Monday, December 31, 2012

Getting your mind right

I'm recycling a New Year's post from a couple of years ago. It is especially apt on the eve of a year in which our statist overlords sound more than usually inclined to ignore actual facts* and to do all they can to deprive us of as many useful tools for self-defense as they can. It is apt because the right and duty to defend yourself and your loved ones won't cease if these scoundrels succeed. And fortunately, at least for the moment, they have not managed to think of way to ban the most important tool of all.

Some folks like a triad. You will also hear lots of discussion about three-legged stools. Others prefer to slice a pie into four pieces.  Some would rather disassemble the device into components. Whatever your favored metaphor, the simple notion of “self defense” implicates many considerations.

 You have to have tools that work, every time, and are suited to you. You have to be able to use those tools effectively, so that means adequate marksmanship and competent, reflexive gun-handling. To achieve those, you have to train, and the training has to be realistic and relevant. Then you have to practice often and effectually – recognizing that training and practice are not the same thing. Your ancillary gear has to be suited to your particular use of it, and as reliable as your primary tools.

But while all of these are necessary, none of them is sufficient. All of these considerations matter, but there is one thing that is lord of them all: Mindset.

Robert's Rule is that "Mindset Matters Most." Fighting mindset determines outcomes. Mindset implicates the largest questions: How do you believe you came to occupy the universe? Mindset invades the smallest of moments: Will you keep fighting for this next second?

Not only will the better mindset prevail “all things being equal,” but the man with the better mindset can prevail over an adversary who is better equipped or trained or both, while a poor mindset renders expertise irrelevant. This is not a new notion. Sun Tzu** said 2500 years ago that every battle is won or lost before it is fought.

Proper mindset drives you toward the satisfaction of all the other necessary elements: You are determined to expend the time and sweat and money to train realistically and practice effectively. You have done the research and trials necessary to know what weapons and gear will work best for you, and you have not stinted on buying the best you can afford.  But mindset stands apart from and above all these other factors.

Proper mindset means that you have decided that you are a human being and that human beings have the right to defend their lives and wellbeing, and the lives and wellbeing of those in their care or charge. You have decided that you concur with the Founders' belief that your right to life is natural and inalienable. You have decided that the image of an armed woman standing over the bleeding body of a would-be rapist is morally superior to the image of a battered woman lying on the ground, watching as her rapist flees.

To have a proper mindset is to be utterly ready for that which you earnestly pray will not occur. Proper mindset means that you can walk away from any insult or offense that does not warrant a fight, no matter the injury to your ego. But proper mindset means that you are ready to fight when it is time to fight, because you have decided you will fight long before the fight. Proper mindset is what spares you the paralysis of “this can’t be happening,” so that you can get into the fight when it will do you the most good. It is proper mindset that will keep you in the fight – when you are afraid or exhausted or shot – until you prevail or die.

Proper mindset means you have thought about what this kind of fight really looks like, even if you have never engaged in or witnessed one. You know that you are willing to do great harm to a determined assailant, to wet your hands with his blood, if that’s what it takes to end his aggression. More than this, you know if you are capable of ending the life of another human being if need be. Proper mindset means that you have examined your heart of hearts with unflinching honesty. If you are a person of faith, proper mindset means you have reconciled these issues with that faith before the moment arises.

Mindset is not magic; it is not an incantation or a prayer or a mantra. It is neither esoteric nor theoretical; it is, instead, the most practical thing there is. Mindset is a set of decisions, considered with greatest care, resolved to a moral certainty and then followed through, come what may. Proper fighting mindset may come easy or hard for you, but the having or lack of it is not a matter of luck or heredity, nor is it the exclusive province of any particular profession. Mindset can be learned.

I respectfully submit that's something worth considering when you formulate your New Year’s resolutions this week.

* Those facts really are very simple and boil down to this -- fewer weapons in the hands of law-abiding citizens equals more crimes committed against them by criminals unconcerned with silly things like gun laws.

** I will leave it for others to debate the question of whether Sun Tzu actually existed as a single historical figure.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Alright, here's a little game I created. I call it "Ban the Assault Rifle." The advantage of "Ban the Assault Rifle," as compared to a game like "Close the Gun Show Loophole," is that, unlike gun show loopholes, assault rifles do at least exist.

First things first. If we're going to ban an assault rifle, then we'd better find one, right? So, is this an assault rifle?

Nah. This is called a ranch rifle. The mechanical design of this gun is nearly 80 years old. This rifle has been carried in the back of pick-up trucks, over hunters' shoulders, and in scabbards slung from saddles for decades. It fires an intermediate round (really a beefed-up .22 caliber) and has probably shot more coyotes on sheep ranches, converted more deer into venison, and cleared more cattle grazing land of prairie dogs than almost any rifle ever made. It is inexpensive, yet accurate enough out of the box for the job it needs to do, even with its fairly rough and ready iron sights. You have to pull the trigger each time you want it to fire a single round. It is designed to fire under adverse conditions like the snow and mud with which ranchers and hunters often contend.

So, not an assault rifle and we won't be banning that one.

