purchase a handgun anywhere as a non-resident. In short, the facts severely undermine DeFilippis and Hughes’ claims.

In their typical fashion, DiFilippis and Hughes close the article by bemoaning “lax” gun laws, blaming gun owners, and pushing for “common sense” firearm regulations. They provide no actual policy suggestions, but instead rely on the same sort of nonsensical whining that most reasonable people have learned to ignore. Seeing as how the two have been hired on as writers for Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun content mill, The Trace, we should expect to see more drivel from them (and The Trace) in the coming months.

Modern Rifleman’s Response to Proposed ITAR Amendment

RE: ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage.

Mr. Peartree,

I am writing to you regarding the proposed ITAR Amendment (RIN 1400-AD70). This amendment endeavors to make substantial changes to several definitions within ITAR and the Department’s claim is that these modifications are necessary to modernize the regulations. However, the proposal is also rife with dangers that could snare otherwise law abiding Americans who are simply exercising their constitutionally protected rights. While State may feel that these changes are well intentioned, First/Second Amendment issues, enforceability concerns, and economic consequences of the changes should not be ignored.

The first problematic change is the revision to the definition of “defense article” which results in a much broader application of the term. According to the ITAR Amendment, applicable software would be considered a defense article, rather than “technical data” as it currently is treated. This is troublesome because encryption technologies and cryptographic algorithms are likely to fall within this scope. While section 120.6 lays out exceptions to the classification, these relate primarily to academic research and existing technologies. Independent, private research is not necessarily protected and new software is likely to be held to this definition. These changes are particularly worrisome because they potentially lower the threshold for software to be regulated under ITAR. Currently, software is categorized as technical data, meaning it must closely relate to a separate defense article in order to be ITAR relevant. The changes would remove this barrier (safeguard) by classifying software as a defense article itself. Thus, sharing such software could be considered an “export” according to ITAR. Practically all types of software are developed collaboratively, often as multinational efforts. These changes render it impractical to develop any sort of software that might have any sort of appeal to the defense community. This is potentially a grave violation of the First Amendment, but it could also carry massive economic consequences as security software developers attempt to contend with the new rules.

Following the changes to defense articles, the ITAR Amendment proposes substantial modifications to the definition of technical data. For lawful gun owners, proposed paragraph (a)(1) is one of the most ominous pieces of the amendment. According to State, the definition of technical data would be broadened to account for practically any information relating to a defense article and the applicable formats for such data expanded to include all practical communications. Since firearms have frequently been deemed defense articles by State, this expansion of relevant technical data could put firearms discussions and training at risk. According to the new definition, merely posting a tutorial for cleaning an AR-15 on the Internet could constitute an export of technical data according to this new definition. Popular tutorials outlining firearm build processes would almost assuredly be subject to ITAR. This is absolutely unacceptable from both a First and Second Amendment perspective.

I must also question State’s motivation for the changes the definition of technical data. It is no secret that the Department is the defendant in a lawsuit brought forth by Defense Distributed after the company was threatened by State and forced to remove CAD files of firearm components from their website. State’s rationale for the threat was that Defense Distributed’s files were ITAR controlled data. However, none of the files posted would have contained classified information and many of them were Defense Distributed’s intellectual property and original designs. It is perfectly legal to manufacture firearms and parts for personal use and State’s attempt to regulate this activity represents an unlawful usurpation of power. It also gives the outward appearance of a move to adapt the rules to benefit the Department in its ongoing legal dispute. Moreover, this sort of information is already widely available and regulatory efforts to halt its dissemination are absolutely unenforceable.

State has elected to take a very specific stance in defining public domain. Effectively, public domain is to be taken as any mode of communication that is accessible for the general public. This includes magazines, libraries, trade shows, the Internet, and many more formats. While State indicates that some data must be available to the public domain (including “fundamental research”), the Department does not make the scope of this information clear. It is probable that a substantial portion of small arms data that most gun owners consider public domain would actually be taken as technical data under these new rules. In large part, this is because the Department of State (or the U.S. Government as a whole) has taken sole authority for determining what technical data may be “released” to the public domain. Without explicit permission from the U.S. Government, relevant parties would be prohibited from releasing any information that might be considered technical data. In this sense, the proposal is absolutely a “gag order” and these changes should be thrown out as unconstitutional infringements on free speech.

