Frank Miniter

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.

What Everyone is Missing About Our Law-Enforcement Officers

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 9.09.57 AMCops aren’t heroes simply because they’re police officers, but the role itself should be heroic. A law-enforcement officer should be held to an ideal—and must constantly try to fit that heroic ideal. But today people don’t believe in ideals. Too often police aren’t even given clear role models to become. If a cop loses his or her temper, makes a grave mistake or even breaks a law, it can be difficult to hold them accountable to the ideal they’re supposed to embody. Police unions, at times, protect individual officers from even basic censure. Meanwhile, too many people also aren’t behaving as mature and upstanding people—sometimes because they simply haven’t been given role models themselves.

To begin to solve this in a very simple and practical way a group in Akron, Ohio, worked with a local police force to make “You and the Law” information cards for young adults. The cards, which are being given to students, list 15 points—control your emotions, answer questions about your identity, put your hands on the steering wheel in plain sight…. The flipside of the cards informs students how to report police misconduct. The youth group is Akron PeaceMakers.

One student told NPR: “I’m not saying that all cops are bad, but there are cops that are drunk on their power, I would say. So I think that it holds them responsible so they can stay in line. They have to obey the law just like we do.”

Body cameras on police officers can also hold anyone—cops or civilians—accountable for misbehavior. These are good practical solutions, but we also need a national discussion on what a police officer should ideally be. We must then hold them accountable to the selfless, potentially heroic and tough role they’ve chosen. As we do we must also hold ourselves accountable.

FDIC Admits To Strangling Legal Gun Stores Banking Relationships

5.28.2013-FDICThe U.S. federal bureaucracy doesn’t often admit wrongdoing. This time it took a change in the political landscape, many businesses threatening legal action and a congressman with a background in banking to force the bureaucracy to admit to misconduct and to stop financial attacks on legal businesses that the Obama administration deems to be politically incorrect.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) published a statement saying they are instituting changes to stop Operation Choke Point’s discriminatory practices against legal businesses. The U.S. Justice Department still contends that Operation Choke Point is an initiative designed to reduce unlawful fraud by “choking” illegal players out of U.S. financial institutions. However, under direction of the FDIC, Operation Choke Point also affected the banking relationships of many legal businesses, including those of gun stores and other firearms-related companies. Some law-abiding businesses had their long-standing banking relationships terminated as a result of threats from the FDIC to censure financial institutions that do business with gun stores and other firearms-related businesses. Some examples of legal businesses being harmed were included in a report by the House Oversight Committee; still more examples were documented in research done by The Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal.

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

A Revealing Glimpse Into The American Commerce Of Guns

LG_443_BeautyAn elevator door opens on the 20th floor of a Las Vegas hotel and, for a few breaths of fresh air, the barrier between those who own guns and those who don’t slides away.

A middle-aged woman is saying to a man of about the same age: “I love my Glock 42. I carry it—” She pauses and looks at me and three others standing quietly on the elevator. The man and woman step on and turn robotically toward the front. They seem ready to remain politely silent with strangers on a moving elevator, but just after the door closes a twenty-something woman to my left says, “I like Glocks too, but the 42 is a .380 and I think 9mm is light. So I’m excited about the Gen4 in 10mm.”

The woman who’d just stepped on turns around smiling and nodding. She says she sometimes carries a Smith & Wesson revolver chambered in .357 Magnum, but that it all depends on what she’s wearing. She says she just can’t hide the .357 in a dress.

Everyone is laughing then and speaking at once about the guns they carry. A man in a gray suit says he carries a Sig and that he likes the new modular P320 MHS and hopes it’ll be sold commercially. Another man, this one is a flannel shirt, comments that the Kimber 1911 Ultra Carry II in .45 ACP is his style.

Everyone is clearly in Vegas for the SHOT Show (The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show). We are all wearing these placards provided by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for firearms manufacturers, around our necks like exclusive passes into the gun community. So we feel comfortable speaking openly with strangers about the personal choices of what guns we carry. Why not? Just then there were a lot of gun people in Vegas. The NSSF says 64,000 attendees came from over 100 countries to buy and sell guns, ammo and related items last week.

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

Are Men Really Urban Monsters?

1024px-Times_Square_0210Last month The New York Times ran a story with photos of men caught “manspreading.” Manspreading is defined as man who sits on a public bus, subway or park bench with his legs splayed open. Some men who do this take two seats on crowded public transportation. The Times said, “It is the bane of many female subway riders. It is a scourge tracked on blogs and on Twitter.”

There is also “mansplaining,” a term UrbanDictionary.com defines as: “delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation.”

