When the Senate passed the the National Defense Authorization Act in November of 2017, it was unclear whether President Donald Trump would sign off on the bill. There had already been significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the critical compromise defense policy bill before the final draft was passed by the House.

One month later, Trump made the bold move to espouse this landmark piece of legislation. The bill allocates just under $700 billion in national defense spending at a time when America needs a stronger military than ever before.

As attacks by the Islamic State continue to proliferate, we face an ever-more-pervasive threat. But it’s not just ISIS that we have to cope with. There is the far more vast problem of cyberwarfare. Now that the fiscal year has begun, we will begin to see the sundry areas in which the military budget will be spent.

Cyber crime damage costs are expected to hit $6 trillion by 2021 as more and more far flung cyber attacks proliferate across the globe. Last year, Russia-backed hackers were believed to be behind interruptions in Latvia’s mobile communications network. Syrian cybercriminals targeted activists opposed to the Syrian president’s regime with malware.

And the Wannacry ransomware attack perpetrated by North Korea proves beyond a reasonable doubt that cyber attacks are the future of modern warfare. Fortunately for Americans, the NDAA of 2018 is the future of the US military.

The bill includes a mandate for a blockchain cybersecurity research study, something that will mobilize the Armed Forces, better equipping them to deal with all contingencies that can arise in the field. The language of the bill is part of the wider MGT (Modernizing Government Technology Act) which revolves around improvement of the government’s IT and cybersecurity systems.

The bill establishes a Technology Modernization Fund that will shake the cobwebs off the government’s antiquated and outmoded information technology infrastructure. By rolling legislation from Rep. Will Hurd and Steny Hoyer into one, the bill promises to ascertain how these technologies are being harnessed by the enemy and how the US government can implement them.

As the bill puts it, the blockchain study will be “an assessment of efforts by foreign powers, extremist organizations, and criminal networks to utilize such technologies;…[and] an assessment of the use or planned use of such technologies by the Federal Government and critical infrastructure networks.”

The results of the study due to be delivered to Congress before July and will be prepared by the Department of Defense. The DoD is no stranger to the technology, having released their Cyber Strategy back in 2015.

As then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter explained at the time, “The United States relies on the Internet and the systems and data of cyberspace for a wide range of critical services. This reliance leaves all of us – individuals, militaries, businesses, schools, and government – vulnerable in the face of a real and dangerous cyber threat.”

Trump has been adamant about putting more money into the military since before he took office, vowing to rebuild it and eliminate the defense sequester. Obviously, he is a man of his word as he has granted the military “total authorization” to make combat decisions which has enabled the armed forces to be “more aggressive” in the War on Terror.

Even the liberals have been enthusiastic about the Trump administration’s decision to continue and intensify the US military mission in Afghanistan which includes cyber missions.

Some arms of the US military have already taken measures to train their officers in computer science. The Cyber Ops Squadron at Arkansas’ Little Rock Air Force Base offers the Cyber Skills Validation Course for both active duty and reserve forces. They have long been committed to cyber awareness and use state-of-the-art facilities to explore ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and Command and Control in and through cyberspace.

Subjects include encrypted networks, secure web hosting, coding, preliminary surveillance and threat identification.

As for the NDAA, it is likely we will see some of the bill’s alotted money going to improving cyber facilities, such as the 13 cyber units of the National Guard and US Army Cyber Command.

In December of 2017, it was reported that the National Guard was still having trouble filling cyber positions with National Guard Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel telling Federal News Radio, “Our cyber pipeline is still constrained. Some of it is constrained by our ability to find people that can fill it, who can actually qualify to go to the slots.”

Perhaps, the Trump administration will see fit to sink some of the bill’s 2018 monies into payroll for the Cyber Mission Force whose agenda is to protect Defense Department networks, protect our homeland from cyber intrusions and assist in offensive missions.

Other areas that could be beefed up include firearms financing as the military makes the move to the M17 and needs for new magazines and other accessories become necessary.

No matter what they decide to do, it seems obvious that they’re on the right track with this exciting bill that will no doubt bolster military efforts here and abroad.

When synthpop sensation Rockwell released the hit single “Somebody’s Watching Me” in 1984, it’s unlikely that the paranoia he was singing about concerned government surveillance. Nevertheless, the 30-year old pop anthem remains relevant today because it speaks to the feeling that so many of us have.

Indeed, it no longer seems cuckoo to say that all eyes are upon us…because they are! You can’t walk down a city street without being monitored. There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras in the US alone and that number will only continue to grow.

And never mind walking down the street, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to find yourself scrutinized. Not only do internet service providers (ISPs) collect all of your personal information, but they are free to sell it off to third party entities for marketing and other purposes.

More alarmingly, our world governments have been snooping on their citizens for decades. In 1941, the UKUSA Agreement was forged. This multilateral covenant for cooperation in signals intelligence between Australia, Canada, New Zealand , the United Kingdom and the United States, otherwise referred to as the “Five Eyes,” revolves around the covert STONEGHOST network, a system that is said to hold some of the Western world’s most sensitive secrets.

In the ensuing years, this alliance has expanded to include second and third party partners. Today, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden have formed SSEUR or the “Fourteen Eyes,” joining the “Five Eyes” in their exchange of delicate data.

The House Intelligence Committee has released a memo that alleges that the FBI and Justice Department are guilty of gross surveillance abuses against their own government and the Electronic Frontier Foundation shows that the malfeasance doesn’t stop there.

