Laser Control & Futuristic Weapons

Without a doubt, eventually, someday, we’ll figure out a way to pack enough energy into a small enough space to basically render ordinary firearms obsolete. Indeed, materials technology is nearing the point, probably by the middle of this century, where body armor will be effective enough that standard small arms will not penetrate it, and light enough to be worn without too much burden.

But which technology would supplant the firearm? Well, lasers are one possibility. For various reasons, I think the least likely, but it’s interesting to take a look at the current legal regulations concerning lasers. From Sam’s Laser FAQ, we have:

Please don’t give the legislators ideas. Sales of lasers are unregulated except for medical and laser show systems, and a few systems under export controls. For all other systems, you just have to register as a manufacturer if you’re making them for public sales and submit your product for compliance, and maintain records of who it was initially sold to in case there is a need for a recall.

Of course, this is just the federal level. Apparently a few states regulate lasers.

NOW, where the crap hits the fan is at the state level. New York records the serial number of all lasers and requires licensed operators, transferring a laser in NY above class II to another citizen of NY without reregistering the unit is an offense. Transporting a laser through NY or selling it out of state from NY is not however a offense. Texas and Arizona have user fees to pay for their states radiologic safety programs, etc. I’m told by a friend that AZs fees are quite steep, on the order of $1,500 a year for large industrial lasers and that AZ inspects laser shows rather thoroughly. Other states may vary, but generally unless they have made misuse of pointers a issue, there are no worries except in NY and AZ. Possession is not illegal and they don’t deny permits to register in those states. However, they may disqualify a person who fails to pass the test.

Arizona is surprising. New York not so much, because New York likes to regulate everything. I don’t think you can take a dump in New York without a permit.

As I said, I think lasers are not likely to supplant firearms, because they take a lot of energy to be powerful enough to damage someone or something. Burning a hole through someone, other than through a vital organ, isn’t really all that serious, plus you could armor something just by putting a mirror on it.

What I think will likely supplant firearms are electromagnetic weapons. These are more commonly known as rail guns or gauss guns. While I don’t think these will supplant small arms for quite some time, they will probably start to appear on ships and heavy artillery platforms by the middle of the century. But if we ever figured out how to pack a lot of energy into a small space, in theory you could make a man portable electromagnetic weapon that could punch through tank armor. The ironic thing is, if you did this today, your device, as best I can tell, would be completely unregulated in most states (New Jersey, you’d still need an FID, sorry). But imagine an arm you could adjust a power setting on: low for taking out soft targets, and high for busting through hardned targets.

But I’m sure if you had one of those, it wouldn’t be long before the VPC and Brady’s would start preaching the evils of electromagnetism, and the need to ban assault magnets. It’ll come someday. You heard it here first.  Ooops, maybe you didn’t hear it here first.

Laser Restoration

Aside from interest in things that go boom, I also have a bit of fascination with lasers. Not the common semi-conductor variety that you see in laser pointers and DVD players, but noble gas lasers. Last night I picked up an old Spectra-Physics helium-neon laser from a friend of mine. It’s nothing really powerful. A bit more powerful than your standard laser pointer, but it’s not a Class IV laser that can punch holes throughi solid steel.

Unfortunately, the thing didn’t work, probably because the gas inside has become too impure. The composition of a laser tube isn’t all that different from a neon sign. You have a cathode and anode, and a high voltage power source pumping the electrons of the He and Ne atoms into an excited state. But it takes more than this to get the gas medium to lase.

To accomplish that, you have to pump a large number of atoms into an excited state, and establsih population inversion. When these exited atoms’ electrons return from their excited state to the ground state, they emit a photon. In a laser configuration, you have two reflective mirrors on either side of the tube. One mirror will be highly reflective, and the other semi-reflective. This forms an optical catvity, or resonator along the axis of discharge. What’ll end up happening is you’ll have photons moving back and forth in the cavity hundreds of times, where they’ll interact with other excited atoms, casuing them to emit photons themselves. This process is called “stimulated smission”. Every photon produced through stimulated emissions will be of the same wavelength and move in the same direction as the stimulating photon. Once you build up enough light radiation within the reasonator cavity, some photons will begin to escape from the slightly less reflective mirror, producing a coherent beam of light that most people are familiar with. Helium neon lasers produce a nice, bright pink/reddish light. You can get other colors using other gases as your lasing medium. Laser pointers use a solid state laser, which operates a bit differently than this, but the principle is basically the same.

But the laser I got didn’t work. Just like a neon sign, after a while you start introducing impurities into the tube, both from the glass, the sealants on the tube, and from the operation of the cathode and anode. Most gas lasers have something in them called a “getter”, which is a device, usually heat activated at the time of manufacture, which sucks impurities out of the tube. There are different ways to heat up the getter to reactivate it, in an attempt to restore the laser function, but the easiest way is just to remove the tube from its power source and microwave the thing for a few seconds until you notice the tube start to come back to life. The microwaves induce a current in the metal part, heating it enough to activate. Sadly, this didn’t work for me. The light show inside the tube was impressive, but still no lasing when I reconnected the tube to the high voltage power supply. Sad.

