Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Would You Believe that Flood Insurance is Bankrupt?

Yes, the National Flood Insurance Program is nearing bankruptcy. And any Tom, Dick, or Harry that has a modicum of knowledge about economics could see it coming from a long way off. The National Flood Insurance Program is for places that are too great of a risk for private insurers. Why is this?

Because they flood all of the time. Ergo, private insurers are smart enough to realize that these are sucker's bets. And private insurers don't take sucker's bets. But the government (in the name of compassion) is more than happy to. Well for 40 years the NFIP has been insuring these homes that shouldn't be insured, and rebuilding them, and rebuilding them again, and sometimes rebuilding them some more. I had a friend in Houston whose parents lived in a flood prone plain. Their home was flooded (as in you are sloshing through water on the first floor) at least three times over a 10-15 year period.

For those who may live in the desert, there is a reason why we don't live in the ocean and have more experience exploring the moon than the seas. Water tends to have the nasty habit of destroying things. Even "waterproof" things. Floods have the nasty habit of bringing water (and whatever else is in the vicinity - mud, oil, gasoline, algae, mold spores, etc.) into places we don't want it. All that stuff tends to destroy things faster than water does. Here's an experiment for you. Take a wet washcloth (not dripping wet, just more than damp) and leave it on your 14 step coated (including waterproof polyurethane top coat) dining room table (or chair, or china hutch, etc.) overnight. Be sure to have your Mom or Wife or Significant Other's permission before you do it. Now imagine that the table is immersed in water, for three days, and there happens to be some nice solvents mixed in as well.

My wife and I bought one rental property that also happened to be in the a flood plain. To be more precise, the very back corner of the lot (which dipped down towards the gulley behind it) was in the flood plain. The building itself was at least 50 feet away from the flood plain. The place had never flooded (and didn't have a basement to flood first either) in the thirty years it had been standing. Two houses on one side of it did not have any part of their property in the flood plain. Yet, because of the layout of the building and the street, both of them were actually closer to the boundaries of the flood plain than my structure was. Yet, I had to insure my property with flood insurance.

Flood insurance cost as much (if not a little more) than property insurance. I am sure that the private insurer loved my property since there was little to no chance of it ever flooding. Yet the premium I paid was the same as a building that sat inside the flood plain. Insurance companies make their money based on risk. They try to figure out how much risk there is to action A, and then charge you X amount of dollars to cover that risk (based on the amount of people they insure that are going to engage in action A). They are a great barometer for things like safety since unlike a government dictate that says action B is safe, the insurance company has to put its money where its mouth is.

So, they will give you discounts for wearing a seatbelt (a safe action), but don't give a rat's rear end about how many guns you have in your home (something that is irrelevant to safety). If however, you do want to insure your guns against theft or damage beyond what your home owners insurance will cover (or your jewlery, or rare baseball card collection), then the insurance company may want to know how it is stored (i.e. in the closet = higher premium, case hardened multi bolt safe = lower premium)

For human induced risks (automobile accidents, home owners insurance), they have a lot of data and aren't worried about losing money on the deal. There is not some huge rash of car accidents that is going to bankrupt some company. For environmental related risks (huricanes, flooding, forest fires, etc.) they are more leary because the risk is less predictable. Hence, premiums are higher, policies are more restrictive and in some cases they just won't insure you (hence the NFIP). For crackpot induced risks (war and terrorism), they don't insure at all. Not because the risk is high (it is actually miniscule), however the localized costs are unpredictable and range from 0 to ginormous. Its a lot easier to predict how much damage a Category 5 hurricane will do to a major metropolitan area than what the next terrorist attack will be.

NFIP on the other hand, really doesn't care about the costs. They probably charge something similar to what a private company would charge for a less risky place. If they charged what the market rate was (i.e. what would be needed so that the NFIP was not underwater), then no one would be able to afford to live someplace like that. This is not rocket science, its risk analysis. Every successful business (insurance or otherwise) has figure this out long ago. Why can't our government (frankly, I don't care why not, I don't want the government in that business anyway).

