Parkland School Shooting: Why work for a good solution when there is a proven non-starter? | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |

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By Douglas Moran

Parkland School Shooting: Why work for a good solution when there is a proven non-starter?

Uploaded: Mar 1, 2018

This is not a discussion of the pros and cons, although I will include some notes about the complexities. Instead, my focus will be on the abysmal politics currently on display. I encourage readers who are parent or grandparents to use this tragedy as an opportunity to encourage children to think and debate about what separates effective advocacy from ^Virtue Signaling^. Sorry this is a bit late in coming out. If you are reluctant to discuss this example, there are examples in local politics(foot#1) and elsewhere.
Note: The location of links is too muted, so I have added carets (^) to mark their locations.

If past patterns hold, it is likely that the momentum for a solution has already been sabotaged by the gun-control advocacy groups and supporting media, especially CNN. CNN's so-called ^Town Hall^ (also on ^YouTube^) would have been better called an adversarial, partisan rally for gun-control. Recognize that gun-control is not the only potential means for reducing these tragedies, and may even be less effective than less controversial approaches. Especially when there are readily available alternatives to guns for a killing spree.

----Respect and Good Faith----

What CNN arranged was an event to berate and humiliate several of the invited speakers. While it may not have occurred to many of the students that antagonizing others is not the way to build support for a solution, it is inconceivable that CNN didn't realize this, and thus one needs to ask what CNN's motives were. Peddling outrage?? Pursuing a political agenda? ... Behavior such as CNN's has become so common and so flagrant as to lead to increasing questions about whether they are sincere about their purported objectives or have another agenda or are just posturing (Virtue Signaling).

I have no sympathy for the two primary targets at the "Town Hall".(foot#2) My issue is with the message being sent by the audience and participants. That message was that they saw no room for facts or other perspectives. That there is no room for debate ("Ready, Fire, Aim") much less deliberation ("Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy, and many more before and since). The attitude was that anyone who didn't support their unspecified action were evil and child murderers.(foot#3) Would you expect such people to be willing or able to operate in good faith?

For at least two decades, gun-control advocates have known that their fallacious use of the term "assault rifle" derails discussion. So when you hear them use it, you should assume that is likely an "in your face" declaration that they have no intention of listening to other perspectives and situations.

Cameron Kasky was one of the students chosen by CNN to supposedly ask a question. What he delivered was an extended (multi-minute) denunciation, which should have been no surprise to CNN: He had established himself in the days before as the articulate, hyper-partisan that he was during the "Town Hall". For example: "Senator Rubio: It's hard to look at you and not look down the barrel of an AR-15-type and not look at Nikolas Cruz (the shooter)." Of the presentations of the reaction to the partisanship, the best I have encountered is a ^YouTube video^.(foot#4)

Trying to bully an opposing perspective into submission is often a failure because it drives people who might well have supported you into opposition. But it is crucial to not only have respect for other stakeholders, their issues and their perspectives, but to have respect for facts. After far too many years of this, I have reached the point where I have gone past being highly skeptical of the claims of gun-control advocates, to regarding trying to sort out fact from fiction as a waste of time. However, I do read it because it is important to be aware of the propaganda that is being distributed. For example, the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety put out a press release that was used uncritically by the mass media. It claimed that Parkland was the 18th school shooting of the year, but when skeptics looked at the data, it was found to be inflated by 125% (10 of 18 were spurious). For example, it included suicides at schools, including a ^one at a former school^. Another "school shooting" occurred when ^a third-grader somehow managed to pull the trigger on a holstered gun of a police officer at that school^.(foot#5)

Shameless manipulation of statistics is all too common. The majority of gun deaths in the US are suicides, with homicides related to criminal gangs being much of the remainder. I see gun-control advocates conflating and shifting between significantly different categories and terms to support their claims. Similarly in ranking countries, they will shift between total incidents and incidents per capita with little or no warning.(foot#6) Back when I was being skeptical of the advocates, I wasted a lot of time seeking out the (uncited) studies that they seemed to be using.

At the end of this blog is a long section that combines nonsense from a prominent gun-control group plus some of the fundamental science and technology about this issue.

"It is so much easier to believe than to think; it is astounding how much more believing is done than thinking. It is more astounding that an honest study was not made of conditions resulting from %the levees-only policy%. Not only was essential data not available but it appeared as though the failure to acquire it was deliberate. The determination to carry out this impossible theory was so great that, with many, it appeared to be an obsession." - James Parkerson Kemper, an engineer who was a critic of the flood control policy on the Mississippi River after the flood of 1922, writing about the conditions that made the ^Great Mississippi Flood of 1927^ so catastrophic.

