Why I do what I do...

The news over the last few weeks has been more tragic than normal - or the tragedies have been closer to home at least. These situations have spurred many conversations, all with the same question: "Why?"

Some truly are trying to piece together an answer that makes sense. Some are trying to find a way to twist the events to fit, and further, their narrative. A large majority of them turn into questions on firearms - questions on both the laws regulating them and the right (or lack thereof) to owning them. I avoid most of these discussions as they tend to be an echo chamber for whichever side is held by the person.

However, some of them have gotten personal - questioning why I - a white, almost middle-aged, male in a relatively safe suburb of a relatively safe city - would need/want/deserve to own and carry a firearm. Especially a semi-automatic pistol.

The most direct was simply "WHY? Why do you carry a gun?" The question was simple and straightforward and, though it was loaded with unspoken negative assumptions, I could tell the person truly was interested in an honest answer.


That's a question with many answers - some of them loaded with experienced, defensive sarcasm, some with a shrug of "not again", and some just wanting to deflect attention - all of them true, all of them with a good time and place, none of them capable of bridging the gap of understanding of someone who has not been exposed to firearms outside of the idiot box or big screen. Here was my answer to this person, this time:

I like to cover my bases.

I do this in all aspects of my life.
  • I'm a computer programmer so I back up my code to multiple places. Not because I WANT my hard drive to crash but I know it's possible and this will help me resolve the problem. Hasn't happened yet.
  • I work in an office building without an onsite medical staff so I carry a decent first aid kit that, in addition to the normal cuts and scrapes, can handle most minor traumas - at least until EMS arrives. I don't WANT anyone to be injured but I know that if they are, help is a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes away. This kit HAS been used for serious injuries twice now.
  • I drive a car to work and I keep a much more extensive first aid kit, jumper cables, and a fire extinguisher in the car. I don't WANT to have a need for those, but I have them in case I do. I have needed the jumper cables both for my car and for strangers - but not the hefty first aid kit or the fire extinguisher. I'm keeping them anyway.
  • When I was a firefighter, I kept a lot of equipment in my gear - rope and webbing in case I had to bail out of a window or drag another to safety, wire cutters to free myself from entanglement, an axe and halligan in case I had to breach a door or wall. I didn't WANT to need those, but knew there was a chance I would. They added several pounds to the already heavy gear. I carried them anyway.
  • I'm a father of two with a third on the way. I have a healthy (scarily healthy) life insurance policy. I certainly don't WANT to need it, but I want my family to be supported if needed.
  • I often carry a firearm and for the same reason as I have a life insurance policy. I don't WANT to use it but I want to have as many options available should I ever need to defend myself.

After hearing about carrying a firearm in context of all of the other steps I take to cover my bases, she seemed to at least acknowledge that there was a logical reason for it that she hadn't previously allowed herself to consider. I think she had expected something like "Because I can" or "Haven't you heard of the Second Amendment?" - all of which are true and acceptable reasons and may be why I OWN firearms. But I only carry them because I think they're another valuable tool in the toolbox.

I don't think she's sold on the concept (at least not yet - going to try to get her to the range soon) but her position has moderated significantly now that she can put actual logic behind it.

Paging Governor Christie - Brian Aitken Needs Your Help

Dear Governor Christie,

As a huge supporter and fan of what you've done to start cleaning up New Jersey, I think that granting clemency to Brian Aitken would be even more proof of just how awesome you truly are.

Some other articles on Brian Aitken's situation:

Brian Aitken's site
Reason Magazine: Brian Aitken's Mistake
Philly.com: New Jersey man serving 7 years for guns he owned legally
Facebook: Free Brian Aitken

Lions, Tigers, and Hollow Points, Oh My!

CNN's Alan Duke tossed another article into the "Who's the biggest moron?" contest today.

Hollywood publicist's killer used hollow-point bullet, report says
Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen's killer fired at least four shots into her car, including at least one hollow-point bullet, in last week's Beverly Hills attack, according to a leaked coroner's report.
"One bullet was recovered from her back while at the hospital and is possibly from a 9 mm hollow point," according to the document shown on Los Angeles television station KTTV.

Hollow-point bullets are controversial because the slug is designed to expand after it enters a body, causing greater damage to tissue than a solid bullet.
To quote Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon."

Alan - the only time I ever hear of controversy regarding hollow points is when a writer/reporter/editor needs an easy soundbite for the headline. Hollow points are, as you reported, designed to expand upon entering a body. But, despite your theatrics, there are two good reasons why this is actually very desirable:
  • As they travel through a bad guy, they expand and transfer a larger amount of their energy into the body which creates a larger wound and causes more shock to the system. This is desirable because it might mean fewer shots are required in order to stop the bad guy from continuing his attack. Good guys are taught to "Shoot to Stop" - not "Shoot to Kill" - and stopping the bad guy with fewer rounds means fewer rounds are fired with fewer potential misses. This is safer for everyone.
  • Because the bullets expand and transfer more of their energy, they are less likely to exit the bad guy and continue on their path. This means that innocent bystanders are less likely to be injured as well.
Both of these points are the reason that most people who carry a gun on a regular basis prefer hollow points to "solid bullets" (known as full metal jacket or FMJ) and why any controversy around hollow points should revolve around those people who DON'T use them.

