6 common inaccuracies that cloud gun issues

SALT LAKE CITY — The debate over gun control never seems to die down. In early March, the issue received national attention when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives proposed and then rescinded an ammunition ban. In Utah’s recently completed legislative session, the Senate passed a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Gov. Gary Herbert pledged to veto it.

Unfortunately, misinformation often clouds the debate. Here are facts that contradict six of the more common inaccuracies

Armor-piercing is misleading

In early 2015, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives proposed a ban on “green tip” ammunition. The justification for the ban was that this type of ammo can pierce law enforcement body armor. The bureau withdrew the proposal in March after a public backlash.

According to a National Institute of Justice report, virtually all modern rifle bullets can penetrate the body armor typically issued to police departments. Police agencies use body armor that will protect “against both the street threat and the officer’s handgun.” Protecting against rifle fire would require heavy, bulky and costly military grade body armor — something that simply isn’t practical for most police officers.

Semi-automatic is not the same as automatic

Semi-automatic weapons have a gas-action mechanical system that reloads the weapon after each shot until the magazine is empty. While this action is sometimes used for military-style rifles, it is also commonly used for hunting rifles, shotguns, handguns and target rifles. Howstuffworks.com explains that semi-automatic weapons fire a single bullet each time the trigger is pulled. Double-action revolvers do as well.

In contrast, automatic weapons are not common, even though television crime shows make it appear as though criminals have ready access to them. According to the Violence Policy Center, “A machine gun is a military weapon capable of fully automatic fire. That is, the weapon continues to fire until it runs out of ammunition, so long as the trigger is pulled down. In the United States and elsewhere around the world, these weapons are likely to only be found on a battlefield.”

Assault rifles are not necessarily high powered

The most popular assault-style rifles in the United States resemble the M16 used by the U.S. military since 1963. It fires a .223 caliber bullet. That military connection likely accounts for much of the popularity of civilian semi-automatic versions.

In World War II and the Korean War, the U.S. military provided troops with rifles that fired a 30.06 round. Not coincidently, the 30.06 became a very popular round and a vast array of civilian rifles use the 30.06 cartridge. Layne Simpson, a field editor for Shooting Times, wrote that the 30.06 is “number one in sales among all big-game cartridges with the major ammunition manufacturers.”

The energy or power of a bullet comes from a combination of weight and velocity. According to ballistics tables from ammunition maker Hornady, a .223 bullet weighing 68 grains leaves the muzzle at almost 3,000 feet per second and produces 1,323 foot pounds of energy. At 400 yards, the energy has dropped to 600 pounds. By comparison, a 165-grain bullet from a 30.06 also leaves the muzzle at almost 3,000 feet per second; however, the bigger bullet generates more than 3,100 pound of energy and still has more than 1,700 pounds of energy at 400 yards.

Because of its lower power, the .223 caliber is not commonly used for hunting big game animals like deer or elk. According to a state-by-state listing from thefirearmsforum.com, some states ban the .223 cartridge for hunting large animals. Utah regulations on hunting big game allow hunters to use “any rifle firing centerfire cartridges and expanding bullets.” However, most Utah hunters opt for larger calibers and more power.

Military.com describes the .223 round as “an extremely adaptable cartridge for any kind of small game.”

High-capacity magazines are reasonable

In 1993, Congress passed a federal assault weapons ban that prohibited magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammo. That provision expired in 2004, although some states, counties and cities still ban such magazines. A popular argument against high-capacity magazines is that no one needs that much firepower for hunting or for self defense.

Unfortunately, criminals often travel in packs. In March 2015, the Chicago Police Department warned residents about a series of robberies in the Hyde Park area. In these attacks and two other nearby incidents, “between two and three black male attackers, aged between 19 and 22 years old, came up to victims and demanded their property,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Surely 10 rounds is not overkill for someone potentially fending off three or more criminals. In February 2015, the San Francisco Bay News reported that “several armed males tried to force their way into the [911] caller’s home, also occupied by a female and two children.” A gun battle ensued and the suspects were arrested after one of the men sought treatment at a local hospital for a gunshot wound.

News articles often show that attacks on one individual by multiple armed assailants are fairly common.

A gun does not equal a marksman

Hollywood makes difficult shooting feats seem routine. Having a high-powered rifle with a scope is no guarantee that a shooter will be accurate, just as having the very best golf clubs doesn’t make someone a great golfer.