Because it is impossible for firearms and security enthusiasts to determine what existing information truly constitutes technical data, this new definition of public domain is likely to lead to heavy self-censorship in online communities and at trade seminars. It is not reasonable to expect that individual practitioners would obtain express permission from State prior to releasing any technical information about something that may be considered a defense article. As the gatekeeper of this information, the Department takes on a unique, powerful, and legally uncertain position in regulating “free” speech.

According to 120.49, there are only two approved ways for information from research studies that would typically be considered technical data to be classified as public domain. The first encompasses research done in the U.S. by accredited universities and colleges. This information, intended for publication, would be considered public domain only after prepublication review. Likewise, any research funded by the U.S. government would also be considered fundamental and its results would be subject to prepublication review prior to dissemination. The ITAR Amendment makes no provisions for independent research. This is problematic because most firearms and information security development is done privately. These changes suddenly make it illegal for private groups to independently release information that might have some sort of defense application.

According to State, this regulation is not expected to have an impact on the economy that exceeds $100 million. I must disagree with this assertion. In fact, it is likely that the economic impact of the ITAR Amendment will far exceed this figure. According to the National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF), the total economic impact of the firearms and ammunition industry was over $42 billion in 2014. The industry also generated over $5 billion in federal and state tax revenue. In 2013, data from Gartner indicated that the information security industry is expected to exceed $86 billion in total size by 2016. If even a tiny fraction of these two industries is affected by the ITAR Amendment, the total economic impact of the changes will far exceed $100 million.

Regardless of the Department’s stated intentions, to move forward with the current ITAR Amendment would be a mistake. As proposed, the new regulatory definitions present sizeable constitutional questions that will not go unchallenged if adopted. Moreover, enforcement of these changes will be practically impossible given the prevalence of relevant information already available for public consumption. Lastly, State grossly underestimates the potential economic side effects of the ITAR Amendment. Using just the aforementioned industries and assuming State could successfully enforce the regulations, it is easy to see that the economic impact of the changes could far surpass $100 million. Given these factors, the Department should abandon the proposed changes.

Sincerely,

Modern Rifleman

The Department of State has currently received only 6,877 comments for the ITAR Amendment. This is well short of where I had hoped we would be by this point. Please take time to make your voice heard. Submissions can be made on the regulations.gov web portal or by email. Comments via the web portal are limited to 5000 characters, so longer entries should be emailed. Emailed submissions must be sent to DDTCPublicComments@state.gov and must use subject line “ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage.” The comment period closes August 3 so time is running out.

The State of Modern Rifleman: Q2 2015

Every three months, I look forward to reserving time to reflect on this site and evaluate the Modern Rifleman’s progress toward goals I set at the beginning of the year. Though I keep a close eye on visitor and article statistics, most of my daily observations are simple data points that lack the perspective needed to assess overall site health and productivity. In this vein, yesterday signaled the end of 2015’s second quarter here at Modern Rifleman and I am excited to share the results.

PageviewsQ22015

Since the site’s inception in April of 2013, Modern Rifleman has enjoyed relatively steady month-to-month growth. While this trend has been less reliable in recent months, daily traffic seems to indicate that the site is still on a very healthy growth trend and it looks like monthly views consistently in excess of 10,000 may soon become a reality. Compared to Q2 2014, this past quarter saw at least 100% growth for each of the three months. While Q1 2015 was more successful overall (28,055 views versus 25,637), much of February’s traffic was driven by the ATF’s attempted M855 ammunition ban and that momentum did carry over into early March to skew the metrics. Q2 enjoyed much more diverse readership than Q1 as views were distributed over a wider variety of articles.

At time of writing, Modern Rifleman is ranked 798,873 in the United States in terms of traffic over the last 30 days according to Alexa Site Rankings. This is good for the 3,808,634 spot worldwide. While the site has plenty of room to grow, these rankings are surely headed in the proper direction. At the halfway point of 2015, daily traffic averages 297 views, up 70% from 2014’s 174 view average.

