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Interesting Development in PA Spree Killer Case

I noticed last night the media reported the spree killer attempted a carjacking in Doylestown, which is the seat of my county. What the media didn’t report is that he may have made the error of bringing a knife to a gunfight, and gotten himself shot at by the guy he tried to carjack. They don’t report whether he was hit, but I would bet not. Not the wisest thing to do, to try to carjack people in a state where about one in every 6 adults has an LTC.

UPDATE: I’m told local news sources are reporting the incident may not have happened. I’m still going on the last police statement on the matter, bad spelling and all.

UPDATE: The spree killer has been found dead near his home. He shot himself. So the guy who did the Doylestown carjacking wasn’t him. Now, if it turns out that the guy who claims to have fought off a carjacker was making a false report, trying to be the hero, you can bet your first born the media will be sure to spread that far and wide.

Civil Rights Victory in Connecticut

No, they didn’t throw out Malloy’s new gun control law, but it’s still very good news. The Connecticut Suprem Court has ruled that Connecticut’s law making transport of firearms between residences is unconstitutional per the Second Amendment. The decision was 7-0, so not even close! They squashed a conviction for someone who was arrested, tried and found guilty on two counts of having weapons in a motor vehicle. He spent 15 months in prison. Now he’ll have his gun rights back.

Murthy Confirmed in Lame Duck Session

Well, the NRA loves themselves a good villain, given that it’s good for fundraising letters. While I doubt anyone can top Bloomberg in the category of juicy villains, I have very little doubt that Surgeon General Murthy will not disappoint. He eked by the Senate with 51 votes. Remember that Reid had changed the rules so that confirmations don’t need to reach the 60 vote majority to overcome a filibuster.

NRA scored this vote, but with enough Democrats getting the boot this cycle, that unfortunately doesn’t carry as much weight as it would have before the election.

Spree Killing in Philly Suburbs

Some of you might have been following this story of a spree killer loose in the ‘burbs, killing his family members. One dead in Lower Salford, two in Lansdale, and several in Souderton. Apparently it was all his ex-wife and her family that he was targeting. Last report I heard was that he was barricaded inside his home, though I don’t know if they really know that. I don’t tend to follow these kinds of stories in real time, because everything the media reports almost invariably turns out to be wrong.

UPDATE: Well, I guess it’s time to crack the AR out of the safe: “Manhunt For Deadly Shooting Spree Suspect Hits Bucks County

Like Suing Boeing for 9/11

There must have been an ambulance chaser that latched real strong onto the grieving families of the Sandy Hook massacre, and one that’s never heard of the PLCAA. I would expect this lawsuit to be quickly dismissed, but you can never really be too sure with judges, who often enjoy making up their own law.

Monday News Links 12-15-2014

Everyone ready for the holidays? I’m not. Too much to do. The good news is that I’m done with my client that kept me very busy. The bad news is I have a backlog of work with my other engagements; mostly stuff I’ve been ignoring or pushing off because I didn’t have as much time to deal with. I also managed to get a hold of a newer MacBook Pro, but am disappointed it’s mysteriously rebooting every few days. It passes Memtest86, but I still suspect memory. It’s a late 2011 model, which is a step up from my older 2009 model. I won’t bore you with the details, so here’s the news:

Bloomberg got beat up by the media for his previous school shooting lie, so the smart thing to do, of course, is to double down on it.

Remember that ex marine who got busted in New York for having a gun? He took a plea deal. The article also talks about the disposition of some other notable gun possession cases in New York.

Emily Miller looks at getting a carry permit in Washington D.C.

If at first you don’t succeed, fail fail again. For years the Dems were convinced gun control was a loser issue, and then the blue dog was born. Then Obama ate the blue dogs. Now gun control is cool again.

Again, the Internet has devolved into arguing with rude children. Sorry Cliff, Bloomberg and his billionaire buddies outspent us 10 to 1 in Washington State to get less than 60% of people to vote for a measure he claimed 92% of people wanted. In a deep blue state.

Why are anti-gun activists so violent?

Good news for C&R licensees. It looks like ATF is not planning to require fingerprints and photographs.

NBS News, Like you and me, only better.

The news that more people now support gun rights is welcome, especially the shift among women and African Americans. But the fact that this only just now flipped shows how slow things can be to change, and what an uphill climb our success as a movement really has been.

To be fair to Illinois politicians, it’s understandable why criminals don’t want people filming their misdeeds.

Shocker: Reasoned Discourse breaks out at Media Matters. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that the reason they don’t want debate isn’t because they are worried they’ll lose. The reason they don’t want to debate is because they are incapable of debating.