Handguns are especially inaccurate. Massad Ayoob is a world-renowned shooting instructor who has written more than 1,000 articles about firearms and self defense. He wrote that “the handgun is the most difficult of firearms to shoot well. There’s less to hang on to. There’s a shorter radius between the front and rear sight than with a rifle, meaning a greater unnoticed human error factor in aiming.”

Without training and practice, most people could not hit a large watermelon at five yards with a handgun. In a tense situation with a racing heart and surging adrenaline, someone with extensive experience and skill would still have a hard time hitting that watermelon at 10 yards.

Concealed carry permit holders commit fewer gun crimes than police

In response to a February New York Times editorial, political columnist and economist, John Lott Jr. reported that in Texas in 2012 (the last year for which data was available,) the rate of misdemeanors and felonies committed by concealed carry permits holders was six times less than by police officers.

“Firearms violations among police occur at a rate of 6.9 per 100,000 officers. For permit holders in Florida, it is only 0.31 per 100,000. Most of these violations were for trivial offenses, such as forgetting to carry one’s permit. The data are similar in other states,” Lott wrote in the article.

Obviously, simple legal possession of a firearm is not an inducement to commit crime.

There is no doubt that gun regulations will continue to stir heated debate, but resolving important issues will be easier when common misconceptions are clarified.

bullet compare

This picture shows a 30.06 cartridge on the left, compared to a .223 caliber cartridge. The 30.06 was the U.S. military round during World War II. The .223 is the current military cartridge. On the right is a shotgun shell loaded with buckshot.

In the images below, on the left at a shooting school in Nevada, a student is firing an automatic weapon under the supervision of an instructor. Automatic weapons continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed.

In the image at right, the person is firing a semi-automatic handgun. Semi-auto weapons fire a single round each time the trigger is pulled. The empty shell casing self ejects (see spent rounds above the weapon) and loads the next round in the magazine.


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Hiking Devil’s Garden Trail in Arches National Park

There is no doubt that Delicate Arch is the most iconic image for Utah. (Some might argue for the beehive, but that just gets confusing for most people.)

Because of the dominance of that giant red inverted sandstone horseshoe, some visitors to Arches National Park miss the Devil’s Garden trail–a section of the park that offers much more scenic hiking and a plethora of unique arches.

Invariably those who can only spend a day want to hike to the arch that is on Utah license plates. And at the end of the trail the view is unquestionably awe inspiring. Only when standing next to Delicate Arch do visitors realize that no photo they’ve ever seen captures the magnificence of this natural wonder – not to mention the massive sandstone basin that most people never knew existed sitting beside the arch.

But for all the glory of this famous arch, the trail that one takes to get there is fairly blah. It is like a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a single large chocolate covered almond.

In contrast, Devil’s Garden Trail in Arches National Park is like a bowl containing a scoop of Rocky Road, a scoop of raspberry cheesecake and a scoop of caramel praline pecan with whipped cream and a cherry.

Devil’s Garden Trail is the longest in the park and probably the most challenging for hikers. The exact length is tough to quantify because there are multiple routes and side trails along the way. The National Park Service website nps.gov calls it 7.2 miles. Along the route hikers can view eight named arches, including Landscape Arch, which at just under 300 feet is generally considered the longest natural arch in the world. There are also a few small unidentified arches visible on the hike.

On the vanilla Delicate Arch trail hikers trek across sand and slickrock. Hiking the Devil’s Garden trail is like exploring an alien planet. The hike begins amidst massive sandstone fins and just beyond those red rock liths is a short side trail with views of Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch. There is a wide range of desert vegetation along with shaded areas and breathtaking summits.

Back on the main trail, the hike to Landscape Arch is easy on a wide, manicured gravel pathway. It’s the section of trail after this arch that makes the hike unique. The graded walkway ends at Landscape and the trail beyond twists, climbs and drops through unimaginable red rock vistas.

At the end is the other major arch on this hike: Double O Arch. There can be some confusion because another arch called Double Arch is an easy walk from the road on a turnoff just after Balanced Rock. The route to Double O Arch on the Devil’s Garden Trail is much longer and more difficult and the reward is greater.

Double O is an arch above an arch. A surreal, other-worldly environment encompasses Double O Arch. Red rock fins, jumbled boulders, slickrock and desert vegetation surround Double O Arch on every side.

Hikers can choose the regular route to and from Double O Arch or they can opt for the primitive loop, which is a longer and more challenging route.

According to gjhikes.com, “The Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop trail in Arches National Park is a world class hiking experience that provides a unique variety of arches and natural rock formations.” The site rates the trail as “strenuous” and lists an elevation gain of 1,652 feet.

