The mass killing that occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary school in December of 2012 ignited the debate over guns once again. Sadly, the event followed what is becoming a script: a mentally disturbed person seeks out a concentration of unarmed targets and commits murder until stopped. The American media then focuses the spotlight on the issues raised by the event and the pundits and commentators appear to say the usual things about guns, laws, and the mentally ill. As usual, the rote blaming of video games and movies also occurs.
Being a sane and ethical person, I was saddened by the terrible murders. I would certainly prefer that such an event never occur, which is true of most people. As might be imagined, there are many suggestions regarding what should be done to reduce the chances of such murders occurring again. One area of focus is, not surprisingly, on the weapons.
Folks in the media tend to focus obsessively on the weapons used in such terrible crimes and, somewhat ironically given this obsession, often display their ignorance of such weapons. The murderer at Sandy Hook had two semi-automatic pistols (a Glock 10mm and a Sig Sauer 9mm) and a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle (essentially a civilian version of the M-16 assault rifle). Watching the media coverage, I noticed considerable focus on the fact that these weapons are semi-automatic and the way the matter was discussed seemed to be aimed at creating the impression that this was somehow unusual or new. However, semi-automatic weapons date back over a century and they are rather common. For those who are ignorant of weapons, a semi-automatic weapon is (crudely put) such that once manually cocked it will fire a round with each pull of the trigger with the weapon automatically chambering a new round and cocking after each shot (until the rounds are exhausted). This is in contrast with weapons that require manual reloading and cocking. For example, the classic Winchester lever action rifle (the one seen in cowboy movies) requires that the user work a lever to eject the empty shell casing, load a new round and “cock” the gun. Fully automatic weapons, such as a machine gun, will fire until the trigger is released or the ammunition is expended (or a jam occurs).
The main concern expressed regarding semi-automatic weapons is that they have a higher rate of fire relative to weapons such as revolvers, lever action rifles, pump shotguns and other such weapons. As such, a person armed with a semi-automatic weapon can potentially kill people faster than a comparably skilled person who is armed with a slower weapon. It is also commonly asserted that there is no legitimate use for such weapons and this is often expressed in terms of their not being suitable for hunting. From these claims it is often argued that such weapons should be banned to increase safety. The rather obvious concern is whether or not such a ban would have an impact on such incidents.
One obvious concern is that semi-automatic weapons are only marginally faster than many other weapons, such as revolvers and pump shotguns. As such, even if a potential killer did not have access to semi-automatic weapons, such a person could still kill many people. However, it could be argued that the possibility of slight to moderate reduction in carnage would justify a ban on such weapons. There is, however, the rather obvious fact that someone who is willing to murder other people is probably not going to decide to call off his planned (or unplanned) slaughter because he does not have semi-automatic weapons.
Of course, it is not just the semi-automatic aspect of such weapons that gets attention. There is also the concern that they often have high capacity magazines. A typical 9mm pistol magazine holds 15 rounds, although extended magazines can be purchased. More powerful handguns, such as the .45, typically hold fewer rounds. Military style rifles typically hold 20-30 rounds, although very high capacity drum clips (so named because they look like drums) are also available.
The concern with high capacity magazines is that the user of the weapon can fire more without reloading, thus increasing his ability to sustain fire. Reloading, obviously, takes time away from shooting and a person who is reloading is effectively unarmed and thus more vulnerable to being taken out by an intended target. As such, high capacity magazines make mass killings easier and thus presumably more likely to occur.
As with the semi-automatic feature of guns, it is often claimed that there is no legitimate reason for civilian weapons to have high capacity magazines. After all, as is often pointed out, hunters are typically restricted in the number of rounds they are allowed to have in their guns and this is usually a low number, such as three.
Combining these claims, one can argue that high capacity magazines should be banned—as was done in the 1990s.
One rather obvious concern is that even if a potential killer had access only to low capacity weapons, he could work around this limitation in two ways. One way is to simply carry more weapons and switch them as their magazines are exhausted. Another way is to practice reloading. Swapping clips can be done very rapidly and even revolvers have speed loaders that can fill the entire cylinder in about the time it would otherwise take to put a single round in the weapon. While lack of access to high capacity clips would have some impact on the rate at which a person can kill, the impact would not seem to be considerable. There is also the obvious fact that a lack of high capacity magazines certainly would not deter a would be mass murderer from engaging in murder.