Site ranking according to Alexa.com

Site ranking according to Alexa.com

Unsurprisingly, reviews and tutorials significantly outpaced most political articles for the quarter. Another strong driver of traffic was the Suppressor Performance Database, which now features over 120 entries with detailed statistics for some of the industry’s most popular suppressors. The success of this feature can in large part be attributed to support from NFA powerhouse, Silencer Shop, who has kindly offered to assist in the collection and compilation of data for the database. On the reviews side of the ledger, Modern Rifleman partnered with Atlantic Firearms to examine the Inter Ordnance AKM247. While the review was not as positive as both of us would have hoped, this has opened the door for future engagements with one of America’s favorite sources for Kalashnikov rifles.

Top posts for Q2 2015

Top posts for Q2 2015

While the first half of 2015 has been incredibly encouraging, I expect that this is only a small sample of what is to come for Modern Rifleman. Look for an exciting announcement within the next few weeks regarding a new and innovative partnership that could bring some truly unique articles to the site. Additionally, I have already begun work on another round of reviews that are sure to offer quality insight on some of the firearms world’s most popular guns and gear. With this sort of momentum, it is truly exciting to think about what might rest just over the horizon.

Thank you to all readers out there. Without your participation and input, none of this growth or these opportunities would be possible. I look forward to continuing this journey with all of you in the months to come.

How To: Fix Suppressed Blowback with Cheap AR-15 Mod

There is no question, shooting a suppressed rifle is far more enjoyable than firing one with a bare muzzle. The sound reduction notwithstanding, suppressors can also increase a shooter’s proficiency by reducing felt recoil. Unfortunately, these advantages are often diminished by the unpleasant effects of increased gas blowback, especially in AR-15 style rifles. One reason ARs can be particularly troublesome when suppressed is that the charging handle opens up a large exit port at the back of the receiver. Even when locked closed, there is often some room for gas to escape around the part. Typically, shooters will drop $40 or more dollars on a specialized charging handle to cut down on these effects. Fortunately, some enterprising enthusiasts have devised a far cheaper and equally valid solution.

Note the gap between the upper receiver and the charging handle

Note the gap between the upper receiver and the charging handle

The concept is simple; we want to remove the “play” around the rear of the charging handle and provide a good enough seal with the upper receiver that gas blowback finds easier routes to escape the rifle. On my SR-15, I noticed that the charging handle had as much as 1 mm of fore and aft movement, even when locked. These tolerances meant that when I used my Specwar 556 with the rifle, my face was sprayed with hot, smelly gas after every shot. The incredibly cheap solution for this issue involves using a small amount of silicone (found near the adhesives at your local hardware store, Permatex RTV Black is best for this) to close the gap at the top of the charging handle where it meets the receiver.

The photo below illustrates this fix. Readers will note that I only used a very small amount of silicone to seal the gap. As far as application of the silicone is concerned, I caution readers to go slowly and apply the product in thin layers. It may take as many as 12 hours for the silicone to dry between layers, but we want to make sure we do not add too much as an excess with prevent the charging handle from locking in the forward position. Once complete, the millimeter or so of play between the handle and the receiver should be eliminated. Additionally, the handle may require some slight force to lock closed, but should easily return to the locked position when the bolt carrier is released.

Ugly, but simple: I used clear silicone to help seal the charging handle.

Ugly, but simple: I used clear silicone to help seal the charging handle, but most folks will recommend the durability of Permatex RTV silicone, which comes in black.

Some shooters may find that preliminary attempts to seal the back of the receiver are not successful. Indeed, it is easy to leave small gaps in the silicone application that might allow gas to exit the firearm. For those who have poor initial results with this method, I recommend adding additional (small) amounts of silicone until the proper seal is achieved. While this solution may not address all sources of unpleasant gas blowback, it is certainly the cheapest option and will work with the appropriate amount of patience.

Gun Control Cannot Prevent Mass Killings

After the recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, many anti-gun groups and politicians have renewed their cries for stricter gun control in the United States. As inconvenient as the facts may be (especially in this case), these folks continue to push that just a few more laws would prevent tragedies like we have seen this week. Given these assertions, let us take a look at why they simply are not correct (in keeping with site policy, shooters’ names will not be mentioned).

Universal Background Checks Would Not Work

In Charleston, the shooter passed the mandated NICS background check when he purchased the handgun back in April. While anti-gun groups like to argue for the effectiveness of such checks, the truth of the matter is that most mass killers pass these checks without issue. Shooters at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Newtown, the D.C. Navy Yard, and in Charleston all passed (or would have passed) the NICS background checks. A few other instances, such as Columbine and the shooting at Clackamas Town Center involved shooters that stole firearms from family or friends.

