Security or Liberty

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”  H.L. Mencken

“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it.” – H.L. Mencken

Both of these quotes were attributed to H.L. Mencken, a  well known journalist, satirist,  and scholar known as the “Sage of Baltimore” and  one of the most influential writers of the the first half of the twentieth century.  Most importantly, he was often noted as being largely libertarian with a noted distrust in representative democracy, a system that he believed was where “inferior men dominated their superiors”.   Now me, I’m a fan of our government, as designed by our founding fathers, but I’ll have to admit, Mencken may be on to something with that last line.  However, the two quotes above were attributed to Mencken in the early 1920’s.  One would have to wonder what he would say about American life today?  

True to Mencken’s words, post 9-11, America was inudtaed  with the political class and the media tossing out accusations of impeding doom to warrant the creation of some new measure by government.  The rush to expand the surveillance state in the name of safety started to look more like a grand prix rally than responsible , valid government, but to what end?

We’ve all experienced that walk of shame at the airport, feeling like a sorority girl after an all night frat party, after having gone thru the pat and tickle exercise at the hands of the TSA, but has it done any good?  It might surprise you to know that since it’s inception, the TSA has had over 400 agents arrested for stealing from the people they were designed to protect, but after $900 million  and untold number of crotch grabs later, the number of arrested terrorists or foiled attempts to harm our country is zero.

Additionally, via a fellow named Edward Snowden, we all learned that our government has basically relegated the 4th amendment to role of  a doormat by  recording and listening in every phone call, text, and email in order to “stop terrorism”.  One has to ask though, if the real goal was to stop terrorists, shouldn’t the focus be paid border security or due diligence in the Visa and immigration offices, rather than turn the spying on the American Citizen?  Ah, that would be the smart and logical choice but, unfortunately, smarts and logic aren’t exactly in vast supply around government circles.

Lastly, we have the DHS, to help secure America from all those terrorists behind every tree awaiting to destroy us and coordinate our national defense.  However, I think someone forgot that we already had the National Security  Agency to do that, but I digress.  Anyways, with the a big budget and almost unlimited resources the Department of Homeland Security (Am I the only one that gets a bit weirded out upon hearing the term “homeland” and subconsciously seeing goose stepping dome hats on the streets?) has surely been able to provided significant advances in terms of security, yes?

Well, according to a 141-page senate oversight panel report, the DHS  U.S. Counterterrorism Centers have failed to provide any valuable information, instead providing uneven, untimely, shoddy intelligence that has been acknowledged as “predominately useless” bye DHS officials.  Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), goes on to state,

It’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties”

In short, the agency that was commissioned as a reassurance of our fears of terrorism, has spent between $289M and $1.4B in public funds to support these centers that have provide no valuable return in that regard.  Combine this with the TSA, who falls under DHS authority, and we have a agency that is proving to be wholly impotent at it’s task, but cited for endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act violations.  Furthermore, when questioned by Congress regarding these failures, DHS resisted any oversight and opted out of providing requested documentation to congress on grounds of “sensitivity and confidentiality”. 

In spite of these failures however, we watch as the DHS increasingly militarizes themselves and local police.  With reports of DHS buying 1.6 million rounds of ammunition, some which being hollow points (illegal under the Hauge Convention) and 2700 mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, (again, images of goose stepping, stahlhelm wearing, foreigners fill my head),  shouldn’t we be concerned of a secretive agency, held up as a defender of our safety, having this much power?

All of this comes down to a simple matter, safety cannot be bought, only temporarily rented.   Safety is fleeting and always being challenged by some new threat, however, liberty and freedom, once surrendered is difficult to reclaim.   The government, along with a complicent media, attempts to increase fear using the menacing hobgoblin of terrorism, both here and abroad.  The goal being to convince us that liberty and safety are a delicate balance, one that government should hold the exclusive power to maintain. However, this idea is the very anti-thesis of the principals upon which our nation were founded.   The principals are that individual freedom and liberty are supreme, and that the people only consent to government as a means to secure and protect those principals.