If She Weighs the Same as a Duck ...

It looks like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is channeling Monty Python in its latest editorial.

That's pretty consistent with the logic (or lack thereof) present in this editorial:

Into the moat: Rendell should drop this reckless castle expansion

Before legislators adjourned their lame-duck session in Harrisburg, they managed one last piece of mischief. They sent to the governor a bill that expands the so-called castle doctrine of self-defense for no good reason.
Seriously? Did they steal lines from a 5th grader's writing assignment? At least they're not trying to hide their bias.
The castle doctrine reflects the idea that a person's home is his castle and can be defended with deadly force against intruders. Pennsylvania law already incorporates a castle doctrine, although it imposes on the person being threatened a duty to retreat under certain circumstances. That wasn't good enough for supporters of House Bill 1926, even though the law has worked fine. As the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association explained in a letter to House members, "A resident never has the duty to retreat if he or she is threatened inside of his or her home or place of work, regardless of whether the person can safely retreat." While supporters of the bill cited the alleged threat of lawsuits against law-abiding people who choose to use a gun to defend their home, this legislation is a solution to no obvious problem. It also takes the concept of a home that must be defended and expands it to a garage, a porch or deck, a driveway, a backyard or front yard and a personal vehicle. In short, it is an invitation to trigger-happy behavior.
Right. That's exactly how it works. I'm in the driveway changing the oil in my car while my kids are playing nearby. Sumdood decides that my wallet really should be his and proceeds accordingly. I can tell you that, no matter what the law says, my mind is not going to be considering whether I have a duty to retreat or not. It's going to be determining the best way to stop the violent act against me and my family. All this law will do is cover my ass from a career-building prosecutor using me as a stepping stone or Sumdood's family deciding to sue me. And that's only if, IF, my actions were warranted.
This was done not just for no good reason but for a dangerously bad one -- the notion that guns are the remedy to violence in society-- when, in fact, they are one of the main enablers of violence. The bill is opposed by most of the state law enforcement community, including the district attorneys association. A letter to Gov. Rendell from the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Gun Violence Policy Group, a coalition of police chiefs, makes a solid case for a veto: "The proposed expansions of the castle doctrine will make the job of prosecutors -- working to get stiff penalties for violent offenders -- more difficult."
Actually, they got part of this right: Guns ARE enablers of violence. Where they go wrong is assuming that all violence is equal. The criminal using a gun to take my money/property/life is using violence for evil. My wife or I shooting the criminal until the threat is stopped is an example of using violence for good. And that last line about making it harder for prosecutors going after violent offenders is absolute bullshit. This only covers my actions if I'm acting as a law-abiding citizen and protecting myself or others from serious injury/death. Had the editors actually read the bill (or, more likely, cared about the truth), they would have seen this:
From HB 1926: 1 (2) The use of deadly force is not justifiable under
2 this section unless the actor believes that such force is
3 necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily
4 injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force
5 or threat
Nowhere does it say that being trigger-happy is a valid defense from prosecution. Now for the Post-Gazette's elementary closing:
It is shocking the Legislature should thwart the law enforcement community's wishes by finishing work on this bill just days after Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove was killed, authorities say, by a convicted felon with an illegal firearm. Although this bill passed both houses by wide margins, Mr. Rendell, who must decide by Saturday, should take out his veto pen and stand up for what is right and not what is popular.
What a way to use the death of an officer as political capital. Especially when it is completely unrelated to the issue at hand. Officer Grove was killed by a convicted felon possessing an illegal firearm (I'm assuming they mean illegally carried) - that's two crimes already. Add to this the fact that the murderer was not in a residence or vehicle, was committing another crime (poaching) already, and attacked a person he KNEW to be a police officer - he's already violated three of the requirements for the Castle Doctrine to apply.

No, the travesty is that the editors at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens in order to advance a political agenda.