----^Unconscious Incompetence^ and ^Dunning–Kruger effect^----

For citizens attempting to talk about issues with legislators, a common surprise is how little many of them know about the laws they are sponsoring. While they are aware of interest groups being involved in shaping legislation, they didn't realize how detached those legislators could be from the drafting. Not only is it not uncommon to see a legislator unable to answer simple questions about their own prepared statements, but there are instances of them becoming confused reading their own prepared statement, including repeatedly stumbling over key terms. How can a citizen have confidence in the result? A law that is viewed as invalid licenses disobedience: Some will violate it, and many more will ignore violations. Even law enforcement officers and agencies will ignore such laws because their credibility and authority to enforce valid laws is undermined if they enforce ones widely seen as illegitimate.

Legislators backing gun-control and the advocates behind them are a prominent example of this. For decades they have been adverse to learning the basics that would be part of a 10-minute introductory briefing. "Adverse" is an understatement because they refuse to learn when their "misconceptions" are pointed out. The (student) demonstrators after the Parkland shooting are an example of the refusal to do basic homework. They call for a ban on "automatic weapons" and "silencers", despite those items already being restricted (since 1934?) and neither of them having been involved in a mass shooting in the US (to my knowledge) other than in gang wars (eg ^Saint Valentine's Day Massacre^ in 1929). They also call for "background checks" or "background checks for rifles", despite this having been the law since 1993 (Brady Bill), with some exceptions (that I think are questionable). Ask yourself how willing you would be to enter into negotiations with groups that have demonstrated utter contempt for facts and a predilection to bully?

----Publicity, not results: Virtue Signaling----

The nature of politics is that politicians favor items that generate positive publicity and ignore the mundane. An example of this is our infrastructure problems: Politicians love to dedicate a new bridge so they will push for funds for it, but will not adequately fund the maintenance of that bridge.

Background checks for gun purchases are an example of this larger phenomenon. The Parkland shooting and multiple other recent ones could have been prevented with a competent background check system. However, problems with the implementation of this system have been widely known since the beginning, both the widespread failures to enter information into the system and delays and failures in the flow of information between the components.

Because of the desire of the gun-control advocates and their allied politicians for publicity, the likely outcome will be the passage of some new legislation that does little or nothing to deal with the problem, while the fixable problems in existing programs persist. Perversely, the failure of proposed legislation may benefit the advocates and politicians more than its passage because failure provides a continuing call-to-action and eliminates the need to find a new issue to promote.


Much of the current discussion is dominated by advocates who reject risk assessment. For example, the calls to hardening schools is unlikely to reduce school shooting, but simply relocate them. Instead of going into the school itself, the shooter could simply wait until school is letting out and shoot into the crowds. Or he, or an accomplice, could pull a fire alarm, or phone in a bomb threat, or ... The tactic has already been tried.

Similarly, hardening all school represents a massive investment that is almost certain to come out of the money available for actual education of children, which is likely to do more cumulative harm than the school shooters. This has already happened in the asbestos panic. Because there was some asbestos in schools that was a serious health hazard, school districts spent enormous sums removing all asbestos despite warnings from experts that the process of removing the non-problematic asbestos could increase the exposure of students to that hazard.

"We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do it."

In a previous blog, I presented a cautionary example that is commonly part of lessons about dealing with infrequent situations. In the example, there is a rare fatal disease that has a risky cure, but testing for and treating that disease results in more people dying than are saved.(foot#7) How did that happen? People who didn't have the disease died from the treatment because the diagnostic test was not perfect. Proposals to greatly increase the number of armed people present in a school is an analogous situation. There are going to be accidents, such as above where the police officer's safety holster was designed to prevent firing, but apparently it hadn't been tested against the small fingers of a third grader. And mistakes are inevitable in the selection of who can be trusted to have a gun in a school.

----The inconvenient complexity of mental illness----

"For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong."