Ah, but what about this one?

This rifle, in tactical black, is a semi-auto civilian version of the automatic rifle that American troops first carried into Vietnam and which some military snipers use today. It has a collapsible stock to make it easier to transport and to adjust to differing tactical circumstances. It can be fitted with a 30-round magazine and a bi-pod, if your tactical circumstances dictate. It fires the same round that most of our troops are carrying now in Afghanistan. It can be made highly accurate. Its tactical* accessory rails allow it to be fitted with powerful optics, weapon lights or even night-vision capable sights. It is in use by police and armed forces across the world.

So that one must be the assault rifle, right?

Sorry, no. We won't be banning this one either. An assault rifle is a select fire military rifle capable of firing fully automatic fire; pull of the trigger and the bullets keep coming out of the business end until you stop pulling the trigger. This rifle is semi-automatic only. You have to pull the trigger each time you want it to fire a single round.

Hey. Wait just a New York Minute.** "You have to pull the trigger each time you want it to fire a single round." Isn't that just what I said about the ranch rifle? What's going on here?

Now, at this point, the more gun savvy among you have concluded that I am cheating. In my defense, I did say at the outset that were were playing a game I created. My game, my rules and one of Robert's Rules is "Who writes the rules, wins the game."

The operative rule here is that I'm allowed to wait until now to admit that both the rifles pictured above are the same rifle, the venerable Ruger Mini-14, developed on the mechanical action of the M1 Garand that soldiers carried in World War 2.***  The action is so robust, simple, reliable and easily maintained that it has remained virtually unchanged as it has been adapted to various other rifles, including the Mini-14's immediate progenitor, the M-14 (a heavy-caliber battle rifle still in limited use today as modified into a sniper weapon).

The two rifles pictured here -- the friendly, traditional brown one and the evil black one -- are precisely the same rifle, except that the action and the barrel wear different furniture in each picture. Both variants of the rifle pictured fire the same cartridge, in exactly the same way, at exactly the same rate, to exactly the same effect. They are equally as deadly or useful, equally as capable of being used for good or for evil. They are, simply, the same. And banning the lower one is just as damned silly as banning the upper one.

If this is confusing to you, this notion that a thing is still the same thing despite the mode of its dress, consider what you are wearing now, what you will wear tomorrow and how profoundly or superficially this changes your actual identity.

Or, if you prefer, consider this fellow . . . 

. . . and this fellow . . . 

. . . and kindly tell me, which one you want to ban.**** 

* That is four "tacticals," in case you have not been keeping count.

** Which Mayor Bloomberg has decided is simply too long, at 60 seconds. He has introduced an ordinance with his pet city counsel to create the "Bloomberg Minute," which will last either 50 seconds, or the amount of time he spends considering the concept of liberty each day, whichever is less.

*** Gen. George S. Patton called the M1 Garand "the greatest battle implement ever devised." This from a guy who commanded an armored corps and has a tank named after him.

**** No fair pointing out that Clooney himself would probably approve if that version of "Batman" were kept out of the hands of the public.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why we fight

It was suggested to me recently that, as a professing Christian, I ought not to own guns, nor be willing, under any circumstances, to employ them in earnest. "Didn't Jesus," sneered the fellow, "tell you guys to turn the other cheek."

I suspect he didn't realize just how much Christian charity it took in that moment not to smack the smug little grin off his cheeks. Judging from his look and attitude he seemed to believe he had scored a major point in a game I hadn't realized were were playing. Perhaps he expected me, blinded by the flash of his rhetorical brilliance, either spontaneously to renounce my faith or to surrender my side arm.

It has wisely been said that there's no percentage in arguing with an idiot, because he'll drag you down to his level, then beat you with experience. The same holds true for those insincere sorts who aren't really interested in an answer to their loaded question. So I distracted the fellow with some version of "Look! Over there. Shiny." And I went on with my day.

The fact is, though, that if sincerely asked, it is a fair question.

I could direct you to Hugo Grotius, and that might help. Grotius' life spanned the end of the Sixteenth Century and the beginning of the Seventeenth  a time of constant, practically universal war. Nations all across Europe were sending their finest sons ahead of columns of their peasants, augmented by cadres of mercenaries, to kill the fine sons, peasants and mercenaries of their neighbors. The Portuguese were killing and being killed by the Spanish. The English were (as always) killing their Irish neighbors, along with any Spaniards they could find. The Russians were killing the Swedes. Nearly everyone in Europe was killing Turks. There were various wars of succession and countless revolts, uprisings and rebellions. Most notably, the last 27 years of Grotius' life were the first 27 years of the Thirty Years War.

Essentially beginning as a religious war that pitted most of the Roman Catholic nations of Europe against most of the Protestant ones, then devolving into a continental melee where more or less everyone was seeking to seize power and territory from more or less everyone else, the Thirty Years War is unparalleled in history for its savagery. The war killed 8 million people at a time when the population of Europe probably didn't much exceed 50 million. Civilian populations were targeted for extermination. Plague, pillage and rape were common to the orders of battle.