Bystander 1, Stupid Criminal 0

Larry Skopnik was in a Commercial Drive Food Stop on Saturday when a man at the counter became aggressive after the clerk would not accept his suspicious-looking $50 bill.
As customer in the local Stop-And-Rob, what would you do if someone started becoming aggressive with the cashier behind the counter? I know that most of you reading would probably step up and help, but a significant part of the population would not. In Vancouver, British Columbia, Larry Skopnik is not one of those sheep and decided to come to the cashier's aid. The best part? He's in a wheelchair.
The man told the female clerk he was going to rob her and then moved behind the counter. Skopnik rolled up, grabbed the man by the torso and, after a struggle that threw him from his wheelchair, the pair fell to the ground. Other store patrons held the suspect until police arrived.
"Right at the moment he was going in and getting physical with her I figured that was unacceptable to cross that boundary," Skopnik told CTV B.C. "And all you really want to do is end the situation."
Source: Man in wheelchair thwarts robbery in B.C.
We gunnies spend a lot of time, with good reason, talking about carrying firearms for self-defense. But it bears repeating that guns are not magic talismans. They're just tools. If you don't have the right mindset, they're unlikely to do you much good when the time comes. Larry Skopnik had the right mindset and used the tools available - his hands. Never forget that if you aren't aware of what's going on around you, you're already at a disadvantage.

Your brain is your primary weapon - the gun is just a tool for it to use.

2011 NRA Convention - Hotels

The 2011 NRA Convention is coming up at the end of April. Might want to start looking at booking your hotel rooms now if you want to stay downtown.

The convention will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center which is located in downtown Pittsburgh. They have directions and parking information on their site.


This Google map shows all of the hotels within walking distance of the convention center. There are a few more in various stages of construction and may be open in time for the convention.

Click here for a larger view of this map


See my previous post for a primer on Pennsylvania's firearm laws.

The convention center, a government owned and operated facility, adheres to all of Pennsylvania's firearm laws. This means that you can carry on the property. This is a change from the 2004 convention where the property was - illegally, according to state law - a "gun-free" zone. The Allegheny County Sportsmen League was instrumental in bringing the convention center back in line with the state's laws.

There are not many firearms retailers in/around Pittsburgh, but if you're interested and willing to drive, let me know and I'll recommend a few. The same is true of shooting ranges - let me know if you need a place to shoot while you're here and I'll point you in the right direction.

NRA Convention posts:

A firearm is just a tool, your mind is the weapon.

Breda recently posted about the right mindset to have to survive even when unarmed. There will be times where you won't have a firearm (or it fails) and you have to improvise. Walking to your car? Use your shopping cart to help someone keep their distance. On an airplane? Keep something heavy in a sock to use as a bludgeon. Hell, Caleb turned a mug of hot coffee into a weapon.

At the end of the day, it's your mind, not the tools around you, that wins or loses the fight.

Pennsylvania Carry Laws

In preparation for the 2011 NRA Convention, here's a quick primer on Pennsylvania's carry laws.

I AM NOT A LAWYER - did you see that? I AM NOT A LAWYER. While this is my understanding of the rules, it's on the internets and should therefore be considered suspect!

A good reference for most of the questions: the website for the Attorney General

* Permits
Pennsylvania has written reciprocity agreements with 17 states:
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming

Pennsylvania has statutory reciprocity agreements with 7 states:
Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Utah

If you have a permit, resident or non-resident, from one of the 24 states listed above then you can carry openly or concealed almost anywhere in the state.

*** NOTE: Starting in 2011, non-resident permits will require a trip to the Sheriff's office to have a photograph taken. Mail-in applications will no longer be available. So, if you need a permit, best get started on it now! ***

* General Restrictions
Carrying a firearm is prohibited in the following places, regardless of method of carry:
  - anywhere that is covered by Federal restrictions (post offices, secure areas of airports, etc)
  - courthouses - each courthouse is required by law to provide a way to securely store firearms while you are inside, but not all courthouses abide by this rule (go figure...)
  - schools - this is a grey area as the law allows for an exception for "other lawful purposes" - if you want to be the test case, I'll buy you a beer!
*** UPDATE ***
  - casinos - there is some debate on whether it's actually illegal, or just "prohibited". So, like schools, use your discretion if you go to the casino.

* Open Carry
OC is 'technically' legal everywhere in PA without a permit, with three exceptions:
  - Philadelphia - need a carry permit from one of the 24 states listed above to carry openly in Philadelphia
  - Vehicles - need a carry permit from ANY state to carry openly or concealed in a vehicle
  - State parks - open carry is prohibited in state parks in PA

* Vehicle Carry
A person with a valid carry permit from ANY state can carry in a vehicle. There are no requirements on how the firearm must be carried.
If you do not have a carry permit, you can only carry the firearm to/from your place of residence and a shooting activity or firearm dealer.

* Concealed Carry
If you have a permit from one of the 24 states listed above, concealed carry is legal throughout the state.

* Notes
  - Signs carry no legal weight in Pennsylvania
  - Bars/restaurants/places that serve alcohol are NOT prohibited
  - As far as I've found, there is no law against carrying while intoxicated. However, don't be the asshole that does this...I'm sure the cops would try to charge you with something else
  - While open carry may be legal, many cops are ignorant (sometimes willfully) of the law and, especially in urban areas like Pittsburgh, you will probably be hassled and possibly arrested
  - In Pittsburgh, Point State Park, the park where the three rivers meet, is a state park so open carry is not allowed there