Much of the media coverage of the terrible murders in Connecticut has described the .223 Bushmaster as a high powered weapon. While the .223 round is more powerful than most pistol rounds, it is actually not a high powered round compared to the rounds used in actual high powered hunting rifles, sniper rifles and battle rifles. After all, many hunting rifles are designed to kill large animals such as deer and bear with single shots. Naturally, a .223 round can kill a person—but to characterize it as a high powered round seems to be either a mark of ignorance or an attempt to make the weapon seem more frightening.
Somewhat ironically, high-powered rifles actually do have a legitimate role in hunting (of course, some people consider hunting an illegitimate activity). Most of the lighter rounds (such as the .223 and the 9mm) were actually intended to be used against human targets. Banning actual high powered weapons would seem to have little impact since they are generally not the weapon of choice for such murders. Banning the lower powered weapons would make some sense—unless one considers that killers would simply go with the actual high powered weapons and this might actually result in more deaths.
On the face of it, it would seem that focusing on the usual suspects (high capacity, high power semi-automatic weapons) would have little impact. After all, people intent on slaughter would simply turn to alternatives.
I turn now to the general matter of gun bans. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that the sale of new guns was banned. This could be a ban on specific types of weapons (such as assault weapons or scary weapons) or a general ban on all guns.
Even if such a ban became law tomorrow, there would still be millions of guns in the hands of the public. While some guns will break, get confiscated by the police or be otherwise taken out of circulation, it will take a very long time for the existing base of guns to be reduced significantly by normal attrition. After all, a well-made gun will last a very long time if properly maintained.
This, of course, the fact that the process would be slow is not a reason to not have a weapon ban. However, it is worth keeping in mind that even if the ban went into effect yesterday, it would be a very long time before it had a significant effect. There is also the fact that if someone who is intent on mass murder cannot get a gun, then he is very likely to use some other means, such as explosives or even a knife (as occurred in China).
Because of the slowness of natural attrition, it might be suggested that the government should pass a law allowing private weapons to be confiscated by the state. One approach would be for the state to buy the guns and then destroy them (or equip the police with them). This would be an expensive endeavor and, of course, many gun owners would refuse to part with their guns—even if they were offered fair market value.
A second approach would be for the government to simply seize guns (using force if need be) on the grounds upon which any illegal possession can be seized by the state. This raises the moral concern about violating property rights and also raises a very practical concern: some people will see this as the fulfillment of their once paranoid fear that the government would be coming for their guns. While some people will yield to the superior firepower of the state, it seems likely that others will resist such attempts violently, resulting in injuries and death. There is also the matter of the broader impact, such as how what would seem to be a clear violation of the Constitution would be perceived. Criminals would, of course, not turn over their weapons and would no doubt be pleased that the general population had been disarmed by the state—thus making them easier targets. When considering such an approach, such costs should be carefully considered. This is not to say that the results would not be worth the cost, but this is something that we should rationally consider. If it is worth the cost, then this is something that should stand rational scrutiny and not require an appeal to emotions, however understandable those emotions might be.
While I, in general, like guns I would feel slightly safer in a world without guns. Of course, I know the history of violence fairly well and know that people would just go back to other ways of killing and probably invent some new ones.
Like most people, I accumulate stuff that I no longer want or need and I like to get rid of it. I also like Christmas gift giving. As an experienced game master, I also really enjoy tormenting others (in the context of the game, of course). Back in 2010 I combined all of these into the much dreaded King Bob’s Game-an event my gaming group has learned to fear and loath.
The theological basis for the game was inspired by the Three King’s Day celebration in Puerto Rico. This is a very pleasant, but very hot, place to visit and I certainly recommend going there. The Spanish fortifications in San Juan alone are worth the trip.
As the story goes, three wise men or kings (not the same thing at all, of course) brought the baby Jesus some gifts. While this served as the theological foundation for the massive commercialization of Christmas, it also gave rise to Three Kings Day, which is celebrated in Puerto Rico. The gist of the holiday is that children put out grass and water for the Kings’ camels and they get small gifts in return. This holiday is on January 6th.