And it was against this backdrop of chaos and misery (and while he was himself fleeing across Europe to avoid religious persecutors who had jailed him and threatened worse) that Grotius produced De jure belli ac pacis (On the Law of War and Peace). You can read it here in English, or buy it in Latin to get the full flavor of the work.  Grotius was a Christian. And when he wasn't trying to set down a rational rule book for how men might conduct war righteously, he was writing one the first widely published systemic defenses of Protestant Christianity. You can read De veritate religionis Christianae for free online, if you have the Latin and the inclination.

So, yes, I could direct you to Grotius, who knew what I know: that the command that a Christ follower should "turn the other cheek," did not mean that a Christian ought to stand by while the greatest gift besides salvation, the very gift of life, is threatened by evil. Grotius knew that Jesus' proscription was against seeking revenge or taking offense, not against self-defense. Like everything He said, it was said in context and He finished by directing us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us -- presumably to include defending one another from evil.*

Yes, I could send you to Grotius, but let's not fool about with one another: You've got neither the Latin nor the inclination. (Neither, I'll confess have I.) 
So let me direct you, instead, to Fx Hummel, shooter, troubadour, theology scholar, philosopher and -- best of all -- songwriter.

* Luke quotes Jesus this way in Chapter 6, verses 27 - 31:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I understand that facts, even of the most fundamental variety, don’t matter now. We’re past reasoning, so facts are worse than useless now that they have become a drag on our race to throw ourselves onto an emotional pyre in some public policy version of suttee.  Indeed, you can be certain reason has been taken off the table when we reach the point where we are being lectured about firearms by a Brit,* which is the logical equivalent of letting the North Korean Minister of Agriculture set your food policy.  

But even in an environment where all facts have been scraped away and an appeal to reason is viewed as foul calumny, I suppose my common sense isn't quite so scabbed over that I cannot still work up a touch of outrage over the notion of banning something that doesn't exist.

The original meaning** of “loophole” has long since been subsumed by the metaphor – a gap, omission or ambiguity in a law or agreement, used to subvert that law or contract’s purpose or spirit. Nothing wrong with that, for that is the very nature of language. Words morph and move through the lexicon, becoming something that they weren't before.  As meanings change and flow, old words are shaped to serve new needs. For those who are after the “Gun Show Loophole,” there is certainly such a need. After all, if they framed their goal as “the elimination of one free citizen’s right to sell his property to another free citizen,” it might be hard to get folks to go along, what with the notion of private property being a foundation for the very concept of human liberty.*** Even in today’s America, when you want to erode the foundations of the very concept of human liberty, you do well to call your law something else. (Like, say, the USA PATRIOT Act.)

Such semantic obfuscation is nothing new – ask the fellows at the Ministry of Love. But you have to admire the audacity of the “gun show loophole” crowd. It has to be at least audacity; it cannot be that they misunderstand the law, as it’s too simple for that.**** So if the invocation of the “gun show loophole” isn't the result of ignorance, what does Hanlon's Razor tell us is left?

They've got a way with language in the South, as I quickly learned as an Ohio Yankee reporter displaced to lower Alabama. Folks down South know that you can say a thing, or you can say a thing. (If a Southern Baptist lady has ever told you “bless your heart,” you might know what I mean.) I learned  that if I wanted to do my job I’d better be able to suck boiled peanuts with the boys at the firehouse, sip sweet tea with the ladies at the DAR (to say nothing of the UDC), and listen for those telling turns of phrase that landed soft as down on the ear, but were weighted with meaning. Folks there had a little saying that managed to be polite and vulgar and wise all at the same time, with room left over for just the tiniest genteel threat. It couldn't be more perfect for those craven hoplophobes now so intent on reducing all men to the same helpless state where they choose to abide.

“Y’all go ahead,” even the prettiest belle might say. “Y’all go ahead and piss down my leg. Just don’t try to tell me that it’s raining.”

* And not just any Brit, but a Brit whose ethics weren't up to the dubious standards required to keep a job at a tabloid newspaper there. 

** A loophole was a small aperture either designed or hastily made in a defensive wall or barricade to allow those inside to direct fire onto attackers. If you are a fan, as I am, of movies in which imperial English soldiers succumb to colonial uprisings, then you have seen this field expedient version depicted as Redcoats gouged holes into the walls of the the farmhouse at Rorke’s Drift.

***"He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force." Thomas Jefferson to Edward Bancroft, 1788

**** If you make your living as a gun dealer, you need a Federal Firearm License (a creature of the Federal Firearms Act of 1938). When an FFL dealer sells a gun, he has to collect certain paperwork from the buyer, and conduct a federal background check. He has to do this whether he’s selling the gun at his shop or a gun show or anywhere else. If you do not make your living as a gun dealer, and your buddy wants to buy your old shotgun, you can sell it to him without a background check – in your kitchen or at the gun show or anywhere else – so long as your buddy is a resident of the same state as you. If you want to send a gun to buyer in another state, you have to get an FFL involved and he has to do a background check. None of the rules for gun sales by anyone change depending on the existence of a gun show. None.