Thursday, January 24, 2013

Squeaky Snow

I don't know what conditions have to exist to make powdery snow squeak under foot but one condition is certainly "'friggin' cold". The thermometer reads "2" right now.

While I don't abandon the stream just because the mercury is low, today I'm dreaming of someplace warmer. Not in a tropical sense, but in a summertime in the mountains sense.

Running water cold and clear. Blue blues and green greens. And so little oxygen us flatlanders wheeze.

The things summer time dreams are made of.

The Big T up where it's small

Summit Lake, Mt. Evans.

A trib of the Big T. Should have fished that pool.....

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Episode 5: The Proposals

If you haven't read the IntroductionEpisode 1Episode 2 , Episode 3 or Episode 4, you should do so now.

A man once stood before GOD his heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world. "Dear GOD," he cried out, "look at all the suffering and anguish and distress in YOUR world. Why don't you send help?" GOD responded, "I did send help. I sent you."
- A Jewish Folk Tale

What do I want? I want a safer more civil society. We need to work on many things in order to achieve this but gun violence in one area that deserves special attention. I advocate for the steps below to be taken.

  • Remove laws that prevent government agencies from researching and advocating for effective ways to prevent gun deaths. There are too few facts about gun violence and we should not be beholden to laws created by the gun lobby to hobble us in this regard. The best data that can be found is biased and spun. We need real science. The shackles that exist on the very people we task with discovering the causes of injury and death must be removed. 
  • Appoint and approve a head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and change the laws that restrict the BATF from creating effective regulations. How can we effectively enforce our gun laws if the agency charged with safeguarding us against the illegal use and trafficking of firearms has no leadership? The President gets his choice here. And they get to do their jobs; revoke the Tiahrt Amendment and other such nonsense.
  • Increase enforcement of existing laws. For example, while it is a felony to lie on a background check application, virtually no one is prosecuted for that felony. 80,000 people lied on background check applications in 2010, 44 were prosecuted.[1] Research has demonstrated that criminals who lie on a background check and are denied a firearm purchase are 28% more likely to commit a crime in the five years post denial than the five years before the denial. Ironically, those same criminals are 80% more likely to use a firearm in a crime after being denied than before.[2] Let's get them before they commit a crime. Fix this.
  • Create a National Firearms Permit that would be required for the purchase and ownership of firearms. Rules for firearms sales, firearms training and background checks must be standardized at the federal level -- the myriad of state laws creates gaps in regulation that criminals can drive a truck loaded with firearms through. This permit would also authorize holders to carried concealed weapons.
  • Eliminate private sales of firearms. All sales should require a background check and be a properly documented transaction between two parties who have a permit.
  • Criminalize the negligent storage of firearms. If you own a firearm, you need to lock it up. Just like I need an inspection of my plumbing when I renovate my bathroom, if you buy a firearm you have to demonstrate that it can be safely stored. If your weapon is stolen or harms someone because it wasn't locked up, you go to jail. For a long time. And you surrender your guns, cause you're now a felon.
  • Require the registration of all firearms. A centralized database of all firearms in the United States is required to ensure that when someone gets certified as mentally ill or commits a crime that causes them to lose gun ownership rights, we know how many guns they own and where they are. This database would not be subject to disclosure under Freedom of Information requests.

And finally, the most controversial:

  • Stop selling military grade weapon systems to individuals. Suffice to say, if our troops are using it on the Taliban you don't get to have one in your house.This will be the most difficult to define and the most difficult to swallow. But it's time to draw a new line on what's allowed for civilian ownership. I believe that civilian versions of military firearms, euphemistically referred to in the industry as "modern sporting rifles", should be restricted. We did it before, in 1934, and we need to do it again.

The first bullet is the most important. If we as a society cannot agree to study and understand gun violence then we back ourselves into the most extreme recommendation of all - the only way to curb gun violence is to eliminate all the guns. But that is a low road. It is one that we do not deserve. We are worthy of better.

I've sent these recommendations to my Congressman.

The ball is in your court now. You can sit on the sidelines and let the extremists duke it out or you can make your voice heard with your elected officials. Chose a side, even if it's your own side, and act. 

Thanks for tagging along over the past week. Thanks to you who have left thoughtful comments and to those who have tolerated this diversion. It's now back to fishing. As it should always have been.

Rest in peace, Charlotte.

