Saturday, December 06, 2008

Precisely Wrong

Apologies, while they may hurt the pride (or the pocketbook) are easy.

A simple "I'm sorry. I screwed up. I'll fix it, and try not to do it again"... it isn't hard.

A sincere apology goes a long way.

Some people though, seem to be incapable of apologizing. Oh they may seem to say they're sorry, but... no that's not quite right is it...

"I'm sorry you were offended"... ummm, wait a sec... That's not actually saying you're sorry is it now... in fact that's rather saying "I'm sorry you were a whiny oversensitive idiot. It's not my fault, but I'm saying this to placate you"... or something like that anyway...

Last Monday, it came to the attention of the online gun community at large, that H-S Precision, a leading manufacturer of stocks for precision rifles, had sought out the endorsement of the former head of the FBI hostage rescue team sniper program.

This of course seems a natural thing, given that the FBI is a prestigious organization, HRT is an elite unite within the FBI, and that they use H-S precision stocks; this would be a great endorsement normally...

... but for one rather large thing; which has the online firearms community incensed, and calling for the boycott of H-S precision:

The former head of the sniper programs name, is Lon Horiuchi.

Why does this matter? What's in a name? Why are so many people so angry?

Lon Horiuchi is widely considered a murderer by American gun owners. He was in fact tried for manslaughter, but his bosses in the FBI and department of justice made charges go away by claiming a jurisdictional issue.

You see, Lon Horiuchi was the sniper who killed Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge, while she was holding her infant in her arms.

Some background on the incident from an earlier post of mine, "Murder by Incompetence" from August 23rd 2007:
Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the murder of Vicki Weaver by the FBI; and the day before, was the anniversary of her sons murder by US Marshals acting in concert with the ATF.

Yes, I said murdered by the government. Not just killed, but murdered. A crime was committed; and it has never been properly redressed.

Much of the attention and blame for this crime has fallen on Lon Horiuchi, the sniper who took the shot that Killed Vicki Weaver. I won't excuse what he did (he should have known better), but he was operating on very bad information, very bad orders, and under what I would consider clearly unlawful rules of engagement.

The greater culpability for this incident lies in the US marshals who were initially on scene; and from the FBI, HRT commander Richard Rogers, SAC Eugene Glenn, and deputy directory Larry Potts; who took over the scene after Kevin Harris killed deputy marshal William Degan in self defense.

On the morning of August 21st, during a botched surveillance operation; deputy US marshal Art Roderick fired at Sammy Weaver (Randy Weavers son) and Kevin Harris, or at their dog striker (this is unclear); killing the dog, and drawing return defensive fire from Weaver and Harris.

Deputy marshals Roderick, Degan, Frank Norris and Larry Cooper then opened fire on Weaver and Harris. Degan shot and wounded both Weaver and Harris, at which point Harris shot back directly at Degan, killing him. In retaliation, deputy marshal Cooper then shot Sammy Weaver; killing him.

At no time in this engagement, did the deputies serve a warrant, or identify themselves as marshals.

When the marshals called in the FBI, the situation they described to the SAC, was an outright lie. They informed the SAC and the HRT commander that the Weavers were radical religious fanatics, part of a white supremacist holy war cult; that all members of the family were armed and ready to fight at all times, and that they were going to kill their children and themselves rather than surrender.

The marshals also told the SAC that they had been pinned down for 12 hours by heavy small arms fire, and possibly automatic weapons; and that William Degan had been deliberately murdered.

Based on this outright lie, the FBI instituted rules of engagement to allow any adult with a weapon to be shot on sight. These ROE were clearly unlawful, and should have been rejected by the onsite agents (and a judge decided that as well later); instead HRT acted on them for a full day.

Within a few hours, the FBI chain of command knew that the marshals had lied; but they did not change the illegal rules of engagement until after Horiuchi had already fired several shots at Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris (wounding both). Horiuchis final shot at Harris missed him, and struck Vicki Weaver who was standing in the doorway that Harris was entering, holding her infant child.

I believe that Lon Horiuchi was negligent in his actions that day in firing through the doorway; and he was derelict in his duty to the constitution when he accepted the unlawful rules of engagement; but he did not commit deliberate murder.

It seems clear to me however that the marshals wanted revenge for the killing of William Degan, and to cover up their own unlawful acts and incompetence. In furtherance of this, they deliberately mislead the FBI in the hopes that the Weavers would be killed, and there would be no witnesses left alive to their crimes.

There is no doubt that Larry Cooper murdered Sammy Weaver, by shooting him (under whatever circumstances), while attempting to cover up the crimes and incompeteance of he and his colleagues. Further, there is no doubt that the US marshalls lied to the FBI in order to cover up their incompetence, and possibly their crimes.

At the very least, they should be tried for manslaughter, if not second degree murder; in the deaths of Sammy and Vicki Weaver.

Additionally, SAC Glenn, SAC Rogers and deputy director Potts knew that the rules of engagement instituted that day were illegal, unconstitutional, and unjustified. They should never have instituted those rules; but even in so doing, once they found they had been misled by the marshals they had an absolute duty to rescind them.