Would you support having guns taken away from someone who poses a danger to himself or others? Seems reasonable ... at first. The biggest category of gun deaths is suicides. Would you support taking guns away from people who are depressed? Would you insist that those guns be returned when a person is no longer depressed? This is the first problem: There are too many examples of bad faith by law enforcement in not returning guns. Various categories of depression are typically short-term, such as postpartum depression and depression after the death of a loved one. The threat of permanent confiscation would discourage those sufferers from seeking treatment, thereby increasing the risk of suicide by gun (or in some cases, murder-suicide or murder). When California passed new gun control laws (in 2014?), our legislators decided to ignore these situations and made it difficult for an at-risk person to temporarily transfer his guns to a trusted family member or friend. ^Assembly Bill 2817 - Firearms: emergency transfers^ has been proposed to partially address this problem, but the language is vague and could easily be interpreted as applying only when there is a substantial or immediate risk of a suicide attempt, and not when there is only an increase risk. For example, changes in antidepressant medications carry a risk of inducing suicidal thoughts, and these can come on quite quickly.

Then there is the various levels of anxiety and ...

----The NRA----

One of the long-term self-deceptions of gun-control advocates is that the NRA's political power comes from its campaign contributions. This has been debunked repeatedly over the years, both by the NRA's total campaign contributions and contributions to individual candidates. They are a very minor player in this aspect. The NRA's power comes from the perceptions by politicians that the NRA can mobilize a significant block of voters. I used perception because it is very hard to measure: The people who contact a politician about a particular issue are not a representative sample of the electorate. Also, the issue that a voter raises with a politician may not be decisive in how he decides to vote. Plus, according to polls, there can be substantial policy differents between the membership and the NRA leadership.

----Why is the AR-15-type rifle popular?----

From what I read, the AR-15 is very well designed, potentially revolutionary. During the trials by the US military in the late 1950s and early 1960s, actual soldiers achieved significantly higher accuracy scores with the AR-15 than with conventional rifle designs. Notice that this is the reverse from the common claim in the media that the AR-15 was derived from the military's M16 automatic rifle, implying that a big motivation of purchasers is to have a rifle that looks like the M16.

The better accuracy came from multiple factors. Light recoil. Lighter weight. And notice that the top of the shoulder stock is in line with the barrel (^picture^), whereas the traditional rifle design has it noticeably lower (^picture of M14^) and thereby creating torque that causes the gun to climb. Higher velocity bullets have flatter trajectories (less time for gravity to act). And many models offer a shoulder stock whose length can be adjusted 3-4 inches to better fit people of different sizes (adults and children). And because of the volume of production, it is often listed as a good value. The large number of such rifles supports an very active marketplace for accessories.

When advocates for gun-control disparage owners with false reasons for their purchases, that only further confirms that those advocates are unwilling to listen to what others have to say, much less to treat them with due respect.

----Example nonsense and some science----

This long section provides both an example of a prominent advocacy group putting out nonsense and some fundamentals that might help you differentiate knowledgeable people from those spouting uninformed or deceptive slogans. The example is the gun-control group associated with ^Gaby Giffords^, the former Arizona Congress member who was critically wounded during a mass shooting. Shortly after the Las Vegas shooting, that organization put out a press release "Legal and Lethal: 9 Products that could be the next bump stock" (2017-11-15) -- the bump stock being what the Las Vegas shooter used to greatly increase the rate of fire for his semi-automatic rifles. Item 8 on page 8 was a ^muzzleloader^ - a single-shot rifle that you have to load from the front end of the barrel. The first obvious error speaks only to the credibility of what else was written. The press release claimed "Muzzleloaders fell out of favor as a firearm of choice almost a century ago, and are generally seen as primitive antiques." That would place the transition near or after the end of World War I, which happened 99 years and 4 days before the press release (1918-11-11 vs 2017-11-15). The machine gun was the defining weapon of WWI. It was over 50 years before that (mid-1860s) that muzzleloader were being replaced by single-shot breechloaders and some magazine-fed ("repeating") rifles.(foot#8)

The muzzleloader pictured in the press release is the ^Maxim 50 by SilencerCo^ which I easily found with my first web search. The press release's first concern is "Cue the .50 caliber muzzleloader, which delivers a particularly lethal .50 caliber round." This indicates that this group doesn't understand the fundamentals. The first approximation for lethality is kinetic energy of the bullet, which is its mass times the square of its velocity. The muzzleloader in question uses only black powder, which burns much slower than modern propellants--it is classified as a "low explosive" whereas modern propellants are "high explosives". To compensate for the low velocities of these bullets, heavier bullets were required not to make them "particularly lethal", but to make them adequately lethal.

If they meant that the muzzleloader's .50-caliber round is more lethal than modern bullets of the same caliber, that is utter nonsense: For a modern rifle, there is typically a range of bullets that have been designed in shape, weight and materials for different purposes. If the press release meant that that a .50-caliber round was inherently more lethal than smaller caliber bullets, that is also fundamentally wrong (see below).