“Assault Weapons” Bans are Ineffective

The shooter in Charleston used a low capacity, .45 ACP handgun to commit his heinous crime. The only two recent incidents involving any firearm that would be politically considered an “assault weapon” were the killings at Sandy Hook and Aurora. The deadliest shooting incident in U.S. history, at Virginia Tech, involved the use of two standard handguns (a Glock 19 and a diminutive Walther P22). The Navy Yard shooter took 12 lives with a common pump-action shotgun. Columbine took place in the midst of the Clinton-era Assault Weapons Ban.

Magazine Capacity is Irrelevant

Arguments that shooters can be overwhelmed while reloading have not proven themselves reasonable. The shooter in Charleston reloaded his handgun 5 times before fleeing the scene. At Columbine, the attackers reportedly reloaded 13 times during the course of their rampage. The Virginia Tech shooter reloaded at least 17 times during that incident. In Newtown, the assailant reloaded frequently, often dropping magazines that were at least half full. At the Navy Yard, the killer used a low capacity shotgun. Reports following the Arizona shooting where Gabby Giffords was wounded indicated that the assailant’s high-capacity magazine jammed, which ultimately led to his apprehension. Similar information from the Aurora shooting has implied that a high-capacity magazine jammed during that incident as well. Put simply, magazine capacity limits are entirely arbitrary and their supposed benefits are entirely theoretical with little empirical support.

Waiting Periods Have No Effect

The idea of a “cooling off” period before taking possession of a firearm is wishful thinking, especially when it comes to mass murderers. Every mass casualty shooting has involved shooters who possessed the firearm well in advance of the crime. When these sick people spend months planning their attacks, a waiting period is trivial.

Gun Free Zones Aren’t

Firearms are banned from churches in South Carolina by statute. This did not stop a disturbed criminal from entering a church with a firearm. Likewise, the shootings at Sandy Hook, Columbine, the D.C. Navy Yard, and Fort Hood all occurred in places where firearms were laws banned firearms. At this point, it should be clear that the only people that respect these restrictions are those that mean no harm in the first place.

Gun-A-Month Limits are Pointless

In every recent incident, the shooters have used no more than three firearms. Most have used one or two. Some have argued that these restrictions help combat trafficking, but reality is that the current background checks could do this just as effectively. As it stands, these sorts of laws harm peaceable collectors and do little to curb crime.

Ammunition Restrictions Will Not Prevent Crime

Some states have pushed for bans on online ammunition purchases. The theory is that forcing buyers to purchase in person (perhaps even with a background check) will help catch dangerous individuals. If the background check for the firearm is not going to stop a potentially violent person from acquiring a gun, the same checks are not magically going to succeed when it comes to ammunition.

Likewise, limits on the amount of ammunition that a person may purchase or possess would only punish legal gun owners. The Virginia Tech shooter fired more rounds than any other mass killer and even he only expended approximately 170 rounds. That may seem like a substantial sum to many, but the fact is that most enthusiasts and competitors will fire more than that on an average range day.

Conclusion

If people are serious about curbing violence, then we need to do a better job of identifying the causes of these incidents. We must also be more effective when it comes to flagging those that might be at risk of committing such acts. In many cases, these individuals have shown signs of potential violence, only to be completely ignored. That must stop for these events to be effectively minimized. As it stands, there simply is no reasonable way to attack these challenges from a gun control angle.

Coming Soon: Primary Arms 4x ACSS Compact Prism Scope Review

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While at the range a few weeks ago, I concluded that in order to get the most out of my Knight’s Armament SR-15 upper receiver assembly, I really needed to exchange my Primary Arms red dot sight for something with a little magnification. With my astigmatism, the red dot was challenging to use on cloudy days and in low light situations and I tend to strive for precision while shooting, rather than speed. After hearing impressive feedback for the Primary Arms 4x ACSS Compact Prism Scope, I decided to try one for myself. So far, let’s just say that the scope has been very impressive. I should have a full review in two weeks.