[1] I could not find the original DOJ data for this. Quoted from NY Times Article, Both Sides in Gun Debate Agree: Punish Background-check Liars.
[2] Recidivism of Denied Prospective Firearms Purchasers

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Episode 4: The Emotional Problem

If you haven't read the Introduction, Episode 1, Episode 2 , or Episode 3 you should do so before reading below.
"I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."
- Charlton Heston, former President, National Rifle Association, 129th NRA Convention, May 2000
"...1776 will commence again if you try and take our firearms..."
- Alex Jones on Piers Morgan, January 7, 2013
"....if we don't get more restrictive gun laws in this country....we are going to stack up the bodies on Capitol Hill!"
- I made this up. Gun control advocates don't seem to be into violence.
"Any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or my deputies..."
- Sheriff Tim Mueller, Linn County, Oregon, January 14th 2014
"I have instituted a ban on all handguns and all rifles in my county effective at midnight, January 31, 2013. Citizens in possession of such firearms will be arrested and charged with a Class A felony."
- I made this up too. Apparently, law enforcement officers can only decide which laws to ignore but they can't make up their own laws. I made that up too, they actually have to enforce all the laws and can't make up any. Sheriff Mueller is being theatrical.[1]
Gun control is probably the most polarizing public discussion we've had in a long time[2] [Update: I wrote this before the 2016 Presidential Election. Dayem...]. It makes the fiscal cliff feel like the fiscal curb.

There is a lot of civil discourse on the subject of gun control but there's also a stunning amount of venom; crazy-ass venom. During these five days, I'm trying not to take sides. I'm trying to be on my side. However, today's post is going to focus on some disturbing responses that I've seen from the pro-gun side of this dialogue. It's not because I'm singling them out, it's because I haven't seen similar behavior from the pro-control side. If you have some of that, put it in the comments section below. I'd like to see it.

On Discourse
On the internet, could we please stop name calling, TYPING IN ALL CAPS, and threatening people's lives when discussing the most recent news story regarding gun control. Also, use your real name. militiaman12 certainly has a lot of balls when posting to a discussion forum anonymously. One's real identity is a bridge to civility. It's easy to be an asshole when you're anonymous though some people are also assholes when you get to know them.

I've struggled to find similar postings from pro-control folks on
the NRA Facebook page. From a venom perspective, this one is light.
Extra points to this author for imagination.
Additional points for using his real name which I've blurred
to protect what dignity remains.

On The Rule of Law
I get it that the second amendment is important. However, if Congress actually passes a law that you don't like, your remedy is not violence, it's the courts. Petitions calling for rebellion and insurrection are idiotic.[3] And, they harm the cause of Constitutional Law. Take a note: Alex Jones did more harm than good with his rant. [Update: Alex Jones is still an idiot.]

I think Alan Dershowitz (speaking about Alex Jones' rant on Piers Morgan's show) said it best: "We lawyers refer to people like that not as witnesses, but as exhibits," he said of Jones. "He was an exhibit, like a piece of evidence. You see him speaking and you say to yourself, 'I don't want that man to have a gun.'"

Don't be the exhibit for gun control.

On the Slippery Slope
"If I give up assault weapons the government will want my pistols next. Then my hunting rifle and shotgun. Then my knives. Before long forks and spoons will also be gone. Then I become their socialist puppet." - I made this quote up
An active imagination can imagine all things. There's no evidence to indicate that Congress intends to take the first step in banning any guns much less taking them all away. When the hell has Congress done anything quickly or with certainty? And when has one thing actually led to another? [Update: Even though Obama may still be coming for your guns, he's not]

We declared our independence, freed the slaves, gave women the vote and made myriad changes to our union over the centuries. All, I'm sure, were lamented as doom by someone when the change was made. Doom has not followed. When we act together we seem to go in the right direction though it may not feel so at the time.

There is no slippery slope. It is fantasy.

On Tyranny and Dystopia
"...their paranoid fear of a possible dystopic future prevents us from addressing our actual dystopic present..." - Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, January 8, 2013
If President Obama was intent on becoming a tyrant he wouldn't be hoping that Congress would change some laws. He'd be scribbling them on a piece of paper and handing them to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go implement with the sharp end of a Hellfire missile.

In my opinion, the argument that we need assault weapons in order to protect ourselves from the threat of government tyranny is the biggest bunch of bullshit. It's not the second amendment that protects us from tyranny, it's the first. If the first amendment is under fire, that's when you should be in the streets, peacefully.

You are more likely to need your weapon to shoot a zombie than one of Obama's Secret Police.[4]

And, by the way, the opposite of tyranny is not anarchy. The antonym for tyranny is democracy. That's the correct response to growing tyranny.

On Conspiracy
After 9/11 conspiracy theorists were saying it either never happened or it did and the government did it. There are also those on the Internet saying the same about Sandy Hook and, apparently, any other gun massacre that happens.

There are some denyers and hoaxologists who do it for sport; creative writers who like nothing better than to stir the pot. AM radio is full of these folks. Some of these are sick, twisted individuals. It's wrong, but I accept it's protected by the first amendment.

But if you look in the mirror and actually believe that the government is out to get your guns and they're doing it by faking or actually murdering fellow citizens you are a sick bastard. I need you to comment on this post so I may forward your name to mental health professionals in your state. You are disturbed and you shouldn't have a gun.