Working in tandem with major telecommunication carriers, the National Security Agency has engaged in massive, illegal dragnet surveillance since as far back as 2001. In that time, they have spied on the domestic communications and communication records of millions of tax-paying, law-abiding American citizens.

Under the Obama administration, the NSA violated the Constitution and court-ordered guidelines pursuant to federal law, willfully exploiting loopholes to unmask Americans’ identities when sharing this information with other agencies.

What’s more, then-President Obama even monitored Trump campaign officials prior to Trump’s appointment as our Commander-in-Chief. It would seem that even the Leader of the Free World isn’t exempt from the surveillance state.

There are no less than 6 government programs that watching us 24/7. The Justice Department is regularly obtaining and using evidence from social networking sites. That means that no person with a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account is safe.

The department can collect and use any of your personal communications against you if they deem it relevant to establishing “motives and personal relationships.” If this sounds a lot like what the law calls circumstantial evidence it’s because that’s exactly what it is.

For instance, if someone you know is murdered and your social media profile contains pictures of you brandishing a knife at a horror convention, the Justice Department could, in theory, use those photographs to support the notion that you were involved in the commission of such a crime.

The Internal Revenue Service also utilizes social media sites, including Facebook, Google and YouTube, to investigate taxpayers. Since 2009, this practice has been part of their agent training program.

The next word you type into Google may get you flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. The department is using an aggressive monitoring program that tracks a whopping 380 keywords.

It’s a scary time to be an American, especially with global cyberattacks posing a very real daily threat. After all, if they’re not simply snooping then they’re holding our personal data hostage. Using sophisticated means, hackers from all across the globe are targeting businesses and private citizens with ransomware.

Such attacks, like the one that was likely perpetrated by North Korea, continue to plague our nation and threat trends for the year ahead indicate that ransomware, firmware and other malicious software will dog us if we don’t do something to stop it.

It’s times like these when we would be smart to take a cue from our Commander-in-Chief and protect ourselves against privacy infringement, censorship and more. In November of last year, Trump paved the way during his visit to China.

By using a virtual private network (VPN), the president was able to circumvent the “Great Firewall” and access Twitter which is banned in Beijing, where the president was staying, and everywhere else across the country.

VPNs are WANs (Wide Area Networks) that use dedicated connections and advanced encryption protocols to generate P2P connections. They “spoof” your IP address by replacing it with one of their own VPN providers.

Most VPNs have multiple servers in most every major country, meaning that you can protect your privacy even if you are traveling. Some of the best VPNs on the market feature intrusion detection and prevention, DNK leakage protection, signature protocols, IPSec (an extra layer of security), split tunneling and unique authentication.

VPN solutions like ExpressVPN deliver fast speeds, 24/7 customer support and mobile apps so that you can stop the snoops from snooping when you’re texting your friends or doing business on your iPhone or Android device.

A word of warning, however, for my more frugal readers. Yes, there are free VPNs available online, but as with your ISP, these free services are only offered for free because, unlike subscription-based solutions, they keep logs of all your sessions and can sell your data to third parties.

Some of the less reputable VPNs, such as HideMyAss, have been served with subpoenas and shared their customers’ log sections with law enforcement officials. For this reason, it’s important to use a VPN that stands by its “no logs” policy.

By using reliable web hosting and military-grade encryption, we can effectively anonymize our online activity and keep cybercriminals from gaining purchase to our PCs. Privacy and security are right at our fingertips, just where they rightfully belong.

As Justice William R. Day famously said of our Fourth Amendment, “The efforts of the courts and their officials to bring the guilty to punishment, praiseworthy as they are, are not to be aided by the sacrifice of those great principles established by years of endeavor and suffering which have resulted in their embodiment in the fundamental law of the land.”

The Government Tries to Buy Guns Illegally, and Fails

The anti-gun lobby’s use of skewed, misleading, or simply incorrect statistics has long been noted. Whether it is inflating the number of people killed in mass shooting events, or claiming that suppressors allow silent killing, those of us on the conservative right have learned to distrust the results of “studies” commissioned by the left.

That’s why it’s gratifying to hear this week that an extremely partisan “study”, designed to show that it is easy to buy guns illegally online, found that it isn’t.

As the NRA reports, “the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report — “Internet Firearm Sales: ATF Enforcement Efforts and Outcomes of GAO Covert Testing” – was commissioned by three staunchly anti-gun members of Congress. Leading the charge was Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who was joined by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)”.

The study consisted of responding to online adverts for guns, and including a suggestion that the “buyer” was barred from buying guns. Earlier “studies” had claimed that 62% of private sellers were nonetheless happy to proceed with the sale.

Some were sceptical about this, and their scepticism has been born out in the results of the new study, which found that precisely 0% of private sellers would be willing to sell a gun to someone they suspected of being barred from owning a firearm.

It turns out that the lure of hard cash, and even the relative anonymity of the internet, is still not enough to convince responsible gun owners to break the law.

The Myth Of The Dark Web

In a complete inversion of the scientific method, it seems that the investigators started with a conclusion, and designed a study to prove it. It’s gratifying that they failed, of course, but it’s also worth looking at the conclusion itself.

This, broadly, is that the internet facilitates illegal gun sales. To those with as little knowledge about the technicalities of the web as about guns, this might seem to be true. There has been a huge increase in the number of online ammunition stores in recent years, and technologies such as blockchain appear to make buying illegal weapons absolutely anonymous.

In truth, though, the idea that one can use the “dark web” to buy illegal weapons faces one major problem: the decency of the average American. People use bitcoins because they are worried about online fraud, not to buy illegal rifles. People buy their ammunition online because it is simply more convenient to do so, especially in rural communities.