The hike requires scrambling up and down some slickrock, but I have personal knowledge of an older, overweight gentleman with an artificial knee who recently completed the jaunt without much difficulty.

April, May and early June are great times to enjoy this hike before the summer heat really kicks in. As with all desert hikes, trekkers should dress appropriately and carry plenty of water—two liters per person is probably the bare minimum.

For outdoor enthusiasts whose hiking experience at Arches National Park is limited to the Delicate Arch trail, the Devil’s Garden trail should be next on the list of adventures to try.



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Carriage business is good for draft horses

The recent collapse of a carriage horse in Salt Lake City drew criticism from the Humane Society and animal rights supporters. While they might have good intentions, their stated goal of ending urban carriage businesses could doom the horses they want to protect.

These draft animals pull loads during hot and cold weather on paved city streets. They breathe vehicle exhaust fumes and hear loud noises. These factors amount to mistreatment, according to those opposed to city carriage rides.

A hundred years ago, draft horses were much more common than today. Big trucks did not exist. Tractors were new inventions that most people could not afford. Work horses performed most heavy tasks like pulling freight wagons, plowing fields, grading roads, leveling ground, and pulling city carriages. They performed these tasks during all types of weather conditions because there was no alternative. And in many cases, they were better suited to adverse conditions than the humans they helped.

By comparison, pulling carriages in a modern city is easy duty. Anyone with a basic understanding of physics should realize that pulling a wheeled carriage on a smooth street requires less effort than pulling a heavy plow through rocky ground. In fact, it is likely much easier than pulling the same carriage along the rutted, dusty or muddy streets of 100 years ago.

The conversion to a world dominated by the internal combustion engine was not a good thing for draft horses, because it eliminated their purpose and value. Horses that can no longer work are usually not retired to green pastures where they live out their days relaxing, frolicking and eating succulent grass. For work horses, retirement often means slaughter.

Maintaining a draft horse can easily cost several hundred dollars per month. It also requires a great deal of work, effort and concern. When those animals can no longer perform the tasks for which they were born and bred, it simply is not feasible or reasonable to expect someone to maintain them as mere pets.

Compared to a century ago, draft horses today are novelties. Those that remain are generally kept by people using them to pull wagons or carriages for entertainment–type purposes. In some areas of the country draft horses compete in pulling contests at fairs or similar events. It is an amazing sight to see a team of massive, muscled horses strain at their harnesses to pull a sled that weighs thousands of pounds.

Those who have never worked with horses at such tasks likely do not understand that the horses enjoy it. More than that, it is the very reason for their existence.

The people who own and care for these horses do so primarily because of their love for these unique animals. Very few make a living from it and most could earn far more doing something easier. It requires years of dedicated training and care and forges a strong bond between man and beast. It is doubtful someone who has not experienced such a relationship can even comprehend it. As a result, people who devote their lives to draft animals are unlikely to knowingly harm or mistreat them.

In the Salt Lake incident, the horse was diagnosed with colic—a common, but serious digestive ailment that can afflict any horse under any condition. If it struck while the animal was home for the evening no one would even know or care. The animal is reportedly recovering and it is doubtful that any of those critical of the owner (and supposedly concerned about the horse’s condition) are contributing to the veterinary expenses.

Instead of merely casting aspersions, those who sincerely believe these draft animals are being mistreated should buy some land and prepare to take in some giant horses. Because if they are successful in their attempt to ban carriage businesses, there are likely to be some draft horses with nowhere to go. And the alternative for the animals could be more unpleasant than pulling a carriage full of tourists.

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Decision on gays a non-issue for most scouts

Frustration and anger over the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America allowing the participation of homosexual boys generated national attention that is out of proportion to the reality of the issue. It even prompted some sponsors and leaders to sever ties with the organization.

Scouting has been an important organization in my 50-plus years of living. I participated as a boy and earned my Eagle Scout award. I’ve spent more than three decades as a volunteer leader in several capacities. Most of that time I worked with 11, 12 and 13-year-old boys—the largest age group actively participating as scouts.

In a world where sex permeates much of society, it is not a primary focus for boys involved in scouting. Boys of that age tend to be more focused on games, refreshments and activities than on sex.

As a scout leader I spent lots of time working with boys on understanding citizenship and duty to God. We emphasized service. We talked about the importance of tolerance toward boys who might be overweight, handicapped, or have other physical or cultural differences.

We focused on activities that would help the boys learn important life skills. The only time we ever discussed sex was as it relates to the promise boys make in the Scout Oath that they will be “morally straight.”

