Recently two OSD cofounders attended a Gamut Resolutions class taught by Bob Keller which he calls “Introduction to Tactical Rifle and Pistol”. “Intro” usually implies that the topic will covered in limited breadth or depth. In this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Over the course of two days, Keller ran our group of eleven students through the same fundamentals drills that members of The Unit spend 5 months on in initial training, and which Keller himself, a member of said Unit, ran through before every deployment.
If you’re a new gun owner, you are not alone.
We at Open Source Defense (OSD) have been tracking the incredible, truly unprecedented surge in first time gun buyers in the United States in 2020. The numbers are staggering. NICS background checks are up 40% over last year alone, many of which are new owners. By National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) estimates, the country added as many as five million new owners just through the first half of 2020. If those trends hold, and you were to line up a random sample of ten American gun owners selected at random, one of them would be a 2020 buyer. You are not alone.
My college astronomy professor used to describe his craft like this: “My job is to build predictive models.” As an astronomer, you build a model of how the universe works. Your model predicts things: the position of a planet, the existence of black holes, gravitational lensing, whatever. If reality doesn’t do what your model said it would, there’s a simple rule: your model is wrong. But if your model’s predictions keep coming true, you might be onto something.
The past few months have been extreme in a lot of ways, but there’s one that people aren’t grasping: we just had the most pivotal single change in gun ownership in US history, and nobody spotted it. Sure, people have written articles about the record-breaking uptick in gun sales, but the analysis tends to stop there. This is much bigger than that.
We’ll explain why an outdated — but completely ubiquitous — mental model of gun rights is making people miss the importance of what just happened. And then we’ll propose a new model that makes a prediction of its own: the last few months have altered the course of gun rights in the US for decades.
I’ll let you in on a content strategy secret that we haven’t shared before. If your goal is persuasion, you have to understand the mental frame of the people you’re trying to persuade. And while we spend most of our time on gun-curious people, sometimes we think about what gun control advocates are thinking. Here’s the secret. We have a simple heuristic to model their behavior: think of guns as a virus. If guns were a virus, how would you treat them? What would you say about them? How would you model exposure to them?
Probably something like this:
There’s a well-worn template of gun discussion that goes like this:
Alice: Why crack down further on gun ownership?
Bob: Because a lot of people get shot to death every year.
Alice: A lot of people die in car accidents, but that doesn’t cut in favor of a crackdown on car ownership.
Bob: True, but cars have a lot of constructive uses. Guns are specifically designed to kill.
Each sentence there has several essays’ worth of material to scrutinize. (We’ve written, and will write, a few such essays.) But this archetype is interesting in a way that both sides tend to miss — there’s an unspoken assumption in “guns are specifically designed to kill” which both Alice and Bob skipped over. Let’s unpack it.
One thing I always say, before arguments begin, is that no two people with the same givens can come to a different conclusion with logic. If we’re going to have rational discussions, and we define “rational” to be adjacent to “logical”, we have a duty to set ideology aside and establish the givens, and determine the truth of the case, before we ever get into discussing the plan. Anything less is an exercise in denial.
We all know that “denial” is not just a river in Egypt. But the funny thing about denial in the gun policy debate, is that that very river in Egypt can show us a path to making actual sense of the gun policy debate, and coming to an actual resolution. This is wild, bear with me. You’ll like where it goes. And where it goes, by the end, is a comprehensive national gun policy proposal that fixes everything that can possibly be fixed, and tells us exactly how many lives we’re going to save.
The most surprising meeting we had at SHOT Show this year didn’t happen at the show. It happened in a hotel room. I went up there with Chuck Rossi (a fellow Open Source Defense cofounder) at the invitation of Rob Pincus. Rob invited us and a half dozen others up there, to tell us about a group he’s starting called the Center for Gun Rights and Responsibility.
He’s starting it with Dan Gross. Until 2017, Dan was the president of a different group. That one you’ve already heard of. It’s called the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
I was recently pointed to a pretty amazing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project hosted by The Oregonian, which uses CDC data and population rate data to determine the gun death rate, gun homicide rate, and gun suicide rate within the country on a county-by-county basis. They used data from 2004 through 2010 to have enough data to apply meaningfully to counties with sparse populations. Here’s the interactive website, where you can zoom in to any area of the country. You can go to the website itself and zoom in or around any of the screenshots in this article.We should talk about these maps. Deaths are expressed as rates per 100,000 population, and above-average rates are red, while below-average rates are blue.
