Saturday, June 7, 2014

AMMUNITION FOR THE GUN CONTROL DEBATE

Not too long ago, I saw a story which said the military was destroying tons of small arms ammunition. “That’s dumb,” I thought. Ammunition has a long shelf life. Then I saw a story about various Federal law enforcement agencies buying massive quantities of ammunition. “What do they need that much ammo for? Assuming there is a real need for the ammo why don’t they just take some of the ammo the military is destroying instead of wasting money buying large quantities of ammunition?”  Then, just recently, I heard a story about the US's only lead smelting plant being shut down because of excessive interference from the EPA. Do you see a pattern here? Obviously the Obama administration is trying to back-door gun control by drying up the supply of ammunition. At least that’s the claim being made in several quarters on the internet.

Before we get our knickers in a knot we might do well to remember the immortal words of Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary: “Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.” Ingham’s statement calls to mind Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

In isolation, the three events simply look like dumb moves on the part of our Federal Government. Are they isolated dumb moves or part of a diabolically clever scheme? I think the default position ought to be that they are a series of isolated dumb moves. To think otherwise tends to attribute more talent to the Obama administration than it has displayed thus far.

Let’s do some fact checking. First, let us ask how the story got started in the first place. I think we have three phenomena that account for the story. (1) Confirmation bias; (2) data mining; and (3) pattern recognition.

Confirmation bias: When we have a belief, we tend to develop tunnel-vision about that belief. We tend to notice evidence which confirms our belief and ignore evidence which goes against our belief. We may even search diligently for evidence confirming our belief. When we go searching for confirming evidence, we ought also to be just as diligent in looking for contrary evidence. In the more extreme forms of confirmation bias we engage in data mining.

Data mining: When confronted with a vast amount of data, we have to analyze the data to determine what is relevant to our inquiry and what is not. That’s why I always had the philosophy that in a murder investigation everything is relevant until it is shown to be irrelevant. We separate the wheat of relevant information from the chaff of irrelevance and we are able to make a sound judgment. When we data mine, however, we are not discarding irrelevant evidence, we are discarding evidence contrary to our position. We don’t look for relevant evidence, we look only for confirming evidence. We not only look for confirming evidence, we look for ways to interpret irrelevant evidence to support our theory. This is where pattern recognition comes in.

Pattern recognition: We are orderly creatures. We like for things to make sense. We like for them to conform to a pattern. We immediately recognize patterns. We are so good at recognizing patterns that we see them when they are not there. As a kid I used to lie on my back in my grandmother’s yard and look at the clouds. I saw all sorts of animals, people, and other things in the clouds. Of course they weren’t there. I was imposing a pattern on random data. That’s why we see the Man in the Moon. That’s why we saw the face on the surface of Mars. 

So how does this work with the government conspiracy to dry up the ammunition market? We start with the belief that the Obama administration is anti-gun. Confirmation bias kicks in and we notice every bit of information which confirms our belief while ignoring any information which disconfirms it. We data mine looking for confirmation and pull out the three unrelated factoids that the military is unwisely destroying ammunition, DHS and other government agencies are buying large quantities of ammunition, and the last lead smelting plant in the US has been shut down because of over-regulation by the EPA. As will be shown below, at least two of those factoids are open to question, but we ignore the contrary evidence. We look at the three unrelated factoids, pattern recognition kicks in, and we think we might see a vast government conspiracy to deplete the ammunition supply in the US. Now this is where most people would stop. They’ve got their confirmation and they’ve got a pretty little conspiracy theory.

Seeing the possibility of a government plot to back-door gun control through drying up the ammo supply should not be the end of our inquiry. It should be the beginning. Let’s ask around and see if the closure of the lead smelter is going to adversely impact the ammunition supply.

I think we can dig a little deeper and find evidence for the proposition that we are looking at isolated acts of incompetence rather than a diabolically clever scheme. On further examination, it seems that (1) The smelting plant was closed because of tightening EPA regulations which were enacted during the Bush administration. (2) There are other lead smelting plants still in operation. (3) Ammunition manufacturers have always bought their lead from the still-operating plants, not the closed plant.
See the following websites:

There goes one leg of the tripod of evidence for the back-door gun control theory. Another leg seems a little wobbly in light of Federal Ammunition’s statement that Department of Homeland Security purchases of ammo account for a very small part of their sales and that DHS purchases of ammunition are actually decreasing. See the Federal website FAQ page here: http://www.federalpremium.com/company/faq.aspx

Make no mistake about it, the Obama Administration is no friend of the Second Amendment, but the closure of the lead smelting plant gives us no reason to think they’re engaged in a plot to secretly destroy America’s ammunition supply. After all, Federal agencies need ammo too, even if the military doesn’t.