An important line in the newly adopted resolution states: “…any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of scouting age is contrary to the virtues of scouting.” This is not a new policy. It has been always been among scouting’s core values.

As the largest single sponsor of Boy Scout troops, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been criticized for supporting the resolution allowing gay members. An article in the Washington Post by Michael Otterson, did a great job of explaining why a conservative Christian organization like the LDS Church would adopt such a position.

“For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this was never about whether the BSA or local scout leaders should try to discern or categorize ill-defined and emerging sexual awareness of pre-pubescent boys and early pubescent young men who make up 90 percent of scouting. Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint scout troops. Rather, it has always been about teaching moral behavior to all boys, and instilling the core values that are part of responsible adulthood.”

The article also quoted LDS Church Presiding Bishop Gary Stevenson. Prior to the vote on admitting gay scouts, he delivered a speech to an assembly of Scout leaders.

“Boy Scouts of today face issues not faced by generations before them: declining morals, technology, addictive behavior and declining academic performance to name a few. I believe that the key to solving these issues lies in family and duty to God. If boys truly understood what their duty to God entails and lived it, they would grow safely into manhood. …Duty to God is where the power lies. Duty to God is what changes lives.

“…Some may not see the sacred gate-keeping role scouting plays. They may see only fundraising and not a foundation. Others may brand scouting activities as merely outdoor recreation, but it can and must be shown that BSA is not a camping club; it is a character university centered on duty to God. I quote again from Robert Baden-Powell: ‘The whole of [scouting] is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.’

“… Scouting must never overlook this core principle. We still need duty to God. We always will. When the societal and political winds come, and they surely will, scouting cannot unhinge itself from this foundational principle.”

A few years ago I participated in Woodbadge, an intensive training program for volunteer scout leaders. During the week-long course, the motto that was emphasized several times each day was “it is all about the boy.”

I regret that because of this policy some sponsors and leaders feel they can no longer be part of the scouting organization. As a result, thousands of boys who could benefit from the principles of scouting will not have the chance to participate.

One has to wonder what program these men and boys will embrace that can duplicate the benefits provided by the scouting program. Since 1910 more than 110 million boys learned the values of scouting. It is doubtful any other organization will ever be as successful in helping boys develop into men of high moral character.

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Knee problems cramp my normal spring style

Normally, spring is the busiest season for me. As soon as winter weather gives the tiniest hint of breaking, I’m outside fixing fences, building walls, turning over soil, cleaning corrals, brushing out horses, etc.

As the weather warms, I begin planting garden areas, cleaning poultry pens and raising chicks. Whenever possible, I try to get my children and grandchildren involved. All the activity provides me with information and ideas for newspaper stories, blogs, magazine articles and more.

This year knee replacement surgery on Feb. 27 set me far behind schedule. The first four weeks post-surgery were terrible. The pain was awful and it took all my strength and effort to do simple tasks like taking a shower or going to the dining room to eat.

Thankfully, for most of those early weeks my sweet wife completely catered to me. She even did all of my daily animal chores and never complained. I also had supplemental help from other family members. I owe a lot of thanks to many different people.

After 10 weeks, I am walking without crutches or a cane. I can go up and down stairs. I can even carefully walk up and down the hill in my backyard to take care of my horses and poultry. I still get gimpy and sore at the end of the day and daily therapy to regain my strength and flexibility will be necessary for many more weeks.

Next week I was supposed to be leaving on a fishing trip to Canada. I had to back out because I am still icing my knee several times a day to control swelling.

I learned some important lessons from this experience. I saw some obvious problems with the health care system. Yet it is difficult to complain because I have an artificial knee that should carry me through the rest of my life much better than the old one could have. It might be the only joint in my body where I no longer have to worry about the degeneration and pain from arthritis.

Through the course of therapy and treatment I met dozens of wonderful people who were also dealing with significant medical issues. I was impressed with their optimism and fortitude in spite of painful and debilitating conditions for most.

Thankfully, spring did not totally pass me by. Cold weather delayed many early blooms. The lilacs are at their peak right now—about two weeks behind the typical schedule. Last week I was able to take engagement photos for my youngest son and my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. The tulips and fruit trees blossoms were glorious and we were able to incorporate them into many of the photos.

My backyard is a jungle because it hasn’t been mowed yet. I hope I can finally get to it by this weekend. And even though I won’t be in Canada next week, I hope I can make it out fishing for the first time this year. I’m not ready to put the boat in the water, but I could probably sit in a camp chair for an hour or two and catch bluegills from the harbor docks.