A parting observation:
  • Extremists who want to preserve their rights to bear arms talk about shooting up the place if they don't get their way.
  • Extremists who want to restrain firearm rights threaten lawsuits or to write their Congressman a stern letter when they're not getting their way.
  • The vast majority of the people sit quietly in the middle saying nothing.

Who would you rather have a gun?

What would you see those folks in the middle do?

Read the final post in the series

1 - What I meant to say was that Sheriff Mueller was being an idiot but that wouldn't be polite so I called him theatrical. And that doesn't mean he's gay; not that there's anything wrong with that.
2 - Who am I kidding, all contemporary public discourse is polarizing.
3 - There's 168,203 names for Obama's jack booted thugs to put first on the list of people to send to reeducation camps.
4 - There are no secret police. Adjust the antenna on your foil cap. Actually, there are, and they're outside your front door. No, I'm just messing with you. They're not outside your front door. They're in your bedroom closet. Nah, that's just me messing with you again. They're actually inside your brain. Readjust your foil cap.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Episode 3: Twenty Seven Words

If you haven't read the IntroductionEpisode 1 or Episode 2  you should do so before reading below.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
- The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
At the heart of the debate on firearms is the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What do we know about these twenty seven words; why were they written?

The short answer is, there is no specific information that explains the rationale for the amendment.

One popular theory, especially in pro-gun circles, is that the purpose of the second amendment is to arm citizenry to protect them from a tyrannical federal government. There are also many quotes from our founding fathers that directly support this theory. Below is one from none other than hero of the revolution and the first President of these United States, George Washington.

Hold on. It's 118 words long and pure fiction[1] written by some pro-gun person, we shouldn't read it. Let's move on.

Here's a better one anyway from Thomas Jefferson:
The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
While Jefferson is no Hamilton or Adams, he does have a direct style of communication.

Oh, wait. That's fiction too [1]. Again, written by some person who, unsatisfied with the clarity of the amendment itself, decided to help it along. Of course, the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun advocacy group, posits that these may have been written by gun control advocates to poison the well; conspiracies within conspiracies.

In fact, there's no written proof that the the purpose of the second amendment is to protect us from a tyrannical government. Nobody wrote words to that effect.

That's the problem with our Constitution. It's as if is was written in some ancient tongue and needs to be translated and interpreted to be understood. Of course, it was written in the ancient tongue of another time and it does need to be translated and understood. And that's how we've gotten 224 years of lawyers fees.

So what do we know?

First, we know about the historical context. The U.S. Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation. After the Revolutionary War, the country that was deeply in debt [2] and had a token standing army.[3]  The Articles of Confederation gave all the power to the states and the federal government had little authority.

When rebellions over taxes to pay war debts started, as it did in the Shay's Rebellion in western Massachusetts, the state government had to privately fund a militia of three thousand citizens to go put it down. The states were pretty pissed about this and as interstate issues continued to arise it became pretty clear that something needed to be done to replace the Articles. Hence the Constitutional Congress and eventually the U.S. Constitution including the Bill of Rights and it's trusty second amendment.[4]

The Shay's incident illustrated both the handiness of an armed citizenry as well as demonstrated the need for a stronger central government. So maybe the second amendment is both about an armed citizenry for the protection of the central state as well as an armed citizenry for the defense of individual liberty.

Or maybe I'm just guessing.

Which I am.

What else do we know? Let's look at the Federalist Papers.[5]

As you'll recall from sixth grade history these were a series of eighty-five anonymous essays[6] written during the period of the Constitution's ratification to convince citizens that ratification was in their interests.
It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.
Apparently, choosing a government by reflection and choice over accident and force is a good idea [7][8].

Within the Federalist Papers one finds Article 84 where Alexander Hamilton argues against the need for a Bill of Rights. If only that could have prevailed our dialogue today on the second amendment would be moot.

Relevant to our topic at hand, the Federalist Papers speak of the need for a militia and rights of self defense and speak to the need to defend against usurpation of power both at the state and federal level. Complex stuff with no clear language that says "Everybody gets any kind of gun they want." or "the second amendment is all about protecting us from our government" or even, "the government gets to decide what arms the militias or people are allowed to have".

Case law over time has tried to translate, interpret and clarify what this amendment means. Of course, case law is also of little help because it seems to wax and wane. I won't bore you with the case citations [9], but suffice to say there has been a long legal history of precedent being set both ways -- both for expanded and restricted gun ownership. Lately the Supreme Court's zig towards expanded interpretation of the Constitution is contrary to almost seventy years of the courts going in the other direction. But that's what makes this so exciting and interesting.[10]

Here's what I've been able to divine with some level of certainty about the second amendment.
  1. The second amendment is an individual right. We get to keep arms as well as bring them along to our militia drills.
  2. Laws can be made to restrict that right (e.g. the National Firearms Act at the federal level and myriad state and local laws such as Concealed Carry laws and Assault Weapons Bans) but there are limits that are determined on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Beyond that not much.
Interpretation of the second amendment is going to continue to be thorny. Short of rewriting the thing it seems that we are destined to write laws and let the courts decide whether those laws fit the second amendment mold or not. And that determination will meander between the pro and anti viewpoint based upon the composition of the court.