Profit is an excellent incentive to determine the cost of risk. The insurance industry has been doing it successfully for centuries. Government hasn't done it successfully yet.

But then some people will lose their homes.

Yep, and then we won't have to pay to rebuild them over and over and over again. We sold that property after a year of holding it. There was no positive cashflow, the flood insurance basically ate it all up.

Monday, November 29, 2010

GUN "Almost" FACTS 101: Assualt Weapons

There is a series of videos from the organization "Protest Easy Guns" titled Gun Facts 101 that can be found on YouTube. Comments are not allowed so originally I had the idea of fisking them with my own video. Alas, that takes way too much time. So I just will do a line by line analysis of the "Almost Facts" (in italics) that are presented. The first one is Assault Weapons.

What is an assault weapon?
An assault weapon is a made up term by the gun control lobby from the late 1980s used to confuse people into thinking that they are machine guns. They're not. Semi-automatic firearms are distinct from assault rifles or machine guns in that they only fire one bullet with each pull of the trigger. Don't believe me, then let's just look at the words of the gun control lobby:

"Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and
plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the
public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic
assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a
machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on
these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these
weapons." -Josh Sugarman Violence Policy Center report Assault Weapons and
Accessories in America 1988 at http://www.vpc.org/studies/awaconc.htm

So to start with this debate is about a made up term with the gun control groups trying to capitalize on the confusion their made-up term engenders.

An assault weapon is a gun that is designed to be spray fired from the hip.
Spraying from the hip is a Hollywood anachronism. No competent military or law enforcement agency in the world teaches people to shoot from the hip. It exposes the entire person's body to return fire, it is less accurate, and there is no backstop (like a shoulder) to aid in the control of recoil. Some light machine guns CAN be fired from the hip while a soldier is moving to another position, but this is mainly to lay down supressive fire, not actually trying to hit anything. However, it wasn't specifically designed for this purpose.

In fact no firearm in current use was designed to be “spray fired from the hip”. A pistol grip actually hinders your limited ability to shoot from the hip, because of the awkward angle that you have to put your hand and wrist in. Of course, if you only believe half of what you see on TV and in the movies you would think that the majority of people can be deadly accurate shooting from the hip.

They were created to be used in trench warfare when soldiers found that regular long rifles did not suit them in the trenches.
The last major war where trench warfare was widely used was WWI. It was basically a failure as an offensive concept, but decent for a defensive concept. If you wanted to take land or move your lines forward, you had to get out of the trench, which exposed your whole body and run towards the enemy line a couple of hundred yards away. Meanwhile, the enemy gets to sit in their defensive position with only a portion of their head showing and take pot shots at you for the 60 seconds it takes you to cover the distance. Mustard gas could be used by either side.

Where long barreled rifles might be a hinderance is the few times that one side actually got soldiers in the other side's trenches. During WWI the most common infantry weapon on both sides was a bolt action rifle. They also had a bayonet which was good for stabbing people. But the best weapon for invading a trench was the shotgun. Yep, the same one people had been using to hunt game for 50 years (and its predecessor for 100 years before that). The soldiers found that if they shortened the barrel it was much more manueverable in the tight confines of the trenches. Except when the gun control lobby talks about assault weapons, they aren't talking about sawed off shotguns, those were already regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act.

They were used for decades primarily in war.
Well, if we are talking about the bolt action rifles that were used in the trenches of Europe, then yes, some bolt action rifles have been used by militaries for almost a century. However, if you are talking about the assault rifles (those selective fire weapons that “assault weapons” look like), well they haven't been around that long.