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Gun control proposals are the wrong approach

On multiple occasions in recent weeks, Vice President Joe Biden advised people who want to defend their homes against intruders to purchase a double-barrel shotgun. He alleged no villain would be foolish enough to confront someone armed with such a weapon and no civilian would need more for protection.

In attempting to defend the administration’s stance against guns labeled as assault weapons, he demonstrated ignorance about guns, about mass shootings and about the Second Amendment.

There is no question that a properly outfitted shotgun can be a superb defensive weapon and a devastating assault weapon. In fact, they have the potential to be far deadlier than the weapons listed in proposed bans.

Instead of the double-barreled version Biden suggests, a better alternative would be a pump action that holds up to eight rounds. A 12-gauge, 3 ½ inch shotshell with number 4 buckshot holds up to 54 .24 caliber pellets. That means eight shots would deliver 432 projectiles. With an effective range out to about 45 yards, such a weapon could create a massive swath of destruction.

In short-range conditions, this shotgun would probably be a much more effective weapon than the AR-15-type assault weapons that have drawn attention from anti-gun groups and left-wing politicians. These military-type weapons are singled out because of their firepower and lethality. Yet an AR-15 with two 30-round clips would deliver just 60 projectiles of .223 caliber and would likely take longer to fire than the shotgun mentioned above.

The selection of AR-15-type weapons by some crazed shooters is likely as much about availability as it is about an intentional desire for lethality.

AR-15s and other similar rifles are popular for several reasons:

  • Their small caliber and relatively light loads means they offer little recoil;
  • They are easy to operate and shoot;
  • Their design easily adapts to different configurations and accessories;
  • Ammunition is relatively cheap and readily available;
  • They closely resemble the M16 used by the U.S. military since 1963.

That last point is important, because Americans have long had an affinity for the weapons selected for our military usage. And in many cases throughout our history, civilians owned weapons superior to those issued to the military.

During the Revolutionary War, the personal rifles militiamen brought to battle were far more accurate and deadly at longer ranges than standard military muskets. During and after the Civil War the U.S. government provided troops cumbersome, single-shot rifles long after many civilians switched to repeating rifles that offered greater firepower.

In World War II and the Korean War the U.S. military provided troops with variations of the M1, a semi-automatic rifle that fired a 30.06 round. Not coincidently, the 30.06 became the most popular caliber in the world. A vast array of civilian rifles use the 30.06 round.

A 30.06 bullet is much bigger and heavier than the current military .223 bullet. The 30.06 is far more lethal and accurate at longer ranges than the .223. In fact, when the military first adopted the M-16 in .223 caliber many experts criticized it as too light and small to be an effective killing round. Its practical effective range is generally limited to 300 yards or less.

For those reasons, the .223 caliber is rarely used for hunting big game animals like deer or elk. Many states ban its use for hunting large animals. Utah law allows big game hunters to use a .223 round with an expanding bullet, but most hunters opt for larger calibers and more power.

The pro-gun control argument that people don’t need assault-style weapons for self protection or hunting presumes that those are the only legitimate reasons for owning guns. There are, however, million of Americans who enjoy shooting as a recreational activity. People don’t need to drink alcohol. People don’t need cars that go 100 miles per hour. People don’t need downhill skiing. The Bill of Rights does not specifically protect any of those activities. Each is dangerous. Yet they are permitted because this is a nation that respects all kinds of freedoms. Our government is founded upon a belief that the majority of people are inherently good.

The terms “amok” and “berserk” are used in English to describe situations or individuals out of control. The words have Malaysian and Norse origins and originally referred to people who went on killing sprees. Both words have been around for centuries.

England has strict laws that severely limit gun access. Yet in the 1987 Hungerford massacre Michael Ryan killed 16 people and wounded 15 others before committing suicide. Australia also has rigorous gun control laws, but in 1996 Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 21 before police stopped him.

The first mass school shooting in the United States occurred on July 26, 1764. Four American Indians in Greencastle, Pennsylvania shot a teacher and 10 students. Given the date, the weapons were likely single shot muzzle-loading muskets.

The recent shooting in Connecticut occurred in spite of a state ban on assault weapons. A national ban on assault weapons did not prevent the Columbine massacre. The shooter in the Trolley Square spree killings in Utah used a shotgun and handgun.

Proximity to specific types of weapons is not an inducement to murder. Banning a class of weapons will not deter crazy people who go berserk or amok. Men with explosives, men with swords, and even men using vehicles have committed mass killings.