Suppressive fire, lighter bullets, higher velocities: Experience in World War II and the Korean Conflict was that the vast majority of rifle bullets were not fired in attempt to kill an enemy, but rather as suppressive fire, that is, bullets whose purpose was to discourage the enemy from shooting back as you maneuvered to get into a position where you could kill him. In video coverage of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, you probably have seen a soldier fully protected by a wall lift his rifle over his head and spray bullets in the general direction of the enemy. Since the lethality of suppressive fire is largely irrelevant, the military decided to shift to lighter ammunition so that soldiers could carry more. To compensate for the lighter weight of the bullet, its velocity had to be increased.

AR-15-type ammunition: First, recognize that lethality is a result and can be produced in many different ways. The muzzle velocity of a bullet from a black-powder muzzleloader is subsonic (speed of sound: 1125 ft/sec = 741 mph at sea level at 68 Fahrenheit). The muzzle velocity of a typical pistol is modestly supersonic. The muzzle velocity of an AR-15-type bullet is around Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound): 2750 ft/sec to 3750 ft/sec for heavier to lighter bullets (respectively). But the lethality of the AR-15-type bullet is not just from its kinetic energy, but from its speed passing through tissue and organs, an effect similar to a sonic boom (shock wave) in the air. This is typically referred to as ^hydrostatic shock^, but the details are controversial, especially since the predictions have been both supported and contradicted by battlefield experience.(foot#9) And there are are other aspects (Surprise! It's complicated).

Silencers/Suppressors: The press release's second concern is "This weapon is designed with a built-in device to suppress its sound." This is commonly called a silencer, with noise/sound suppressor being the more accurate, and this manufacturer uses the alternative moderator. Understand that black-powder muzzleloaders are very loud. So loud that when they have been fired in historical demonstrations, nearby car alarms were set off even when only partial loads of powder was used. The specifications say that this suppressor reduces the noise to 139 db (decibels). For comparison, a 9mm (semi)automatic pistol that is favored by law enforcement produces 160 dB. If you were sitting in the front row at a rock concert, you would typically be hit with about 120 dB. A normal conversation is about 60 dB. Extended exposure to sounds over 85 dB can cause permanent hearing damage. Yet, gun-control advocates cannot help themselves in claiming that this would make this weapon virtually silent, and thus an ideal assassination weapon.
Note: I suspect that deer hunters are the target audience for this product because many states have separate seasons for muzzleloaders (and archery) before the regular season. Being early means that the hunter has a much better chance of even seeing a deer.
Note: dB (^decibel^) is a logarithmic, not linear, scale. And be skeptical of exact numbers because they are subject to too many environmental and measurement factors, such as the placement and characteristics of the measuring device. And the human ear perceives sounds differently from the measuring devices.

If you search the web for information on sound suppressors/silencers, you will find many articles claiming that suppressors cannot reduce sound to the equivalent of a mild cough, such as what one sees in the movies and on TV. For most cases this is true, and especially for the screw-on type suppressors shown. In a ^Mythbusters episode^ (4:41) a SilencerCo suppressor on a .45-caliber pistol reduces noise from 161 dB to 128 dB, but also changes the frequency profile, and that can change how it is perceived by both humans and equipment designed to detect the location of gun fire, such as the ShotSpotter system used in Oakland and other cities.

However, it is possible to design a gun where the shot is effectively silenced, that is, the noise from the mechanical operation of the gun is louder than the shot. The British did this very successfully in World War II in a variant of their Sten submachine gun. The US attempted to replicate this in its M3 submachine gun (aka the "Grease Gun"), but were only partially successful. The Germans decided not to try, despite pleadings from their commandos and airborne troops.(foot#10) Recognize that the level of noise suppression was achieved only by integrating the suppressor into the design of the gun, and not with a small, screw-on suppressor.

Why are suppressors now an issue?
Suppressors have long been heavily regulated. There is a push from various quarters to relax some of the regulations with the rationale being that they could provide some hearing protection. The US military is reportedly considering widespread use of silencers for just this reason. I haven't seen any details on what is being promoted or considered.

Suppressors: the science:
A suppressor works by providing space for the propellant gases to expand into plus a way to more slowly release those gases into the outside air. This creates less of a pressure wave (sound). Suppressors on high powered guns typical provide only limited sound reductions because the size needed for greater suppression is problematic..