You can actually build your own Class IV lasers, which can actually cut and burn things. There are kits and plans out there if you look. Generally, it’s CO2 lasers that make the best implements of destruction. The cool thing is, unlike guns, lasers are pretty much unregulated. I will post about that a little later in the day.

More on Service Rifle Competition

I mentioned in my last post about service rifle competition being a legitimate sporting purpose for AR-15s.  But if you have a G3, Kalashnikov, FN/FAL or what have you, you’re out of luck.  For NRA people that might read this: want to do the EBR community a big favor?  Create a class of competition for other military patterned rifles.  Why restrict it to just the rifles the US military uses or has used?

I Really Hate Euphemisms

Over on a comment at Uncle’s site, Ron W Says:

It’s always assumed that so-called “assault weapons” are useful only for criminal assaults or military offensive tactics (from whence the name). Military assault weapons are full-auto and have been illegal to citizens since 1934 without an expensive and intrusive fed permit.

But the semi-auto legal weapons are great for personal self defense. They should be called self-defense rifles (or weapons) and those of us who believe in, defend and exercise the RKBA should focus on that aspect and point out repeatedly that armed self -defense is a basic human right.

This reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to blog about. I know the term “assault weapon” is a problem for us. I agree we ought to do our level best not to use it. But all the other terms I’ve heard people wanting to apply strike me as poorly thought out euphemisms.

So what’s the best thing to call an AR-15? Homeland defense rifle? Self-defense rifle? Sport utility rifle? All these terms make me gag, not because they aren’t accurate, AR-15s are useful for all those things, but because no one other than gun blog readers has any idea what the hell you’re talking about. Let’s call them “rifles” or if you want to be a little more specific “service rifles”, of which there is a specific class of competition. A service rifle is any rifle that’s made from a military pattern. For competition purposes, this would be the M1, M14, and M16. The notion that these rifles have no sporting purpose was always a myth perpetrated by the anti-gun groups and people like Charles Schumer and Mitt Romney. Any time you hear someone utter that load of crap, feel free to throw service rifle competition back in their faces. So can we go with service rifle? It’s not scary sounding, because it doesn’t have the term “assault” or “weapon” in it, and there are certainly legitimate sporting uses for them.

Why Don’t We Just Lie?

The VPC loses any semblence of credibility with this article:

Critics, however, say the NRA pressures lawmakers to ignore the problem.

“The people who are intimately familiar with these laws, the people at the NRA, they know exactly what’s going on,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the nonprofit Violence Policy Center. Florida’s gun lobby and the program’s administrators “know they’re permitting some bad people, but they don’t want the general public to know that.”

If criminals records are imcomplete such that some felons are getting permitted, isn’t that the government’s problem rather than lawful permit holders? Last I checked, the NRA, much to dismay of many of its members, was supporting the bill to improve the NICS system, which would fix a lot of these problems. Sorry Kristen Rand, but you’re a liar.

UPDATE: The media apparently doesn’t agree with due process, and many of the folks discussed here were never actually convicted, which means they aren’t felons at all. So it would seem the VPC aren’t the only ones who are liars.

Upgrade Complete (I Think)

I’ve upgraded to WordPress 2.1 as best I can tell. The editor in WP 2.1 seems to be rather disabled, but 2.0’s editor never really worked corretly for me. I was used to writing all my posts in HTML for LiveJournal. I think I’ll have to continue doing that. Either way, at least most things seem to be working. Let me know if anything is broken.

Monday could be a slow blogging day, since I spent most of the night working on a backup script for the blog that would also store a copy offsite remotely, and then upgrading to WP 2.1. If I have time to put up a few things tomrorow, I will, but no promises.

Top 10 Myths

While I’m trying to work out some issues with being able to back up the blog (it runs on my current home server, and the database runs on my MythTV DVR box), I should point to this bit on StrategyPage detailing the Top Ten Myths of the Iraq War. If you don’t subscribe to StrategyPage, I highly recommend it. Glenn’s podcasts with Jim Dunnigan and Austin Bay are always really good as well. Check out Glenn’s podcast archives to find them.

Only The Police Should Have Guns

I’ve been meaning to blog about Countertop’s post from a week ago:

I work with a woman who was abused by her fiance. He happens to be a cop, working here in DC for a federal police force. She left him, and has a temporary restraining order against him (which was issued by a Prince Georges, Maryland county court).

But the anti-gun folks say only the police should be armed, because, in their minds I guess, they are above the same human nature the rest of us are subjected to. Consider this:

Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, (1, 2) in contrast to 10% of families in the general population.(3) A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24% (4), indicating that domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general.

But they are also, you know, above the law when it comes to domestic violence issues:

Unfortunately, an early analysis of the effect of the Domestic Violence Gun Ban on police officers shows that law enforcement officers have been able to circumvent the ban and retain their weapons. A 1999 survey of the nation’s 100 largest police departments revealed that only six cities acted against officers because of the Domestic Violence Gun Ban and only eleven officers were affected. Part of the reason for the lack of enforcement is that police officers have their records expunged or plead to a charge other than domestic violence.

That being from the National Center For Women and Police. I’m principal, I’m against the Lautenberg restrictions, but I sure as shit think if they are on the book they should apply to the police equally. I don’t mean to malign all police officers, but it looks to me like this is a problem that people should be worried about.  I hope that everything turns out OK with Countertop’s coworker.