The Sacred Love of a Soldier and His XM-8 Rifle

Though I have much love and respect for the M-16, and it has served us well for 4 (!) decades, I can't deny my excitement over the weapon of the future. Check out the video in that story to see the XM-8 rifle in action, and check out this page for more details:

The XM-8 is a model of efficiency in use: its operation controls are ambidextrous, it has three firing modes (single round, three-round burst, and fully automatic), and can handle a variety of magazines, including a 30 round semi-opaque (to allow the shooter to see how many rounds are left in the magazine) hard plastic magazine, which can be rapidly reloaded in close combat situations, and a 100-round drum (for sustained fire), as well as 10-round weapon qualification magazines and M-16 style metal magazines.

Whether the user is a sniper or part of an attack team, the XM-8 can accommodate all uses. It uses four different interchangeable barrels (a 9" compact, a 12.5" assault, a 20" match grade sharpshooter, or a 20" heavy barrel for sustained high ROF applications), each of which can be swapped out at the unit level in less than 2 minutes. The weapon can also be equipped with a 5-position collapsible stock, a flat butt plate (for an extremely small weapon profile), an adjustable sniper stock, or a folding stock.

The XM-8 doesn't skimp on optics, either. Its optics/sight package is an "all-in-one" combination: an infrared laser target designator, IR target illuminator and 1x close combat red-dot sight. In addition to incorporating the three sights into one system, the sight is zeroed at the factory and can be removed and reinstalled by the operator without specialized tools, or the loss of zero.

And here's an an in-depth article by Global Security.

Oh, and a picture:

xm8.jpg

Further Thoughts on the Assault Weapons Ban

I'm sticking to my position that the defeat of gun manufacturer immunity in exchange for non-renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban is a victory for Democrats and gun control proponents. Though the liability issue has been less salient with a Republican administration in office (and thus no federal support for lawsuits against gun manufacturers), in the long run I think it is an issue that really scares the makers of firearms. That's why the Republicans were pushing it so hard, and why they'll continue to do so.

On the other hand, the Assaults Weapon Ban has always been little more than a cosmetic canard that does little to prevent gun crime. It does not even really do much to ban the very weapons people think it bans. Today, with your credit card, you can buy a near replica of the Army's excellent M-4 rifle. I know, because I owned one last year before deciding it was too much money to have invested in a single firearm. The only differences? There's no flash suppressor, there must be a pistol grip, and the buttstock is not collapsible. Real effective, huh?

Not at all. And that is why, though an excellent public relations tool for Democrats (black guns are scary), it was never of much functional value and will not be much missed if it expires. On the contrary, it is the perfect gun control poster issue for Democrats, not entirely unlike the partial-birth abortion ban for Republicans. Just as even many pro-choice voters are uncomfortable with these late term abortion procedures, so are many hunters and handgun owners uncomfortable with military-style weaponry in the hands of private citizens.

And yet both laws cover such a small number of cases, they serve better as PR vehicles than as actual legislation. If the AWB expires in September, expect to hear about it in closely contested races come November. I think the Democrats are better off letting the gun issue die a quiet death, but if they choose to continue to fight, this is the best terrain they're going to get. Unfortunately for Democrats, the vote came in such a convoluted and confusing manner (heck, most Democrats and most Republicans voted against the bill) that it may not be an easy sell.

In addition, Bush may have bought himself some cover with his continued public support of the AWB, and I've suggested before that he may have done so knowing full well that congressional Republicans would never let it pass, thus keeping the NRA heat off his back. Looks like that strategy has worked pretty well, but we won't know for sure until September.

Senate Votes to Extend AWB

The Senate voted today to extend the Assault Weapons Ban past its current September expiration, as well as closing a loophole in gun show sales:

By a 52-47 vote, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday moved to reauthorize the 1994 assault weapons ban, which is to expire in September.

The measures, along with another that allows off-duty and retired police officers to carry concealed weapons across state lines, are attached to a Senate bill that insulates gun manufacturers from potentially ruinous lawsuits except those involving illegal sales or defective parts. That bill was still awaiting a vote.

The Senate also voted, 53-45, in favor of an amendment that closes a loophole on sales of weapons at gun shows.

I predict both of these amendments will fail to pass the House, but it'll be interesting to see what happens in conference. Many a progressive Senate amendment has died in conference, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that happen here.

