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.


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.

We Will be Sorry to See Him Go

Larry Weeks is retiring from Brownell’s. Larry was in the new media outreach game before it was cool, and was an early supporter of gun blogging. I share many of SayUncle’s sentiments on the matter, since I think we both first met him at the Gun Blogger Rendezvous in Reno, Nevada back in Fall of 2007. We hope we’ll still see Larry around NRA Annual Meeting from time to time, but wish him the best in his retirement.

Nevada Ballot Measure Certified

We’ll have another state ballot initiative for Bloomberg’s universal transfer ban, floating under the guise of “Universal Background Checks.” We have until the 2016 election to get ready for this.

Miller’s move served as an answer to a gun-rights political action committee, Nevadans for State Gun Rights, that filed a letter last week demanding Miller throw out the petition. The group said it found irregularities in petition filings in Storey County.

Since then, Don Turner, head of effort, said investigators identified “substantial compliance problems” in signatures filed in Lander County. Turner said a review of Washoe County signatures was just beginning. The state has 17 counties.

“There’s plenty of time to challenge the certification,” Turner said Monday. “We’re probably going to end up in court.”

So the challenge isn’t over, which is good. It’s going to be an uphill climb. The real problem we face is that Bloomberg has the money to keep making the hill higher and higher as we do. I don’t like being fatalistic, and I don’t like to lose. But the kind of money Bloomberg can throw at this movement can make a huge difference. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. Most initiative laws have a germaneness requirement, and thank God, because if that were not the case he could float much worse hidden agendas under the guise of “background checks” than he is currently capable of doing.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Miguel notes that the Department of Licensing are essentially telling dealers they are on their own when it comes to interpreting I-594, but the Washington Department of Revenue has been quick to remind people that they still owe use tax on the value of the transfer. All these unintended consequences gun owners don’t think about need to be spread far and wide so that in the next state, maybe we have a chance to take Bloomberg’s margins down, with the aim to eventually educate enough gun owners to beat him. If not in Nevada, in another state.

Murthy May Get a Vote

Politico is reporting that anti-gun Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy may end up getting a confirmation vote in the lame duck session. I can believe there’s real pressure for it, given how many articles I’ve seen about Murthy in the media after a long run of silence about the nominee. The article explains that Senators Warner (D-VA) and Tester (D-MT) seem willing to vote for Murthy. I’ll be honest, ever since Jon Tester told everyone in 2008 that Obama wasn’t going to be any problem on guns, I haven’t trusted him on the issue. This is only further evidence that he’s not one to trust. His party certainly can’t be trusted on guns any longer.

Enhanced Preemption “State Sanctioned Terrorism”

According to Doylestown Borough Council President Det Ansinn, the new enhanced preemption bill recently signed into law by Governor Corbett is “state sanction terrorism.” There’s something to be said for upsetting the right people. CeaseFirePA is similarly incensed, given how hard they worked to convince municipalities to pass these illegal ordinances in the first place. Mr. Ansinn notes in his own comments:




It’s no secret that I own firearms. I also have a concealed carry permit. I grew up with guns.

With that understanding, a law that removes local control and empowers outsiders to litigate, at the cost of the local taxpayers, is batshit crazy.

HB80/Act 192 is offensive pandering to a single industry. It’s going to make lawyers rich and strips your communities of the right to make their own decisions.

The old, “I’m a gun owner, but” line. We accept plenty of context where local governments have no control, especially where Constitutional Rights are concerned. For instance, local governments can’t close down abortion clinics. They can’t limit freedom of speech only to residents. They have to issue permits for public demonstrations in a manner that’s compatible with federal court rulings. They can’t prohibit licensed drivers in Pennsylvania from driving on their own roads, or impose requirements that are incompatible with state law on the matter.

It’s exceedingly difficult to have discussions where your opponents lack an understanding of  how the law already works, and are unable to draw on other contexts to support their arguments. The fact is that Doylestown never had any ability to ban guns in parks. Those ordinances are already illegal, and have been from the moment Pennsylvania passed preemption (some time ago, if I recall). If Doylestown chose to try to enforce their ordinances, if the person charged fought the charge in court, they would win. But they would be on the hook to pay their attorneys fees to have the charges dismissed. HB80 changes that, and gives standing to challenge the law without having to first be charged under it. It is a fundamentally just law.

If it hadn’t been for local communities flouting the existing law, HB80 would have been entirely unnecessary.

Pearl Clutching Over Pocket Knives

This article in is a level of pants shitting hysterics we don’t often see on this side of the pond. From Stan Parish at Bloomberg News, who wants us to banish the term “pocket knife” for “stay-at-home knives”:

In this era of search-happy security, carrying a knife isn’t just an anachronism; it’s a terrible idea. So let’s retire the term pocketknife, along with the practice it implies. Instead, meet the stay-at-home knife, an all-purpose blade for every place but your trousers.

I carry a pocket knife regularly because it’s a useful tool. The rest of the doohickeys on the knife come in handy on a regular basis as well. Seriously, Mr. Parish, you really need to get out of New York City more often, and see how the rest of the country lives. We do not fear tools in most of the rest of the country. If it’s useful to carry, we carry it. To the rest of the country, you sounds like you’ve lost your damned mind.

Shannon Watts’ Bark Worse than her Bite

Bearing Arms picks up a piece from Breitbart which notes Kroger’s profits being up 21% over the same period last year. This is important, since it shows that no harm comes from telling busybodies like Shannon Watts and Mike Bloomberg to buzz off. Everytown and MDA has no real grassroots behind them by which to affect even a modestly successful boycott. Most companies have not caved to Everytown/MDA because they fear their grassroots backlash, they have caved because they fear what Mike Bloomberg’s money could do to their reputations in the media. Bob Owens notes:


Most lower-level Moms Demand protests draw less than a dozen activists, and these don’t appear to have much local interest, as the same handful of supporters tromps from city to city, forcing people to logically wonder if this “grassroots campaign” is nothing more or less than a small number of paid staffers in each state.

All that organization has going for it is Bloomberg’s money. Without it, it would be as impotent as every other gun control group that has come before them.

Kane’s Decision Not Going Over Well?

I’m rather surprised to see one of the local bird cage liners, hardly a friend to our issue, coming out against Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s refusal to defend a law she doesn’t like:

Our attorney general should not be deciding which laws she will or will not enforce. We should expect her to uphold all of the laws on the books, not just the ones she deems worthy.

I agree, but I do think if an official has a good-faith belief that a law is plainly unconstitutional, they have a duty to not defend or enforce it. Kane did not make her argument from a standpoint of constitutionality, however: she just doesn’t like the law. Probably more accurate is that Bloomberg put a lot of money behind her, and she needs to ensure he gets a good return on his investment.