I suppose there's one thing that can be said. Neither side in the gun debate can definitively claim that the second amendment supports one position or the other. If they do, they're being disingenuous[12].

Read the next post in the series

1 - Dubunked here and here. [Update: That second link no longer works. I wonder why the Second Amendment Foundation took down their bogus quotes section?]
2- The Revolutionary War cost the US $101 million in 1776 currency (around $2.5 billion in today's dollars) and left the United States with $75M in debt.
3 - The Secretary of War tried to scrape together 100 troops to march on Shay's rebels and couldn't get any takers.
4- Of course there were concerns about this new constitution would infringe on rights though as Alexander Hamilton pointed out, the Constitution did not include any surrendering of rights so protections of rights, such as in the Bill of Rights, was unnecessary. But Madison and a bunch of States Rights guys won the day and now we're stuck with all this Constitutional arguing.
5 - Terribly dry stuff also written in that same ancient tongue as the second amendment. Does anyone really read this stuff?
6 - It turns out it was Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison and not some Roman dude named Publius.
7 - See how I took that paragraph of ancient tongue and simplified it down to a more modern equivalent comprised of 15 words. Maybe we need to rewrite the second amendment in a similar fashion.
8 - We could use a little more reflection and choice in this whole discussion on guns.
9 - United States v Miller, District of Columbia v Heller, etc....
10 - Kind of like Tenkara. But different.
11- Isn't that just a fancy way of saying they're lying? Yes, it is.
12 - See 11

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bare Trees

The past week it's been "real" winter. Snow. Frigid cold. But a few streams are still running clear. Time for a quick trip if I can just hold the flu at bay.

Episode 3: The Second Amendment will be published on Monday and I'll wrap the discussion by Wednesday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Episode 2: Facts about gun violence

If you haven't read the Introduction or Episode 1 you should do so before reading below.

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
- No one really knows who wrote this though some say it was Mark Twain

I'm going to try and keep the snarky commentary to a minimum and deal in facts. Regular readers know this will be a struggle.
What we know about gun violence : we can count it fairly accurately [1]

What we know about the causes of gun violence: virtually nothing
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2011, 32,163 people lost their lives from firearms. Of that total, 19,766 lost their lives by suicide by firearm. It's a great irony that in a country where the doctor cannot assist suicide a gunsmith can.[2] 11,101 people died from homicide by firearm.[3] The trend in firearm deaths is increasing.

To put that total firearm death number in perspective, the CDC reports that 34,677 died in automobile accidents in 2011. That number has be declining fairly steadily since 1979. The causes of motor vehicle deaths are well understood as are the actions required to make automobiles safer.

According to the CDC, for most gun deaths we do not know whether they were committed by a long gun (rifle or shotgun of some type) or a hand gun. Of the 11,078 firearm deaths in 2010, we know that 899 were from handguns and 576 were from long guns. For the vast majority of firearm deaths the type of weapon is not recorded in the CDC data.

When you look at the FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data for 2010 the death data is incomplete - Florida and Illinois are not included - though it reports more deaths (12,996). Also, the UCR provides data about what types of firearms are used (24% of the firearms type is unknown vs the 87% unknown in the CDC).  The FBI reports 731 deaths from long guns and, of those, 358 from rifles.

This brings us to two important points. First, different data sources provide different data when measuring the exact same thing. The CDC data comes from Death Certificates. UCR data is self reported by law enforcement agencies in the states. Second, the data does not tell a story. The data is used in storytelling and the same data can be used to tell different stories.

Both sides of the gun control discussion attempt to paint the limited data in the best light. Below I will pitch the above data (or data taken from the same source)[4] in several different ways. You guess which "side" of the gun debate I'm on in each one.
  1. Only 3% of gun deaths in 2011 were known to be caused by long guns and not all of those were assault weapons. An assault weapons ban wouldn't matter.
  2. According to the CDC, where the gun type was known, 39% of gun deaths were caused by long guns. An assault weapons ban is critical to reducing almost half of all gun related deaths.
  3. Only 1/3 of gun deaths are homicides. 90% of those are just gang bangers killing each other. Banning legal weapons won't matter. [5]
The astute reader will observe that each of the above statements contains fact followed by a causal statement that is in no way supported by the data. More on the causal point in a moment. I've seen variations of those claims in many places (one of the NRA's is at the bottom of this page). It's all factually correct and totally bogus at the same time.