How the State Department’s ITAR Proposal Could Put Gun Owners and Information Security Professionals at Risk

Two weeks ago, President Obama released his Unified Agenda, part of which outlines many of his goals for the remainder of his term. Most of the proposals in the agenda are regulatory in nature and as such, require no approval from Congress. No matter what the content, this sort of governance is sure to attract the ire of conservatives who have already argued that the President has overstepped his authority several times over the last 6 years. Compounding these concerns is the fact that the Unified Agenda contains many firearms-related items that most enthusiasts take as punitive measures following the President’s congressional impotency on the issue. While the agenda is rife with potential risks, one proposal has gun owners and technology professionals especially worried.

The relevant proposal has been put forth by the Department of State and is titled, “International Traffic in Arms: Definitions of Defense Services, Technical Data, and Public Domain; Definition of Product of Fundamental Research; Electronic Transmission and Storage of Technical Data; and Related Definitions”, or “ITAR Amendment” for short. As its name suggests, the initiative seeks to amend many significant definitions within ITAR and is supposedly intended to modernize the regulations to better apply to current technology. As such, the new changes focus primarily on information and the “export” of data, rather than material goods.

The first substantial changes are the revisions to the definition of “defense article” which result in a much broader application of the term. According to the ITAR Amendment, applicable software would be considered a defense article, rather than “technical data” as it currently is treated. This is significant because encryption technologies and cryptographic algorithms are likely to fall within this scope. While section 120.6 lays out exceptions to the classification, these relate primarily to academic research and existing technologies. Independent, private research is not necessarily protected and new software is likely to be held to this definition. These changes are particularly worrisome because they potentially lower the threshold for software to be regulated under ITAR. Currently, software is categorized as technical data, meaning it must closely relate to a separate defense article in order to be ITAR relevant. The changes would remove this barrier (safeguard) by classifying software as a defense article itself.

Following the changes to defense articles, the ITAR Amendment proposes substantial modifications to the definition of technical data. In this section, the proposed modifications are especially significant so let’s take a look at the text (feel free to skip, I will address issues individually below):

The Department proposes to revise the definition of “technical data” in ITAR § 120.10 in order to update and clarify the scope of information that may be captured within the definition. Paragraph (a)(1) of the revised definition defines “technical data” as information “required” for the “development,” “production,” operation, installation, maintenance, repair, overhaul, or refurbishing of a “defense article,” which harmonizes with the definition of “technology” in the EAR and the Wassenaar Arrangement. This is not a change in the scope of the definition, and additional words describing activities that were in the prior definition are included in parentheticals to assist exporters.

Paragraph (a)(1) also sets forth a broader range of examples of formats that “technical data” may take, such as diagrams, models, formulae, tables, engineering designs and specifications, computer-aided design files, manuals or documentation, or electronic media, that may constitute “technical data.” Additionally, the revised definition includes certain conforming changes intended to reflect the revised and newly added defined terms proposed elsewhere in this rule.

The proposed revised definition also includes a note clarifying that the modification of the design of an existing item creates a new item and that the “technical data” for the modification is “technical data” for the new item.

Paragraph (a)(2) of the revised definition defines “technical data” as also including information that is enumerated on the USML. This will be “technical data” that is positively described, as opposed to “technical data” described in the standard catch-all “technical data” control for all “technical data” directly related to a “defense article” described in the relevant category. The Department intends to enumerate certain controlled “technical data” as it continues to move the USML toward a more positive control list.

Paragraph (a)(3) of the revised definition defines “technical data” as also including classified information that is for the “development,” “production,” operation, installation, maintenance, repair, overhaul, or refurbishing of a “defense article” or a 600 series item subject to the EAR. Paragraph (a)(5) of the revised definition defines “technical data” as also including information to access secured “technical data” in clear text, such as decryption keys, passwords, or network access codes. In support of the latter change, the Department also proposes to add a new provision to the list of violations in § 127.1(b)(4) to state that any disclosure of these decryption keys or passwords that results in the unauthorized disclosure of the “technical data” or software secured by the encryption key or password is a violation and will constitute a violation to the same extent as the “export” of the secured information. For example, the “release” of a decryption key may result in the unauthorized disclosure of multiple files containing “technical data” hosted abroad and could therefore constitute a violation of the ITAR for each piece of “technical data” on that server.