If you’re a firearms enthusiast or a business that deals with anything in the shooting, hunting, and outdoors space, you know what a challenge it is to navigate the world of social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and the smaller circles of Snapchat, TikTok, Patreon, and Pinterest all have versions of their “Community Standards” that dictate what can and can’t be shared or sold on their platforms with regard to firearms and related gear.
This week, Instagram and Facebook made the waters murkier by announcing new restrictions on creators in a blog post ironically titled “Helping Creators Turn Their Passion Into a Living”.
One of the most frustrating things about the current gun control proposal envisioned by the state of Virginia, is that the people backing it don’t seem to understand its mathematical scope and potential impact. People within blue circles don’t understand how prevalent the things they’re trying to ban are, among the body of the civilian population. They may have good intentions, but I sense they might not be willing to put forth legal proposals of this scope if they understood the likely outcomes. In particular, the law as currently envisioned will almost assuredly be enforced in a manner even more racially biased than Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk.” And the reason why goes back to the mathematics behind it.
The education of children about guns in the United States is a very important, and very underdiscussed issue. Guns are ubiquitous here. We have more guns than people. And guns, being instruments of death, are dangerous if mishandled. In my opinion, a US parent not speaking with their children about gun safety, and how to behave around guns, is about like an Australian parent not speaking with their children about venomous snakes. No, a gun doesn’t have a mind of its own like a snake does, and isn’t going to bite you while you sleep, but they’re still dangerous, and good parents should talk with their children about gun safety whether they’re pro gun or anti gun, whether they’re gun owners or gun teetotalers, whether they’re in the gun culture or not. Every culture, if it’s a United States culture, needs to talk about guns to their kids. Like sex, or drugs, or Rock and Roll. And the gun talk needs to happen way earlier than the sex or drugs talk, in early elementary school. But there’s no good template about how to have this talk, at least that I’ve found. I thought it might be helpful to share my stump speech, and a story about the most interesting time I gave it.
If you follow gun stuff, you’ve been hearing a lot about universal background checks. So let’s get the lay of the land. This article is especially for people who are roughly aware of the issue but don’t know the details of it, or the details of why it’s a debate at all.
And yeah, why is it a debate? The question “Would you favor or oppose background checks on all potential gun buyers?” really does poll at 90% support. That’s surprising. You can’t get 90% of people to agree on a flavor of ice cream, let alone a gun law.
What’s going on here? There are three key questions to answer:
This essay has been in my head for a long time. But after hearing about the mass shooting yesterday in Texas and then waking up to news of another just over 12 hours later in Ohio — all a week after a similar attack in California — today is a sadly apt day to write it down.
The tricky part is that discussions about this stuff almost always fail. Their stable equilibrium is usually one of a handful of failure modes that we all know (and which are mostly various shapes of “look, it’s the outgroup — get ’em!”).
I wrote last year about the culture war incentive structure around this, why the two sides talk past each other, and why they’re at an impasse without even realizing it.
A common pitfall here is to jump right to solutions without first agreeing on the problem. So, for example, the gun rights crowd will talk about:
One standard explanation for how gun laws come about goes something like this:
This view does have some explanatory power if you’re trying to model gun control groups’ behavior. It explains the 1989 assault weapons ban, and various state-level bans. Where it starts to falter is as these bans get further and further from targeting functional differences.
Many culture wars play out as a disagreement over where things are headed. Gay rights will fade into history vs. gay rights are the future. Governments of the future will enforce separation of the races vs. governments of the future will treat all people equally. Women should stay in their place vs. women will have no one “place” they have to stay. Etc.
Guns aren’t like that.
The problem with “rights based” arguments, quite honestly, is they go nowhere, because of what government is. Government, at its root, is an exchange of some amount of liberty for some amount of security. It’s a grand bargain. Some governments take more of your liberty, and grant you more security in exchange. Some take more and grant you less security. Some leave you more liberty and grant you less security. Some leave you with a lot of both. And every argument about every government policy can, at its root, be boiled down to an exchange of some amount of liberty for some amount of security. That’s what a law is.
When you drive home from the airport, you’re doing something statistically insane. Everyone knows this. You’re trading a plane, a vehicle with 0.07 fatalities per billion passenger-miles, for a car, a vehicle with 7.3 fatalities per billion passenger-miles. Pound for pound, the plane is 100 times less deadly. But somehow that doesn’t help when you’re flying through a thunderstorm at 35,000 feet.