It is, of course, possible to buy illegal weapons online. The study itself investigated the “dark web”, which it wrongly claimed is inherently “designed to facilitate criminal activity online”.  Even after dropping the suggestion that the “buyer” was barred from owning firearms, the investigators were only able to buy two of the seven weapons they attempted to purchase. If you were really looking to buy an illegal weapon, you might have more success on your local street corner.

In short, though the study attempted to show that it is easy to illegally buy a firearm online, it ended up proving the opposite, much more reassuring, conclusion: that the vast majority of firearms sellers in the USA are aware of the relevant laws, take their responsibilities under them seriously, and are not willing to break them, even for hard cash.

This week, the US military confirmed a rumor that has been around for quite a few years: that they have a microwave weapon designed to knock out the electronic systems of guided missiles.

The weapons are known as CHAMPS, and have a range of some 700 miles. They are delivered by B-52 bombers, and use a pulse of microwave energy to take out electronic devices. It is not known how close to an enemy command center the device has to get to be effective, or how extensively the weapon has been used.

The US military claims that the weapons have been used in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but the recent admission appears to have been made in relation to North Korea. As the war of words between Trump and the DPRK continues to ratchet upward, it seems that the military is seeking to reassure the populace that the US possesses an effective anti-missile defence.

“These high-powered microwave signals are very effective at disrupting and possibly disabling electronic circuits,” Mary Lou Robinson, chief of weapons development at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, told NBC News.

Directed Energy Weapons

There has long been talk of directed energy weapons revolutionizing warfare. Lasers, whether using visible light or other frequencies, have been a staple of science fiction for almost a century now.

The problem has always been one of energy storage. High explosives contain a huge amount of destructive power in a small space, and even the best batteries in the world cannot match them. It remains unclear exactly how CHAMPS works, but reading the scanty descriptions given by the US military seems to suggest that it uses some form of explosive to yield large quantities of microwave radiation.  

It is probably, therefore, more of a conventional weapon than the US military wants us to believe.  

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Many of the weapons that US armed forces use are very conventional, and some are pretty old. The standard issue rifle is a direct descendant of the M16, and the pistols issued to soldiers – today, military-issue Glock 17s or 19s – are based on a design that is some 40 years old.

These designs work, and are relatively cheap for the military to procure. While research into microwave weapons should undoubtedly continue, therefore, we musn’t lose sight of tried and tested methods which don’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs.

Microwave weapons, and directed energy weapons more generally, definitely fit into that bracket.

The Real Battleground

A second issue with spending huge amounts on developing new ballistic weapons, such as CHAMPS, is that it can distract from where the real battle with North Korea is actually happening: cyber space.

The DPRK is keen to focus the world’s attention on its increasingly frequent tests of ballistic missiles. This certainly makes for good TV, but it also helps the hide the fact that the country has developed huge expertise in cyber warfare techniques, and is not reticent to use them.

As reported earlier this year, North Korea is already making hundreds of millions of dollars a year by launching cyber attacks on major financial organizations around the world. The foreign funds that these activities provide are incredibly important for a country laboring under a crippling array of sanctions.

So far, the most striking response to these attacks have been from individuals, and nor governments. One reason why so many people are turning to blockchain, for instance, is its superior protection to cyber theft, when compared to more traditional banking.

So far, however, the US government has not risen to the threat. There is still no clarity as to how the US will respond to the next inevitable cyber attack, whether this originates in the DPRK or from elsewhere.

That’s why this week’s announcement is so frustrating. It’s nice to hear, or course, that US microwave weapons are “possibly” capable of knocking out missile launch centers, but what about designing systems that can do this remotely?

Though the intention of this week’s announcement was meant to re-assure us that we are capable of dealing with North Korea, it does no such thing. Weapons like CHAMPS, while useful in a limited role, are not what we should be focusing one. If there is a war coming, it will largely be fought online, and we need to prepare for that now.

This week, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Governments around the world were quick to condemn the unilateral decision, with Saudi Arabia particularly vehement in its criticism of the “unjustified and irresponsible” move.

The fear is that the decision threatens to undermine the Peace Process between Israel and Palestine, and that this could potentially re-ignite a centuries old conflict in the middle east.

Much ink has been spilled on this topic in the past week, and it has further polarized opinion in both the US and Europe. Read both sides of the argument, however, and a strange point of agreement between left and right emerges: while the move may be good for the USA, there is no conceivable way that it furthers the peace process.

Trump claimed otherwise, of course, saying that “I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” But notice which point he put first? The interests of the USA.

Of course, the interests of his own country should always be the priority of a US President. But in the current context – a decision that appears to only affect Israel and Palestine – his justification raises a question: in what sense is it good for the USA?

My answer to this question might be controversial, but it is worth raising. The decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is good for the US precisely because it threatens to exacerbate conflict in the region.

Why Regional Conflicts Are Good For The US

The sad truth of the matter is that armed conflict in the middle east and elsewhere is an integral part of the US economy. This is true in a variety of ways. In the most basic sense, the US sells a lot of weapons to other countries. The State Department’s 2017 budget request includes approximately $5.7 billion for Foreign Military Financing, and the US accounts for 33% of all arms sales worldwide.

Returning to Israel, however, the situation is more complex. Though much is made of the fact that Israel would not be able to defend itself without US weapons, it’s worth noting that the country is not even among the top 10 countries that the US exports weapons to.