UPDATE: Wow. With those amendments attached, the gunmaker immunity bill was defeated 90-8:

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, the bill's principal sponsor, said the issue "will not go away." But he said the bill, as amended, was a "bad bill."

"I would not send to this president or any president a bad bill of the kind that was crafted here in the Senate through the amendment process over the last several days," he said.

Is this how it is all going to end up? No gun manufacturer immunity from lawsuit, but no more Assault Weapons Ban? Considering how absolutely silly, ineffective, and unnecessary I think the latter is, this would actually amount to an excellent exchange for gun control proponents.

Guns and Politics

In an article largely devoted to the new positioning of Democrats on gun issues comes this interesting tidbit about the upcoming vote on renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban:

Guns have been largely silent in this presidential campaign. But Congress is forcing the issue into the open with a vote scheduled Tuesday on renewing the ban on assault-type weapons and extending background checks to gun shows.

Candidates John Kerry and John Edwards, the only Democrats to miss a Senate vote on another gun issue last week, have been summoned back from campaigning to bolster the party's ranks for what is expected to be a close vote.

And some interesting stats from the last election:

In the 2000 election, roughly half of voters were from gun-owner households, and they voted for Bush by 61 percent to 36 percent, according to exit polls. The voters from non-gun owner households, voted for Gore by 58-39.

I added some emphasis there, because I suspect that many of the people in the circles I travel in (and thus those most likely to read this blog) are relatively unaware of how widespread the gun culture is in this country, for better or worse.

Some might see those statistics and think that support for gun control may have helped win a lot of the 58% of non-gun owners who voted for Gore. But I think common sense suggests that the people who view gun control as a deciding factor in voting tend to be those who oppose it. I thought this was a losing issue for Democrats from the get-go, and the past ten years have done nothing to change my opinion. And even if none of the current proposals are particularly controversial, the Democrats are fighting an uphill battle to remove the "anti-gun" label which they've been tainted by for some time.

Assault Weapons Ban

I was just thinking that we haven't heard a whole lot about the fact that the Assault Weapons Ban is set to expire this September. Lo and behold, the Democrats are already making it an issue:

A Republican-led bill to immunize gun makers from wrongful-death claims is expected to hit the floor tomorrow, but Democrats and liberal Republicans will propose an amendment to extend the federal assault-weapons ban, possibly setting up a showdown with the House.

Exciting, exciting stuff. President Bush has explicitly endorsed both of these proposals, favoring immunity and an extension of the AWB. Many have suspected that his support for the latter was likely conditioned on knowledge that House Republicans vigorously oppose it, thus leaving him a way to publicly endorse it without the hostility that would be aroused in his conservative base if it were actually passed. It looks like this issue is really headed for a showdown, and the timeline suggests it will occur right in the spotlight of the presidential election campaign.

This will be one to watch.

Ohio Concealed Carry

Via Kevin Holtsberry, I see that concealed carry advocates have won an excellent victory in Ohio. The political machinations are interesting on their own: Governor Taft apparently opposed the bill until a provision was added making the permit records semi-public. And there's this:

In the legislature, the issue has not been partisan but rather a debate between urban lawmakers, whose districts have higher crime rates, and rural and suburban lawmakers who say their constituents need guns for protection.

That sounds right, and fits with Democratic support for gun control in more rural areas (Howard Dean, anyone?). It's interesting to read that the most influential opposition (now dropped) came from law enforcement. Most of my own contacts in law enforcement have been big proponents of concealed carry. In fact, when I went to get fingerprinted at my county sheriff's office (a requirement for concealed carry here in Virginia), the sheriff came out of his office, shook my hand, and thanked me for applying for a permit. Turns out that years earlier, as a delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates, he had sponsored the original concealed carry law.

Of course, some are opposed to the new law. It has even brought out some despicable threats on the part of Ohio's highest-circulated newspaper.

You see, the law makes information of who purchases permits available to journalists, but not to the general public. As a result, the Cleveland Plain Dealer (which opposes the bill) has published this threat:

Since Taft chooses to hide behind journalists on this vital public-records matter, it is this newspaper's intention to obtain this information and publish it. Our readers deserve to know the identities of those who obtain permits to carry their guns in public. We hope other news organizations will do the same in their communities.

This information is kept private in many states without difficulty. In many states, journalists do not even have access. Anyhow, I have three responses to their threat:

1) Go ahead, make my day. The only thing about concealed carry laws better than allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves is the deterrent factor it might create among criminals who now know their potential victim might be armed. I'd like to be on a published "don't mess with me" list.