Fortunately, a little research revealed that there was a 4th king, King Bob. Unlike the Three Kings, Bob was not great with directions and ended up arriving at the wrong city, albeit a few days before the other kings arrived in the proper destination.
Since King Bob could not find the baby Jesus, he decided to give away the gifts via a game, which is now known as King Bob’s game. Alternatively, it can be called The Game of the Fourth King.
Here is how the game is played.
What You Will Need
Gifts: At least 1 wrapped gift per player, preferably more. Cheap gifts are best.
Dice: Ideally you should have a D20 and some D6s, but for non gamers six sided dice will do.
There are two roles in the game: King Bob’s stand in and player. King Bob supervises the game but does not play. He also does not get any gifts. Optionally, King Bob can also play and get gifts, but that is bad theology.
Everyone other than King Bob’s stand in is a player.
Setting Up the Game
King Bob sets up the game by creating a pile of the wrapped gifts and defending them from the greasy hands of the players until the game starts. Each player should have a die (or dice) and a board or piece of paper is needed to keep track of the order of play.
Gamers will be familiar with this, but non-gamers will not. For the non-gamers, this is how you determine the order in which the players take their turns. To determine this, each player rolls a die (preferably the standard D20). The player with the highest roll goes first, the player with the second highest goes second and so on. In the case of a tie, reroll until it is settled.
Starting the Game
The game starts with the player who has the highest initiative. S/he selects one gift from the pile and DOES NOTopen it. Shaking and such is allowed. The second player then has his/her turn and so on for each player until it is back to the first player. After the first player has selected his gift, the other players will have more options and the first player will also have these options on his/her second turn.
Playing the Game
After the first player has a gift, the second player has his turn and so on until everyone has had a turn. The first player then has his second turn and so on. During play, a player has options. Only ONE option may be taken each turn. A player can take a different option each turn, but is not required to do so.
- Pick a Gift: the player selects a gift from the pile but DOES NOT open it. The next player then takes his/her turn.
- Open a Gift: the player opens one gift that s/he has in his/her possession and opens it. The next player then takes his/her turn.
- Steal a Gift: the player attempts to take a gift from another player. The player who is trying to steal the gift is the thief and the player who has the gift is the defender. The defender has the option of allowing the theft or resisting. If the defender allows the theft, the thief gets the gift and adds it to his/her collection. If the defender decides to resist, then the thief and the defender each roll a six sided die. If the defender matches or exceeds the thief’s roll, then s/he keeps the gift. If not, the thief adds the gift to his/her collection. The next player then takes his/her turn. Defender does not count as the defending player’s turn and s/he can defend as often as needed.
- Inflict a Gift: the player attempts to give a gift to another player. The player who is trying to give the gift is the giver and the player who has the gift is the defender. The defender has the option of allowing the giving or resisting. If the defender allows the giving, the defender gets the gift and adds it to his/her collection. If the defender decides to resist, then the giver and the defender each roll a six sided die. If the defender matches or exceeds the giver’s roll, then the gift remains with the giver. If not, the defender adds the gift to his/her collection. The next player then takes his/her turn. Defender does not count as the defending player’s turn and s/he can defend as often as needed.
Ending the Game
The game ends as soon as no more gifts remain in the gift pile (that is, the players possess all the gifts). Players must take their gifts with them when the game ends, mainly because the game is often played with the intention of getting rid of bad gifts or items that King Bob no longer wants.
Some people enjoy adding a drinking element to all games. In this case, a player who loses a roll has to take a drink.
I have a Siberian husky named “Isis” and I sometimes wonder whether she is a liberal or a corporation.
Like a liberal, she has the following stereotypical traits
- She expects handouts on a regular basis.
- She cries if she does not get what she wants.
- When protesting, she howls.
- She is not overly concerned with personal hygiene.
- She will eat some pretty strange stuff.
- She does not have a full time job and shows no guilt over this.
- She spends most of her day unconscious.
- She likes people.
- She is all for free health care and free cheese.
Like a corporation, she has the following stereotypical traits:
- She expects handouts on a regular basis.
- She cries if she does not get what she wants.