Instead, the countries are best seen as co-dependent. Israel is itself the world’s 10th largest arms exporter, which is quite impressive for such a small nation, and 5.9% of its weapons are bought by the USA.

Still, Israel’s dependence on US weapons export is hard to overstate. Though deals over fighter jets tend to hog the headlines, it’s also worth noting that a loot of the more mundane items used by the Israeli military are made in the US: everything from 9mm ammunition to popular concealed carry holsters for Glock 19 handguns.

What Is Trump Actually Doing?

I’m not going to put forward the conspiracy theory that Trump, or US administrations more generally, purposefully create conflicts in order to boost the domestic economy. Rather, Trump’s recent decision seems more likely designed to distract attention from his domestic legal troubles.

Rather, I merely wish to note that armed conflict has been an inherent part of international politics, and therefore the international economy, for as long as humans have been around. The USA has managed to capitalize on this, as any sensible nation would. As a result, asking the US to create peace in the world is not only unreasonable, but against its own self-interest.

For that reason, whatever you believe about Trump’s recent decision, one has to admit that he is acting in the most responsible way possible: he is charged with protecting and furthering the interests of the USA, and that is the way he should act, even if other countries disagree with him.

A “smart gun” is a weapon that requires the shooter to identify themselves before firing. This is not a new idea, and every month a new smart gun is released that promises to fix the problems of the last generation.

As with any new technology, if smart guns are to be successful, their adoption will be driven by those who have most need for them. For handguns, that’s the Police force. No matter how large and dedicated the gun enthusiast community is, the average law enforcement officer will fire more rounds, and be in more dangerous situations, than the vast majority of other gun owners.

To see whether smart guns are going to be the next big thing, then, we should ask the police if they like them. The answer is no.

What Are Smart Guns?

Good question. Smart guns are essentially guns that require some form of security authorization in order to fire. Several approaches to this have been tried, ranging from fingerprint sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID), to magnets and biometric sensors.

The idea for Smart Guns has been around for quite a while, but the nascent industry was given a huge boost in 2016, when Obama used a speech on gun control to ask: “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?”

Since then, several companies have tried to develop an “iPhone of guns”, with the Armatix IP1 so far generating the most headlines. Nevertheless, smart guns remain a niche market.

Are They Smart? Are They Guns?

There are many reasons for this, ranging from concerns about the security of such weapons to some slightly absurd laws on their sale.

Let’s take the security issue first. It took approximately 2 weeks for a “hacker” to get around the security features on the Armatix smart gun, using magnets available at your local hardware store. And far from making future weapons more secure, adding new technology to guns might actually make them more vulnerable: reported back in 2015 that computer-enabled sniper rifles could also be hacked, much like websites. Not so smart after all.

Then we have the legal issues. New Jersey passed a law back in 2002 that imposed a time limit: as soon as smart guns were available in the State, “traditional” weapons had to be withdrawn from sale within 3 years. The ensuing backlash, in which local gun shops were threatened, led to the State legislator decreeing that smart guns were not, in fact, guns.

Why Cops Don’t Like Them

Despite nearly 60 per cent of Americans saying that they would purchase a smart gun if given the chance, law enforcement professionals remain unmoved by the new technology.

To see why, we need to consider what kind of weapon police officers carry, and how they carry it. It might not surprise you to learn most officers are pretty old school, carrying a hefty pistol where it can be drawn quickly: think a 1911 pistol in a shoulder holster, not a .22 stuffed down their sock.

This points to the two major reasons why the police force remain skeptical of smart guns: they are not powerful enough, and are still not totally reliable. Technologies like fingerprint scanners, as anyone who has a smart phone knows, simply do not work all the time: all it takes is a dirty sensor, and you will be locked out of your gun. In addition, the most widely available smart guns are chambered in .22, which most police officers regard as completely underpowered for the dangers they face.

Smart gun manufacturers are trying to address these concerns. Smart guns chambered in the more powerful 9mm round are being developed, as are weapons that require a PIN code rather than relying on a fingerprint scanner.

But perhaps the biggest issue blocking the adoption of smart guns is simply that the police do not want to be using untested technology. “Police officers in general, federal officers in particular, shouldn’t be asked to be the guinea pigs in evaluating a firearm that nobody’s even seen yet,” James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, told Politico at the time of the Obama push. “We have some very, very serious questions.”

Until these questions can be answered, it is very unlikely that smart guns will be adopted by law enforcement. And without that endorsement, they are unlikely to make a splash in the civilian market either.

In January of this year, North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson introduced his national reciprocity bill, a piece of legislation which would enable people with a state-issued concealed carry license to conceal a handgun in any other state that permits concealed carry, so long as the licensed individual complies with the other state’s gun laws.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn subsequently introduced a companion bill entitled the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act in the Senate. As Coryn said at the time, “This bill strengthens both the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and the power of states to implement laws best-suited for the folks who live there.

“This legislation is an important affirmation of our Second Amendment rights and has been a top priority of law-abiding gun owners in Texas for a long time.”

After Rep. Steve Scalise was shot by a demented liberal terrorist, Rep. Thomas Massie introduced his own bill, the Personal Protection Reciprocity Act. In a press release, Massie was quoted as saying, “To ensure public safety, we need to repeal laws that keep good guys from carrying guns, since not everyone has a personal police detail.”

The national reciprocity legislation seems to echo the sentiments that President Trump conveyed during his campaign. At the time, when discussing policy, the Republican hopeful said, “Concealed carry…is a right, not a privilege” and rallied for national recognition of the concealed carry recognition.

