Tag Archives: OCR

The US Is Unprepared for Election-Related Hacking in 2018

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/the_us_is_unpre.html

This survey and report is not surprising:

The survey of nearly forty Republican and Democratic campaign operatives, administered through November and December 2017, revealed that American political campaign staff — primarily working at the state and congressional levels — are not only unprepared for possible cyber attacks, but remain generally unconcerned about the threat. The survey sample was relatively small, but nevertheless the survey provides a first look at how campaign managers and staff are responding to the threat.

The overwhelming majority of those surveyed do not want to devote campaign resources to cybersecurity or to hire personnel to address cybersecurity issues. Even though campaign managers recognize there is a high probability that campaign and personal emails are at risk of being hacked, they are more concerned about fundraising and press coverage than they are about cybersecurity. Less than half of those surveyed said they had taken steps to make their data secure and most were unsure if they wanted to spend any money on this protection.

Security is never something we actually want. Security is something we need in order to avoid what we don’t want. It’s also more abstract, concerned with hypothetical future possibilities. Of course it’s lower on the priorities list than fundraising and press coverage. They’re more tangible, and they’re more immediate.

This is all to the attackers’ advantage.

The DMCA and its Chilling Effects on Research

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/the_dmca_and_it.html

The Center for Democracy and Technology has a good summary of the current state of the DMCA’s chilling effects on security research.

To underline the nature of chilling effects on hacking and security research, CDT has worked to describe how tinkerers, hackers, and security researchers of all types both contribute to a baseline level of security in our digital environment and, in turn, are shaped themselves by this environment, most notably when things they do upset others and result in threats, potential lawsuits, and prosecution. We’ve published two reports (sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation and MacArthur Foundation) about needed reforms to the law and the myriad of ways that security research directly improves people’s lives. To get a more complete picture, we wanted to talk to security researchers themselves and gauge the forces that shape their work; essentially, we wanted to “take the pulse” of the security research community.

Today, we are releasing a third report in service of this effort: “Taking the Pulse of Hacking: A Risk Basis for Security Research.” We report findings after having interviewed a set of 20 security researchers and hackers — half academic and half non-academic — about what considerations they take into account when starting new projects or engaging in new work, as well as to what extent they or their colleagues have faced threats in the past that chilled their work. The results in our report show that a wide variety of constraints shape the work they do, from technical constraints to ethical boundaries to legal concerns, including the DMCA and especially the CFAA.

Note: I am a signatory on the letter supporting unrestricted security research.

Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/introducing-cloud-compute-services/

Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships

In 2015, we announced Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage — the most affordable, high performance storage cloud on the planet. The decision to release B2 as a service was in direct response to customers asking us if they could use the same cloud storage infrastructure we use for our Computer Backup service. With B2, we entered a market in direct competition with Amazon S3, Google Cloud Services, and Microsoft Azure Storage. Today, we have over 500 petabytes of data from customers in over 150 countries. At $0.005 / GB / month for storage (1/4th of S3) and $0.01 / GB for downloads (1/5th of S3), it turns out there’s a healthy market for cloud storage that’s easy and affordable.

As B2 has grown, customers wanted to use our cloud storage for a variety of use cases that required not only storage but compute. We’re happy to say that through partnerships with Packet & ServerCentral, today we’re announcing that compute is now available for B2 customers.

Cloud Compute and Storage

Backblaze has directly connected B2 with the compute servers of Packet and ServerCentral, thereby allowing near-instant (< 10 ms) data transfers between services. Also, transferring data between B2 and both our compute partners is free.

  • Storing data in B2 and want to run an AI analysis on it? — There are no fees to move the data to our compute partners.
  • Generating data in an application? — Run the application with one of our partners and store it in B2.
  • Transfers are free and you’ll save more than 50% off of the equivalent set of services from AWS.

These partnerships enable B2 customers to use compute, give our compute partners’ customers access to cloud storage, and introduce new customers to industry-leading storage and compute — all with high-performance, low-latency, and low-cost.

Is This a Big Deal? We Think So

Compute is one of the most requested services from our customers Why? Because it unlocks a number of use cases for them. Let’s look at three popular examples:

Transcoding Media Files

B2 has earned wide adoption in the Media & Entertainment (“M&E”) industry. Our affordable storage and download pricing make B2 great for a wide variety of M&E use cases. But many M&E workflows require compute. Content syndicators, like American Public Television, need the ability to transcode files to meet localization and distribution management requirements.

There are a multitude of reasons that transcode is needed — thumbnail and proxy generation enable M&E professionals to work efficiently. Without compute, the act of transcoding files remains cumbersome. Either the files need to be brought down from the cloud, transcoded, and then pushed back up or they must be kept locally until the project is complete. Both scenarios are inefficient.

Starting today, any content producer can spin up compute with one of our partners, pay by the hour for their transcode processing, and return the new media files to B2 for storage and distribution. The company saves money, moves faster, and ensures their files are safe and secure.

