Thursday, January 27, 2011

Too Scary For Police

I wrote the last piece before I saw this- and now it really feels like I'm living in an Onion-inspired Twilight Zone.

Police in the UK have been banned from patrolling a playground at night because, get this, "it is considered dark and dangerous."

A senior police officer tried to defend the decision by describing the park as "a building site", an unlit area fraught with danger for the unwary PC who might be injured at any moment!

Of course, locals then pointed out that it's not a building site at all- it's actually a fully functioning playground where children are free to play during the day and that there is only minor work left to be completed.

Home-owners in the area - many of whom are old or disabled - complain it has become a magnet for young thugs and have reported dozens of incidents of anti-social behaviour. They have also found evidence of alcohol and drug use.

Given this new line of reasoning the police responded by saying that it was not their job to "keep the area clear". No mention of the vandalism and substance-abuse being carried out then.

It's Come To This

Another of those cases where you have to double check to see if the calendar has somehow rolled over to April 1st. It seems, more and more, that real life is resembling stories which more properly belong in The Onion.

A Canadian tourist flying home from the UK was prevented from bringing an ornament he had bought at a visit to the Royal Signals museum onto his flight- packed in his luggage- because the figure was of a soldier holding a tiny, three inch long resin gun.

As he passed through the security checkpoint he was stopped by a security officer who then contacted his supervisor-

'My wife asked for a "reality check", explaining how this offending piece of sculptured moulding is a 9 inch painted model with a moulded and painted rifle that is part of the figure.

'The supervisor was confident within the surety of the regulations and said a "firearm" is a firearm and cannot pass.

In fact, a spokeswoman for the airport said, "Items including firearms and items with the appearance of firearms are prohibited."

What kind of world do we live in where an ornament of a soldier holding a gun is prohibited? Surely the correct course of action would be for the airport to admit their mistake and announce that this was an isolated case of an official taking things more than a tad too literally. It's clearly not a real weapon, it clearly cannot be modified to function as a real weapon and it's clearly preposterous to anyone with even a hint of common-sense that a three inch long piece of resin on a statue constitutes "the appearance of a firearm"- what's he going to do- pretend that it's a real assault rifle and take over the plane?

I actually feel less safe knowing that these people are in charge of airport security.

Wasteful Spending By NHS

Despite massive increases in funding, the performance of British health care doesn't seem to be getting substantially better. People suffering from serious illnesses such as cancer are being denied life prolonging drugs because, in the words of NICE (the inappropriately named drug approval commission) they are not "cost effective". Yet at a time when the government is busy looking for cuts to save money, there is one area of the NHS where vast sums of money are being spent on medications which are far from cost effective- money which could surely be put to better use.

It seems that a loophole exists in NHS rules which allows pharmacists to receive any payment they request for so-called "specials". Basically, these are liquid forms of medications usually give in pill form, for example liquid paracetamol.

A woman contacted the Daily Mail when she discovered that the liquid paracetamol she received for her son was charged to the NHS at a staggering £175 for a 500ml bottle. To buy that over the counter, without prescription, would cost perhaps £10. And it doesn't end there-

The NHS spent more than £3 ­million on around 14,000 liquid formulations of this in 2009, at a cost of £208 each (the equivalent amount in pill form costs £1.12).

But there are other, more shocking, price differences. ‘I couldn’t believe an invoice I recently received,’ one London-based pharmacist told us, on condition on anonymity. 
‘It was for a supply of sodium chloride solution — salt water, basically, to treat a child with hormone problems. The charge was £570. I’ve been told it soon will be £1,000. The ingredients would have cost just pennies.’

The article contains many other examples of this colossal waste.

Since the NHS reimburses pharmacists for any ­specials they order — at whatever cost — business is booming. Latest figures show that NHS spending on specials rose from £58 million in 2006/7 to £164 million in 2009/10.

A massive part of this increase is because the NHS won't set pricing rules on specials- and it seems they have no plans to do so. A pharmacist can pay hundred of pounds for a medicine with an actual value of pennies and he will be reimbursed without question- yet at the same time cancer sufferers are being told that they cannot receive drugs that will actual prolong their lives because they are not "cost effective". And it's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wasteful spending.

It's little wonder that people are unhappy with the quality of care the NHS provides them with.

Friday, January 21, 2011

McCarthy's 'Magazine' Ban

There's been much discussion on the internet recently about Rep Carolyn McCarthy's bill which would place a limit on the number of rounds a handgun can hold in its magazine. The argument goes that because the deranged lunatic who shot (and mercifully only wounded) Rep Giffords in Tucson, Arizona used a 33-round high capacity magazine in the commission of his crime, then these magazines, and many others holding much less, should now be banned. If he had only had a 10 round magazine, they say, then nowhere near as many people would have been shot and either wounded or killed. I guess these people have little problem with the fatalities and injuries caused by the first 10 shots of any rampage, or any further injury caused by the shooter reloading his government-approved 10-round magazines.

The argument then goes on to state that no one really needs high capacity magazines carrying 33 rounds (and this is where they neglect to mention the 13 round magazines for the Browning High Power, 15 round magazines for the Beretta 92 or 17 round magazines for the Glock 17 that will also be banned- amongst many others). These, let it be made clear, are NOT "high capacity magazines". They are standard capacity magazines.

You see, according to the hoplophobes in Washington- whose familiarity with handguns and their defensive uses seems to extend as far as seeing them in the holsters of the police protecting them- there is no reasonable use for a high capacity magazine other than for mass-murderers to go on killing sprees.

Really? There's no other use for them? No, we're told, no one needs them. Which is interesting because the current bill carries an exemption not only for police officers but also retired police officers.