Tam: “There’s no sport in mocking Mark Morford. It’s like beating up the 60-lb. asthmatic kid with the coke-bottle glasses or hunting dairy cattle with a scoped big game rifle; he’s the bunny slope of snark targets. Still, sometimes one has to at least go through the motions for form’s sake.

People in Belize are starting to question gun control.

Your Morning Hate

Amanda Gailey is either engaging in epic click baiting, or she’s full of hate and prejudice for people who love the Second Amendment. Given that she volunteers for Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, my bet is on the latter. It’s the typical common tactic of our opponents, to find random jerks on the Internet, and paint the whole movement. I’m shocked (shocked!) that if you look on the Internet, that you can find your share of jerks and losers. This is true of any issue.

I’ll be honest, my enthusiasm for blogging isn’t what it was even a year ago. A big part of the reason is that years ago, we felt like we were closer to the tip of the spear, taking on the established media. For a while people took us seriously. We were taking on people who had credibility as journalists, and were beating them.

These days, the entire Internet feels like a vast wasteland. People like Amanda Gailey don’t have credibility. There’s no pedigree, no credentials there. Amanda Gailey is just an ignorant hater with access to an editor who is happy to have the click bait. We’re no longer taking on any establishment. We’re reduced to arguing with crude children.

Try, try, again

So, we have had two cases recently of police officers who committed homicide in the line of duty and were later not indicted by grand jury. And we have heard a clamor that they should have been tried anyway, that the grand jury process in both cases was unusually deferential to the officers (in contrast to the process in which a regular citizen’s actions are judged by a grand jury), and that “it should be settled in court!”

My question for those people clamoring for a trial is: What makes you think the result will be any different, save that a vaster amount of money will be spent?  Regardless of the unusual deference given to the officers in the grand jury process in these cases, an actual trial in front of an actual jury will give them even more deference. It only takes a majority of a grand jury to indict, but it takes a unanimous petit jury to convict. And the usual financial and temporal difficulties experienced by  defendants not employed as police officers will not apply – their defenses will be paid for not out of their own pocket, but by the same taxpayer who is paying to prosecute them. The prosecutor will be the same one who presented the case in front of the grand jury and supposedly softballed it.

In short, what do they expect from a trial that they didn’t get from the grand jury at a much lower expense and effort?

(The cynic in me says “another 6 months of media frenzy.”)

Teaching Self-Defense and Policing

Massad Ayoob is hoping this video makes the rounds, and I agree it’s something everyone needs to see.

You have too much being taken out of context these days. Every time I hear someone bitch that sumdood shouldn’t have been shot because he was unarmed, I want to scream. Bob Owens, for instance, highlights an undercover officer who drew his pistol on an unruly crowd after a person in that crowd assaulted him. Disparity of force aside, in all states that I’m aware of, it’s legal to use deadly force on riotous persons.

You couldn’t pay me to embed in a protest that has a high degree of likelihood of turning violent. You definitely couldn’t pay me to do it with anything less than a submachine gun for protection. If this officer was being hounded by the crowd, he’s perfectly justified in drawing his side arm. Though, I admit to not knowing what the gangsta grip is all about.

Alternative Background Check Systems

Stories I’m hearing of Black Friday sales being interrupted by outages at NICS, PICS, and other state POC systems raises the question of whether we could do better. Can we think up systems that work better, overall, than the NICS/POC system? I should note that I absolutely agree that background checks are a feel-good measure, and we’d be better off without them. See Clayton Cramer’s research that shows they are essentially useless. But for the foreseeable future, we’re stuck with them.

I’ve argued previously that I think there are issues with BIDS system, because it offers counter arguments to our opponents when trying to argue with lawmakers that we ought to modernize the system. But I think BIDS is an interesting system that I’m going to use as a basis for one of two ideas about how to make a less intrusive and more reliable system.

Modified BIDS

The chief problem with the BIDS system, as it is explained, is that in order to be able to uniquely identify a person, you generally need a least the person’s name and date of birth. If you have a common name, often that will not be enough, so you might need other data, such as a driver’s license number, or social security number as well. The problem is the more data you distribute, the more opportunity you give to identity thieves. Encryption is no solution, since if the BIDS client can decrypt the database, the key for decrypting it is in that system somewhere, and someone will find it. If everyone who was in the system was an axe murderer, maybe that wouldn’t be too much of a concern. But as we all know, there are plenty of people who end up prohibited for technical and often petty offenses.

The solution is not encryption, but hashing. Hashing allows you to go one way, but not back. If you had the NCIC, for every prohibited person, generate two hashes, one of first name, last name, date of birth, and the other the same plus a DL/ID number, you would effectively eliminate the identity theft problem. You wouldn’t even need to encrypt the data because there would be no way to take the hashes back to personalized data. This would solve the privacy issue with BIDS.