2) The unfortunate side-effect of this would be that it might provide a list to criminals of who has guns in their home. Though this should have a deterrent effect based on fear of being shot, it might also provide incentive as a potential source of stolen firearms.

3) What really bothers me is that it seems likely to me that the Cleveland Plain Dealer doesn't really care at all about "public access." I mean, what is the real benefit of such access? Would anyone exercise it? Even if a "public right to know" seems abstractly attractive as a principle, it seems minor and largely irrelevant in this case. And considering the paper's longstanding opposition to concealed carry, I have trouble believing that this is anything more than a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade Ohio citizens from exercising their rights as provided by the 2nd Amendment and the new Ohio statute. I consider that a cheap political ploy, and an abuse of journalistic power.

Of course, the newspaper probably doesn't know who they are messing with. Scroll down a couple stories at this site to see a representative reaction from the online firearm community:

As soon as they publish permit holders' names, we'll publish the names, phone numbers and home addresses of every single person on staff at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

That's the first thing that would happen, and I have little doubt the reaction (via phone calls, emails, letters, etc.) would be tremendous. The second would be a quiet little bill next term which removed even journalist's access to the information.

Anyhow, this is a small complaint amidst a big and well-earned victory for Ohio citizens generally, and gun owners in particular.

Victory for the NRA and the First Amendment

Howard Bashman and Eugene Volokh have both pointed out the excellent ruling handed down today by the 4th Circuit, striking down the Albemarle County (VA) school district dress code that banned the wearing of an NRA shirt to school. Longtime readers of my solo blog likely know that I am a member of both the NRA and the ACLU, so a case that finds those organizations on the same side is very exciting for me.

Even moreso, this took place in my backyard (I live in Albemarle County, just outside Charlottesville). The boy who tried to wear the NRA t-shirt practices his marksmanship at my gun club, and I believe his parents are fellow members. I've been following the case fairly closely, and am extremely pleased with the result.

Volokh has a photo of the t-shirt here, and the 4th Circuit decision can be found here.

Another Reason to Be Nice to the Person Behind the Counter

My local gunshop had a used FN Police Shotgun for $250 (they run ~$375 new), and I brought it home this morning.

It is my first shotgun, and I plan on using it for skeet-shooting, home defense, and plinking. Can't wait to introduce it to some textbooks!

The ACLU and the 2nd Amendment II

There are some great comments to my original post on the ACLU and the 2nd Amendment, but I think the conversation got a bit off track and I want to clarify what the post was really supposed to be about.

I'm not trying to advocate a particular position on the 2nd Amendment, as my own is still pretty murky. Instead, what I'm trying to do is criticize (constructively, as it is an organization I love) the ACLU for not giving a sufficient explanation for their abandonment of the 2nd Amendment as a constitutional protection worth fighting for.

One of the most common responses in the comments was that the text of the 2nd Amendment is different from the others in the Bill of Rights because of its explanatory clause ("being necessary to the security of a free State").

But my argument is that the ACLU (and other liberal/libertarians) take that textual point (despite not being textualists), read it narrowly (despite not being strict constructionists), and thus justify a restrictive interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, in a way that would never be done with the other amendments.

If the issue were not gun rights, but speech or due process, that same text would be read broadly, e.g. couldn't the "security of a free State" include the need for self-defense against neighbors and/or invading armies, or the guarantee of an ability to hunt food?

I'm not suggesting that this is either the correct or most natural interpretation of that text, but what I wonder is why the same groups that read everything else broadly (e.g. a broad unenumerated right to privacy, a broad right to free speech, broad rights against self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizure, and even required funding of the right to counsel, all of which I agree with by the way) not only refuse to do so for the 2nd Amendment but read it in such a way as to nullify it as a constitutional protection.

The ACLU and the 2nd Amendment

In a post below broadly praising the ACLU, I made a passing reference about that organization's continued denial that the 2nd Amendment exists. In comments, JoeF suggested that the NRA doesn't need any help on this issue. (Incidentally, I am a member of both).

Now there's no denying that the NRA has made defending the 2nd Amendment a main focus, and it is a very powerful group. But does anyone believe that the primary reason the ACLU doesn't do any 2nd Amendment advocacy (or even mention it on their website) is that the NRA already has it covered? I sure don't.

