Category Archives: Opinion

Worried about being able to buy a gun?

Unless you’re very wealthy you probably won’t be able to buy any of the firearms or high-capacity magazines currently threatened by legislation.

After the election in November an expected rush on guns and ammo had the market stretched to the limit. After the appalling tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, unprecedented panic buying has taken every last gun and magazine that could possibly be banned off the retail market. You can buy them on the secondary market for multiples of their retail prices, but it will be months before existing backorders are filled and regular consumers can find reasonably-priced high-capacity mags or guns that work with them for sale. Fortunately, some classes of guns that are useful for personal and home defense, like revolvers and shotguns, do not seem particularly threatened by current legislation.

However, there are three things that you can and should do in the meantime to try to avert further infringements on your natural and constitutional rights to keep and bear arms:

1. Educate yourself and others. A great deal of gun control legislation is based on ignorance and misinformation — from firearms and how they work to how they are used in practice.

2. Contact your representatives in state and federal government and let them know that you want them to protect the rights of all competent citizens to keep and bear arms, to include all firearms suitable for defensive and militia use.

3. Get a permit to carry concealed firearms. Even if you don’t own a gun you should have a permit to carry because:

  1. It’s usually faster to buy a gun, should you need one, than to get a permit to carry it concealed.
  2. Active permits are a strong indicator and important statistic of pro-gun sentiment. Increasing this number is a good way to show governments and activists that more citizens want to secure their right to self defense. But they’re not the only ones watching: Violent criminals are very wary of encountering armed resistance. Some are deterred as the perceived odds of running into armed citizens increases.

All plug-in clocks should have capacitor backups

I just bought the Honeywell RPLS740B Econoswitch, a clever dawn/dusk switch that knows when the sun will be down year-round based on the latitude entered during setup. I’m using it to switch on exterior lights at dusk, saving me the trouble of frequently adjusting the set-point of the mechanical switch it replaces.

One feature I particularly appreciate is its use of a super-capacitor to keep time during power interruptions.

Every plug-in device with a clock should have a supercapacitor time backup. Some use batteries as clock backups, but many more — including expensive appliances like my various ovens — have no backup at all. Unlike batteries, capacitors have an unlimited service life: See this whitepaper on “Supercapacitors for RTC and Memory Backup.”

Review: John Carter 3D BluRay

I haven’t been to a movie theater in years, and I don’t intend to go so long as I can reproduce a more comfortable and convenient experience in my basement for a few thousand dollars — which I can with my high-definition, LED-backlit 3-D screen and surround sound system.

Disney sent me an early release of their quarter-billion-dollar production John Carter on 3D BluRay. Rather than add to the whirlwind of full reviews of the movie, I’ll just make one note and a few random critiques:
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Realtor Leeches

Since I think the residential real estate market is bottoming out, and my family will soon need more space anyway, I recently began shopping for houses. Based on my reference post on this subject it won’t surprise people to learn that I have a low opinion of the real estate marketing cartel (a.k.a. “Realtors”).

Following my own advice I did not enlist a “buyer’s agent.” Instead I did my own searches through listings and, when I wanted to see a house, I contacted the seller’s agent directly and drove myself to the appointment.

Overall my experience with these “Realtors” continues to be dismal. Of the dozen or so licensed listing agents with whom I have interacted in the last few weeks at best only three struck me as professional and ethical. Many were incompetent, lacking basic knowledge of the houses they were contractually and ethically obligated to sell. Some were more interested in selling themselves to me than in selling the particular property they listed and in which I had expressed interest. And of course many, on learning I wasn’t being “represented” as a buyer, tried to convince me that I should let them be my “buyer’s agent.” After all, they explained, their “services” as my representative wouldn’t cost me a penny.

This argument, by licensed professionals, is not only unethical but should also be illegal: Traditional buyer’s agents are not free. They collect a substantial fee from the sellers of any house purchased by their client — usually 2.5%-3.5% of the selling price. This is known as a “co-op commission.” On a $1MM house a buyer’s agent expects to walk away with about $30k. As I asked some of these Realtors, “What could you possibly do as my representative that would be worth $30k?” It became a rhetorical question.

At best they run the same computer searches I do and contact the same listing agents I do. If I didn’t have a car I could probably get the listing agents to drive me to their showings. In fact, I consider it detrimental to have a house shown by someone other than the owner or listing agent. After all, a buyer’s agent typically doesn’t know any more about the house than I do from reading the listing, requesting copies of the floor plan, or walking through it. At least when the listing agent is showing it there is a presumption that they have studied the property and are prepared to answer questions that might be asked by a buyer. And when they don’t know the answer (as happens ridiculously often) at least I’m one person closer to the answer.

As I mentioned in my previous post, a buyer’s agent doesn’t even fully represent the interests of the buyer. I want to find a house that most closely matches my objectives at the best possible price. A buyer’s agent wants me to buy a house with as little work on their part as possible. Their interest is in getting me to make a purchase producing the biggest buyer’s co-op, so not only would they prefer I pay as much as possible, but they would also prefer I didn’t see houses with reduced commissions.