But BIDS, being a distributed system, still has a lot of other potential faults that are hard to counter. Here are arguable points opponents of this will use when trying to persuade lawmakers:

  • The government doesn’t know who is buying guns, but they also don’t know when prohibited people are buying guns in order to prosecute them. You and I both know this never happens, but it will likely persuade lawmakers, especially the tough on crime, law and order types.
  • There is no means by which to certify the dealer actually ran the check. You could propose a certification program, which would allow certified BIDS apps to give unique verification, but the distributed nature of the system would make this problematic, since you’d also be distributing the means by which to forge certifications.
  • The nature of the distributed system creates a lot more potential for false negatives, meaning people passing a check when they shouldn’t. You can do a lot technologically to mitigate this, but much of what you’d need to do would make the system frustrating for dealers. The distributed nature of the system would mean more points of failure. That can’t be argued against.
  • Right now all dealers need to run checks is a functioning telephone, copies of ATF Form 4473, and a working pen. With BIDS, they will also need a functioning PC and a reliable and constant connection to the Internet. Also consider that for ever 10 million prohibited persons, you’re talking about a database that is about 2.5 gigabytes. Today this is a lot easier than it was when people thought up the BIDS system, but this would be a problem for rural FFLs.

One possible solution is to maintain the call in system for dealers that have to use it. You could have certified call centers, run by private parties, that process a call in using BIDS data on their end.

Modified Hashing NICS

An alternative to a distributed system like BIDS is to have a the NCIC generate the same hashes, except only distribute them to NICS. In this case NICS public facing interface would accept only hashes, would check those hashes against its database, and would clear or deny a person. If the person is cleared, the system would return back a cryptographically signed response. The FBI would publish API code for running background checks, and certify applications that are permitted to act as a front end for NICS. Basically if you can pass FBI’s unit testing, you can get a certification. All the API code and unit tests would be open source, so you can be sure there isn’t any funny business going on. You could build background checks into any FFL software, or Smart Phone App. You could have certified third parties that run call centers for rural FFLs, and mail them the certificates for people who clear for the dealer’s records.

Because the FBI never sees anything except a hash, they have no idea who’s buying guns, unless the person who is buying matches a hash in the prohibited list. This would preserve the possibility of prosecution for felons who try to buy guns, which would be a key argument our opponents would use against BIDS. While it’s true that a hash doesn’t allow you to go backwards, NCIC could still identify the person who’s data matches the hash.

Here’s how it would work in a sale. I believe it’s important to preserve the ability for an uninitiated person to walk into a gun shop and walk out with a purchase. So dealers can run a background check on a person right there, and print them a check certificate, to be ultimately retained by the seller. Alternatively, you could use a certified app to run your own check and print out a cryptographically signed certificate, which can be presented to and authenticated by the dealer when you go to buy, or can be presented and authenticated by anyone who has access to an certified app by which to authenticate your certificate.

You make the certificate valid for a period, say 30 days, after which it will no longer verify. It’s possible to revoke cryptographic signatures, so if the hash comes into the system, it would be possible to revoke the signature on an outstanding hash do it won’t authenticate when the seller checks it.

The big downside to this system is that the feds have the information to make a hash on everyone if they wanted to. Using a hashing system would raise the bar to keeping tabs on everyone buying guns, but it would not make it impossible. Storing the needed SHA512 hashes for everyone in the US would only be about 75 gigabytes, which is hardly big data by today’s standards. I’ve always thought this was something that could be dealt with by publishing NICS source code, and doing third party auditing of the NICS system to ensure there’s no funny business going on.

Conclusion

There are certainly better systems one can think up than what we have now, and one could imagine hybrids of the two systems I mentioned. The trick would be convincing lawmakers, who don’t understand any of this stuff, that it would work as well, and actually far better than the current system.

You would also need to deal with the state Point of Contact (POC) systems to integrate with the federal system, or do an outright preemption of state laws to eliminate the Point of Contact system entirely. In the new system, POCs would be the certified apps, which any non-governmental party could create. The biggest problem you’re going to have in any technically sophisticated system is that you’re dealing with implementation needing to be done by a government that can’t even get a website working. I also wouldn’t be surprised to find NCIC computers and the software that runs them were essentially silicon fossils. A regularly scheduled rehashing of up to 10 million names in the system might be far more than it can handle. Maybe you can’t bring in a DL/ID number with criminal records. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be hard for volunteers to come up with an API specification that would allow a system like this to function. Technically, this is not complicated, but conceptually, it might be a bit hard for non-technical people to understand.

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