An organization whose motto is "Defending the Bill of Rights" ought not pick and choose which of those rights to defend. I'm not even demanding that they take a particular position on the 2nd Amendment. I just don't like that they pretend it doesn't exist.

For fun, I ran a search on their website for "the right to bear arms." The only relevant result:

The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution

I think that's telling.

UPDATE: I spoke too fast. I dug a little deeper and found an archived position paper on the ACLU's website:

The ACLU has often been criticized for "ignoring the Second Amendment" and refusing to fight for the individual's right to own a gun or other weapons. This issue, however, has not been ignored by the ACLU. The national board has in fact debated and discussed the civil liberties aspects of the Second Amendment many times.

We believe that the constitutional right to bear arms is primarily a collective one, intended mainly to protect the right of the states to maintain militias to assure their own freedom and security against the central government. In today's world, that idea is somewhat anachronistic and in any case would require weapons much more powerful than handguns or hunting rifles. The ACLU therefore believes that the Second Amendment does not confer an unlimited right upon individuals to own guns or other weapons nor does it prohibit reasonable regulation of gun ownership, such as licensing and registration.

I don't think that's an entirely undefendable position, though I think it suspicious that the ACLU of all organizations would consider one of the amendments to be granting a collective right. I am glad to hear at least that it is a topic that has been frequently debated. Still I do have problems with some of their reasoning:

Unless the Constitution protects the individual's right to own all kinds of arms, there is no principled way to oppose reasonable restrictions on handguns, Uzis or semi-automatic rifles. If indeed the Second Amendment provides an absolute, constitutional protection for the right to bear arms in order to preserve the power of the people to resist government tyranny, then it must allow individuals to possess bazookas, torpedoes, SCUD missiles and even nuclear warheads, for they, like handguns, rifles and M-16s, are arms. Moreover, it is hard to imagine any serious resistance to the military without such arms. Yet few, if any, would argue that the Second Amendment gives individuals the unlimited right to own any weapons they please. But as soon as we allow governmental regulation of any weapons, we have broken the dam of Constitutional protection. Once that dam is broken, we are not talking about whether the government can constitutionally restrict arms, but rather what constitutes a reasonable restriction.

But wouldn't this apply equally to speech? Can you imagine the ACLU making this its basic position on the 1st Amendment?

Unless the Constitution protects the individual's right to engage in all kinds of speech, there is no principled way to oppose reasonable restrictions on newspapers, protests, or flag burning. If indeed the First Amendment provides an absolute, constitutional protection for the right to freedom of speech, then it must allow individuals to cry fire in a crowded theater, commit libel and defamation, and threaten and harass with impunity. Yet few, if any, would argue that the First Amendment gives individiuals the unlimited right to freedom of speech. But as soon as we allow governmental regulation of any speech, we have broken the dam of Constitutional protection. Once that dam is broken, we are not talking about whether the government can constitutionally restrict speech, but rather what constitutes a reasonable restriction.

That sounds about right, but you don't see the ACLU giving up its strident defense of the 1st Amendment. I think there's obviously something else going on here.

Firing Squads

Proud day to be from Utah:

Exercising their right under Utah law, a serial killer, Roberto Arguelles, and Troy Michael Kell, a white supremacist who stabbed a fellow inmate to death, have chosen the firing squad over lethal injection and are set to die at 12:01 a.m. on June 27 and 28, respectively.

As far as executions go, I don't really see why it matters which of these methods they use if it is the inmate who chooses. On the other hand, this part seems quite odd:

One of the five rifles will contain a blank so that no one will know who fired the fatal shots.

Not having had the unfortunate experience of ever shooting anyone, I can't speak from any source of personal knowledge on this topic. But I have doubts about what sort of benefit the executioners will get from the knowledge that there is only an 80% chance their gun fired a live round. I'm not sure it would make me feel any better, and it might inhibit me from confronting and dealing with my responsibility head on.

AWB and President Bush

This is obviously a very limited sample, and who knows if they'd really stick to their guns (oooh, bad pun), but some of the folks over at AR15.COM are pretty steamed at the idea of President Bush signing an extension of the Assault Weapons Ban.

The Forbidden Topic

Matthew Yglesias has realized what a bad idea it is to write about guns. I think he's right on this one. If you don't have an opinion on it, I'd stay out. Heck, I have a whole rucksack full of opinions and still try and keep my mouth shut.