Readers will have to excuse the wall of text I just dumped on this article. For gun owners, proposed paragraph (a)(1) is one of the most ominous pieces of the amendment. According to State, the definition of technical data would be broadened to account for practically any information relating to a defense article and the applicable formats for such data expanded to include all practical communications. Since firearms have frequently been deemed defense articles by State, this expansion of relevant technical data could put firearms discussions and training at risk. Indeed, merely posting a tutorial for cleaning an AR-15 on the Internet could constitute an export of technical data according to this new definition.

This section is even more frightening for “DIY-ers” who enjoy legally assembling firearms from parts or manufacturing firearm components. Under the proposal, sharing information related to the “production” or “installation” of firearms parts could constitute a “release” or “export” of ITAR regulated technical data. Readers should note that the Department of State is currently entangled in a lawsuit with Defense Distributed’s Cody Wilson over the government’s assertion that posting CAD files of firearms components online violated ITAR. This ongoing legal battle combines with the ATF’s increased scrutiny regarding the manufacture of 80% receivers to make the amendment look like a highly reactive initiative, fueled by the government’s inability to otherwise jeopardize legal firearms builds.

From an information security perspective, the proposed changes to technical data are less frightening, but are worth mentioning. According to State, storage of technical data abroad is permissible, provided the information is secured (encrypted). An export of this data would only occur if that data could be readily decrypted by a foreign actor. However to facilitate this definition, State clarifies that the release of keys for encrypted technical data could be considered an export and may be subject to ITAR regulations and penalties.

After establishing the new definition for technical data, State endeavors to redefine “public domain” as it relates to ITAR (wall of text inbound):

The proposed definition requires that information be made available to the public without restrictions on its further dissemination. Any information that meets this definition is “public domain.” The definition also retains an exemplary list of information that has been made available to the public without restriction and would be considered “public domain.” These include magazines, periodicals and other publications available as subscriptions, publications contained in libraries, information made available at a public conference, meeting, seminar, trade show, or exhibition, and information posted on public Web sites. The final example deems information that is submitted to co-authors, editors, or reviewers or conference organizers for review for publication to be “public domain,” even prior to actual publication. The relevant restrictions do not include copyright protections or generic property rights in the underlying physical medium.

Paragraph (b) of the revised definition explicitly sets forth the Department’s requirement of authorization to release information into the “public domain.” Prior to making available “technical data” or software subject to the ITAR, the U.S. government must approve the release through one of the following: (1) The Department; (2) the Department of Defense’s Office of Security Review; (3) a relevant U.S. government contracting authority with authority to allow the “technical data” or software to be made available to the public, if one exists; or (4) another U.S. government official with authority to allow the “technical data” or software to be made available to the public.

The requirements of paragraph (b) are not new. Rather, they are a more explicit statement of the ITAR’s requirement that one must seek and receive a license or other authorization from the Department or other cognizant U.S. government authority to release ITAR controlled “technical data,” as defined in § 120.10. A release of “technical data” may occur by disseminating “technical data” at a public conference or trade show, publishing “technical data” in a book or journal article, or posting “technical data” to the Internet. This proposed provision will enhance compliance with the ITAR by clarifying that “technical data” may not be made available to the public without authorization. Persons who intend to discuss “technical data” at a conference or trade show, or to publish it, must ensure that they obtain the appropriate authorization.

Information that is excluded from the definition of “defense article” in the new § 120.6(b) is not “technical data” and therefore does not require authorization prior to release into the “public domain.” This includes information that arises during or results from “fundamental research,” as described in the new § 120.49; general scientific, mathematical, or engineering principles commonly taught in schools, and information that is contained in patents.

The Department also proposes to add a new provision to § 127.1 in paragraph (a)(6) to state explicitly that the further dissemination of “technical data” or software that was made available to the public without authorization is a violation of the ITAR, if, and only if, it is done with knowledge that the “technical data” or software was made publicly available without an authorization described in ITAR § 120.11(b)(2). Dissemination of publicly available “technical data” or software is not an export-controlled event, and does not require authorization from the Department, in the absence of knowledge that it was made publicly available without authorization.

“Technical data” and software that is made publicly available without proper authorization remains “technical data” or software and therefore remains subject to the ITAR. As such, the U.S. government may advise a person that the original release of the “technical data” or software was unauthorized and put that person on notice that further dissemination would violate the ITAR.

