Frank Miniter

A Gun Tech Company is in Trouble, but the Future is Clear

Tracking Point BoltAcross the top of TrackingPoint’s website is the statement: “Due to financial difficulty TrackingPoint will no longer be accepting orders.” This is the company that made news in 2013 when it used “fighter jet technology” to make rifles even an amateur could hit targets with at 1,000 yards. Worries that this shooting system—sold to civilians—might fall into a terrorist’s or mass murderer’s hands have been aired on cable news shows and printed in major publications ever since.

None of that has yet happened, and there are a lot of reasons why those scenarios are a little far-fetched. For example, the TrackingPoint system had to be manually adjusted to compensate for estimated wind drift. At long range, even a light wind can push a bullet far off target. Adjusting for the wind and other variables still requires that a shooter have a lot of experience.

Nevertheless, just because TrackingPoint seems to be going under doesn’t mean guns aren’t still in the process of making a massive leap into the digital age. Here’s what everyone should know.

Despite its controversial nature and a genuine interest in this technology, it wasn’t hard to predict this end for TrackingPoint. Last August I’d reported that TrackingPoint would likely go belly up in my book The Future of the Gun. Still, what the media won’t be savvy enough to see is how TrackingPoint’s advances—and those from other competing companies—are still changing guns and will, inevitably, alter the world we live in.

Click here for the rest of the article at Forbes.com. 

What Obama’s Move to Demilitarize the Police is Missing

nat-police-week-431x408A biker gang shootout between the Bandidos OMG and the Cossacks MC in Texas left nine dead and 170 in custody the day before President Barack Obama announced he is prohibiting the federal government from providing police with grenade launchers, armored vehicles with tank-style tracks, weaponized aircraft, firearms or ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, and oh yeah, bayonets and other nasties.

I don’t point this odd timing to advocate for a militarization of the police. The Texas police officers responded as heroes should. Waco police spokesman Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said off-duty officers who happened to be shopping nearby responded and that before the shootout was done officers came from other precincts to help. Their gear and selfless heroism was enough.

All that weaponry Obama has decided to stop arming local police departments with was never about police officers trying to create a police state as some have worried, but was about procurement officers taking advantage of federal funds to buy cool, new stuff. What PD wouldn’t want the latest .50-caliber sniper rifle or armored vehicle when they don’t have to spend their own tight budgets to get the badass stuff?

Actually, Obama’s move, at the recommendation of a task force, is a step back from government largess that began as an understandable reaction to 9/11. AP reported that “five federal agencies spent $18 billion on programs that provided equipment including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft.”

Are 617 mine-resistant vehicles really necessary? Police departments need gear to keep their officers safe and to help them catch and overpower bad guys, but they are not fighting in Ramadi or Kandahar. The White House says other police gear purchases will be put under scrutiny, such as drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields. “Starting in October, police will have to get approval from their city council, mayor or some other local governing body to obtain it, provide a persuasive explanation of why it is needed and have more training and data collection on the use of the equipment,” AP reported.

Recent events have certainly shown that police need riot gear, but it’s hard to see how the local control this decision outlines is a bad idea.

The Obama administration also says it is encouraging the use of body cameras on police officers and that the U.S. Justice Department will dole out $163 million in grants to get police departments to adopt its recommendations.

This step back from providing police departments with mine-resistant vehicles, armed aircraft, and other extravagancies makes sense, but I’m not hearing one fundamental thing we also need to do. Today we think in practical (what gear do they need?), legalistic (whose rights have been stepped on?) and political terms, but we don’t often consider the human part of the equation.

Just last week, officers came to Washington, D.C., for Police Week. This is an annual event that brings thousands of law-enforcement officers from small towns and big cities, from county sheriff offices and state police departments to our nation’s capital.

Click here for the rest of the article at Forbes.com.

Are the Blueprints for 3D-Printed Guns Protected Speech?