The difference in a car is that you’re in control. Half of the people killed in automobiles weren’t wearing a seatbelt. Alcohol was involved in a third of highway deaths. Men die at three times the rate that women do. People between ages 18 and 29 are at a 50-90% higher risk of death than the baseline. (All stats from the link above.) Accidents happen, but if you wear your seatbelt and drive safely, they’ll happen a lot less to you.
On a plane, the only thing you control is the angle of your seat. If you’re going down, just put your hands together and praise Sully.
In a ruling on Friday in Duncan v. Becerra, a federal judge struck down California’s ban on standard-capacity magazines. Now what?
We’ll cover three things: how to buy magazines in California right now, what’s next for the court case, and a detailed breakdown of the judge’s opinion.
Carlos DeLuna died on December 7, 1989. Last meal: declined to eat. Last words: “I want to say I hold no grudges. I hate no one. I love my family. Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don’t give up.” He’d been convicted of killing Wanda Lopez in a gas station robbery. An eyewitness flagged DeLuna in a photo lineup at the Corpus Christi Police Department.
Lineups were standard at the time. Still are, some places. Sometimes they’re in person, sometimes with a book of mugshots. Works the same either way. Eyewitness looks at the lineup. “Which of these faces is the one you saw at the scene of the crime?” Eyewitness picks the one. We’ve got the guy.
Well, we’ve got a guy. A guy is often the guy. That guy. But sometimes it’s just some guy.
In the past two years I’ve been asked for more and more recommendations about matters of self defense and personal security, especially from urban, educated professionals who aren’t necessarily comfortable with firearms and who are definitely not used to thinking about their fellow citizens as potential threats to themselves and their families. For a variety of reasons, both valid and vastly overhyped, ordinary people are increasingly concerned for their physical safety.
There’s a standard talk that I give my friends and family on this topic, and I want to share it, here, because it’s critically important that folks who are new to this topic begin in the right place — not with a list of what things they should buy or skills they should acquire, but with a big-picture sense of how they should approach this entire topic of personal security.
Given the aforementioned demographic of people who ask me about personal security, there is an analogy that they often have prior familiarity with that’s a near-perfect fit for the problem of keeping yourself safe: personal finance.
Both self-defense and finance share the peculiar quality of information asymmetry: they’re complex fields where experts and insiders know a ton that normal people simply can’t grasp without becoming experts themselves. On a practical level, that manifests itself in five important similarities that are worth pondering as you approach this topic for the first time.
For the past couple months, we’ve maintained a private spreadsheet of important active cases at the circuit court or Supreme Court level. Just realized it could be a useful community resource, because no similar snapshot seems to exist anywhere else. So it’s now public at the link below. Anyone logged into Notion can comment — let us know if there are any cases or details we’ve missed.
For the familiar points of disagreement, most people (on all sides) resort to first-order thinking and low-effort culture war agitprop. That provides short-term validation, but it doesn’t spread knowledge and it’s not persuasive to those who disagree.
To persuade and to get smarter ourselves, it’s important to focus on systems-level thinking. Here’s a list of highly shareable, high-quality answers to the issues that frequently come up around gun rights.
A Guardian study showing that murders in the US are extremely concentrated to specific areas and demographics, which suffer under rates of violence an order of magnitude higher than the median
The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin published an article on Christmas Eve, to argue that credit card companies should build models that take spending activity as input and return “probability that this customer is planning a mass shooting” as output.
An excerpt from the crux of it:
A New York Times examination of mass shootings since the Virginia Tech attack in 2007 reveals how credit cards have become a crucial part of the planning of these massacres. There have been 13 shootings that killed 10 or more people in the last decade, and in at least eight of them, the killers financed their attacks using credit cards. Some used credit to acquire firearms they could not otherwise have afforded.
Those eight shootings killed 217 people. The investigations undertaken in their aftermath uncovered a rich trove of information about the killers’ spending. There were plenty of red flags, if only someone were able to look for them, law enforcement experts say.
Sorkin is well-known for having used his NYT column in the weeks after the Parkland massacre to successfully lobby Citigroup and Bank of America to fire their business customers who sell standard-capacity magazines and other common touchstones. So people on all sides reacted predictably to his new article.