As readers can see, State has elected to take a very specific stance in defining public domain. However, the changes themselves are quite simple. Effectively, public domain is to be taken as any mode of communication that is accessible for the general public. This includes magazines, libraries, trade shows, the Internet, and many more formats. While State indicates that some data must be available to the public domain (including “fundamental research”), the Department does not make the scope of this information clear. It is probable that a substantial portion of small arms data that most gun owners consider public domain would actually be taken as technical data under these new rules. In large part, this is because the Department of State (or the U.S. Government as a whole) has taken sole authority for determining what technical data may be “released” to the public domain. Without explicit permission from the U.S. Government, relevant parties would be prohibited from releasing any information that might be considered technical data.

Because it is impossible for firearms and security enthusiasts to determine what existing information truly constitutes technical data, this new definition of public domain is likely to lead to heavy self-censorship in online communities and at trade seminars. It is not reasonable to expect that individual practitioners would obtain express permission from State prior to releasing any technical information about something that may be considered a defense article. As the gatekeeper of this information, the Department of State takes on a unique and powerful position in regulating “free” speech.

In a new section, State separates “fundamental research” from its previous home under public domain. In 120.49, technical data arising from fundamental research is defined as:

(a) Technical Data arising during, or resulting from, fundamental research. Unclassified information that arises during, or results from, fundamental research and is intended to be published is not technical data when the research is: (1) Conducted in the United States at an accredited institution of higher learning located; or (2) Funded, in whole or in part, by the U.S. government.

In short, there are only two approved ways for information from research studies that would typically be considered technical data to be classified as public domain. The first encompasses research done in the U.S. by accredited universities and colleges. This information, intended for publication, would be considered public domain only after prepublication review. Likewise, any research funded by the U.S. government would also be considered fundamental and its results would be subject to prepublication review prior to dissemination. The ITAR Amendment makes no provisions for independent research.

State has proposed minor changes to the definitions for “release” and “export”, but for all practical purposes, these terms mean exactly what we might expect. Under the ITAR Amendment, a release of technical data essentially applies to any dissemination of the material to the public domain. A release only constitutes an export when the data crosses borders and is shared with foreign nationals. However, this is problematic because firearms discussion and technology research frequently cross borders. With the Internet as the primary vehicle for exchanging these ideas, avoiding illegal exports of technical data is practically impossible.

While some have dismissed assertions by the NRA and other groups that this is a “gag order” on firearms related speech, the ultimate effect will be exactly the same. The regulatory changes outlined by the ITAR Amendment render lawful collaboration on firearms, security, and a variety of other topics impractical. The self-censorship that is likely to result from these revisions is not only scary, but it also runs counter to the ideals of a free society and protected speech.

According to the Department of State, this regulation is not expected to have an impact on the economy that exceeds $100 million. I must disagree with this assertion. In fact, it is likely that the economic impact of the ITAR Amendment will far exceed this figure. According to the National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF), the total economic impact of the firearms and ammunition industry was over $42 billion in 2014. The industry also generated over $5 billion in federal and state tax revenue. In 2013, data from Gartner indicated that the information security industry is expected to exceed $86 billion in total size by 2016. If even a tiny fraction of these two industries is impacted by the ITAR Amendment, the total economic impact of the changes will far exceed $100 million.

As of now, the proposal has received 4,914 comments via the regulations.gov web portal. While this does not include mailed or emailed submissions, the number is far too low. The Department of State will accept comments up until the close date of August 3.  Comments may be submitted through the online portal or via email (DDTCPublicComments@state.gov, subject “ITAR Amendment – Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage”).

 

ITAR Amendment (PDF): http://www.regulations.gov/contentStreamer?documentId=DOS-2015-0023-0001&disposition=attachment&contentType=pdf

Bloomberg Funded Johns Hopkins Strikes Out Again with Connecticut Study

Last week, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a “study” claiming that Connecticut’s 1995 permit-to-purchase (PTP) handgun law reduced gun-related killings in the state by 40%. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study is similar to research regarding a similar law in Missouri that the school published last year. While firearms and crime researcher, John Lott, has already picked the study apart over at the Crime Prevention Research Center, I would like to take some time to discuss some of the shortcomings posed by this Bloomberg-funded effort.