I also think PG's intuition in the comments is probably correct:

I think that gun control is fought mostly from the gut. Each side is fueled by people with very strong emotions, often coming from personal experience. The Bradys' vehemence on gun control makes complete sense to me -- the man got shot, for chrissakes. On the flipside, people who have grown up around guns and used them for sport and self defense feel personally attacked by the thought of gun control.

This certainly provide some explanation for my own varied stances on gun issues. I grew up in a home without guns, never hunted (and never will), and never raised an eyebrow at gun control. Then I joined ROTC, learned to shoot a M16, and enjoyed the experience so much that I am now a gun-owner.

I have mixed feelings on the constitutional objections to gun control laws, but I think everyone ought to be concerned with how incredibly stupid some of these laws are, the AWB being a prime example. It's just a poorly written law that covers mostly cosmetics and a list of guns that LOOK scary but actually pose much less danger of being used in a crime than a pump shotgun or revolver (I'm sorry I keep harping on this). Those who oppose gun control will obviously oppose this law. But even those who favor gun control ought to take a hard look at a law like this and try and figure out whether it's really doing any good. If not, why spend so much political capital on it?

Assault Weapons Ban

It'll be real interesting to see how this plays out:

The House of Representatives will not extend a 1994 assault weapons ban set to expire next year despite President Bush's call for its renewal, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said.

"The votes in the House are not there to reauthorize it," said DeLay, a Texas Republican and staunch foe of gun control.

The 1994 ban on military-style assault weapons expires in 2004 unless Congress renews it. Bush, who generally opposes additional gun control legislation, has said he believes the ban should remain in effect.

There's a lot of conflicting opinions on whether gun control has helped or hurt the Democrats, but I suspect that the Assault Weapons Ban itself is not a particularly controversial law among mainstream Americans. If Tom Delay really is responsible for the renewed manufacturing of AK-47s, it might be worth bringing up in the elections next year. (aside: I personally don't think AK-47s are any more dangerous than pump shotguns or revolvers, which constitute a much higher portion of guns used in crimes; nonetheless, most Americans think they are scary-looking and are thus more willing to see them regulated).

On that note, I'm off to the gun range. Going to punch some paper with my 9mm.

Right to Bear Arms

The N.R.A. is not going to like this!

"Iraq has a culture of weapons. There are a lot of them around, most held quite legally," said Captain Cliff Dare, of 3 Commando Brigade Engineer Group.

"If we want to give the new Iraq a chance these weapons have to be taken out of circulation."

Gun Club

Strangest thing about the gun club: how nice and gentle all of the members seem to be, and also how old. Most of the board members are retired senior citizens who have a lot of time on their hands and like being involved in various projects (clean-up, construction, charity events). Not the stereotypical image of paranoid gun-nuts.

Con Law Field Trip

Via Talkleft, I see Instapundit took his Constitutional Law class on a field trip to a shooting range (great idea!):

The students got a chance to shoot a variety of guns, from a .45 automatic to a .357 magnum revolver to an HK MP5 submachinegun, which last was especially popular with a couple of the women. Indeed, the bellicose-women trend was pretty visible in the class. All the students had been shooting before, something you probably wouldn't find in a law school in the Northeast or in California, but the women were notably enthusiastic. (One even knew from experience that Tuesday is "ladies' day" -- free range time -- at Guncraft.)

I suppose that in some ways the teaching value would have been higher if some of the students hadn't had any experience with guns. On the other hand, perhaps the legal parts of the lesson would have been eclipsed by the sheer novelty of the experience. And I'm just happy to have had a successful field trip in a class that doesn't lend itself to field trips very well.

I have long felt that taking those unfamiliar with weapons would do well to take a trip to the shooting range with a gun-owning friend or family member. It may not effect your views on gun laws, gun ownership, or gun owners (I am a relatively liberal gun-owner), but it might. It certainly might add a bit more substance to whatever views you hold. Every assumption about the gun owner as gun nut or right-winger is inadequate to explain me, and I know I'm not the only one who doesn't fit the profile.

Precision Shooting

National Defense Magazine has a great article on precision rifle shooting in the Marine Corps, including everything from the rifles to the precision-weapon armorers. Check it out.

Guns and Law School

Our weekly law school newspaper here included an article about a law professor's membership in the local gun club. It was not a news article, it was actually a fairly humorous and well-intended feature. As a likely future member of the same club, I'll be interested to see if any letters to the editor result from the article.