- She stashes her wealth in secret places (buried in the backyard, rather than on in the Cayman islands).
- She dumps where ever she pleases and expects someone else to clean it up.
- She does not pay taxes.
- She is a job creator (“dump cleaner” is one job she creates).
- She has no qualms about gobbling up smaller, weaker things.
- She thinks she is a person.
Although I pay for faculty parking, I almost always end up parking at the football stadium in the general parking. This is mainly because I would rather walk to my office than drive around and around trying to find an open spot. I could pay a lot more for gated parking, but I’d rather just walk. If I was an administrator, I could get my own assigned parking spot, right near my office. However, I am a mere faculty member and hence unworthy of such perks.
When I first started parking in the stadium, I went to do a right turn into a space and almost got rammed as a student tried to shoot past me by driving through the parking spaces to my right (which are right against the sidewalk). Fortunately, I saw the oncoming car and was able to stop in time. The next time I went to park, I slowed down and put on my turn signal, hoping that would indicate I was, in fact, trying to park. I almost got hit again as another driver tried to go past me-once again on my right side and once again by driving through the parking spaces. In both cases, there was plenty of room on my left and no oncoming cars. As such, I was not sure why the drivers decided to do what they did-unless they wanted me to hit them or they wanted to hit me. Or maybe they had…parking madness.
In the face of this madness, I adopted a strategy of just coming to a stop after turning on my signal when there is a vehicle shooting up behind me (people always seem to be in a huge hurry in the lot and pissed that anyone ahead of them might be slowing down to park). Half the time, they whip around to my left. Half the time they whip around to my right and go through the parking spaces. I do wonder if they would just ram a car if anything was parked there. So far I have managed to avoid getting slammed into, but I suspect it is just a matter of time before someone rear ends my truck while under the influence of parking madness.
While it is often said that age brings wisdom, this is not always true. After all, older folks like me often do very unwise things. However, age does bring opportunities to learn wisdom, mainly from events arising from a failure of wisdom.
Some lessons are fairly minor. For example, I have learned the importance of always shaking the mustard. As you might have also noticed, the first squeeze of mustard typically results in mustard pee rather than actual mustard. This can be a bit annoying, especially if you are packing a now soggy sandwich for latter. The solution is easy enough-always shake the mustard and save yourself from the sogginess.
Other lessons are somewhat more serious. As a specific example, I learned a lot when I was helping my girlfriend pack up her stuff in anticipation of her move from Tallahassee to Orlando. On that particular day, we were moving her treadmill and weight bench to my house for storage. I had to take apart the treadmill to get it out of her apartment and found that although I had brought twenty different Allen wrenches, none of them quite fit. This taught me that it is a good idea to bring every damn size of tool, especially since it seems that every company has a different sized Allen wrench for every different product they make. I forgot to mention that on my way to move the treadmill, it started to rain-even though it had been sunny. This taught me to always pack some plastic and duct tape when moving other people’s stuff.
After the treadmill was ready to move, my girlfriend wanted to move her weight bench outside. I made the classic error of not asking her if it was secured for the move and the even greater error of not checking it to see that it was, in fact secured. Naturally, it wasn’t. So, as we moved it, a major piece of metal came slamming down on my finger. This taught me to make sure that anything I am moving for someone has been properly secured for the move.
Seeing the blood spraying out from it, I first checked to see if my finger was still attached. It was, but I could not see the extent of the damage. So, I went to her bathroom to clean of the blood and determine if I would need stitches. I could see that the wound was probably not in need of stitches, but I was still bleeding and needed to put a stop to that-at the very least to keep her from becoming annoyed by my repainting of her apartment.
I asked her if she had any gauze or even band aids. She, of course, did not. This taught me that when helping people move, it is a good idea to bring my own first aid kid. Realizing that the toilet paper was not going to cut it, I looked around and then though “ah, she’s a chick, so she has to have some feminine products.” I spotted the maxi pads and pressed one against the wound. I was now faced with two problems. First, I needed a way to secure the pad. Second, I had a maxi pad on my finger, which was clearly a threat to my Y chromosome. The solution to both problems was, of course, duct tape. It held the pad in place while simultaneously balancing out its feminine influence. This was yet another lesson in the awesomeness of duct tape, thus confirming the old adage that you should never leave home without it.