Another thing I find interesting about the use of weapon-type data in statements about gun violence is what I'll refer to as "peaceful equivalency". The statements assume that the peaceful equivalent use of the weapons are the same. They are not. Clearly, blunt objects, feet, hands, and knives have a different peaceful equivalent use than firearms. And some firearms, say the Winchester Model 70 have a different peaceful equivalent use than the M-4.

A final observation: According to the FBI only 358 people were murdered with rifles. What is the acceptable threshold for the number of people murdered by rifles? By handguns? Spears? When it's data it's very easy to forget that behind the data are dead humans.

So much for data. let's talk about the causal factors.


We know precious little about the causes of gun violence. That's not because we don't know how to determine the causes. It's because there's little independent research conducted and, notably, little government research.

The reason there's no government research related to the causal factors of injuries from gun violence is because the gun lobby asked for it to be that way. No lie.

Since 1996, the gun lobby has successfully lobbied Congress to specifically prohibit the Center for Disease Control from recommending any form of gun control even if their research demonstrates that such control would reduce deaths from gun injury. The CDC is the government agency specifically tasked with studying and recommending policy for reducing death from injury.

So, one can find CDC recommendations for preventing injuries to children who ride in cars but not for preventing injuries to children who live in homes with guns. They're not doing the research because they're prohibited by law from making those recommendations. So, they focus their research efforts elsewhere which was clearly the intent of the law.[7]

I understand why it is so, I just think it's stupid for you and I to allow it.

The situation where the causes of gun violence are not known is an unacceptable situation.

This is a place where we need to do more.

Much more.[8]




This graphic appeared on the NRA's Facebook Page on January 7th, 2013.  

The data presented below is from the Preliminary FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2011. The graphic doesn't mention that for 20% of 2011 firearms deaths (1,684 deaths) reported in the UCR we don't know what type of firearm used. The UCR does not report on "Knives" it reports "Knives or Cutting Instruments", The UCR does not report on "Clubs or Hammers". This refers to deaths caused by Blunt Objects. So far, the omissions and changes to data do not appear to be overly misleading; the data is restated in a slightly misleading way to make the message more effective.

Based upon my research, two elements are pure fabrications: 1) "Facts Gun Control Advocates Don't Want You to Know" and 2) "But Obama wants to ban semi-automatic rifles?"

I could not find any evidence that "Gun Control Advocates" were attempting to suppress the FBI UCR data.[10] While effective at creating an us vs. them mentality, this information is clearly "Facts the NRA wants you to know". At the time this graphic was published the President had made no proposals about a ban on semi-automatic rifles. About the closest I could find to verify this claim was the mention of a renewed Assault Weapons Ban though such a ban would not be a "ban on semi-automatic rifles" it would be a "ban on some semi-automatic rifles". And again, no such proposal had been made at the time of the publication of this graphic. [Update: Two years later still no proposal despite dire warnings by the NRA. Update: Almost 4 years later, still no proposal. NRA still shrieking.] The language is strikingly familiar to language used both before and after the 2008 election and may have been used to specifically strike that cord. But that's just my opinion.

When you see facts such as these, from any source, do some legwork to understand them before you get too worked up. Sadly, social media has made it all too easy for fabrications to be distributed rapidly as fact.

Also, if you have found graphics from those supporting gun control (the other side of this discussion) that have similarly misleading information please put a link in the comments below. I haven't been able to find one to debunk but I'm sure they're out there.

Read the next post in the series

1 - The 2011 CDC is here: Hoyert, Donna L. and Jiaquan Xu. 2012. ‘Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011 - Selected Causes.’ National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSS); Vol 61, No. 6, pp.40-42. Hyattsville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control Prevention, Division of Vital Statistics. 10 October. I have also use the data from the preliminary 2011 FBI Uniform Crime Report
2 - Damn, only a few sentences in and snark has been exposed. I will try harder to resist.
3 - The difference in the sums of the amounts is comprised of unintentional deaths and indeterminate deaths.
4 - You can get your own statistics at:
5 - This was a comment to a NY Times article. That 90% claim is amusing. It's not data that's available anywhere (at least not that I've been able to find after searching)
6 - I would have put the sound of crickets here but I hate websites with inane sounds. Yes, this is snarky. Snarky but poignant.
7 - In fact, a task force convened by the CDC to study previous studies regarding the various aspects of firearm violence couldn't find enough studies to study the study data.
8 - If you really want to be shocked, check out restrictions that have been placed on the ATF by the gun lobby. Basically back in 2007 Representative Todd Tiarht wrote some rules, allowed the NRA to mark them up and them put them into an amendment attached to another bill that limits the ATF's ability to collect and share information about gun registrations, limited inspections of gun shops, eliminated the requirement for gun shops to keep an inventory, among other things. Now he's complaining that the problem with guns in this country is that the ATF doesn't enforce the laws.
9 - I chose the NRA example for two reasons: 1) They've got a big megaphone and they need to be held accountable, and 2) the pro-control side seems to do it less frequently. If you've got a good piece of pro-control skewing of facts, I'd like to see it so I can do a similar analysis.
10 - Ironic given that pro-gun lobby is trying to actively suppress firearms research. Damn, another snarky comment.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Episode 1: Thoughts as a gun owner

If you haven't read the Introduction you should do so before reading below.
 “I got bodies here.”
- 911 Recording, December 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sandy Hook, Connecticut

I live in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Being a member of this deeply wounded community has given me a lot to think about. The role of firearms in my life and in the society in which I live is never far from my thoughts.