The first assault rifle, the Sturmgewehr (which happens to be where the assault rifle term is derived from) wasn't developed until the middle of World War II. The AK-47 was put in service after World War II and the M16 was developed at the beginning of the Vietnam war. So, yeah they have been used for decades. And since most every country with a stable government restricts ownership of assault rifles, they have been used primarily by the military.

On the other hand, the WASR-10 and AR-15, semiautomatic versions of the assault rifle (semiautomatic means one shot for one pull of the trigger), have never been used by any nation's military. The lack of selective fire makes them inferior to their assault rifle counterparts which can fire in single shot, burst, or fully automatic mode. So, no, assault weapons have never been used primarily in war.

About 30 years or ago or so the gun industry in an effort to address a declining gun sales,
In the early 80s, there was a slump in the gun industry. Heck there was a slump in the entire country, take a look at a graph of the stock market. Gun sales declined more than 30% between the middle of 1981 to the middle of 1982. The stock market declined a little over 20% during this same period. So the fact that the gun industry had a slump during a time of the US having a slump is no surprise. Furthermore, this slump was followed by a 60% increase in the US market, (meaning there was more wealth to be had) by 1984. This provided the perfect opportunity for firearm manufacturers to increase sells and market some of their pricier firearms.

modified a weapon for civilian use and started marketing assault weapons heavily towards civilians.
While some military firearms were modified into semiautomatic versions during this time, like the Uzi, firearm manufacturers had marketed “assault weapons” to the civilian population for more than a decade. The M1A is a semiautomatic version of the M14 Assault Rifle and came out in 1974. The AR-15 (semiautomatic version of the M16) had been marketed since the end of the Vietnam War when the Colt firearms company found that some returning soldiers liked the rifle they had become accustomed to in Vietnam. Even semiautomatic versions of the AK-47 were available in the US before 1980.

In any respect, the so called “assault weapons” market was a niche market throughout the 80s. A couple of events helped shape the increase in the popularity of assault weapons. First, the Hughes Amendment to the Gun Control Act banned the civilian ownership of any fully automatic machine gun that was not already registered in 1986. So, the supply of true assault rifles was limited causing their prices to drastically increase (from $1000 to $10-20,000). This now meant that the only economical way to own an AK-47 or an M16 was to purchase a semiautomatic version.

The second development, was that the patents on the AR-15/M-16 had all expired so several companies began making semiautomatic versions of the AR-15 that before only Colt could produce. Third, in the late 80s and beyond, there began to be serious talk about “banning assault weapons.” Firearm enthusiasts saw what limiting the supply of assault rifles had done from the Hughes Amendment, and firearm manufacturers saw the potential to capitalize on this.

So, whereas before in the 1970s and early 80s, the “assault weapons” was small and contained a relative few companies, the developments listed above caused “assault weapons” to rapidly gain market share. In other words, the popularity (and subsequent proliferation) of “assault weapons” was caused by the very people who sought to put restrictions on those firearms.

The danger with assault weapons is that bullets fired from assault weapons can go through doors,
Well, yeah, that is true. But then again, almost any rifle round including the venerable .22LR (what they shoot at Boy Scout Camp) can go through doors. Let's face it, they don't make oak doors like they did in the middle ages. Even the metal clad doors of today are usually foam filled. Foam is just not a good bullet stopper. About the only type of projectile that won't go through metal clad doors is birdshot. For wooden doors, all bets are off. And for the hollow core interior doors found in most homes in America, a good punch with your fist will go through it so how do you expect it to stop a bullet?

they generally can pierce many of the bullet proof vests that law enforcement wears,
OK, lets get something clear here. There is no such thing as a bulletproof vest. There are bullet resistant vests which are made in various levels of protection. As with most things, there are trade-offs. The more protection, the higher the weight and decreased maneuverability. In America, almost every police force wears vests that provide protection against the majority of handgun cartridges. Why? Because 95-99% of the time that they may be shot, it will be with a handgun round. “Assault weapons” like the AR-15, fire rifle rounds. They will go through pistol rated vests without a problem. Your average hunting rifle cartridge, like a .30-06 is two to 10 times as powerful as the cartridges used in “assault weapons.”

so they pose a particular threat to law enforcement.
Really? And what about the rest of us who don't wear body armor all day long. There is nothing like stating the obvious.