In other words, McCarthy and the other politicians who co-sponsored this bill believe that there is not only a use for 10-plus magazines but a need. Otherwise, the police would not be allowed to own them either. And there must also be a valid reason why a retired cop would need a 10-plus magazine. Quite why a retired police officer should be afforded extra rights not granted to his fellow citizens is unclear.

So, why would the police need magazines that hold more than 10-rounds? The police, after all, respond to crimes. If a violent criminal breaks into your home with the intent of causing you and your family harm why is it that the police you call to respond to the crime- who will most likely arrive after the criminal has done what he intends to do or has been stopped- need more than 10-rounds but you, the person who has to deal with the criminal face-to-face, on-your-own, need only 10? The police have access to pistols and often shotguns and carbines in their patrol cars. They often travel in pairs. They have access to armed back-up who will go out of their way to protect a fellow officer from harm. They even have access to specialist units specifically trained and armed to deal with highly dangerous situations.

I don't know about you but I've lost count of how many bullets all that adds up to. But the home-owner or woman walking to her car at night confronted by a gang with malicious intent- the person who has to face that threat ALONE is to be restricted to 10 rounds only?

I'm sorry but I fail to see the logic at work here. If a police officer needs more than 10-rounds then so too does the average law-abiding citizen. In fact, I'd argue that they are more in need of standard capacity magazines than the average police officer who has armed colleagues to support him. The person forced to draw a gun to defend themselves is faced with imminent danger at close range. Under these circumstances, and perhaps faced with more than one threat, the citizen needs every available shot they have.

The Tueller Drill established that the average man can cover 21 feet in 1.5 seconds. That time- 1.5 seconds- is the time it takes a practised police officer to draw and fire his holstered weapon twice. If faced with an attacker with a knife that means that the cop who can successfully draw and shoot- and score those two hits- could still be stabbed. Even fatal gunshot wounds do not put an attacker down immediately- he can often continue to operate after receiving those fatal wounds and inflict wounds of his own. Police officers are trained in conflict- and yet even when most of their confrontations occur at a range of less than six feet (one study examining this put a terrifying 81% of shooting confrontations at less than six feet) many of their shots fired miss the target.

These misses occur for a number of reasons, not least of which is stress- but also involved are bad lighting (many shootings occur at night in dimly lit areas) and the fact that the officer and armed bad guy can both be moving and that the officer could be receiving fire from the bad guy. These sudden, violent confrontations can occur with little warning (just watch some of those police dashboard-mounted camera video shows for proof) and are confusing, dangerous, stressful situations.

Let's now consider a young woman who carries a gun in her purse to protect herself as she walks to her car at night. She is confronted by a group of young men, in their late teens or early twenties. She is not only outnumbered but overpowered. If they choose to attack her, she cannot physically defend herself. Neither can she call the police for help- by the time she takes her phone out of her bag the men will be on her. When the men advance on her, perhaps even telling her of what lies in store for her, she draws her gun. The men respond in kind and the woman is forced to shoot. She fires her government-mandated 10 round magazine and hits two of the men more than once before the 10 shots are done. As with the highly trained police officer, some of her shots even at this close range miss the target. Only one of the men is totally incapacitated. The other wounded man and his untouched companion are now free to do what they wish to the now-defenceless young woman. They have weapons drawn already so she cannot reach for a reload.

And consider for a moment an elderly woman living alone. She owns a gun with a standard capacity 17 round magazine because she not only finds it hard to rack the slide but also because she finds it a slow and time-consuming task to remove one magazine and replace it with another. Her fingers are not as nimble and as strong as they used to be. Because she spent her working life as a nurse she is now banned from owning this magazine. Her ex-cop neighbour, who has no such problems with reloading, owns a 33 round magazine for his gun. When drug addicts decide to raid her home she shoots to defend herself. When the gun runs out of ammo the survivors come out of hiding and, as she struggles to reload, beat her to death with a crow bar.

If only she had her weapon loaded with a standard 17 round magazine she might have survived to see another dawn.

Or how about this-

This is a real video of an attempted home invasion. The gang of men, one of them armed with an AR-15 rifle, raced into an older man's home in an attempt to rob and, perhaps, attack him. Luckily, the home-owner was able to retrieve his handgun and shoot at the men. The gang turned and fled the determined, armed home-owner. But suppose for one moment that this gang had decided to use the weapons they had with them that day? Four men, one of them with a rifle, against a single man. If they had stood their ground, and if Rep McCarthy's bill had been passed, the home-owner would have had only ten rounds with which to defend himself.

Up against these armed home-invaders, do you suppose that you would have been able to successfully defend yourself with a government-approved 10-round magazine? Or would your chances of survival increase with 17?

This bill- which will not only ban high capacity magazines but also standard size magazines despite its name- will prevent law abiding citizens from utilising a tool that is not only currently legal but which has been around for decades. The Browning High Power, which holds 13 rounds in its standard size magazine, has been around since 1935. Even before then it was recognised that there was a need for handguns to hold as many rounds as possible.

Rep McCarthy might think that 10-rounds is sufficient for the average person to defend themselves from violence and death under all circumstances but the fact is that she is wrong. If police officers need more than 10 rounds to respond to crimes which have already been committed (and retired cops need them for their own defence and amusement), then the people on the front line, those actually facing criminals without body armour and armed partners and armed back-up have just as much, if not more, need.

And that doesn't even begin to tackle the question of how McCarthy reads the Second Amendment to mean that a person must prove a need to the government to own a certain type of magazine or weapon (some firearms will be banned under the 'magazine ban') rather than 'the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed'. It's perfectly clear to me that banning an integral part of a firearm and replacing it with a less satisfactory part- one which increases the owner's chances of being killed in a violent confrontation- is certainly infringing that right.