Sunday, January 27, 2013

Private sales of firearms in Massachusetts are closely regulated

The common perception about private sales of firearms in Massachusetts is that they skirt around the requirement to have a background check. Most people believe there is no control over these transactions, resulting in the often misunderstood "gun show loophole."

First of all, the lion's share of sales at gun shows are made by licensed dealers who must run background checks on those sales on the spot. For the sales that happen between private citizens, whether at a gun show or not, there are tight controls.

Within seven days of a private sale, Form FA-10 must be filed with the state. It's the same form that licensed dealers send to the state. On that form, the buyer and seller must record their license numbers (firearms ID card or license-to-carry) and information about the firearm exchanged.

There is no requirement to run an instant background check, but here's where license monitoring comes in. As an FID card or LTC holder, a person is subject to having his/her firearms confiscated and license suspended or revoked if arrested for committing a wide range of crimes. As an example, police have the authority to confiscate weapons and suspend/revoke a license in cases of alleged domestic abuse. Even if charges are dropped, a police chief may decide that, for LTC holders, the suitability of the person to carry a firearm has been breached and a license can be revoked.

A private sale is illegal if either of the parties has a suspended or revoked licensed, or no license at all. The state police will quickly take action upon receiving an FA-10 which has a license number flagged for suspension or revocation or which fails to match the database of clean licenses.

Additionally, a seller cannot sell more than four firearms in a calendar year. That is to prevent people from becoming unlicensed dealers.

One might argue that these requirements would be ineffective for a person intent on purchasing a firearm to commit a crime. That's true, of course. A person could put a fictitious license number, name and address on the FA-10. A buyer with a suspended license could put legitimate information on the form and commit the crime within seven days. There are many ways that a person can obtain a firearm by illegal means, including purchasing one "on the street" without bothering to fill out a form. The key here is that all of these scenarios are already against the law.

Do we need to close the "gun show loophole" and require instant background checks for all sales? That will be debated this year on Beacon Hill and I'll be listening to the arguments carefully. I welcome your input.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Top ten strategies for Words with Friends

I am unable to stop playing Words with Friends, the Scrabble look-alike for online opponents. I played Scrabble as a kid and had to defend my words constantly, a key difference between the two versions of this crossword puzzle inspired game.

In Words with Friends, you are warned that a word is unacceptable and then are given the opportunity to keep trying. In Scrabble, a successful challenge results in a loss of turn. I'm often asking my wife the definition of a word that she has played, knowing that neither one of us has a clue. I've gone to the trouble of looking up the definitions of XI, AA, SH, QAT, QAID, KA, ZA and KORE, but have forgotten them. Knowing that they're acceptable words is all that matters.

To promote better play, I've compiled a list of ten game strategies and encourage others to add to my list or take exception to them.

1) Never play an opening word with fewer than five letters, the minimum necessary to cover the double word spot. If that's not possible, play a two-letter, two-point word. There is no point in playing a two or more point letter without covering the double word square.

2) Never play a word that ends one square short of a double or triple word multiplier unless the word cannot be appended. Playing ZOO with a double or triple word square immediately following it invites your opponent to slap on an S and head off in a different direction to enhance the score. For example, playing SKY with the S on a triple word square at the end of ZOO would generate a score of at least 66.

3) Points that you prevent are worth the same as points you score. Take the above strategy as an example. If you played a lesser scoring word than ZOO, say DO, you'd be much better off.

4) Playing the first word to the left or above the center star creates a more open board, which is good for higher scoring games. Playing to the right or below the center star closes the board, making for a lower scoring, but potentially more challenging, game.

5) Save an S when using it would only add 1, 2 or 3 points to your score. They are more valuable, especially later in the game, to pluralize existing words for big points. The same goes for blank tiles. They can be enormously helpful later in the game and don't count against you if your opponent plays out before you do.

6) Playing all the letters in your tray gives you a bonus of 35 points. If you have a tray that spells out a seven-letter word, but have no place to play it, don't wait too long waiting for an opportunity. Passing your turn once is okay, just don't keep doing it hoping for a miracle.

7) Another key difference between Scrabble and Words with Friends is WWF has four pairs of double word multipliers sitting just five squares apart. Rack your brain for ways to capitalize on this powerful point generator. The word ZYGOTE covering two double word squares is a very satisfying and, at the same time, demoralizing play.

8) Start dumping your high point letters when the pool of undrawn letters shrinks to fewer than ten. As much as you want to play your J, Z and X on big multiplier squares, if your opponent plays out first, remaining letters in your tray both reduce your score and add to your opponent's score.

9) Letter swapping can be helpful to remedying a tray such as AAAOOOU. I rarely do it because you lose a turn when swapping letters, but there is no worse tray than one without any consonants.

10) C's and V's can be very tactical letters for blocking your opponent's access to double and triple word squares. Neither can be combined with any other letter to form a two-letter word.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Drilling down to the true motivation

Let's conjecture about two neighboring states, Vermont and Massachusetts, that have populations which consume a common product, maple syrup.

Vermont is king of maple syrup in the United States, producing far more than its residents can eat (drink?). In fact, more than one million gallons are output annually, from single-owner sugar shacks to large factories.

On the consumption side, Bay Staters pour much more maple syrup on their pancakes than Vermonters do, however, production of maple syrup in Massachusetts is less than a tenth of Vermont's.

Now let's imagine that a brilliant agro-scientist invents a genetically-altered maple tree that produces twenty times the amount of sap of a normal tree and matures in half the time, but only grows in the Massachusetts Berkshires. The promise of a quickly expanding supply of the raw material for producing maple syrup attracts the attention of companies looking to set up shop in Western Mass.

What would the Vermont maple syrup industry do? Sit idly on the sidelines? Or might they consider waging a media campaign pushing their "natural" maple syrup, enjoyed by generations of Americans? Might they create doubt in the minds of people about the genetically-altered syrup, pointing out that it's untested and claiming that it might cause massive negative health effects down the road?

Maybe they'd go a step further and hire lobbyists to convince the Massachusetts legislature to outlaw this obviously dangerous tree in an effort to stave off a potential health disaster.

Does this seem ridiculous? Would people actually carry out such extreme measures to protect their financial interests?

Now swap the Vermont maple syrup for Middle East oil and the genetically-altered syrup for oil produced in the United States by means of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Would the oil producing countries in the Middle East be motivated to turn Americans' opinions against fracking, a production technology combined with dramatic improvements in seismic detection and directional drilling, which has the potential to zero out U.S. imports of foreign oil and drop prices worldwide?

Might an oil rich country, such as Qatar, be motivated to invest in an anti-fracking movie designed to inform public opinion?

Might Middle Eastern countries' oil industries support clean energy lobbies in the U.S. which, although seemingly in conflict with their own interests, actually serve their interests by mounting pressure against the U.S. exploiting its own oil and gas reserves?

Might the sale of Al Gore's Current TV to Al Jazeera create a platform for spreading the word?

Just sayin'...