Restricting specific weapons will not stop violence any more than Prohibition eliminated the consumption of alcohol.Image

The cartridge in the middle of this image is a .223, the round fired by most assault-type weapons that gun control advocates want to ban. The shell at left is a 30.06, the round used by the U.S. in WWII and probably the most common round used for big game hunting worldwide. At right is a 2 3/4-inch 12-gauge shotgun round loaded with buckshot.



Intent of Second Amendment already violated

Today there are members of Congress who believe the Second Amendment is outdated and unnecessary. For those who have forgotten their high school government class, here is the complete text of the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Those last four words are especially powerful, because by trying to restrict the types of arms people are allowed to own, infringing on our rights is exactly what lawmakers are currently attempting. Samuel Adams said, “The Constitution shall never be construed … to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

Given the circumstances of the American Revolution, one can assume that the Founding Fathers intended to allow people to protect themselves from government tyranny — after all, that is the battle they fought and won. It is difficult to wage such a war if the government restricts people from having the best possible weaponry.

Today the government controls military and police forces equipped with weapons that are often far superior to those owned by the public. In a situation where the people needed to defend themselves against the government — as the authors of the Constitution were forced to do — they would be at a distinct disadvantage.

My guess is that our Founding Fathers would eagerly support the public’s right to own so-called assault weapons. In fact, based on their experiences, they might entrust the public with fully automatic weapons, cannons, grenades, night vision optics, armored vehicles, body armor, and anything else that could make the playing field more even.

Alexander Hamilton once said: “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”

It is ironic that some leaders say this amendment is outdated during a time when people in many countries are fighting for their lives and freedoms against corrupt and evil governments. Like our founders, they are often outgunned and outmanned. In some cases our government tries to aid their causes by supplying them with weapons. It is worth noting that the donated arms are not restricted to non-military style guns with magazines that hold fewer than 10 rounds.

The peoples’ right to defend themselves is not limited to fighting back against criminals who wish to harm their property and families. As the Declaration of Independence states: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.”

If it became necessary to abolish a government by force, it seems obvious that the men who established our government intended for the people to have the means to accomplish that task. Thomas Jefferson said, “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

Some argue that because the amendment refers to a militia, it does not give individuals the right of gun ownership. Courts have repeatedly rejected that argument, most recently in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld individuals’ rights to possess firearms in the case of the District of Columbia vs. Heller.

Robert Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute and a former Georgetown University law professor, said: “Suppose the Second Amendment said ‘A well-educated electorate being necessary for self-governance in a free state, the right of the people to keep and read books shall not be infringed.’ Is there anyone who would suggest that means only registered voters have a right to read?”

The Utah Sheriffs Association recently sent a letter to President Obama stating their collective intent to defend the Second Amendment against federal officials. The strongly worded document said:

“Make no mistake, as the duly-elected sheriffs of our respective counties, we will enforce the rights guaranteed to our citizens by the Constitution. No federal official will be permitted to descend upon our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights — in particular Amendment II — has given them. We, like you, swore a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and we are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation.”

These elected officials obviously understand the intent of the men who drafted the Bill of Rights to protect our freedoms. It is a little surprising that many elected officials in Washington, D.C., seem so clueless about something so clearly stated by our Founding Fathers.

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Gun control folley

My high school was filled with guns and no one was ever shot.

I lived in a rural area in Ohio and graduated from high school in 1976. On any given day, there would be students with guns in their lockers and guns in their vehicles parked on school grounds. Usually these were kids going hunting before or after school. Students also brought guns to work on in wood shop or metal shop classes.

Based on current hype, one would expect that the mere presence of so many guns would have resulted in OK Corral-type shootouts on a regular basis. That never happened. My high school had its share of bullies and crazy people, but no one chose to release pent-up frustration by murder.

Although the weapons were mainly shotguns and rifles, if someone had decided to go on a spree and kill multiple students, he probably could have easily done so. Small-town police response was slow. There were no cell phones, so anyone reporting the crime would need to make it to the office—a daunting task when confronted by an armed killer.

The lack of mass murder had nothing to do with guns. The reality is that crazy people who want to kill others have been successful in doing so throughout recorded history. Guns are often a convenient weapon of choice. But in reality, a determined assassin will find a suitable weapon.

If there had been a killing rampage, it would not have attracted the level of attention that such events bring today. There was no Internet. There were three television networks and the closest local news affiliates were some distance away. There was a weekly newspaper. By the time word got out about a deranged lunatic who went on a rampage it would have been old news and coverage would have been sparse or non-existent.