My dad shot competitively when I was growing up and I learned to shoot firearms when I was very young. I continue to be a gun owner. I hunt. I was a police officer. I have taught my wife and boys responsible gun handling. One of the few family activities that I can get everyone to agree upon is shooting a round of clays. While not a central feature in our existence, firearms are a part of our life.

I know many gun owners. I am not aware of any of them committing a crime with their weapons. I cannot think of one that I would not trust with a weapon.

I am no longer a member of the National Rifle Association.

I believe that all citizens of this country have a right to own firearms as granted by the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution and supported by subsequent court rulings. I believe that the second amendment is an individual right. I support the right for the lawful carrying of concealed weapons.

However, I do believe that reasonable controls and limitations on the ownership of firearms are warranted; they have always been warranted.

Since the passing of the National Firearms Act in 1934 we as a country have recognized that it is in the public interest for some firearms to be either illegal or highly regulated. This position has also been supported by the courts. Those limitations have been expanded over time as society has progressed, our views on the role of firearms has changed, and as the technology has evolved.

I do not own an assault rifle.

I've considered buying an assault rifle in the past but could not justify its role in my personal collection. When I examined it, the only reason I wanted one was because I could have one. Simply put, it would be cool to have a military firearm decked out with all the trimmings. And that wasn't enough in my mind to warrant the purchase or clearing a space in my gun safe. There is no practical purpose for this weapon.

The focus on assault rifles in our dialog about firearms is warranted. These weapons are different, to argue otherwise both denies the reality of why they were created and also, frankly, common sense.

Assault rifles were designed for the express purpose of making those in the military more effective at killing people. There's a reason that our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen carry AR-15 variants instead of Winchester Model 70s. The Model 70 is lethal, no doubt. But in battle, the relative lethality of a weapon configured like the AR-15 is much higher than other long arms. That's why few of our forces carry bolt action rifles.

I know that assault rifles are rarely used in crimes. Most rarely make it out of the closet or gun safe. But when legally purchased assault weapons are wielded by criminals the effects are devastating because these weapons are designed to be so.

I'm one good guy who is willing to give up my right to own certain types of weapons to reduce the likelihood of bad guys getting them. I don't know what those restrictions should be though it should probably look something like the assault weapons ban. I'm willing to hear some well measured proposals. I bet many fellow gun owners feel the same. If you're one of them, you need to make your voice heard.

I support reasonable restrictions on the ownership of weapons, especially those specifically designed for our military.

Our communities should not be forts nor should they be armed like them.

Read the next post in the series

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Introduction: The next five days

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in the shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3

For the next five days I will hijack my own soap box. I am going to go off topic and discuss something that has been on my mind lately - the role of firearms in our society.

I desire a safer, more civil, society. We are not on a path to create such. In fact, if we continue on the path we're on society will continue to be less and less civil and less and less safe.

To be clear, I believe we need more control of firearms. I don't want anyone to take away my guns. I am a sportsman who enjoys the legal use of firearms. But the events of the past year and the past month have lead me to the conclusion that things must change.

Within a short walk of my home, three houses have empty beds where small children slept before they were murdered by a person using legal weapons that had no justifiable place in our community. In less than ten minutes I can drive to seventeen other homes with the same vacant beds. These children all died in the same first grade classroom in which my youngest son sat seven years ago.

There are wounds here that will never heal. Lives that will never be lived. And all because we as a society are incapable of understanding and remedying a threat that can be understood and remedied.

We have chosen not to address gun violence -- our collective response of one violent episode after another is to shrug our shoulders and marvel at how unsolvable the issue is.

We have chosen to be the dutiful subjects of special interests on this matter.

I believe it is time for us to chose differently.

I have.

I hope that you will too.

I will try and limit each day's essay to six hundred words so that they will be tolerable to read. The five topics will be:
  1. My story as a gun owner - Just so you know where I'm starting from
  2. Facts about gun violence - You'll be startled at how little we know
  3. The Second Amendment - You'll be startled at how little we know
  4. The Emotional Problem -  The thing that prevents us from acting
  5. Common Sense Proposals - That some will hate
During this week, comment moderation will be turned on. I welcome all supporting and dissenting comments. I encourage civil discourse. I discourage you from being neutral on the matter. I will be the final arbiter of what gets published and what doesn't.