“The right of self-defense doesn’t stop at the end of your driveway,” he explained. “That’s why I have a concealed carry permit and why tens of millions of Americans do too. That permit should be valid in all 50 states.”

But since then, the administration has been tight-lipped about national reciprocity, and the Personal Protection Reciprocity Act seems to have stalled. The blame appears to fall on Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who refuses to permit Congressional action on national reciprocity because he doesn’t think the time is right.

The logic to Ryan’s position on the bill is hard to grasp considering that the bill has no less than eighty cosponsors. But now is not the time for America to allow this type of legislation to die on the vine. On the contrary, it’s a crucial time in US history, a time when every American needs to protect themselves.

After all, the threat is no longer one that can be easily identified. The War on Terror is not a race war, it’s an ideological war and, as we’ve seen in recent years, more and more terrorists are proving out to be Caucasian American citizens.

The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and The Center for Investigative Reporting have found that of 201 plots and attacks carried out between 2008 and 2016, 115 of those were by white militants, and 19 were meted out by left-wing ecoterrorists and animal rights militants.

With the enemy lurking on the home front instead of in some distant land, it is imperative that Americans retain their right to own and carry suitable handguns to defend themselves at home. And the issue of concealed carry is one that should be part of the country’s public dialogue.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this; Mayors and law enforcement officials from gun-restrictive states like New York and California have come out as staunch opponents of this legislation. They do not want a concealed carry permit to be treated like a driver’s license.

In a July, 2017 letter, California Police Chiefs Association president Edward Medrano wrote, “The bill would erode local control of issuing concealed carry permits, as the arbitrariness of the issuing authority rules would reduce the requirements for concealed carry to the lowest common denominator.

“Further, the lack of a national database for concealed carry permits makes it functionally impossible for a law enforcement officer in the field to determine the legal compliance of an individual carrying a concealed firearm.”

What folks like Medrano fail to understand, however, is the value that such a bill could have for many responsible gun owners.

My next door neighbor here in Upstate, New York is one such responsible gun owner. He took proper measures to obtain a concealed carry permit and stores his handgun in a biometric gun safe when it’s not holstered.

Despite this law-abiding citizen taking all proper safety measures with his gun and being in good standing with local law enforcement, he was held at gunpoint, handcuffed, harassed and thrown in a cell when he made the mistake of taking his handgun on a family vacation to Las Vegas.

He and his wife were pulled over on suspicion of contraband (my neighbor is a chainsmoker and the arresting officer mistook the plume of smoke billowing out his driver side window for marijuana) and asked if there were any weapons in the vehicle.

He told the officer that he had a concealed carry permit and had his handgun in a holster on the floorboard. That’s when the officer trained his side arm on my neighbor and everything went south.

My neighbor was let go after some interrogation, but he was ordered to turn around and head home as the state of Nevada has a permit policy which stipulates that out-of-towners must take an eight-hour concealed carry firearm permit course in order to be approved by the sheriff for a Nevada concealed carry license.

In August, another responsible gun owner sued his state after he was forced to give up his concealed carry privileges. He was forced to forfeit his right to concealed carry not because of a crime committed or any kind of permit violation but because he wanted to become…a foster parent to his grandson.

You read that right, one Mr. Bill Johnson, a resident of Michigan, was told that his home state prohibits foster parents from from carrying concealed weapons. Mr. Johnson and his wife were able to lobby the Legislature to alter the law, but they have been barred from reapplying under the amended rules.

The foster care rule sets a dangerous precedent when one considers the value that should be placed on safety and security, not only for the children in foster care but for the foster parents themselves. If the 2009 case of 16-year old Ashley Jewel and 15-year old Kelsey Beams taught us anything it’s that hard-luck cases can often turn into potential homicide cases, and foster parents should be able to adequately arm themselves against attack by unruly and disturbed foster children.

As for the larger issue of whether gun owners should be allowed to carry their handguns across state lines, many believe that this shouldn’t be a matter for federal debate, rather it should be one determined on a state-by-state basis.

In the words of Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt, “Federally imposed concealed carry laws interfere with states’ fundamental right to determine who is too dangerous to carry hidden, loaded guns in public.”

But as Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action has said, “The current patchwork of state and local laws is confusing for even the most conscientious and well-informed concealed carry permit holders.

“This confusion often leads to law-abiding gun owners running afoul of the law when they exercise their right to self-protection while traveling or temporarily living away from home.”

Cox’s stance on the issue is in keeping with the view of most of the 16 million concealed-carry permittees in the United States. The bedrock right to self-defense is not one that should be stripped away once a person reaches their state border.

Sam Bocetta is a retired engineer who worked for over 35 years as a defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, specializing in electronic warfare and advanced computer systems. He teaches in Ottawa, Canada as a part time engineering professor and is the ASEAN affairs correspondent for Gun News Daily.

I’m an open-minded observer of our great political process, and have voted both Republican and Democrat in the past. I feel strongly about a variety of issues, but I am also willing to listen to reasoned debate on them. As long as I feel my opponent has understood the issues at hand, and has taken the time to research them, I have no problem with my opinions being questioned.

What I can’t stand are arguments based on myths that are easily dis-proven: that is, people arguing from an entrenched ideological position without having taken the time to logically assess the issue. We are all, of course, guilty of this from time to time, because no-one can be an expert on everything.

However, there is one debate which is particularly prone to being warped by politically-motivated myths: that on gun control. In addition, any fair observer would have to conclude that these myths are particularly prevalent on one side of the debate. Gun control activists don’t seem to know a lot about the way that guns actually work, and are worryingly susceptible to their own propaganda.