Although random mass shootings get more attention today, those who research the subject note that spree shootings are not becoming more common. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/rise-mass-killings-impact-huge-article-1.1221062

The terms “amok” and “berserk” are used in English to describe situations or individuals out of control. The words have Mayan and Norse origins and originally referred to people who went on killing sprees. Both words have been around for centuries. This is obviously not a modern or American phenomenon.

England has strict laws that severely limit gun access. Yet in the 1987 Hungerford massacre Michael Ryan killed 16 people and wounded 15 others before committing suicide. Australia also has rigorous gun control laws, but in 1996 Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 21 before police stopped him.

The first mass school shooting in the United States occurred on July 26, 1764. Four American Indians in Greencastle, Pennsylvania shot a teacher and 10 students. Apparently groups of unarmed children have long been viewed as easy targets. Given the date, I suspect the weapons were single shot muzzle-loading muskets. Those were the assault weapons of that era and apparently they were effective.

The shooting in Connecticut occurred in spite of a state ban on assault weapons. The Columbine massacre was not prevented by a national ban on assault weapons. The shooter in the Trolley Square spree killings in Utah used a shotgun and handgun.

Proximity to specific types of weapons is not an inducement to murder. Banning a class of weapons will not deter a crazy man who goes berserk or amok. Men with explosives, men with swords, and even men using vehicles have committed mass killings.

There are abundant studies and research that shows stricter gun control does little to prevent spree killings or to reduce other types of violent crimes. Focusing prevention efforts on gun control will never work.




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A simple proposal to increase Utah graduation rates

Many in the Beehive State were surprised on Nov. 27 when the U.S. Department of Education released statistics that show Utah ranks 32nd in overall high school graduation rates.

One simple change by the Utah Legislature could dramatically improve graduation rates and reduce education costs.

Lawmakers should pass a bill that requires school districts to award a diploma to any student who meets state graduation requirements. Currently, many school districts impose graduation standards that are much stricter than those mandated by the Utah Department of Education. In other words, the low graduation rate is largely a self-inflicted wound.

The state requires students to complete 24 credits of coursework to graduate from high school. Many school districts, however, require up to 28 credits for graduation. While that might not seem like a big difference, it amounts to an extra half year of classes.

The 24 credits required by the state include:

— Four credits of English

— Three credits of math, including one credit of Algebra 1, one of geometry, and one of advanced, applied, or supplemental math

— Three credits of science, including two from earth systems, biology, chemistry or physics, and one from the foundation courses, or the applied or advanced science core list

— Two-and-a-half credits of social studies, including one of U.S. history, one-half of geography, one-half of world civilization, and one-half of U.S. government and citizenship

— Three-and-a-half credits of directed coursework, including one-and-a-half credits of fine arts, one CTE credit, one-half credit of computer technology and one-half of general financial literacy

— Two credits of physical education and health

— Six elective credits

It certainly seems like a comprehensive list.

Allowing districts to set stricter graduation rules is unfair to Utah’s students. The current situation means that students in some districts fail to graduate even though they complete the same coursework as students who graduate in a different district that sticks with the state requirements.

Districts justify the requirement for additional credits by arguing the extra courses ensure students receive a better education and are more prepared for college. Districts should provide the supporting data and a detailed analysis of how much those additional classes cost and how student scores and graduation rates improve as a result of requiring those extra hours.

The proposal to award a diploma to any student who meets the state requirements does not dumb down graduation to make it easier. Districts would not need to make any changes to curriculum and students would be free to complete more than the required 24 hours of coursework. But it would be at a student’s discretion and not that of the school district.

Most Utah high school graduates that continue their higher education will do so at a Utah college or university. Very few will go to Ivy League schools, Stanford, or similar academically rigorous institutions. Students who complete the courses required by the state and who excel, are still qualified to attend those schools. Beyond grades, it is what those students do outside the classroom and their personal commitment that determines whether or not they will be accepted and succeed at any institution of higher learning.

Consider a hypothetical example:

Student X graduates from a Utah high school that requires 24 credits. He plans to attend college and takes appropriate coursework. He graduates with a 3.8 GPA. He scores 25 on the ACT test. During school he competed in tennis and was a member of the jazz band. He was class secretary his junior year.

Student Z graduates from a Utah high school requiring 28 credits. He takes the most challenging classes available. He finishes with a 3.4 GPA. He gets a 29 ACT score. He earned his Eagle Scout award.