It was just two years ago (on May 5, 2013 to be precise) when the world’s first 3D-printed, plastic gun was test fired. It wasn’t quite a shot heard ‘round the world, but it was a shot that echoed around media outlets. At the time, many noted that 3D-printing technology could put government regulators at a disadvantage, but the media mostly concentrated on the fear that undetectable plastic guns might be printed off in secret by criminals or even terrorists.

Cody Wilson, a then law student in Texas and a self-proclaimed libertarian, designed the “the Liberator.” Wilson also made the blueprints for the gun available for anyone to download on the Internet for free. The plans went viral, though it is hard to say how many of the 100,000-plus people who downloaded the blueprints actually have access to a 3D printer.

During the media hype surrounding 3D-printed guns in 2013, federal officials declared that these publicly available blueprints run afoul of a set of regulations known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR regulates the export and import of weapons in the United States. Wilson took down the blueprints, though they are still widely available on Internet-sharing sites.

All this takes us to a First Amendment lawsuit. Wilson is arguing that the blueprints are constitutionally protected free speech. To force the issue, Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, filed a lawsuit against the State Department, naming Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials as defendants. So this has become an issue regarding censorship, as the government didn’t confiscate illegal guns, but actually banned the published plans for a gun.

Click here to read the rest at Forbes.com.

Meet an Inner-City Teacher Who Uses Guns to Save Kids Lives

1.MAIN IMAGE.AnnoniThis sixth-grade teacher asked me to come to Trexler Middle School in Allentown, Pa., to see how he uses hunting and firearms training to “save kids’ lives.”

How could I say no?

I see what he’s up against when I turn off Route 22 into downtown Allentown, a city of 120,000 that’s an hour north of Philadelphia. There are teenagers hanging out on the streets at 2 p.m. There are a couple of those dark, sporty cars with the tinted windows and chrome hubs slowly circling city blocks. There’s graffiti on buildings and trash bins. I wonder if some are gang symbols as I’ve been told there are four active gangs in this middle school.

I pull into the school’s parking lot. Trexler Middle School is a typical one-story, red brick building. I graduated from a large New York suburban high school that had gang and drug problems, so this place is hardly a culture shock to me. There are much rougher places than this in many American cities. Still, no one heard of Ferguson before it erupted. So I wonder, “Can this really be the place where someone uses guns to save kids lives?”

At just after 2 p.m., John Annoni, the sixth-grade teacher who asked me to come, lets me in a back door. He shakes my hand and we step into a crowded middle school hallway. A sixth-grade boy knocks his fist into Annoni’s and says, “Thanks, teach.” Annoni pokes the sixth-grader’s bag and asks, “Are your books in there—homework, you know?”

“Yes, sir, I have ’em, Mr. Annoni,” says the student as his back straightens.

Annoni asks a group of girls if they’re coming to Camp Compass Academy after school.

When they say “yes,” he wants to know if they’re walking in groups to be safe.

A student named Anthony comes up. He has the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head and his right arm around his girlfriend. “Yo, Mr. Annoni,” he says. Then he reaches his hand out to me. “My name’s Anthony,” he says politely.

I shake his hand and introduce myself, and he walks off.

Annoni turns to me and says, “That just made my day. He shook your hand and looked you in the eye. That’s exactly the kind of thing I teach at Camp Compass Academy. That’s how a man acts.”

We step into his classroom. It’s empty. There is a stuffed mallard in the front of the classroom. In the back are a deer skin and other taxidermy he uses as props in teaching science.

John says, “Imagine Outward Bound, the Boy Scouts, Big Brothers and Sisters and school all combined, and you’ll start to understand how we use hunting, fishing and shooting as rewards to create upstanding young men and women in Camp Compass Academy.”

Click here to read the rest of this article on Range365.com.

Manny Pacquiao Went Down Swinging

manny-pacquiao-redemptionManny Pacquiao was beaten by Floyd Mayweather Jr’s perfect form. Mayweather won like mongoose does with a cobra. I thought Mayweather had slowed just enough, but he defied age and time and was too cagey for Manny’s fists. Mayweather, as sports star and later legend, will forever overshadow Manny Pacquiao’s fearless assault in the ring. I’ve long thought that a man steps into a ring or field and his reality shrinks to the ropes or lines. His allotted time begins to audibly tick. His life struggle is simplified to the rules of competition. The yards gained or lost, blows struck or received of every play or round are felt as profoundly as life’s jolting tragedies and joyous triumphs. He knows the game, match, or race can make a humble man bold, a sinner a saint. He grits his teeth for the finish line, the goal, the last bell, the checkered flag. All along spectators cheer or jeer and he knows he’ll walk off the field, or be carried off, a loser or a winner; though, either way, he’ll retain his pride only if he fights like the game is a real struggle of life and death. And in the end, if he’s more than just an athlete, he’ll know to leave his blood and ego on the field, because men don’t gloat or point fingers, they walk away tall, content they tried, knowing they’ll strive again on and off the court. I see that in Manny’s charisma and style in the ring. I hope he retires now. I hope they both do. Only a rematch could reignite the flame, though even then it wouldn’t burn as hot.

For more see my article at Forbes.com.

The Vegas Bookies Are Wrong: Here’s How Pacquiao Will Beat Mayweather

11179968_627821794022010_8088605260542944733_nThe day after Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in 1990, Floyd Patterson said to a bunch of us who trained in his gym in New Paltz, New York: “Some fighters just have their day.”

Now I think Manny Pacquiao is about to have his day. The Las Vegas sportsbooks disagree with me. They have Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the favorite to defeat Manny Pacquiao on Saturday, May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. As this was being written Bovada, for example, had Mayweather as the -225 favorite. They said Pacquiao is a +175 underdog for the bout that will reportedly make well over $100 million. (Meaning that for every $2.25 someone bets on Mayweather to win they can win $1; and for every $1 someone bets on Pacquiao they can win $1.75.)

Okay, Mayweather has a 47-0 record with 26 knockouts, while Pacquiao is 57-5-2 with 38 knockouts. It’s hard to bet against a guy who has never lost.

The bookies also say that this high-money bout isn’t going to be a quick knockout, as Mayweather doesn’t have a knockout punch. They say it’s going the distance—as in 12 rounds. As this was being written the odds from Bovada were 33-100 for the fight to last the full 12 rounds.

Fight promoter Eddie Hearn even Tweeted: “I know he isn’t a huge puncher, but I’ve had a feeling all along Mayweather wins by late stoppage.”

Here’s why my money is still on Pacquiao.

A year ago, Mayweather’s scorecard-win over Marcos Maidana showed Mayweather is slowing. CompuBox, a computerized scoring system, has tracked 38 of Mayweather’s 46 professional fights. According to Compubox, the 221 punches Maidana landed were the most leather any fighter has ever gotten through Mayweather’s defenses. Mayweather still lived by the old boxing adage “hit and don’t get hit” but not as much as in previous fights.

Maidana was busier. He threw 858 punches over the 12 rounds and landed 26 percent of his punches. Mayweather threw 426 punches—half as many as Maidana.

Though Mayweather doesn’t throw as many punches as many other fighters—and not nearly as many as Pacquiao—he is and has always been very accurate. According to CompuBox, Mayweather landed 41 percent of his punches on average over a 10 fight period ending with his win over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2013, while his opponents hit him with just 17 percent of their punches.

Click here to read the rest of the analysis at Forbes.com.

A Bestselling Novelist Who Shoots 1911s

Stephen Hunter black and whitecropIf you read thrillers you’ve probably come across some by Stephen Hunter. If you picked up one of his Bob Lee Swagger thrillers, which follow a fictionalized Vietnam War sniper loosely based on the real Vietnam War sniper and U.S. Marine Corps legend Carlos Hathcock, then you’ve no doubt noticed that Hunter knows his guns. Even if you don’t read thrillers, you’ve likely come across the 2007 film “Shooter” starring Mark Wahlberg. That movie is based on Hunter’s thriller Point of Impact.

The thing about Steve though is he is so much more than expectation.

Steve has the look of an aged professor who is about to call you something you’ll have to look up in the dictionary. When I first met him I thought he was an accomplished curmudgeon, but then I found he is brimming with youthful mirth. He’s cynical and sarcastic. His amusement with human nature flows from his persona and is on all the words he carefully but joyously chooses. He cheerily tells me he was once a “leftist hippie with the long hair and all that” and that “he moved by proportions of honesty to becoming a gun owner and shooter.” He says this in such a likeable way I think even ABC News’ Diane Sawyer would be smiling and approving.

Even the Pulitzer Prize committee picked up on his mirth.

In 2003, while he was working for The Washington Post, he won a Pulitzer for movie criticism. The Pulitzer committee said Hunter “is forever suggesting that art can be a good, lusty, happy thing, that doesn’t always have to be an immersion in a new level of human misery.” They got Steve exactly right.

Steve’s final transformation into a full-bore gun enthusiast came one fine day in 1985 when he saw an ad for a gun—a bright and lovely stainless Smith & Wesson Model 645 to be precise. He found this semiautomatic pistol to be intriguing, beautiful, and he wanted one. This contradiction within himself needed a final resolution. After some self-evaluation, he decided: “There was something fundamentally dishonest about my anti-gun views.

He told me this when I interviewed him in 2014 for my book The Future of the Gun. We were sitting in the pressroom at the SHOT Show, the annual trade show for firearms manufacturers, at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.

I asked him to back up a second. I wanted to know how a kid from a suburb of Chicago, a kid whose parents didn’t own guns, who deplored guns, became a gun owner and shooter. Steve’s father was a professor at Northwestern University. His mother wrote children’s books. Neither wanted anything to do with guns.

He said, “When I was a boy the notion that guns were bad stuck in my head. My parents, teachers, and the suburban Chicago culture I was in told me guns lead to violence. It took me a long time to move past the notion that owning a gun would corrupt you, that a gun can somehow whisper vile things in your ear until you become a worse person, maybe even a sociopath. I thought that a gun has an aura that acts like alcohol to an alcoholic—that step by step it would make me a bad person.”

He shook his head and smiled at what an ignorant kid he was. “There is, of course, an aura surrounding guns,” he said. “There are real, deep reasons why Hollywood glorifies the gun even as many of its producers and actors want guns banned. This feeling comes from holding a gun, from shooting a gun; you get a feeling of a power; you know this mechanical wonder explodes in your hands but when used right won’t harm you even as it can do real damage down range. This is why guns are a great responsibility and require a lot of maturity. This is also why Western films resonate. Out there, in the exposed open, is a man with a gun, a true individual who can take care of himself. The gun doesn’t make this cowboy good or bad, but it does make him potentially lethal and very independent. That’s intoxicating. That’s a big part of the reason why all those journalists who oppose gun rights keep losing battles. For generations they had almost full control of the messaging, but still they lost because people are drawn to the gun. When you shoot a gun safely and responsibly you can’t help but get this big grin on your face.”

Click here for the rest of my article at Range365.com.

Why Vermont?

manchester

Even if you don’t happen to live in Vermont you need to hear this story. It’s a sizzling tale that reveals much of what’s to come from Michael Bloomberg’s anti-Second Amendment group Everytown for Gun Safety. Everytown engineered a “sting operation” in Vermont—a state that is statistically among the safest in the nation and that has never required a license for someone to carry a handgun—in order to push state legislators into passing gun-control laws. The data Everytown used from its undercover operation quickly crumbled as bad lies do.

Now, this isn’t a new thing for Everytown. Politifact.com has twice reported that Everytown’s claim about the number of school shootings is “mostly false” and Factcheck.org has accused Everytown of “spinning statistics on school shootings.” Everytown is also directly connected to the group that read off Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name—yeah, one of the Boston bombers—at an event for “victims of gun violence” in Concord, New Hampshire. When they did this several people in the crowd shouted, “He’s a terrorist!”

The fracas in Vermont probably started like this. Somewhere in an office building somewhere in New York City on an undisclosed floor in an off-the-record conference room—Everytown keeps the address of its New York City headquarters secret and will not be interviewed by media it thinks is unfriendly to its agenda—there was likely a meeting of its anti-gun minds. Everytown’s leadership might have been fidgeting in their swivel chairs when someone said, “He’s coming.” Bloomberg might have then walked in hidden between his troop of corporate yes men and sat at the head of the table with his yes men perhaps lingering with bland expressions behind.

This would have been a heady moment for them. Everytown had slashed away American freedom in Washington State. After spending millions of dollars from a few well-heeled individuals they’d convinced enough Washington State voters that they really, really need a so-called “universal background check” law even though criminals, by definition, will bypass the universal part.

Bloomberg might have begun by asking, “So team, what’s our next move?”

Maybe an Everytown person said, “We need to go East Coast to make this a national movement before the 2016 election.”

“I like that, but what state?”

“Well, New York, Connecticut and Maryland are all stirred up after their gun bans passed. People there are paying too much attention for us to dupe them, so maybe Maine?”

“No,” might have said Bloomberg with a Napoleonic wave of his hand, “they just voted down a ban on bear hunting with dogs and over bait. Those yokels would vote it down.”

“Good point,” might have said one of the Everytown team. “I guess we also have to rule out the South—they cling to their freedom down there. But how about Vermont? The state of Vermont neither issues nor requires a permit to carry a handgun openly or concealed. We need to take away that freedom.”

“I like the way you’re thinking, but how?”

“With a sting operation. You know, we’ll do a study on how many criminals buy guns in Vermont because they don’t have a mandatory background checks for private sales.”

Everyone might have laughed a moment as they thought of Mark Twain’s line about the three kinds of lies (lies, damned lies and statistics). But then someone might have said, “But isn’t Vermont like the safest state in the country?”

“That’s true,” might have said another, “but we’ll have the media behind us to tell Vermonters they’re the ones supplying guns to criminals in other states; you know, like we say about Chicago.”

And so they did. Only they found out that facts actually matter. Especially when the facts are so easy to find and when there are a lot of people out there who cherish their American freedom. Here’s what we know happened and what this means for 2016.

Everytown placed fake gun ads from fictitious private sellers on various websites. Ed Cutler, president of The Gun Owners of Vermont, says, “Everytown grabbed some ads from gun dealers in Vermont. They cropped off the names of the dealers and posted those ads as if they were from private sellers.”

Click here for the rest of my article in America’s 1st Freedom.

DNA Database to Save African Game

HuntingGeneVaultDr. James Kerr had this epiphany about he can help save and study Africa’s storied species. Dr. Kerr is a scientist. He’s a professor Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He’d spent years taking DNA samples to understand how America’s bison genetically managed to recover from being nearly shot into extinction—from 30 million to about 200 animals. Inbreeding among survivors should have been their end. He wanted to understand how they’d survived. He wanted to use this knowledge to help other species in trouble.

We’re taught that a few surviving bison were found in what’s now Yellowstone National Park and that these few seeded the hundreds of thousands now on public and private lands. What actually happened, says, Dr. Kerr, “is a handful of ranchers from Texas to Canada had saved a few calves after buffalo hunters had come and gone. They wanted the bison to breed with their cows, as they wanted to give their cattle immunity to local diseases and parasites. This experiment didn’t work, but when the U.S. government began looking for animals to repopulate the species, they found these ranchers with bison from different regions and therefore of different genetic stock.”

Jump passed those years of research and the 40,000 genetic samples Dr. Kerr had taken and cataloged from bison and you find him confronting a new and more pressing problem. He wanted to study the wild leopard’s genetics to see how susceptible they are to diseases and to use this research to help other felines. But no one was going to give him funding to trap or kill the 200 leopards necessary to take DNA samples. That’s when his big aha moment came. Dr. Kerr has always been a hunter. In fact, he’d hunted in Africa a bunch and knew quite a few professional hunters (PH). Why not have hunters take DNA samples? And why not expand this idea to all of Africa’s game species. This would create repositories of DNA that could be used to bring back a species and to study them in ways now impossible to predict.

Being a Texan and a hunter, he knew which groups to turn to. He presented a grant proposal to the Dallas Safari Club (DSC), a group known for funding wildlife conservation projects. DSC has since donated $65,000 to the DNA program. Other groups have given about $120,000 to get this project started.

Thanks to Dr. Kerr and his extensive travels to meet with Africa’s hunting organizations, PHs in 11 African countries are now taking DNA from trophy game with kits made available by the study. The PHs and their hunters simply take hair samples and smear some blood on provided cards. They also fill out detailed sheets on where the animals are killed, the species and a lot more. When they send the samples in this information is uploaded to a secure website maintained by Texas A&M. The DNA samples are housed in universities, museums and sometimes a PH’s headquarters in the countries they’re taken in. This growing international database is being made available to researchers all over the world to help scientists and hunters preserve and understand everything from rhinos to lions to kudu.

Dr. Kerr says, “We’ll be able to use a technique called ‘DNA barcoding’ to highlight and study the genes responsible for horn size and other traits. In some cases we’re storing live cells—this has to be done in liquid nitrogen—this will give researchers other options. We’ll also be able to better understand genetic diversity in a given species and so much more. In sum, we’re creating an insurance policy for the future of Africa’s wildlife. And we’re able to do all of this because of hunters here in the U.S. are funding this program and because of hunters in Africa participating.”

Dr. Kerr thinks that the program will eventually become revenue neutral as researchers from around the world are charged a nominal fee to access the hunter-provided DNA from all of Africa’s hunted species. (For more, check out Dr. James Derr’s Facebook page: facebook.com/james.derr.58)

Also, see my article in Outdoor Life on this topic.

Why is the ATF Moving to Ban Common Rifle Ammo?

5.56mm-military-roundsGun-rights groups are in an uproar over an ammunition ban proposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF says it wants to ban M855 ball ammunition, a .223 (or 5.56 mm) rifle bullet that has been used by American citizens for decades. The ATF says it wants to ban this popular bullet because it is “armor piercing.”

The law at the basis of this debate is the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). As amended, the GCA prohibits the import, manufacture and distribution of “armor piercing ammunition” as defined by a few terms Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is attempting to broaden.

The definition for what constitutes “armor piercing” reads: “a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely … from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium.”

Now, to be as nitpicky as the law, the M855 ball ammunition the ATF wants to ban as “armor piercing” doesn’t have a core made of the metals listed in what legally makes a bullet “armor piercing.” The M855 actually has a lead core with a steel tip. Also, the M855 is traditionally a rifle cartridge and the ban only covers handgun ammunition. The DOJ argues this doesn’t stop them because the law stipulates they can ban a bullet that “may be used in a handgun.” And, after all, any cartridge may be used in a handgun.

Still, the definition has another condition. According to law, when ammo is made for “sporting purposes” (hunting, recreation shooting and so on) it is exempt from this ban. According to the DOJ the “GCA exempts ammunition that would otherwise be considered armor piercing if the Attorney General determines that the specific ammunition at issue is ‘primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.’” So, according to the DOJ, they simply get to decide on this condition.

The “sporting purposes” caveat is an important exemption, as every bullet designed to ethically kill a deer or other big-game animal (whether from a pistol, rifle or shotgun) will also shoot through a bulletproof vest.

Click here for the rest of my article at Forbes.com.