We must remember, we, as a people, are inherently charged with our own safety.   While there are portions of our safety that we simply aren’t equipped to manage, we have provided government with limited authority to do so for us.   These things include border security, due diligence in the application and issuance of visas and green cards, and in the realms of foreign intelligence.  However, when we see that the government starts to shift it’s eye inward, towards the people, or fail to succeed in that authority then concern should be raised to the highest levels. 

Should we let  “menacing hobgoblins” used by government to instill fear  influence us to a point that we willingly surrender our freedoms, we will find ourselves no longer worthy of the birthright provided to us by our founding fathers.  When the balance between safety and liberty are called into questions, liberty must always reign supreme.  For the simple truth is that liberty and safety can never be balanced, for they are never equals.  We are nation of free men, and as free men, we grant to government the power to protect our freedoms of life, liberty,  and pursuit of happiness.   It is this grant from the people that creates safety, so it cannot be possible for government to seek to take from us that which the grant enables. Should government to subjugate our rights in the name of safety, even in the name of the few, then liberty cannot exist and we are duty bound to resist.

The ATF’s Green Tip Hysteria

(originally written and posted on Unapologetically American)

In a totally expected unexpected move by the ATF, the agency in charge of all my favorite vices has filed a motion to reclassify common ammunition as armor piercing.  Specifically, this reclassification would affect M855, or “Green Tip” ammo. 

Citing safety of Law Enforcement Officers as the primary reasoning, the ATF contends that the introduction and sale of AR style handguns has now moved the M855 ammo into the statutory definition of armor piercing under the Gun Control Act of 1986 and out of the realm of “primarily intended for sporting purposes”.  Therefore, they are looking to “streamline” the ATF process for exempting ammunition and reverse the previous exemption for M855 made in 1986.

Despite the fact that there is no limitation of the 2nd amendment to “sporting purposes only”, there are several other fallacies with this attempt by the ATF to effectively ban commonplace M855 ammo.  Each of them proving that these rules are enacted by federal bureaucrats and politicians who can’t tell the difference between a bolt carrier group and a trigger guard. 

First and foremost, this reclassification attempt is premised on the fact that the ammo can now be used in handguns, thus alluding to the fallacy that such action makes the ammo more “dangerous”.   As an agency tasked with the regulation of all things firearm related, you would expect them to have a greater understanding of ballistics.  The fact is that rifle caliber ammo is inherently more powerful than pistol calibers and all will easily bypass the soft body armor worn by police.  The key differentiator here is velocity, not construction. 

In a study done by  Small Arms Defense Journal titled “Barrel Length Studies in 5.56MM NATO Weapons”, it was found that for the M855 to have a lethal wound channel, the projectile must have a velocity of ~2,500 ft/sec upon impact.  Any velocity below that simply drills a 1/4” hole thru the target, resulting in a frequently non-lethal wound unless a vital structure is impacted.   This was further confirmed by the group over at Ballistics by the Inch that showed significant loss of energy by .223/5.56 calibers, with almost a 1,000 ft/sec drop from 18” to 6” barrels.  By referencing it’s use in handguns, the ATF ignores the fact that the M855 is less lethal in the firearms that they claim justify its “reclassification” showing that this is nothing more than an attempt to restrict by fiat.

Secondly, this reclassification is based on the “characteristics” of the firearm used to fire the ammo, nothing more.  In summary, the ability to ban ammunition as “armor piercing” is based its ability to be used in the following criteria: 

“Any firearm not deemed a “single shot handgun”, meaning a break-open or bolt action handgun that accepts only a single cartridge manually and does not accept or use a magazine or ammunition feeding device.”