You could argue that this is not their fault: many people who are vehemently anti-gun have never had the opportunity or need to fire one, and so it’s natural they don’t know much about them. Their only contact with the gun control debate comes in those moments immediately after a school massacre. They forget that, every day, hundreds of thousands of gun owners use their weapons responsibly, and lock them up safely at the end of the day.

When seen from this narrow perspective, and without daily contact with actual weapons, the liberal left is still misled by a number of myths about guns. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current debate on the The Hearing Protection Act 2017.

An Example: Why A Suppressor Is Not A “Silencer”

The Hearing Protection Act 2017 is currently awaiting a hearing in Congress. It seeks to reduce the restrictions on buying suppressors, which date back to 1934. Like any debate on gun control measures, the Act has polarized opinion, and has led to impassioned speeches, warped statistics, and divisive rhetoric from both sides.

What is strikingly apparent in these debates, though, has been the level of ignorance on the side of those who wish to limit access to suppressors. It seems that many liberal politicians, having never used a suppressor, are under the impression that they allow criminals to kill people silently.

If you’ve never used a gun fitted with a suppressor, let me reassure you that they are still incredibly loud. As loud, in fact, as a pneumatic hammer hitting concrete, a level of noise that even liberals seem to have no trouble hearing. Still, the myth remains, and many opposing the bill naively – or cynically – refer to suppressors as “silencers”.

The funny thing about this is that suppressors, when they were invented back in 1909, were originally called “silencers”. This, however, was blatant hyperbole – calling these devices “silencers” is equivalent to marketing a flannel shirt as an arctic coat. The irony here is that those who oppose the bill have taken the over-blown claims of weapon manufacturers as literal truth.

My point is that, if you are ideologically opposed to guns, have never actually used one, and have been raised on a diet of Dick Tracy and James Bond movies, the myth that a suppressor is a “silencer” is a useful fiction.

The Reality

This mistaken belief leads to a number of hilarious arguments against the bill. Take this one, put forward by Kristen Rand of VPC back in June: “Silencers are military-bred accessories that make it easier for criminals to take innocent lives and threaten law enforcement. Existing federal law has kept crimes committed with silencer-equipped firearms rare”.

Where to begin? She is correct in one respect, of course: crimes committed with “silencers” are very rare. Knox Williams, president and executive director for the American Suppressor Association, told Guns.com in August that of the 1.3 million suppressors in circulation, his group can only fund 16 instances of criminal use since 2011. As he pointed out, “that translates to the misuse of a glaringly low percentage of suppressors in circulation – roughly 0.000012308 percent.”

Now. If you think that a suppressor makes your gun silent, I can imagine how you would think that limiting their use would be a good thing. However, as anyone who uses a gun knows, the reason why suppressors are not used to commit crimes is not because of the Federal limitations on their use, but simply because they are totally useless if you want to commit a crime. I repeat: law enforcement are still going to hear the shots, and adding a suppressor to your weapon makes it much harder to handle.

In reality, suppressors are used primarily by hunters, who risk significant damage to their hearing if they use un-suppressed weapons. At present, hunters are faced with a very difficult choice. They can either go through the lengthy (and, I would say, unconstitutional) process of obtaining a suppressor, or they can wear any OSHA-certified hearing protection, which function as protective ear muffs for your ears.

Doing the latter is, at the moment, the preferred choice, but has the unfortunate consequence of deadening all sound, which makes hunting more dangerous than it should be. It is this absurd situation that the Hearing Protection Act seeks to change.

Dangerous Myths

I’ve picked one example to make my point, but I could have picked many others. The unfortunate reality is that, in the gun debate and several others, the people making laws are the least qualified to do so, because they lack first-hand experience of the issues they are talking about. And this lack of first-hand experience means that they are susceptible to myths that any experienced gun owner could dispel within a few seconds.

This situation reminds me, if you’ll permit me the aside, of the debate regarding the ban on fox hunting going on right now in England. The situation is somewhat analogous, because a vanishingly small percentage of the population have actual experience of fox-hunting, let alone using using 22 lr ammo or other popular rounds.

The majority of the urban population oppose fox-hunting, but have never actually seen a fox. This lack of first-hand experience (or ignorance, if I were to put it more strongly) allows a well-developed series of myths to circulate on the left – that fox-hunting is inherently cruel, for instance – that are laughable to anyone with actual experience of the issue.

I’m not sure, in truth, what the solution to this state of affairs is. It cuts against my belief in small government to recommend some kind of “expert panel” to help liberals get a grip on the reality of guns. Perhaps there should be a mandatory “away day” where members of Congress can fire a weapon with a suppressor, and listen carefully to see if they can hear the shot.

I’m not sure, however, that this would actually help, because I’m also pretty sure that those who continue to promote these myths know they are baloney. And if they didn’t before, they do now.

About the author

Sam Bocetta is a retired defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, specializing in electronic warfare and advanced computer systems. He now teaches at Algonquin Community College in Ottawa, Canada as a part time engineering professor and is the ASEAN affairs correspondent for Gun News Daily.

After White Nationalists and their counterparts caused violence to erupt in Charlottesville, Virginia back in August, Americans witnessed a very odd occurrence. Suddenly, Virginia bureaucrats sought to impinge on our constitutional right to bear arms.

First, Va governor Terry McAuliffe very publicly and very falsely alleged that “eighty percent of the people here had semiautomatic weapons,” and even went so far as to say that the white supremacists in attendance “had better equipment than our state police.”