I appreciate all of you accommodating this brief change of topic and will return in a week's time with more about fishing and photography and the random stuff to which you've all become accustomed. I am deeply grateful for your friendship and your humor.

Read the next post in the series

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Sandy Hook Promise

I Promise to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I Promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.

The Sandy Hook Promise

Monday, January 14, 2013

Unlimited Ducks

Chris and I attended a Duck Hunting 101 course this past weekend sponsored by Ducks Unlimited. Ann has been a DU member since she started birding in earnest. Like TU, while most members are clearly sportsmen (and women), the conservation mission is forefront. They do for waterfowl habitat what Trout Unlimited does for coldwater species habitat.

Not only was the course itself worthwhile (especially because it was held in a conference room at Cabelas) but meeting fellow hunters who are as passionate about conservation as I am as an angler was refreshing.

If you have an opportunity, check out Ducks Unlimited. If you're a waterfowl hunter, I think this one is a no brainer to support.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The fishing was hell

Tom: You're going to hell.

Mike: I’ll be in good company. Do you think there’s trout in the Styx?

Marty: Now that Mike is a deep philosophical question…….. It being Hades likely the hatch is always on and your flies just a tad off. The eternity of refusal rises makes Sisyphus’ rock gig seem like a vacation. 

Image: Trouthunter

Mike turned to his guide, "Is it much farther?" he asked.

"No, in fact, we're there." answered his guide nodding a horned head in their direction of travel.

Mike turned back and discovered that miraculously they were standing on the banks of the Henry's Fork of the Snake; he instinctively knew it was the Railroad Ranch pool. The sky was so blue it hurt his eyes and the vast blueness stretched from horizon to horizon in the dazzling manner only found in the west. Fluffy blue clouds dotted the skies, a light breeze swayed streamside grasses and the sun edged towards the mountains casting long shadows. The air was cool enough to touch the skin gently and the air was alive with large, careening bugs.

"Salmonflies", the guide mentioned casually as he watched Mike's eyes light with wonderment, "We've hit the hatch at it's peak."

The fabled waters and legendary hatch were cause for pause. Mike felt inadequate standing in his dime-store waders carrying a stick purchased at a tag sale decades before. That was until he realized that the waders were new and the stick feather light. G3?! H2?! And his bones and joints felt lighter than ever and his vision keen. And his mind was clear. What magic had brought his elderly form to this state?

The pool ahead was alive. Salmonflies danced and skittered, flapped and struggled. Trout, trophy sized rainbows and browns, rose and slashed at the lively foodstuffs.

And there were no other anglers in sight.

The guide, who went by some unpronounceable name, tied on the sweetest Salmonfly imitation ever created. With a quick glance it could have been mistaken as a natural if not for the barbed point protruding from it's end.

To Mike's surprise, the guide tied the fly onto a twenty foot leader ending in 12x tippet. "They're leader shy", he said with a wink of a great red eye.

Mike's worries about small tippet and large flies were soon realized as the too small tippet tried to carry the too large fly through the air. The fly spun as he cast and fell limply in a pile of fine leader not far from the bank.

Frustrated Mike started to lift the line from the water for another cast. Just as he began the motion, a menacingly large rainbow rose from the murk and seized the fly. Too late in his back cast to react the leader lifted from the water and the 12x parted as it it wasn't there.

The enormous rainbow cartwheeled in the air a large fly dangling from it's mouth. The aerobatics were as awe inspiring as the girth of the beast. Mike stood agape as the trout leapt dozens of times.

Mike turned for another fly. 

"Damn, that was my last one" said the guide.

With graceful ease the guide produced another rod, a beast of a twelve weight, single-handed rod; light as a feather. Mike thought that he'd be chucking large, jointed streamers but instead the guide threaded on a #22 Griffith's Gnat.

"Really? A gnat?", Mike asked.

"Oh sure", the demon replied, "I see a beauty of a trout out by that rock sipping gnats as they pass".

Mike scanned the water. Sure enough, about sixty feet away, slightly obscured by the haze of swirling Salmonflies, Mike saw the nose of a beautiful Brown gently sipping on the surface.

So he cast.

The first cast was right on target but the heavy line splatted against the water and spooked fish for a dozen yards. After resting the water he cast again and couldn't get the fly into the zone or spooked them again or the fly dragged in the myriad currents. The rod felt heavier and heavier and the casting became harder and sloppier and no fish looked at his fly. And still they fed on Salmonflies, except for the one.

The guide switched flies regularly moving to a #24 and then a #26 and then even smaller. Soon Mike couldn't tell if there was even a fly on the line but he cast. And in those rare moments that the fly made it into the right lane, he had refusal after refusal. Sometimes the trout's snout even touched the fly. Once he hooked it and snapped it off as he set the hook.