In fact we know from data that 1 in 5 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty was killed with an assault weapon.
I like when people throw out statistics, they usually don't know what they are talking about. Remember, “assault weapons” fire rifle cartridges. Body armor worn by police is not designed to defeat body armor. Since this video was made in 2007, I looked at the FBI's report for Law Enforcement Officers killed or assaulted. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2006/feloniouslykilled.html

For the previous 10 year period, 562 officers were killed (521 were killed with a firearm). Right below that number on table 27 is the number of officers killed with a rifle, 105. Or 1 in 5. Is this where they get their statistic, they don't say. Looking at table 33, we find that 79 were from the most common calibers of “assault weapons”, .223, 5.56, 7.62, and .30. Other calibers may be used in “assault weapons”, but these “assault weapon” calibers are also used in non “assault weapons.” Since the FBI doesn't define “assault weapons” they don't break any data out.

So, based on this I would say that 79 of 562 or 1 in 7 is killed by a so called “assault weapon.” However, that is because the “assault weapon” calibers are rifle cartridges, and the body armor is not designed to defeat it. Of course, even then table 39 shows that only 15 of these 79 deaths were cases where the bullet went through the body armor (because it wasn't designed to defeat it. The other 64 deaths were when a bullet hit where body armor was not protecting the officer (as in the officer wasn't wearing it or he was hit in the leg, groin, arm, neck, or head). All 64 of these deaths would likely have occured if it had been a pistol round instead. Only one death was from a pistol round that defeated the body armor. So our 1 in 5, which became 1 in 7 is actually "1 in 37 (15 in 562) police officers killed were killed by an 'assault weapon' caliber bullet which defeated their body armor". In other words, “assault weapons” are dangerous to police officers because they fire rifle rounds. Of course, regular rifles do to.

The US had an assault weapon ban for 10 years it expired in 2004,
Yep, from 1994 to 2004. It had a sunset provision attached to it because it couldn't get the necessary votes to pass without one. In 2004, Sen. Fienstein tried to renew the ban but the bill it was attached to was soundly defeated 8 to 90. The Democrats loss of the house of Representatives in 1994 was credited to the AWB, giving Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

and the ban that was set up was riddled with loopholes.
This is a funny argument, especially since during the ban, and after, gun control groups were praising all of the good things that it did. Besides, there is nothing wrong with loopholes. If the gun control groups didn't want them at the time, then they should have lobbied more to get them taken out. Gun control groups didn't start saying that the AWB was “riddled with loopholes" until after it had expired and several non-partisan studies (including ones done by the government) found no connection between the AWB and a reduction in crime. Frankly, the amount of crime commited with “Assault weapons” is so small, that statistically, any changes probably would not show up anyway.

This chart shows the guns that were originally banned here on the left column,
This chart is very misleading, it calls the AR-15 and the AK-47 assault rifles. Assault rifles are capable of fully automatic fire and are used by militaries throughout the world. Any AR-15/M-16 or AK-47 that is capable of fully automatic fire is regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act. The AWB did absolutely nothing to increase the regulation or ban assault rifles. Zilch. Nada.

