Friday, April 12, 2013

Why I oppose "universal background checks"

The truth is, I really don't - at least not in spirit.

I can haz rifle?
I think it's a great idea to keep guns out of the hands of the violent and crazy people who would do harm with them. The NRA (of which I am a card-carrying life member) even agrees with that principle, and there is already a system in place that covers the vast majority of legal firearm purchases: the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System).  Check out the link to see the laws that are already in place, contradicting the popular misconception that "any nut can go buy a gun."

You'll note that private transfers don't require a NICS check .. so, if my dad wanted to give me his AR-15, for example, he could do that (hint hint, Dad ;)) - as long as I'm allowed to have it. Background check or not, it's already illegal to transfer a firearm to someone who is subject to prohibition (in addition to being a dumb idea to begin with).

I think it would be great if private individuals could run a background check on the person about to buy their gun. The problem is, we can't.  Currently, only a federally licensed dealer can do that.  Truthfully, I wouldn't even be that upset if it ended there, but it doesn't.  The devil, as they say, is in the details...

Because guitars are cool, too!
What I am actually opposed to is the other baggage that goes along with every NICS background check performed. A lot of people don't realize this, but a background check involves far more than a yes or no decision on whether a person can have a gun. Besides collecting personally identifying information, the serial number and model of gun is also collected, along with a record of who received it - name, address, social security number, etc.. The government, by law, is supposed to destroy these records, but frankly I don't trust them to do that.  The dealer, however, is required by law to maintain those records and to turn them over to the feds when/if he goes out of business. And these same feds are always looking for a good excuse to revoke anyone's federal firearms license and seize this paperwork.  This creates a de-facto registry, in the hands of the federal government, of every firearm purchase that involves one of these "background checks," and that is what I have a problem with. You can see my FAQ and FRO page for the reason why.

You want expanded background checks?  Fine .. open up the NICS system to anyone, not just FFL dealers, and do away with the back-door registration scheme.  I wouldn't mind at all calling up the NICS number, giving them my information, and the prospective buyer's information, waiting a few minutes, and being told "go" or "no-go."  But, that's all that's really necessary .. they don't need to know what kind of gun it is, or if (in the event of a "go" decision) I even decide to go through with it after all. This is fine, because, let's face it, a criminal isn't even going to bother to call in the first place.

As I asserted before, it's already illegal for me to sell or give a firearm to anyone who shouldn't have one - this idea just gives me another tool to help me make sure I don't run afoul of that law, and it allows me, a responsible gun owning individual, to help keep them out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

Unfortunately, that's not even close to what's being proposed in Washington and several states. What they're after is just the next step in a much broader agenda which, they hope, will eventually lead to the complete disarming of law abiding Americans - and God only knows what after that. This is yet another devil in the details that begs the question, "who gets to decide who should and shouldn't have a gun, anyway?"  But that's for another post, I'm afraid ...
NOW we're talkin'

My Pretty Awesome uVerse Setup

WARNING: technical content - may not be suitable for non-nerds.

So, I just moved to a new house and brought my AT&T uVerse service with me. I decided at the same time to upgrade my in-home network to gigabit ethernet and 802.11n wireless.  Both are up to 10 times faster than what I previously had.  There were a few issues, though:

1. The uVerse RG, or "residential gateway," is not compatible with gigabit ethernet or 802.11n wireless. Instead, AT&T seems to be stuck in the dark ages of 100-base-t and 802.11g.

2. The service typically doesn't jive well with setting up your own router behind the RG. It can be done, but you kind of have to know what you're doing.  Since I do .. well .. challenge accepted.

3. The tech who did my install was a pretty awesome guy. When I told him I wanted to have Gig-E in the house, he made sure to run all the connections for the TV and stuff so that they would be compatible with Gig-E. If you decide to duplicate this setup at some point, make sure your technician does this, too, or you'll be out of luck. Anyway .. the problem here is that the TV signal takes up a LOT of bandwidth, and all that stuff was getting re-broadcast back onto my LAN and strangling it. Even the wifi was constantly transmitting, and it was stuff that's useless to the rest of the devices on the network.

So, the first step was to buy a gigabit router with 802.11n. I chose the D-Link DIR-825 for this, and got a refurbished one from Newegg for about $50. This is a dual-band router with quite a few bells and whistles, and it ended up being the key component in this installation - in fact, I ended up using 2 of them.

My original plan was to run the DIR-825 (known as "the router" henceforth) as an access point in the living room and have the TV hooked into it on the wired interface. This resulted in problem #3, so no-go there. I eventually do want to have a wifi access point in the living room, though, so the way I got around this is important.

First thing I did was to flash the latest version of OpenWRT onto both DIR-825 routers. For those who don't know, OpenWRT is an open-source firmware that runs on a lot of commercially available wireless routers and access points. It's usually far more feature-complete than the "stock" firmware that comes on these devices, and lets you do a lot more with them.  You can find out about openwrt at

The end result
Red = internet
Yellow = tv
Orange = vlan trunk line
After that, it was a matter of configuring each one to give me what I wanted.  The one in my office, next to the uVerse RG, became the actual router, and the one in the living room became a dumb access point without any routing features.  I actually have 3 separate networks (called VLANs) running over the single wire between the office and the living room:  1 for the TV, 1 for my local network with internet access and access locally to my server, and 1 for guests who want to use my WiFi to get on the internet.  Each network is isolated from the others, and the guest network is even isolated from itself (meaning guest devices can't see each other, only the internet).  The TV signal stays out of the other networks, and everything runs really well.

Just for references sake, here are a couple of links that I found very helpful when configuring my routers:

For configuring VLANs with uVerse:

For using my own router with uVerse:

For OpenWRT stuff:

For testing your firewall: