Frank Miniter

The Underground Market-Driven Truth About Africa’s Rhino War

Rhino hornless“Maybe Asia would take notice if Africans advertised panda hunts. See how they like that,” said Brian Gaisford, president of Hemingway Gallery and Safaris.

He doesn’t mean that, of course. Brian is a globetrotting conservationist, even a bit of an activist. He said this just after coming back from the front lines of the “rhino wars.” His tone was sardonic. He was clearly in the later stages of grief. Over the past few years he has gone from anger to desperation to hopeless dread as the rhino population in South Africa’s Kruger National Park has continued to plummet from poaching. He isn’t alone.

When I was in South Africa two years ago I spent a day with a game ranger working in South Africa’s Kruger National Park—the place where most of the rhinos are being poached. This South African game ranger said half-jokingly that he’d like to start slipping across the border into Mozambique at night to grab the poachers. He said he would leave little rubber rhinos on their pillows. I got the feeling he would really like to do this.

The problem comes down to demand in Asia. Brian explains that rhino horn now sells for about $95,000 a kilogram on the Asian black market. This is up from $65,000 in November of 2014. Rhino average about two kilograms per horn. This means Rhino horn is now worth about twice its weight in gold. There are an estimated 22,000 white rhinos, and 5,000 black rhinos left in Africa—about 80 percent of those are in South Africa. Those numbers are declining at a rapid rate. One is poached about every eight hours.

Brian says, “If we don’t stop the Asian demand for rhino horn, elephant ivory, and lion bone, the big game in Africa is doomed. Everyone involved in the fight to save the rhino agrees on one thing: the situation is not looking good for rhinos.”

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Is This the Gun Case the U.S. Supreme Court Will Take?

supreme courtSince the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Heller v. D.C. (2008) that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms and then ruled in McDonald v. Chicago (2010) that this right also restricts state and local governments, the high court has opted not to hear cases that might further define gun rights. This has been a little surprising, as some lower courts have actually produced majority opinions that are critical of decisions reached by other courts. Such conflicts at the circuit level typically force the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.

A California case—Peruta v. San Diego County—might soon force the U.S. Supreme Court to settle some of the constitutional disputes.

The California Rifle and Pistol Association Foundation brought Peruta on behalf of five individuals who were denied the right to carry a handgun by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. Last February a three-judge panel in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the government can’t require residents who want a concealed-carry permit to first prove they really need their rights by showing official documentation, such as restraining orders or letters from law-enforcement agencies.

After a three-judge panel found such requirements to be unconstitutional, the 9th Circuit opted to rehear the case before its full 11-member panel. That hearing occurred last week. You can see a video of the hearing here. Whatever they decide (a decision could come anytime) this case is a very ripe candidate for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s how this decision, if it makes it that far, could reshape the gun debate in America.

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Colt Defense LLC Files For Bankruptcy—Now What?

fm_shooting_arGun maker Colt Defense LLC announced it has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy-court protection. They filed today in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. Colt says this “will allow for an accelerated sale of Colt’s business operations in the U.S. and Canada.”

According to Colt, its current sponsor, Sciens Capital Management LLC (“Sciens”), has agreed to act as a “stalking horse bidder” and proposed to purchase almost all of Colt’s assets and to assume secured liabilities related to existing agreements with the employees’ union, its vendors, creditors and more.

Colt says, “As part of the Sciens led bid, Colt will be able to reassure its employees and local community of its commitment to continued operations in West Hartford through a long term extension on the lease for its manufacturing facilities and campus in West Hartford.”

Many are reporting that this might actually be a good thing for this storied company that once helped begin America’s industrial revolution.

Now, under section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code, “notice of the pending sale to Sciens will be given to third parties and competing bids will be solicited, with an independent committee of Colt’s board of managers established to manage the bidding process and evaluate bids.”

Colt says it will continue normal business operations. Union-related agreements will also be unaffected and employees will be paid.

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Why Mandates For Gun Technology Are Stupid

smartgun_2010_internet_0013Some anti-gun legislators think you’re stupid. Or maybe they’re just so ideologically walled off they don’t realize how stupid their ideas are.

The Handgun Trigger Safety Act introduced on June 2 by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) is designed to be a smart political tactic—it even tries to mandate we use “smart guns”—but it is anything but smart.

According to this bill gun dealers would be required to install “smart gun” technology that only enables a gun to fire if the gun recognizes the shooter as being a swell guy, someone who has been designated as an authorized user.

Smart guns are an emerging technology. Some use biometric scanners, others require the user to wear a Bluetooth bracelet, and some ideas on the drawing board even require someone to receive a microchip implant that, if the system doesn’t fail, unlocks the gun.

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Happy Birthday Clint Eastwood

1. afistfulofdollarsHe was born on May 31, 1930, the son of Clinton Eastwood Sr., a steelworker and migrant worker who settled in Piedmont, California. Clinton Eastwood Jr. was hardly an instant star, but when he found his stoic style after years of stiff acting in the television hit “Rawhide” (1959-1966), he would give us “the Man with No Name” and Dirty Harry; antiheros who used dialogue more sparingly than they did their revolvers.

In 1951 Eastwood planned to go to Seattle University, but the Army had other plans. They drafted him, as the Korean War was then in full swing. But he never did have to carry an M1 Garand into battle like his character Walt Kowalski did in “Gran Torino” (2008). The Army appointed Eastwood lifeguard and swimming instructor. In the biography Clint: The Life and Legend, Patrick McGilligan wrote that Eastwood avoided being sent to combat by “romancing one of the daughters of a Fort Ord officer….”

After many un-credited parts, “Rawhide” gave Eastwood the time to develop as an actor. By 1963 Eastwood was ready for a bigger opportunity. It came when his co-star on Rawhide, Eric Fleming, turned down a part for a western called “A Fistful of Dollars” that would be directed in a remote region of Spain by the then little unknown Sergio Leone. When asked about the transition from TV western drama to playing the lead in a “A Fistful of Dollars” Eastwood said, “In ‘Rawhide’ I did get awfully tired of playing the conventional white hat. The hero who kisses old ladies and dogs and was kind to everybody. I decided it was time to be an antihero.”

The film started the “spaghetti Western” phenomena with Eastwood’s antihero changing the American image of the Western hero from one with a white hat and altruistic intentions to one with a morally ambiguous foundation and selfish goals.

Eastwood, when asked about playing the Man with No Name character, said “I wanted to play it with an economy of words and create this whole feeling through attitude and movement. It was just the kind of character I had envisioned for a long time, keep to the mystery and allude to what happened in the past. It came about after the frustration of doing ‘Rawhide’ for so long. I felt the less he said, the stronger he became and the more he grew in the imagination of the audience.”

The Man with No Name had a gun, and he was snake fast and deadly with his revolver, but he wasn’t good or bad. He was a new kind of hero for the Western genre. He didn’t have John Wayne’s moral code, he was out for himself, not some greater good. The post-antihero, old-school hero would patriotically go to war and believe, despite the messiness and gross immorality of war, that somehow he was fighting for something good and so he was good. This Man with No Name antihero was apart and above those old values; he was going to get his.

In fact, John Wayne declined a role in “High Plains Drifter” (1973), a film directed by Eastwood, and after the film was released Wayne sent a letter to Eastwood in which he said, “The townspeople did not represent the true spirit of the American pioneer, the spirit that made America great.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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