and then the gun industry made some slight modifications to comply with law
That is because the AWB, defined an assault weapon based on the cosmetic features that a firearm had. Basically, it is like saying that if you have a spoiler, a sunroof, and two exhaust pipes on your car then it is a sportscar. Under this definition, a custom conversion van could be a sportscar. None of the features actually are important to the function of the car, they are there to look pretty. So what were the cosmetic features that constituted an “assault weapon”:
  • Folding stock – decreases overall length of firearm
  • Telescoping stock – allows different sized individuals to shoot the firearm comfortably
  • Pistol grip – due to the buttstock being inline with the barrel for better recoil control, this is necessary to have control of the weapon with the firing hand.
  • Bayonet mount – cool to have, but relatively useless. No known crime has been committed with a bayonet mounted on a rifle.
  • Threaded barrel (for flash supressor) – a flash supressor is a safety feature to decrease (not eliminate) the chance of flash blindness while shooting in low light conditions
  • Grenade launcher – No, not the kind that you see slung under modern military weapons, this was one that went on the end of the barrel. All of the grenades for it are restricted by the 1934 NFA so you wouldn't be able to get them, they are good for launching tennis balls though.
  • Barrel Shroud – this covers the barrel so that you don't burn your hand when you touch the barrel during or after firing.
  • Detachable magazine – lots of firearms have detachable magazines, the AWB singled out those that are not part of the pistol grip, probably so that they didn't accidentally ban the manufacture of pistols which every law enforcement agency in the country was using.
and ended up creating copycat weapons
Note that not a single one of these features affect the actual firing potential of a firearm. To be scientific, the potential lethality of a firearm is a function of its energy. Energy is a product of mass and velocity. Mass is the bullet size, velocity is a function of cartridge size and barrel length. These lethal features, bullet mass, cartridge size, and barrel length were not found anywhere in the AWB.

that were not within the spirit of the law
We are not in church here. Because the ultimate arbiter of the US laws, the Supreme Court, is made up of people, who are fallible and open to a myriad of interpretations, and not an omnipotent God, we don't rule in this country based on the “spirit of the law.” If we did that, then corrupt government officials could always invoke the “spirit of the law” whenever they wanted to put you away. That's a dictatorship or an oligarchy. We didn't sign up for that in 1787. Laws are written in very specific language so that their interpretation can be as narrow as possible. If we want to be governed by the “spirit of the law”, then lets get rid of the thousands of pages of federal law (including the constitution) and just pass a law that says “Be nice to people.” That would work!

but were within the letter of the law.
Exactly. The gun control lobby helped craft and pass a law that only affected cosmetic features. The gun manufacturers did away with those cosmetic features and sold essentially the same firearm, because the law only governed cosmetic features.

So even with the AWB we had assault weapons that were legally sold.
One thing to point out again, is that even if the law had have banned manufacture of something that actually affected firepower and no new pseudo law compliant “assault weapons” were sold, it did not prohibit the ownership or selling of pre-ban "assault weapons" already on the market. In other words, if you had a semiautomatic AR-15 that was manufactured in July of 1994, it was still perfectly legal to own and sell that AR-15 on October 1, 1994 and beyond. The AWB only banned new manufacture of certain cosmetic features. Although, even then that is generous, you had to have a certain number of cosmetic features, so really the AWB banned new manufacture of certain combinations of cosmetic features.

Some states like NY still have AWB in place, but in NY we still have those loopholes so that these post ban assault weapons can still be purchased in NY also.
Yes, some states like NY, MA and CA have never met legislation that supposedly limits firearms that they didn't like. Most of the rest of the country realized this silliness long ago.

The reason that they impose a particular danger is because the velocity
OK, now we get to actually facts again. As I already mentioned, danger=lethality=f(energy)=f(mass, velocity). However, the cartridges they fire are considered intermediate power rifle cartridges. The guns that hunters commonly use are full power rifle cartridges and just as deadly (if not more so) than “assault weapons.”

and the way they fire,
Huh? They fire by pulling the trigger. This isn't a unique feature for “assault weapons”, pretty much every handheld firearm since the 1500s has fired by pulling the trigger (in fact the term fire is derived from the fact that the first cannons and firearms had to have a lighted fuse -- the fire -- touched to the flashpan or fusehole to ignite the main charge). If we are going to quibble and say that we are talking about the semi-automatic nature of the firearms, well, those have been around since the 1880s. If they really mean fully automatic fire, well then they are lieing since no “assault weapon” is capable of fully automatic fire and wouldn't be regulated by the AWB anyway.