And the sun hung just above the mountains at precisely the angle when he had started. And it was warmer. And the demon went into the fly box once again looking for just the right thing.

And still trout slashed and frolicked. And the Salmonfly swirled and skittered. And Mike cast.

After a time, two other anglers came to the banks but Mike didn't see them as he cast to the sipping trout twenty yards away.

"He's a good guy to fish with", one said to the other nodding upstream to Mike and his bat-winged guide, "It's good to see him."

"Yes it is, Steve, yes it is", said Tom.

And they cast small fies to ambivalent trout and hooked nothing.

And so it went.



Tuesday, January 8, 2013


There's something very satisfying about catching & releasing wild trout.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Inexplicably fishy spots

There's this one spot on a small stream by the house that reliably yields trout. In my younger days (okay, last year), I passed by this water as a place between good fishing spots.

With keener more experienced eyes I realized that it's actually quite fishy looking. There's a large boulder near the tail of the pool that has deep water around it. Definitely fishy.

But I never catch fish near that boulder. The fish all come from an area in the middle of the pool that looks shallow. Regardless, I've always enjoyed the bounty of the spot and moved on.

The current comes in equally around the snowy boulder
and exits just to the right of the black boulder at the tail.
I caught one fish from the pool on Sunday and before making another cast decided that I'd creep up on the thing and try to discern its secrets.

As I approached, I saw two trout dart from the middle of the pool to a hiding spot near the head. So much for stealth. I then waded in and discovered that the middle of the pool appears shallow due to a large slab of a rock canted on an angle to the current. Behind it's lip there must be just enough shelter for trout to sit at precisely the spot where two currents intersect. Low energy. Good eating.

Perhaps those trout aren't as dumb as they seem. Though they do reliably suck on a #18 Copper John.

The angle of the ledge is a lot shallower than
illustrated. Just enough for a trout to duck under.
Inexplicable Brown Trout

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trout, Farming & Cliffs

As a sportsman I don't often think about what the crackpots in Washington are doing. What they do far from my home rarely seeps into my subconscious much less up front with all the shit I normally think about.

Of course all this Fiscal Cliff action and inaction makes the work of Washington crackpots elected officials eminently visible. Sadly nobody seems to be able to convince anyone that doing anything is a good thing. As Speaker Boehner proved with his "Plan B" hi-jinx he can't even convince his own party to do stuff much less the guys on the other side of the aisle.

Another victim of the bi-partisan BS was the Sportsman's Act of 2012. Everybody loved this thing. But the Republicans decided it was more important to foil a law they liked than to show that working together was possible.

Tuesday night, Congress seemed to have solved a small portion of the Fiscal Cliff problem. Of course, they solved it by increasing the deficit and kicking the can down the road a bit. I know several adjectives that describe this sort of solution but I'll keep those to myself. Once again we have proof that our political system is deeply dysfunctional and, perhaps, deeply flawed.

The good news for anglers is that the across the board agency spending cuts that the Cliff would have required have been postponed and likely avoided. This means we won't see random chainsaws hacking at budgets that we all rely upon for federal stewardship of our water and lands. At least any cuts that come in the future will be more thoughtful which is a good thing.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to chat with two of Trout Unlimited's Government Affairs guys, Keith Curley and Brian Zupancic. These guys walk into this viper's nest of Washington politics by choice. Clearly they have large brass ones. Or they're crazy. Or both. They do it on behalf of TU's members and our legislative priorities.

A brown trout from a stream restored with WHIP funding
One of the things that we spoke about was the importance of the Farm Bill to conservation. Through a variety of programs funded in the bill, it is the biggest source of conservation funding in the federal budget. My local TU chapter, the Candlewood Valley Chapter, has received Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) grants for stream bank restoration. WHIP is a part of the Farm Bill funded programs.

As an example of the benefits of Farm Bill funded restoration, Keith cited the work that was completed on a Gribben Creek in the Driftless area of southeast Minnesota. The stream had been highly eroded by agricultural activities during the first half of the 20th century and by the 1970s there were only 47 trout per mile of stream. After Farm Bill supported restoration work was completed in the late 90s, brown trout populations had rebounded to 2,352 per mile.

The Farm Bill is renewed every five years and it expired at the end of the last fiscal year. As part of the last minute Fiscal Cliff talks it was renewed again, but only for another nine months. And there were cuts. Apparently conservation programs associated with the bill were either capped or cut. It's not yet clear to me exactly what got cut but during the next nine months a long-term bill will get negotiated and our voices are going to be needed to ensure that conservation programs have a voice in the discussion.

I'm not Polly-Anna enough to believe that conservation programs should or will be sustained at current levels. But without the voices of anglers and hunters and those who enjoy outdoor sport, land and water conservation is going to take a big hit.

Stay tuned. Prepare to be heard. Action will be required.