Both students apply to the University of Utah. Both will likely be accepted. Which one will be more successful in college or after college? It is impossible to predict! The traits that will ultimately define their future success will not be determined by those additional four elective credits in high school.

In many cases, those extra classes might actually hurt a student’s performance. Over four years, those extra credits mean additional class work and homework. Instead of being able to concentrate on core classes, a student’s efforts and time are more divided. If a student gets a poor grade in an elective class, it still has a negative impact on his overall grade point average.

Requiring credits that exceed the state requirement increases costs in several ways. Those additional four credits amount to an extra half year of classes. Extra teachers, classrooms and materials are all obvious costs. There are also less obvious expenses.

In many districts requiring 28 credits, a student who opts to take released time LDS Seminary can never have an open class period in his schedule during all four years. That means no study time during a school day. All assigned work must be completed outside of school hours. That creates a stressful situation if the student is also trying to participate in extracurricular events like sports, music, drama, or even holding a part-time after-school-job. In many cases, it leaves very little time for homework or study. The end result is that the student doesn’t do as well academically.

Here is where a less obvious extra cost comes in: What if that harried student who has a full day of classes followed by hours of practice for a school play ends up failing English one semester? The state requires four credits of English to graduate and after the failure the student will be a semester short. He will not graduate unless he makes up the deficit credit. He has no opening in his schedule, so he must find a way to make up that English credit after school, on weekends, or during the summer. And the district must provide a way to facilitate that student’s need.

This is not an unusual situation. It happens to thousands of students each year. As a result, districts have the expense of special make-up programs, including the costs of materials, teachers, classrooms, and in some cases, entire schools. It would be difficult to calculate the total cost statewide because it varies from district to district. But it could easily be many millions of dollars. All this occurs because some districts choose to exceed the state education requirement of 24 credits.

Worst of all, many students who fail a class or two simply give up trying to graduate because it can be so cumbersome to make up the lost credit.

Utah’s abysmal graduation rate is obviously a problem that needs addressing. Granting a diploma to any student who completes state graduation requirements would be a good first step.

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Preventing future Highland tax increases

During many years as a journalist, one of the things I found most surprising was how at any level of government, elected officials would completely disregard the will of the people who put them in office. A recent incident in Highland is a great example.

City council members voted to raise taxes by 58% (about $900,000). This occurred in spite of an overwhelming response from local citizens who oppose the tax hike.

The proposed increased is slated for road repairs and maintenance and council members who approved the hike justified it by saying that it will be cheaper to do the work now.

That makes sense. A bad economy means that construction costs are relatively low. That is exactly why I would like to undertake some major repair and remodeling costs on my home. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to do it. And unlike Highland city officials, I have no way to compel someone else to pay for my pet project.

I’m sure city council members will argue that roads are necessary and benefit everyone. But I can counter that improving the appearance of my property could also benefit all those who live in my neighborhood or who drive past.

In fact, the value might be equal to the benefit derived from the expensive meandering sidewalks and landscaped medians recently added throughout the city.

Not long ago the city spent a fortune building new city offices, a library, and a splash park. If the road infrastructure work is so important, it seems like it would have made sense to pay for the road work first and delay some of the luxuries until the economy strengthed.

Some city officials who approved the recent tax increase as well as these other expensive projects ran their campaigns on promises of fiscal restraint. Apparently restraint is a 58% tax bump rather than a 100% increase or more.

While it is likely that some officials who voted for the increase will be out of office after the next municipal election, it will be too late to mitigate the economic damage to the citizens of Highland. The roads will be fixed and built, and the increase will never be repealed.

Did you hear the joke about the man who picked up an old lamp he found on the street? When he rubbed it a genie came out and said he could have three wishes. “There is just one catch,” the genie explained. “Whatever you wish for, your mother-in-law will receive two fold.”

The man’s first wish was for a 20,000-square-foot palace. At the genie’s command it appeared, and so did a 40,000-square-foot palace for his mother-in-law.

“For my second wish,” the man said, “I want 10 billion dollars.”

“It is done,” said the genie. “There is 10 billion dollars in your new palace and 20 billion in your mother-in-law’s palace. Now, what is your final wish?”

“For my last wish,” the man replied, “I want you to beat me half to death.”

Admittedly, it’s kind of a dark joke. But so is an elected official raising taxes in opposition to the people he promised to fiscally protect.

Perhaps, however, the joke can be the genesis of a great idea. I’d like to see a law that said anytime city council members vote for a tax increase that it would apply to them 10 fold.

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