As if all of that wasn’t exaggeration enough, Governor McAuliffe claimed that these supremacists had weapons “stashed around the city.”

Not only was his allegation of citywide conspiracy the stuff of comic books but his entire speech missed the mark completely in terms of bedrock reality. As a matter of cold, hard fact, the white supremacists in the Charlottesville incident utilized nearly every form of weapon imaginable…save for guns.

As anyone who’s followed the news can tell you, the chief offender at the Unite the Right rally implemented a motor vehicle as his assault weapon. One witness at the rally was Hunter Wallace, a Right wing blogger at Occidental Dissent who reported being attacked with “mace, pepper spray, bricks, sticks and foul liquids.” But nowhere does he mention firearms.

Much of the anti-gun rhetoric surrounding the incident has to do with a paramilitary group that was photographed at the scene, each of them outfitted with camouflage gear and brandishing assault rifles. But the problem here is one of false identification.

At the height of the tension in Charlottesville, the governor announced a State of Emergency and members of the National Guard were deployed. As such, there is no reason to believe that those who were armed at the protest weren’t actually members of the National Guard or a private security firm.

In fact, state police have even renounced the governor’s claims, insisting that they searched for stashed weapons and came up short. “No weapons were located.”

Despite this, the Internet blew up with rumors that a gun-toting militia had silenced free speech when, on the contrary, those in attendance were more than capable of speaking their minds. And they did. Quite loudly and violently.

Nevertheless, the public outcry over the event triggered a domino effect and, in no time at all, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was deferring to the Left, announcing that they would no longer “defend hate groups seeking to march with firearms.”

In other words, they are threatening to strip Americans of their First Amendment right to march if we exercise our Second Amendment freedoms. It’s a dangerous precedent that they are setting in the name of placating the gun-hating PC police.

What the ACLU’s decision tells us is that even those legal watchdogs who we trust to defend our civil liberties are, in the end, out to save face rather than protect our inalienable right to civil disobedience or organized demonstration.

Their announcement is also an arbitrary one since there are already numerous legal restrictions that limit the places and situations in which bearing arms is acceptable. This is true in multiple jurisdictions. Any responsible gun owner is already fully aware of the consequences he or she faces if they violate extant firearms laws.

The ACLU’s proclamation is one that runs counter to those laws, one that says they refuse to represent organizations that are compliant with those laws. In the case of Charlottesville, the gun laws are less restrictive than in other states. Any person 21 years of age or older can apply for a five-year concealed carry permit.

Granted, the ACLU is a private organization and they have every right to select the clients they represent at their own discretion, but their decision in the wake of Charlottesville is one that perpetuates the current rash of myopic, partisan arguments dividing our great nation.

People want to point fingers at the alt-right, they want to point fingers at the “snowflakes,” they want to shame everyone other than themselves. But what many people are failing to notice is the real danger at play here.

The Republic of the United States and its free speech has sustained itself through awful, unspeakable attacks, many of them far more catastrophic than even the disgusting display in Charlottesville. And through it all, we’ve been able to give voice to all opinions, maintaining unity despite our differences.

All of that is compromised when retreat and surrender become the status quo. What the ACLU has done is take a step in that egregious direction, a step toward compromising the core values and liberties of all for the sake of appeasing the few.

It’s almost laughable that the alt-right or the Democrats would get behind such a move since losing our First and Second Amendment rights would rob us of the privilege of calling America a so-called “democracy.” After all, without a voice, you have no say and without a say, you are no longer living in a free country.

Loud-mouthed political wingnuts, whether ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative, will never be a threat to the fabric of our constitution. On the other hand, a culture that places more value on suppression and censorship than constructive debate will. Once we begin undermining our freedoms, we forfeit what it means to be an American.

As President Trump said after the Charlottesville incident, the violence that was wrought could be blamed on “both sides.” And whether you agree with him or not, one thing that we can take away from that is that violence can come at us from any direction, regardless of our political leanings.

Thus, it is imperative that every American retain their right to own and carry a gun. Law-abiding citizens, even those exercising their freedom to sit in and protest, should be able to protect themselves against the berserkers from both sides of the aisle.

Sam Bocetta is a retired defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, specializing in electronic warfare and advanced computer systems. He now teaches at Algonquin Community College in Ottawa, Canada as a part time engineering professor and is the ASEAN affairs correspondent for GunNewsDaily.com

It’s an old story, but it just doesn’t seem to go away: the federal government seems determined to interfere in almost every aspect of life and business in our country, whether it be new rules on autonomous cars or who needs to be paid for overtime.

In this last respect, though, there is some good news. Earlier this month, a judge in Texas struck down an Obama-era rule that would hugely increase the number of people who would need to be paid for overtime. The rule was opposed from it’s conception by the US Chamber of Commerce, but was pushed through by an administration seemingly determined to put many small companies out of business.

Taking a look at the proposed rule, and the reasons why it was struck down, is a good lesson in the limits of federal power. It also suggests that the over-reach of the Obama administration is reducing, which gives us reason for hope: it seems that, under Trump, the power and size of the government will once again come under scrutiny.

The Proposed Rule

The overtime rule began in the closing period of the Obama administration. In summer 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) finalized the proposal. The idea was simple enough: from December 1, 2016, more people would have to be paid overtime. Specifically, the rule revised the Executive, Administrative, and Professional exemptions (EAP) on overtime payments.

Those employees covered under the EAP exemptions are currently not eligible for overtime if their base salary is above a certain level. Until 2016, this amount was $455 per week, or $23,660 per year. The new rule proposed a huge change to this threshold, raising it to $913 per week, or $47,476 per year.