Now TheAtlantic.com tells us about “manslamming,” a term coined to describe men who don’t step out of other peoples’ way (especially women) on crowded sidewalks.

Some call these actions “microagressions,” a form of unintended discrimination that has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination—in this case, men discriminating against women in what they might soon call: “managressions.”

Perhaps the most heinous microaggression (though it could also be outright aggression) are men who call women “bossy.” This would be a “microagression” if the man doesn’t think too deeply (being a man) about how aggressive a woman might perceive this label, but it would be clear aggression if he did.

Hmm, are the people coining and using these new words tacitly agreeing to the premise that some large percentage of men are guilty of talking down to women, shoving women out of the way on sidewalks, demeaning women by calling them “bossy” and refusing to give women space on crowded public transportation? Might this same logic then lead people to surmise that, by comparison, women much less often spread out over two seats on a bus or subway (or put their bags on the seat next to them), talk down to men (don’t these new words talk down to men?) and commit other microaggressive acts?

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

Very Strange Video Goes Viral

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.58.11 AMSo an Italian video posted on YouTube has gone viral that shows boys being asked to slap a girl. They won’t do it, of course. Boys aren’t monsters. No matter what some today say about men, boys aren’t natural misogynists. Heather Wilhelm does a good job outlining this in an article at realclearpolitics.com. Wilhelm says, “The video features several adorable, dewy-eyed Italian boys, aged 7 to 11. After a few introductory questions from an off-camera interviewer—and following the dramatic musical flourish of, yes, a harp—each boy is introduced to a girl named Martina, a willowy reed of a preteen with a delicate face, red pouty lips, sparkly braces, and blonde flowing hair. Martina, apparently, is a magical creature, and each boy, in a perfectly charming way, is somewhat enthralled.” But then they are asked to slap her. They don’t. A few touch her face with a sort of awkward caress. They seem embarrassed. This video is a weird byproduct of a very odd belief from some that men by their very nature have an aggressive animalism that needs to be suppressed. Boys surely need to be taught to be mature men, but they are not fiends.

Some Men Are Now “Lumbersexuals” … Really?

lumberjack-treeAn article at The Atlantic by Willa Brown, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Virginia, says a “crisis in urban masculinity created the lumberjack aesthetic” now making a “comeback.” She says some urban men are growing beards, wearing plaid shirts, jeans and work boots to pretend to be something they’re not and likely don’t even comprehend. She says these effeminate urban men in flannel can be seen sipping lattes at the local Starbucks as they type text messages with their moisturized and un-callused thumbs. She calls these wannabe men a new name coined by Tom Puzak at GearJunkie: “lumbersexuals.”

Puzak writes, “He looks like a man of the woods, but works at The Nerdery, programming for a healthy salary and benefits. His backpack carries a MacBook Air, but looks like it should carry a lumberjack’s axe. He is the Lumbersexual.”

No doubt a few such fake men exist. Many have noted that a lot of urban men seem to have something earthy, and therefore masculine, missing from their metropolitan identities.

Being caught, as they are, in an image-stricken culture, perhaps a few such urban men shop for a new and manlier image as they grow a little facial hair to complete the Paul Bunyan part. They then look in the mirror and see a man. In appearance only, but who can say? Maybe next they’ll pick up a copy of Field & Stream. Maybe they’ll go and catch a fish or shoot their own dinner. If so, in each outdoorsy step along the way, they just might become the masculine men some part of them is seeking.

Okay, maybe that’s a leap too far for many. But maybe they’ll at least read some Raymond Chandler, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway or Robert Ruark as they find other ways to get some dirt under their nails. Maybe they’ll camp out and so have to chop wood for a fire or maybe they’ll start mountain biking, rock climbing or canoeing.

For all Brown knows, maybe a lot of them have done many of those things, but now they’re working in a land of asphalt, concrete and corner coffee shops. Maybe they happen to like what both the urban and rural environs offer different parts of themselves.

The point is Brown is judging from appearance.

Click here to read the rest of my article at Forbes.com.

How The Obama Administration Plays the Media

Attorney General Eric Holder has been controversial. Emails show where his media tactics come from.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been controversial. Emails show where his media tactics come from.

The U.S. government told gun-store owners to sell known gunrunners as many guns as they wanted. The government didn’t even hide some secret NSA tracking device in the guns. Nor did they follow the guns with some super-hi-tech drone. They just let the guns go into the arsenals of bad guys. Obama administration officials knew the next time they’d see the guns would be at crime scenes. Then, in December 2010, two of the guns (AK-47-style rifles) were found at a crime scene where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was shot dead.