The treadmill and weight bench eventually made it to my house, with only a little more of my blood being shed (a small leg wound). This experience confirmed my past lesson about moving. First, try to avoid owing anything that you cannot move yourself. Second, it can be well worth it to pay a professional to move things that are really annoying to move. Third, if you have a girlfriend, she will always expect you to help her move. Fourth, if you have a truck, she will expect you to move all her heavy stuff and you will probably end up bleeding at least a little.
I have a husky named Isis, or more accurately, she considers my house her home. Like most dogs, she clearly understands that being on the furniture is preferable to being on the floor. This is something that we humans also grasp, mainly because it can easily be tested by empirical means: floors are generally hard and uncomfortable, couches and beds are far less so. I assume that dogs also tested this by empirical dog science (dogs tend to be empiricists).
When Isis first arrived, my house had been home to two other dogs. The Golden Retriever, Chrissy, regarded herself as being a person and acted accordingly. The German Shepherd, Salem, followed Chrissy’s lead (always claiming that she was just following orders). As such, when Isis arrived, she recognized that that the furniture was to be used by both humans and dogs. This went along well enough until the original dog couch was replaced by a rather nice futon couch with a brown cover.
While I did not think it could be possible, Isis manages to put out more fur than my two previous dogs combined. Plus, she has Aryan white fur, which stands out incredibly on the futon and almost every piece of clothing I own. Interestingly enough, Isis had been ignoring the futon until recently. But, clearly, something triggered her need to coat it with fur.
While my girlfriend thinks that pets should be kept outside, preferably attached to some sort of generator, I’m fine with indoor pets. Part of this is simply unjustified habit-I grew up that way. Part of this is practical: the Florida heat, rain and insects would mean that outdoor pets have it very rough. Part of it is also preference-why have a pet (as opposed to a working animal) that you have to look out the window to see? Of course, the fact that I am fine with indoor pets does not mean that I fully accept having the furniture coated with fur. My attempt at a solution was to get Isis a very nice dog bed and also get comfortable area rugs (rather than just basic ones) to cover the floor. She does love the new area rugs-in fact, she insists on dragging anything she is eating onto the rugs. Being wise to the ways of dogs, I did get the ones that resist such things). However, she completely ignores the dog bed. I assume this is based on dog logic: if something is furniture, then a human will use it. The new green thing is not used by the humans. Therefore, the new green thing is not furniture. I suppose I will have to sit on it for a while, to convince her that is worthy of her coating it with fur.
Although I am a professor, I have a reasonable assortment of practical skills. Many of these were picked up during my youth: my parents fully endorsed the idea of character building through chores. These skills were refined and added to by my essential Yankee frugality (“why pay someone to do what you can do yourself?”) which is not to be confused with corporate frugality (“why pay an American to do what someone else will do for way less?”).
I will be the first to admit that my skills are not professional grade. My friend Ron thinks that there should be some sort of law against me doing trim painting (although I can do an adequate job using the right tools, namely someone else). However, they are good enough to get things done and, in some cases, are up to doing very good work (mostly in the area of computers and other such technology).
My latest project has been repainting my house. As with any DIY project, it has taken longer than anticipated. As a general rule, when I plan a DIY project, I estimate the base time and then double it. I always end up being wrong, no matter what. I suspect, but cannot prove, that there is some sort of quantum effect at work here: when you attempt to predict the duration of the event, the observation changes the duration (and might kill a cat or three). Less mysteriously, I have found that each DIY project almost always leads to other things that need to be done. For example, doing the painting involved removing all the fixtures and such from the walls. This caused me to replace these things, which now looked old next to the new paint. Mounting all this new stuff requires the usual effort-that is to say, twice what is expected plus the variable factor.
On the plus side, the major projects (like repainting the house) only occur every 5-15 years, thus making it manageable. However, as Ron and I agreed, when you own a house there is always something to do. Ron’s upcoming project seems to involve his backyard and a wall aimed at repelling the squirrel hordes. Or maybe it is just a retaining wall. Hard to say, what with the flame thrower mounts in the schematics.