They did not do so, and their incompetence and misfeasance of duty directly caused the murder of Vicki Weaver.

Given these circumstances, Lon Horiuchi has been saddled, somewhat unfairly, with the majority of the burden of these crimes. I simply believe this is incorrect.

Horiuchi committed negligent homicide; but I believe his chain of command showed a depraved indifference to the lives of the Weavers, based on their political beliefs; and therefore committed second degree murder, or first degree manslaughter (depending on the laws of Idaho, which I am unfamiliar with).
As you can see, I don't personally consider Horiuchi a murderer; however it is abundantly clear, that he committed an unjustified homicide; which can be construed as several different crimes, depending on the totality of the circumstances, and the exact laws of the jurisdiction.

By the laws of most states, Horiuchis actions would be charged as manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or second degree murder (again, depending on the state, and the exact totality of the circumstances).

The standard by which criminal negligence is decided in most states is thus (or similar): If the defendant knew or should have known, that their actions could result in a criminal act or criminal harm, then they are guilty of criminal negligence.

Further, some states have a concept of depraved indifference; where if one could reasonably foresee unjustified grave harm coming as a consequence of an act, and does it anyway, one is either criminally negligent, or worse. Some states elevate depraved indifference homicide to the same level as deliberate murder.

Lon Horiuchi knew, or should have known, that his rules of engagement were unlawful and unconstitutional. You cannot excuse "just following orders" when those orders are clearly unlawful. He acted on those orders, even though he could reasonably forsee unjustified grave harm coming to those subjects he was engaging.

He acted on those orders, and an unarmed woman with a baby in her arms died.

Based on this, Boundary county Idaho prosecuted him.

They indicted him, and brought him to trial; however the trial was ended and charges were ordered dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that Boundary county couldn't try Horiuchi because he was a federal agent acting in the scope of his duties as an FBI agent; and that any prosecution would have to be at a federal level (the supremacy doctrine).

Idaho petitioned the US attorney and attorney general to prosecute Horiuchi, but they declined on the grounds of sovereign immunity (an agent of the state - specifically in this case a law enforcement officer - cannot be criminally prosecuted for acting within their duties, so long as they acted in good faith, and without negligence).

Idahos argument was that sovereign immunity did not apply, because the shots taken did not follow the FBIs shoot/no-shoot guidelines, or lethal force guidelines, and because the rules of engagement were clearly unlawful; however the FBI formally disagreed, stating that it was the onsite commanders call, and that Horiuchi behaved appropriately and in good faith.

As charging is at the discretion of the US attorney of the state, or of the attorney general (at that point Janet Reno); and feeling that the FBI had adequately dealt with the situation internally, they declined to prosecute.

Idaho then appealed the judges decision on the supremacy doctrine, and won; clearing the way to try Horiuchi again. However, by this time, several years had passed, a new county prosecutor was in place, the FBI was stonewalling, and the justice department was pressuring the state and county very hard to drop the case; so Boundary county declined to refile.

I realize this is a lot of background matieral; but you need to understand why it is that so many people are so upset about this.

Lon Horiuchi killed a woman with a baby in her arms, without justification, while acting as a sniper during an unlawful operation; and acting under unlawful and unconstitutional orders. He was charged, and tried, but got off on an administrative technicality and through political pressure...

... and a company making equipment for snipers, published a full page endorsement from him on the back of their catalog.

As has been said, that's a lot like having Bull Connor endorse your brand of firehoses.

At best this endorsement is a major gaffe, and a bit tone deaf. At worst, it's a deliberate thumb in the eye to the millions (and it probably is in the low millions. It's certainly at least hundreds of thousands) of Americans who consider Horiuchi a murderer (or something akin to it).

Those people, who just happen to be H-S precisions core customer base. Precision shooting enthusiasts, competitive shooters, the military, and law enforcement. I think if you were to poll all of the above, all of us (and I'm certainly in that group), even the majority of law enforcement snipers (and yes I'm sure every last one of them is familiar with the incident), would find this endorsement at the least stupid, and more likely offensive.

As it turns out however, the president of H-S precision, Tom Houghton Jr., is old friends with Horiuchi. In fact, it was in part that friendship which led to the FBI using H-S precision stocks on their sniper rifles.

You might say that Tom Houghton "owes one" to Horiuchi.

Clearly, the company knew about the incident, and knew about the opinion of the gun owning public; and did it anyway.

Now I'm speculating here, but based on the companies actions I think I'm justified in saying they did this because as far as president of H-S precision is concerned, his friend did nothing wrong.

Of course they did not state this publicly, as this would be suicide.

H-S precisions single largest customer is Remington Arms; who use H-S precision stocks on their factory custom rifles, their special police and marksman rifles, and their tactical rifles. All in all I believe Remington accounts for about 1/3 of H-S precisions business.