That, in sum, Operation Fast and Furious before the congressional hearings, the whistleblowers, the attacks on the whistleblowers, and the desperate cover-up that now includes a president using executive privilege to hide emails sent from Attorney General Eric Holder to his wife (Sharon Malone).

All that sounds so far-fetched just explaining it kicks up a smokescreen of disbelief. Then, when you add in the fact that much of the media has mostly been reluctant to investigate, it’s clear why when someone in the know mentions “Operation Fast and Furious” most people ask, “Um, do you mean ‘The Fast and the Furious’ movies?”

The emails now made public can change this. A judge forced the Obama administration to make the emails quoted here and other documents public last month. Researches are still going through the thousands of pages of documents. Judging by the amount of redaction (blacking out) of these documents and President Barack Obama’s overzealous use of executive privilege—the administration is even using executive privilege to hide talking points they sent to favored media—there’s a lot more to come.

First, I should note that none of this would be public if it wasn’t for a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning government watchdog group. Judicial Watch filed suit in September 2012 to make the Obama administration honor a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on records related to Operation Fast and Furious.

 

Holder’s Lesson in Spin

In 2011 Attorney General Eric Holder claimed he didn’t have knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious until he saw media reports. As head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Holder also oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). In 2011 emails between Holder and his then communications adviser, Matthew Miller, show why he decided to take this position. (Before you read this, it’s worth noting that when Miller decided to leave the DOJ Holder said in a statement that he was “greatly saddened” by Miller’s departure and that he would “miss his judgment, humor and spirit.”

Here is some of the advice Miller gave to Holder:

1. Send a letter to the Hill explaining what happened. Put in context the amount of information you get every week, say that you don’t recall reading those bullets or being aware of Fast and Furious at any time before early this year, but in any event, you certainly weren’t aware of the gun walking aspect of it until the news broke earlier this year (at which point you took immediate steps to have the IG investigate, etc.)….

2. Find a way for you to get in front of a reporter or two about this. You don’t want to call a press conference on this because it will blow things out perspective, but if you have any events in the next few days (preferably tomorrow), you could find a way to take two or three questions on it afterwards.

Or if that’s not easily doable, you could find a way to “run into” a couple of reporters on your way to something. Maybe Pete Williams, Carrie, Pete Yost — that part can be managed….

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

Could a CA Ruling Redefine the Right to Bear Arms?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment obviously protects an individual right to bear arms. It then ruled in McDonald (2010) that this right also restricts state and local governments. But since 2010 the high court has stayed out of the battle to define what the Second Amendment specifically protects. Now a California case—Peruta v. San Diego County—might change this.

The California Rifle and Pistol Association Foundation brought the case 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 the court found such requirements unconstitutional, San Diego County Sheriff William D. Gore declined to appeal the decision. This prompted California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris to officially petition the 9th Circuit to have its full 11-member panel review the decision. Months later, on November 12, the 9th Circuit declined this request.

The case, however, isn’t necessarily finished. David Madden, a spokesman for the 9th Circuit, said the state of California has the right to ask the 11-judge panel to review the decision. If the state does so—and many legal experts expect them to—then, however the panel rules, the case would likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before we get to those national implications, let’s cut through all this legal wrangling with why this is a big deal. Edward Peruta and the other plaintiffs in this case weren’t able to obtain concealed-carry permits because they couldn’t prove they needed to protect themselves to the local sheriff’s satisfaction.

According to California law a person applying for their Second Amendment right to carry concealed must: 1) be a resident of their respective city or county, 2) be of “good moral character,” and 3) have “good cause” for such a license. Citizens must also pass a firearms training course before they can utilize their Second Amendment rights. California law also allows cities and other municipalities to pass even stricter gun-control laws. So, though many rural California counties accept self-defense as “good cause,” some urban sheriffs and chiefs of police weren’t. In fact, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore denied almost everyone. The few who attained permits had to beg, plead and show imminent danger to their lives through restraining orders and other legal documentation before Sheriff Gore was compelled to bequeath a woman being stalked or some other unfortunate person their right to bear arms.

Imagine if a local sheriff or other official was permitted to treat other constitutionally protected rights this way. Could a police officer search your home without a warrant if you don’t have some state documentation showing you particularly need your Fourth Amendment rights? Could a district attorney require you to testify against yourself unless you somehow proved to their satisfaction that you really, really need your Fifth Amendment rights? This treatment of the U.S. Bill of Rights obviously doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

So what does this mean for the future of Second Amendment rights?

Click here for the rest of my article.