So there are already plenty of principled reasons to avoid buyer agents. But the money is the biggest: When I submit an offer on a house and make it clear that I am waiving the “buyer co-op,” it’s like adding 3% to my bid. Some Realtors may quibble that they contract with sellers for a fixed commission rate, and if the buyer doesn’t present a licensed agent to claim it then they get to keep the full commission for themselves. Hopefully neither sellers nor courts will countenance such an anticompetitive gambit. Though if push comes to shove, I can confirm that there is no shortage of licensed Realtors eager to list my old house. It won’t be hard to find one who will agree to be my buyer’s representative at settlement and refund their commission to me.

[Update: How to access MLS if you’re not a Realtor. Several comments note that only Realtors have access to the MLS, and without that you can’t effectively do your own searches. The reality is that you can get full access to listings with one more step: In addition to and, most real estate agency web sites allow you to run searches against the entire MLS. None of them reliably come back with the complete MLS listing, but they will tell you which agency has the listing. I have found that if you then go to that agency’s web site and search for the property they will provide the complete listing information, including contact info for the listing agent and often other details.]

The Missing Subsonic .22LR Market

Precision shooters know that keeping bullet speeds out of the transonic region preserves accuracy. The pressure dynamics around the sound barrier can upset a ballistically efficient bullet on its way to the target.

It turns out that the round nose and stubby heel of a typical .22LR bullet make it remarkably aerodynamic at subsonic speeds. Consequently, match-grade .22LR ammunition is typically designed to leave a rifle barrel under 1000fps.

Competitive rimfire shooters aren’t the only ones who have discovered advantages to subsonic ammunition. Anyone who fires a well suppressed gun will note that even if the muzzle blast is fully contained in the baffles of a silencer a supersonic bullet makes a significant amount of noise of its own: As it travels down range the supersonic pressure waves in its wake produce a “sonic crack.” Since .22LR cans are so light, cheap, and efficient, there are a lot of suppressor owners opting for subsonic ammunition to keep shooting sessions as quiet as possible.

Anyone who has pulled a subsonic .22 bullet has probably been surprised at how much empty space is in the case. It takes less than one grain of powder to propel the standard 40gr .22 lead bullet to the sound barrier. With all that extra room in the cartridge, why not add some more mass to the bullet? After all, holding all else equal, mass is your ballistic friend: It increases ballistic coefficient, which increases a bullet’s effective range by helping it retain velocity and resist atmospheric disturbances. Extra mass at the same speed also increases energy, which enhances terminal ballistics.

Aguila 60gr SSS .22LRAt some point you’re bound to notice a peculiar offering in the .22 marketplace: Silver boxes of Aguila-brand subsonic .22LR ammunition with some odd-looking 60gr bullets. Based on all of the preceding observations, you might justifiably exclaim, “Ah ha! There’s a great idea! I’ll put those in my rifle and enjoy all of the benefits of subsonic shooting for pennies a round, but with improved ballistics!”

And you would be right, except for one problem: Virtually every .22LR barrel is made with 1:16” rifling, and that is not adequate to reliably stabilize those longer 60gr lead bullets. In fact, I have looked long and hard to find anyone who makes a .22LR barrel with faster rifling that is also threaded to accept a suppressor. (The closest you can come is to buy an aftermarket specialty barrel from a place like Green Mountain, and then pay another $100 to get someone else to thread its muzzle. Or buy a .22LR conversion kit for a .223 rifle, many of which have 1:9 twist threaded barrels.)

Do some more research and you will also conclude that Aguila does not enjoy the most stellar reputation in rimfire ammunition. And yet they are the only company that makes .22LR bullets heavier than 50gr (and there are only a tiny number of other specialty loads heavier than the standard 40gr).

.22LR is by far the most popular consumer cartridge. Every .22LR shooter with a silencer, and many without, would love to be able to buy reliable and accurate 60gr+ bullets, as well as threaded barrels with sufficient twist rates to stabilize them.

So my open question to the firearms industry is: Where are the reputable bullet manufacturers selling cases of plinking, varmint, and match-grade 60gr .22LR ammunition? And where in the vast marketplace of .22LR guns and parts are the 1:12 twist .22LR barrels with threaded muzzles to shoot those bullets?

Boycott Abusive Shipping Charges

Mail-order vendors should not use “shipping and handling” charges to pad their margins.  Shipping should either be free (built-in to listed prices) or else it should reflect only the vendor’s actual cost of shipping a product.  As a matter of principle mail-order vendors should also allow buyers to provide their own FedEx or UPS account numbers to cover shipping, thereby ensuring that the vendor isn’t hiding a margin in that fee.

The practice of padding shipping charges is an abomination to capitalism.  It obscures the true costs of transactions and makes comparison shopping more difficult.

Some vendors argue that their shipping expenses include more than postage: e.g., they have to pay for packaging, warehouse space, etc.  But charging a handling fee to cover those costs of doing mail-order business is no more legitimate than tacking on fees to cover their costs of rent, accounting, advertising, inventory, financing, etc.  Unless customers can barge into the vendor’s warehouse and pick up the items themselves, the vendor is in the mail-order business, and like all mail-order vendors he is expected to prepare orders for shipping.

Feel free to list abusers in the comments.  And let them know you’re taking your business to their competitors until they clean up their act.