Last February, a gentleman by the name of Jim Zumbo; a 30 year veteran writer and hunting editor for outdoor life, and television host for the outdoor life channel, who had been sponsored by Remington for over 20 years; wrote a post for his Remington sponsored blog, in which he described the most popular centerfire semi-automatic rifle in the united states, the AR-15, as a "terrorist gun".

In this article Zumbo said that there was no legitimate use for an AR (or other "evil black rifles") and called for the AR to be banned from civilian hands; because the mere fact that they are available threatens his own preferred "hunting" guns.

Within hours of the post going up, outdoor life and Remington had received tens of thousands of emails and telephone calls. Over the next few days letters poured in.

Zumbo made one of those non-apology apologies, basically saying "hey sorry I upset you, but I didn't do anything wrong".

The very next day, outdoor life canceled his longstanding column, terminated him as hunting editor, and dropped him from their TV network. Remington canceled Zumbos sponsorship deals; and all his other sponsors followed suit.

Last week, the CEO of Remington Tommy Milner said the following:
Because its thanksgiving and everyone is off, we have not made contact with HS. We have taken any reference to HS from our web site..

When you first emailed me I honestly did not recall horiuchi's name so you caught me unawares. I also do not read the blogs so the fact there was an issue came as a surpise.

In any event, HS makes a great product and we are a large customer of theirs. Why they would pick a super controversial spokesperson is beyond me. Doing this violates pure business common sense. Early next week we will use whatever persuasive powers at our disposal to get HS to do the right thing..

Do me a favor and tell those on the bolgs that Remington and I are now fully aware of the issue, in full agreement with the outrage, and will do what we can t exert pressure on HS to reverse course.


I happen to agree with Tommy Milner, H-S precision makes a good product. In fact, I had ordered a customized stock from them for my 1000 yard rifle project.

They have unfortunately been oddly silent.

The morning after the story broke (I read it about 9pm the day of) I called H-S precision, but got voicemail. I left messages for both sales, and marketing; explaining that I was a customer of theirs, and also a writer and editor of several web sites, and I wanted to hear from them regarding the endorsement as soon as possible.

I called back this week, and again got nothing but voicemail. They have not been granting any requests for comment, or interviews for the now thousands of inquiries they have recieved; apparently including not responding to their major vendors and customers (according to people inside said vendors and customers; of course unofficially).

In fact, they have said exactly nothing for nearly two weeks since the story broke... until yesterday.

I've been waiting to write anything about this story until we'd heard from H-S officially.

Yesterday, H-S Precision released the following statement:

To Our Valued Customers:

H-S Precision has received comments relating to individual testimonials in our 2008 catalog. All of the testimonials focused on the quality, accuracy and customer service provided by H-S Precision.

The management of H-S Precision did not intend to offend anyone or create any type of controversy. We are revising our 2009 catalog and removing all product testimonials.


The Management of H-S Precision
Well, I can see a lot wrong with that statement... first, I think we should strike that "sincerely", because clearly there was nothing sincere about it.

Clealry they are saying "well, we don't think we did anythign wrong, but we're sorry you were offended".

To add insult to injury, they did not send this to anyone directly, nor respond to any questions. They quietly put up a small "news" link in the upper right corner of their website, and released that statement without fanfare... perhaps hoping no-one would notice?

We noticed.

In the mere hours since this statement was released, even those who had previously been defending H-S precision have been calling for a boycott of their products... even going so far as to call for a boycott on anyone selling H-S Precision products, or otherwise doing business with them (such as Brownells and Midway USA).

On my part, I'll be canceling my order with them on Monday. I was waiting for the statement, now I have it, and I'm showing them exactly what I think about it.

I can only speculate about what the reaction of the rest of H-S's customers will be; but I predict this will be the end of the company.

This non-apology is in fact WORSE than Zumbos, because it is insincere and disingenuous; and because H-S precisions KNEW exactly what they were saying and doing than and now, and knew what our reaction (and yes I share it) as gun owners would be.

I expect we'll hear from Tommy Milner on Monday, announcing they have canceled their contracts with H-S. There may be legal wrangling involved, but Remington knows that they won't be selling another precision/tactical rifle with an H-S stock on it; or at least not to the non-leo/military market (government contracts are a lot harder to change).

I expect we'll also hear from Midway USA and Brownells (their two largest distributors) shortly thereafter, announcing they are dropping H-S.

Right now, there is exactly one thing H-S precision could do to save the company, if they're lucky: They could issue a statement condemning Lon Horiuchi, and his and the FBIs actions at Ruby Ridge; and profusely and sincerely apologizing to the Weaver family, and to the gun owning public for being so stupid and offensive.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen. I think Tom Houghton really believes that he did nothing wrong, and neither did his friend Lon Horiuchi.

This mans pride is going to kill his company.

Oh and Jim Zumbo? He's back at outdoor life (though he's no longer the hunting editor) and he's back on TV. He educated himself about the issue, and made a sincere apology, and to an extent, he has been forgiven (he will never be totally forgiven, nor totally trusted. That's just the way gunnies are).

A sincere apology sometimes goes a long way.