Consider that definition carefully.  Does anyone else see the slippery slope of exclusion and scope creep here?  Admittedly, the ATF is only claiming this definition for ammo bans to “rifle” calibers, but considering the sale of rifles utilizing “pistol calibers” such as the Hi-Point 9MM carbine, how long till the ATF decides to reclassify all ammo as “rifle caliber” since it “may be used” in both a rifle and handgun.  After all, the agency is justifying this move on the failure of Congress to specifically define terms in the Law Enforcement Protection Act, in which they included the terms “may be used” rather than the more specific terms of the Gun Control Act that stated “designed for use”.  Already, this would impact not only the M855 round, but also .224, .308, .430 and .458 bullets because each of these “may” be used in handguns fitting the above definition.  Using this “logic”, the ATF could simply attempt to reclassify all ammunition at their whim, because hey, “We are the government and we just make stuff up as we go along”.

Additionally, the realistic effect of this ban would have the exact opposite impact that the ATF is proposing.  Their stated purpose is to improve the safety of law enforcement officers and to do this, they suggest taking a less combat effective ammo out of circulation, but leave a more combat effective ammo in place.  It should be noted that the M855 (SS109) ammunition has be criticized by combat troops due to its tendency to create pinpoint wound tracks that effectively leave the enemy “combat ready” despite multiple hits.  In comparison, the FMJ ammunition has the ability to “mushroom” creating a much larger, substantially more grievous, wound.  It is this difference that led to the adoption of the MK318 & MK 262 ammunition by our combat forces.

The ATF also states the overwhelming requests for “armor piercing” exemptions as an added need for this change, however, this rise of exemption requests is a direct result of Government interference regulation.  The Military’s anti-lead movement combined with EPA attempts to ban lead ammunition (thankfully blocked by a federal court) and EPA actions that closed the last primary lead smelter in the US,  have resulted in ammunition manufacturers attempting to preempt impending regulations by creating more steel and copper based bullets.  Yet, the definition of “armor piercing” states that a projectile is considered as such if it meets the following:

(i) a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or

(ii) A full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.

So, the government is moving to ban the use of lead, but constructing a bullet that “may” be used in a handgun of any other reasonable substance would fall under the statutory definition of yet another ban?  Seems kind of like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario, until some illustrious manufacturer finds a way to construct a bullet from pure fairy dust or marshmallow crème.  While I will never underestimate the ingenuity of the American entrepreneur, I’m not holding my breath for that to become reality anytime soon.

The final fallacy is that the M855 round doesn’t even meet the legal definition of “armor piercing”.  As stated above, the bullet used is not constructed entirely of any of the substances stated.  The M855/SS109 bullets are in fact a lead core with a steel tip.  In reading the 18 USC Sec. 921 (a) (17) code, the M855 bullet falls outside of this definition, but that matters little to the ATF.  Instead, using intelligence only capable of federal bureaucrats, they chose to narrowly view the legal definition to the “may be used in the handgun” portion of the code and ignore all other defining language within.  Again, “We are the government, we do what we want” mentality take hold here.  

Since it doesn’t fit the definition, the only conclusion is that the government is using the premise of “scary looking” to justify the exclusion of “green tip” ammo as an end run to gun control.  Any bets on how long it takes the ATF to open a new position of “Ammunition Inspection Application Specialist” who’s only duty is to walk into ammo plants with a supply of nail polish to paint bullet tips green to justify further exclusion?

Remember, this ban is only proposed at this point.  For all the reasons above, and considering the slippery slope of the measure, all citizens should voice their opinion on this apparent overreach by the ATF.  Below you will find the address and contact information for the proposal’s open comment period.  You have until March 16th to make your opinions known.  I suggest we bombard them with such!
Comments can be made via the ATF’s website at APAComments@atf.gov or faxed to 202-648-9741.  Additionally, you can mail comments to the following address.  Feel free to do all three.

ATTN: AP Ammo Comments

Denise Brown

Mailstop 6N-02

Office of Regulatory Affairs

Enforcement Programs and Services


99 New York Avenue, NE

Washington, DC 20226