the fact that their designed to spray fire
Once again, this statement is untrue. A claymore mine is designed to spray fire, a showerhead is designed to spray fire. If an “assault weapon” was designed to spray fire, then it wouldn't have such essential features for aimed fire as butt stock, sights, and fore end guard. Also, it would be better suited if it was fully automatic, since spray fire with a semi-automatic is difficult to accomplish.

and that they are an attractive weapon to those bent on mass murders
Ah yes, if the criminals like it then lets get rid of it. Just as an exercise lets go through some of the largest mass murders in the US and see how many of them were attracted to the “assault weapons”:
  • 9/11 – 3000 dead, weapon of choice – airplanes that had full fuel tanks
  • Oklahoma City bombing – 168 dead, weapon of choice – fertilizer explosive
  • Happyland Arson – 87 dead, weapon of choice – gasoline and fire
  • Bath School Disaster – 45 dead, weapon of choice – dynamite and pyrotol
  • Virginia Tech Massacre – 32 dead, weapon of choice - .22 pistol and 9mm pistol (neither of which was regulated by the AWB)
Are you seeing a pattern here? Mass murderers like to use explosives and fire. The only time that firearms are used for mass murder is when you have all of your “unarmed” victims in a small area with limited exits, like a classroom. And even then any firearm will work, the key is your victims are unarmed. You never hear of mass shootings at police stations, gun shows, or NRA conventions. Mass murderers don't seek out "assault weapons." The seek out explosives and fire.

such as the Columbine murders
Interestingly, only one of the four weapons used by the Columbine killers could be a considered an “assault weapon”. The TEC-DC9 was an AWB compliant version of the banned TEC-9 (remember the AWB meant that you couldn’t manufacture new ones, not that you couldn’t possess and sell previously manufactured ones). The Hi-Point 995 carbine wasn’t even first manufactured until after the AWB was in place. It was specifically designed to be compliant with the assault weapons ban. It isn’t used by any military in the world. There may be some police forces that have it, but that is because they don’t have the money to buy rifle caliber carbines.

Did I forget to mention that both of these guns are semi-automatic (remember one shot for one pull of the trigger). The other two weapons, a pump action shotgun and a double barreled shotgun, were in no way regulated by the AWB. The killers did saw off the barrels which violated the 1934 National Firearms Act.

and the DC snipers who used an assault weapon.
The DC snipers did use what gun control groups claim is an “assault weapon”. A Bushmaster XM-15 which is based on the AR-15 design. The XM-15 is a semiautomatic rifle (remember one shot per pull of the trigger) that fires a cartridge that is popularly used for target shooting and varmint hunting. Yes, varmints, like ground hogs and squirrels. They didn’t use any spray fire techniques, hence the name the DC snipers not the DC spray firers.

So did they choose this weapon because it was particularly suited to mass murder? Not really. One of the killers had served in the US Army and so was familiar with the M16 assault rifle (the selective fire kind). The XM-15 platform is a semiautomatic version of the M16. So he chose the weapon he was most familiar with. Is it a suitable weapon for a sniper? Technically, any weapon is suitable for a sniper if he can shoot a target from a concealed position. The DC sniper shootings were done at a range of 50-100 yards. Every rifle in existence can be an effective sniper weapon from this distance. Is an M16 or similar rifle used by military and police snipers? No, military and police snipers usually use a bolt action rifle designed for distance and accuracy. By this simplified definition though, any decent hunting rifle could be a “sniper rifle.”
In summary, “assault weapons” are no more deadly than any other firearm.

So, if you want to ban "assault weapons," at least be honest and say that you want to ban all firearms. Then we can sit down and have a respectful conversation. In the meantime, I'm going to go throw some lead down range.