This, as you will notice, is a huge increase. Yet the rule went even further, calling for automatic, inflation-linked updates to salary levels every three years. As even NPR has pointed out, these proposals would have made an estimated 4.2 million people eligible for overtime payments.

Now, I’m all for people being paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, but this rule simply went too far. For many businesses still recovering from the 2008 crash, and only now starting to take on more employees, paying more of their staff more for their overtime is simply not an option. The alternative, which would be to limit employee’s hours to 40 per week, is also unworkable for many small companies.

In many small companies, employees willingly work overtime, because they are invested in the future of “their” company and want to see it flourish. If they feel they are owed overtime, they are free to negotiate this with their employer. Putting a federal rule in place to govern these relationships is not only heavy-handed, it also stifles the kind of creativity that we desperately need at the moment.

A Temporary Reprieve

Though all of these points were raised by opponents of the rule before it was passed, the Department of Labor (DOL) went ahead and passed it anyway. Looking at the briefing documents from that time, the rule seems to have been included in a widespread “pushing-through” of legislation in the closing year of the last administration. Some in the DOL, and other government departments, felt that 2016 was there last chance to pass “liberal” amendments to certain key pieces of legislation, and in the rush many of these were nothing more than a poorly drafted argumentative essay.

Though the change in administration was the reason why the rule was pushed through so quickly, it was also to be its downfall. In practice, everybody knew that it would not come into effect without a legal challenge, and therefore not until after a new president was elected.

It was in this context that a temporary halt was put on the rule. Business groups won a temporary injunction from a US District Court in Texas, and this essentially put its implementation on hold until it had wound its way through litigation in the Eastern District of Texas and the Fifth Circuit of Appeals. As a result, for more than a year groups representing both businesses and employees have been awaiting a decision on whether the rule would ever come into effect. With the recent judgement, that wait is finally over.

The New Ruling

On Thursday 31 August, Judge Amos Mazzant gave his judgement, and issued an order invalidating the proposed rule. This is certainly a victory for those opposing the rule, but it is also worth looking at the fine detail of the ruling, because this gives renewed hope that the interference of the Obama administration is slowly coming to an end.

Please bear with me here, because the ruling is quite complex, but I will try to explain in terms that everyone can understand!

The injunction first clarified some of the confusion created by the court’s earlier injunction. Some had felt that the granting of the original injunction was on the basis that the DOL had overstepped its power in trying to implement any minimum salary requirement. This issue is still live, being part of the appeal against the original injunction.

The new ruling grants that Fifth Circuit precedent provides the DOL with the power to “define and delimit” such requirements “from time to time”. However, it also stated that in this particular case, the salary level proposed was simply too high. It was felt that the original spirit of the EAP exemptions was to exclude employees who are not eligible for overtime because of their duties, and not merely their salary. The court held that, in the original legislation, the salary cap had merely been a proxy to screen out some employees, making an exhaustive analysis of their duties unnecessary.

Therefore, in trying to raise the salary cap to make more people eligible for overtime, the court felt that the DOL were actually exploiting loopholes in the original legislation. I am inclined to agree, and think that the application of common sense in this matter is as welcome as it is unusual.

The second part of the ruling went further. One of the issues up for debate was whether the rule was entitled to “Chevron Deference”. Though a phenomenally complex ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), essentially ruled that any federal rule that “fails to carry out Congress’s unambiguous intent” is invalid.

In this particular case, the law was found to not uphold Congress’s intent. This was because, as I’ve already mentioned, the salary limits in the original legislation were designed to exclude those employees who are performing “professional” roles already, are therefore paid enough already, and should therefore not receive overtime. In this sense, the salary limits were intended just as a way of excluding those already holding decent jobs that involved particular duties.

The ruling held that, therefore, Congress’s intent in imposing the original salary cap had been to exclude those employees who did certain jobs, and not those who earned a particular salary. The salary threshold, in short, was just a convenient way of measuring how “professional” a job was. The Texas court, rightfully in my view, held that increasing the salary threshold went against Congress’s intent.

A Victory, For Now

Phew. If you’ve kept up with me so far, you can hopefully see what I’m driving at. The fact that the Trump-era DOL has signalled it will not appeal this ruling is very welcome. Though a few appeals are still crawling through appeal courts, it seems likely that the salary cap will stay where it is for now.

This is a victory for business, who were deeply worried about the effect of a raised cap on their profits. It is a victory for common sense, in that the Court has recognized that what the DOL were trying to do was essentially against the wishes of Congress. And in this last regard, it also a victory for our constitution.

The salary cap for the EAP exemption was only ever meant as a proxy measure of how “professional” a job was, and not as an absolute measure of who deserved overtime. This was clearly Congress’s intent in imposing it in the first place, and what the DOL tried to do amounts to “hacking” the law to achieve their own ends. We should all be glad that this has finally been recognized.

That said, the story is not over. NPR reported that officials in the DOL are already drafting a new rule that will have a similar effect. Any new rule will have to be an almost complete re-writing of the original, given the wide-ranging nature of the court’s injunction against it. Nevertheless, we should continue to be on our guard against the DOL and other departments seeking to use supposedly legitimate means to unlawfully extend their power.

About the author

Sam Bocetta is a retired defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, specializing in electronic warfare and advanced computer systems. He now teaches at Algonquin Community College in Ottawa, Canada as a part time engineering professor and is the ASEAN affairs correspondent for Gun News Daily.