The Johns Hopkins study makes a few major, but related claims. The first of these is that Connecticut’s firearm-related homicide rate dropped by 40% after passing the PTP law. The study also asserts that the decrease in gun-related killings in the state outpaced the nationwide fall in firearm homicides and that the results cannot be discounted by an overall drop in violent crime throughout the United States during the 1990s and 2000s.

Firearm homicide rates (source: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)

According to the study, the above graph tells the story. While the composition of the control line remains somewhat of a mystery, the “Synthetic Connecticut” homicide rate is a combination of data from Rhode Island, Maryland, Nevada, California, and New Hampshire that has been matched to historical data for real homicide rates in Connecticut. As you can see, the fit for the synthetic line as it compares to real Connecticut is impressive when we look at the pre-1995 data.

This is where the problems begin. Creating the Synthetic Connecticut line relied on combining historical data from a collection of other states in effort to match homicide figures from Connecticut. This allowed them to create a sort of homebrewed formula to take partial crime rates from other states and match them to crime in Constitution State. The Johns Hopkins researchers assumed that historical statistics would ensure a suitable match moving forward. They did not account for variations in state law or the myriad of factors that might also contribute to crime rates. The researchers over fit the synthetic data to a very specific set of real figures from Connecticut and did so over a highly limited timeline. Understandably, it is tempting to match a model to real data as closely as possible, but over fitting that model often results in poor forecasts. This fact is aggravated by the fact that the researchers failed to adequately consider the individual factors that might contribute to crime rates, including (but not limited to) state laws, state economies, and demographics. This is the sort of mistake that we would expect from a statistics novice or (more likely) someone with a clear agenda.

Another issue is that the researchers claimed that firearms-related homicide rates fell further and faster than the national average after the passage of the law. By and large, this affect appears to be exaggerated, but the Johns Hopkins data does show Connecticut faring somewhat better than the control group. The problem with this is that the researchers chose such a limited timeframe to examine the post-PTP data. As Lott calls out in his article, if the data had been extended to 2010, the reduction in gun-related homicides within Connecticut would have been outpaced by the rest of the nation. It seems just a bit convenient that the researchers chose to ignore another 5+ years of data.

Firearm homicide rates (source: Crime Prevention Research Center)

So did the PTP law make Connecticut a safer place to live? The study certainly seems to indicate that it did. However, when we look at the years beyond 2005 and compare them to the overall downward trend in violent crime throughout the nation, the affects of the law seem much less clear. From 1995 to 2010, the firearms-related homicide rate in Connecticut actually stayed reasonably consistent as compared to the rest of the nation. The past 30 years have seen a consistent decline in violent and firearms related crime rates throughout the US and more complete data from Connecticut indicates that the state has not been uniquely successful in combating firearms and non-firearms related violent crime. If anything, the state has lagged behind the rest of the nation’s downward crime trend.

Non-firearms homicide rate (source: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)

Connecticut murder rate as compared to US (source: Crime Prevention Research Center)

 

Connecticut violent crime compared to US (source: Crime Prevention Research Center)

When assessing this study, we really must consider the source. In 2013, former New York City mayor and gun prohibitionist, Michael Bloomberg, made a $1.1 billion donation to Johns Hopkins to form the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Part of this school is the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. $250 million of the donation was tagged to hire 50 new researchers for this school. Viewed in this light, it is practically impossible to conclude that the study comes from a policy-neutral source.

Furthermore, one of the lead researchers for the study, Daniel Webster, has published a book titled Reducing Gun Violence in America. This anti-gun publication even features a foreword from former mayor Bloomberg himself. When it comes to anti-gun research, Daniel Webster is one of Michael Bloomberg’s most reliable “scholars”.

That the release of this study coincides so well with a push from Congressional Democrats to implement a federal PTP law should not be taken as mere coincidence. Bloomberg-funded anti-gun groups have shown a remarkable ability to fixate on and rally around specific issues before. Impressively, most media outlets have completely ignored the link between the anti-gun former mayor and the source of this study or those who are pushing for similar laws in Congress. With this in mind, it is difficult to imagine why Bloomberg would waste further money starting his own anti-gun media outlet when mainstream news is so willing to buy in.