When a gun is fired, there are three basic categories of noise. First is the mechanical noise, which is typically insignificant compared to the rest. Second is the explosive burning of the propellant for the bullet. Third is the sound of the bullet passing through the air. The standard ammunition for almost all modern firearms propels the bullet at supersonic speed, producing what is called a "ballistic crack", that is, the sonic boom from the bullet. A suppressor can reduce the second category, but can do nothing about the third--because it occurs after the bullet has left the gun.(foot#11)

1. My blog "^The 'You're despicable' style of politics^", 2016-09-22

2. No sympathy for targets in Town Hall:
During the Republican Presidential Primary, I judged Senator Marco Rubio to be behaving like an arrogant, dogmatic, disrespectful, entitled teenager. So him facing versions of himself was karma.
The NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch's belligerence is routinely over-the-top, but usually in venues where she is throwing red meat to the true believers. What I have seen of her speaking to the general public--as at the "Town Hall"--she tends to be somewhat more reasonable.

3. Video essay: ^CNN & the Intellectual Shield Children | You're Either With Us or Against Us^ (12:18) - Matt Christiansen, 2018-02-21.

4. Video essay: ^The Worst Part of the CNN Gun Town Hall | Kid Activist v Marco Rubio^ (12:11) - Matt Christiansen, 2018-02-23.

5. Video presenting detailed examination: ^"18th School Shooting of 2018" - Be Skeptical | Parkland, Florida^ (8:44) - Matt Christiansen, 2018-02-16. In the Show More expanded description, there are links to reports on the 18 incidents, media reporting of the press release, and to the advocacy organization.

6. Manipulation of statistics:
Video: ^Vox Rebuttal: Gun Control Propaganda Debunked^ (19:48) - StevenCrowder, 2017-03-17.
Takes apart a long stream of misuse of statistics. This is interesting both for the topic and for the technique. Also see if you can spot where he himself is abusing statistics.
Vox Media Inc is a collection of media sites that are decidedly left-leaning and partisan advocacy.
The video being critiqued is ^The state of gun violence in the US, explained in 18 charts^ (7:09) - Vox, 2016-02-22.
The related article is ^America's gun problem, explained^ by German Lopez - Vox, originally published 2015-10-03 and updated on 2018-02-15.

7. Saving the few kills more:
See the section Base Rate Fallacy of my blog ^Swastikas, censorship, false positives and kittens^, 2017-09-07.

8. Historical details on replacement of muzzleloaders:
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), muzzleloaders were the most common rifle, but breechloaders were beginning to be widely used, both single shot and repeating (magazine-fed). Most notable was the ^Spencer repeating rifle^, which can be regarded as the "assault rifle" of its day. In Europe, a single-shot bolt-action breechloader --^Dreyse Needle Gun^--had become the standard rifle of the Prussian army during the 1860s (some units had it in the mid-1850s). The superior French ^Chassepot^ was in widespread use in the French army during the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. By 1870, no significant country regarded a muzzleloader as a viable battlefield rifle. World War I combat was dominated by artillery and the machine gun, but saw the development of automatic weapons for individual soldiers: the submachine gun and the first automatic rifle (precursor to the modern assault rifle).

9. Hydrostatic shock:
"^What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns^" by Heather Sher - The Atlantic, 2018-02-22.
"They weren't the first victims of a mass shooting the Florida radiologist had seen--but their wounds were radically different." Recognize that the doctor's descriptions of how the damage was created is not from direct knowledge, but from the (controversial) literature. However, the description of the wounds is useful knowledge.

10. The silenced Sten Gun: Listen for yourself:
Video: ^Sterling Mk5 Suppressor (L34A1)/HD^ (1:21) - Kafkanishian, 2014-10-26. To get a sense of the sound level, notice the level of the mechanical noise from it operating. The famous Nazi commando leader Otto Skorzeny claimed to have had a soldier fire a full clip from a suppressed Sten gun while walking a few paces behind some generals. Although the generals didn't hear it, they still refused to support such a gun (another own goal for the Nazis).

11. Ballistic crack:
The video ^What a Silencer really Sounds Like^ (3:10, cued at 0:50) - Garry Thomas, 2009-10-06.
This is a demonstration of a pistol first without a suppressor and then with one. Because this pistol--a Walther P22--uses relatively low-power ammunition (.22-caliber LR rimfire), a screw-on suppressor is very effective at eliminating the noise from the propellant. What you hear is the ballistic crack and some mechanical noise.

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The ^Guidelines^ for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.