Disaster Recovery

Backblaze’s heritage is based on providing outstanding backup services. When you have incredibly affordable cloud storage, it ends up being a great destination for your backup data.

Most enterprises have virtual machines (“VMs”) running in their infrastructure and those VMs need to be backed up. In a disaster scenario, a business wants to know they can get back up and running quickly.

With all data stored in B2, a business can get up and running quickly. Simply restore your backed up VM to one of our compute providers, and your business will be able to get back online.

Since B2 does not place restrictions, delays, or penalties on getting data out, customers can get back up and running quickly and affordably.

Saving $74 Million (aka “The Dropbox Effect”)

Ten years ago, Backblaze decided that S3 was too costly a platform to build its cloud storage business. Instead, we created the Backblaze Storage Pod and our own cloud storage infrastructure. That decision enabled us to offer our customers storage at a previously unavailable price point and maintain those prices for over a decade. It also laid the foundation for Netflix Open Connect and Facebook Open Compute.

Dropbox recently migrated the majority of their cloud services off of AWS and onto Dropbox’s own infrastructure. By leaving AWS, Dropbox was able to build out their own data centers and still save over $74 Million. They achieved those savings by avoiding the fees AWS charges for storing and downloading data, which, incidentally, are five times higher than Backblaze B2.

For Dropbox, being able to realize savings was possible because they have access to enough capital and expertise that they can build out their own infrastructure. For companies that have such resources and scale, that’s a great answer.

“Before this offering, the economics of the cloud would have made our business simply unviable.” — Gabriel Menegatti, SlicingDice

The questions Backblaze and our compute partners pondered was “how can we democratize the Dropbox effect for our storage and compute customers? How can we help customers do more and pay less?” The answer we came up with was to connect Backblaze’s B2 storage with strategic compute partners and remove any transfer fees between them. You may not save $74 million as Dropbox did, but you can choose the optimal providers for your use case and realize significant savings in the process.

This Sounds Good — Tell Me More About Your Partners

We’re very fortunate to be launching our compute program with two fantastic partners in Packet and ServerCentral. These partners allow us to offer a range of computing services.

Packet

We recommend Packet for customers that need on-demand, high performance, bare metal servers available by the hour. They also have robust offerings for private / customized deployments. Their offerings end up costing 50-75% of the equivalent offerings from EC2.

To get started with Packet and B2, visit our partner page on Packet.net.

ServerCentral

ServerCentral is the right partner for customers that have business and IT challenges that require more than “just” hardware. They specialize in fully managed, custom cloud solutions that solve complex business and IT challenges. ServerCentral also has expertise in managed network solutions to address global connectivity and content delivery.

To get started with ServerCentral and B2, visit our partner page on ServerCentral.com.

What’s Next?

We’re excited to find out. The combination of B2 and compute unlocks use cases that were previously impossible or at least unaffordable.

“The combination of performance and price offered by this partnership enables me to create an entirely new business line. Before this offering, the economics of the cloud would have made our business simply unviable,” noted Gabriel Menegatti, co-founder at SlicingDice, a serverless data warehousing service. “Knowing that transfers between compute and B2 are free means I don’t have to worry about my business being successful. And, with download pricing from B2 at just $0.01 GB, I know I’m avoiding a 400% tax from AWS on data I retrieve.”

What can you do with B2 & compute? Please share your ideas with us in the comments. And, for those attending NAB 2018 in Las Vegas next week, please come by and say hello!

The post Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

[$] Recent improvements to Tor

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/750312/rss

We may need Tor, “the onion router”,
more than we ever imagined. Authoritarian states are blocking more and more web
sites
and snooping
on their populations online
—even routine tracking of our online
activities
can reveal information that can be used to undermine
democracy. Thus, there was strong interest in the “State of the Onion”
panel at the 2018 LibrePlanet conference, where
four contributors to the Tor project presented a progress update covering the
past few years.

Subscribers can read on for a report on the panel by guest author Andy Oram.

Public Lab and Karen Sandler are 2017 Free Software Awards winners

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/750153/rss

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) announced
the winners of the 2017 Free Software Awards during LibrePlanet.
Public Lab is a community and non-profit organization with the goal
of democratizing science to address environmental issues. Their
community-created tools and techniques utilize free software and low-cost
devices to enable people at any level of technical skill to investigate
environmental concerns.
” The organization received the Award for
Projects of Social Benefit. Karen Sandler, the Executive Director of the
Software Freedom Conservancy, received the Award for the Advancement of
Free Software.

Welcome Jacob – Data Center Technician

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/welcome-jacob-data-center-technician/

With over 500 Petabytes of data under management we need more people keeping the drives spinning in our data center. We’re constantly hiring Systems Administrators and Data Center Technicians, and here’s our latest one! Lets learn a bit more about Jacob, shall we?

What is your Backblaze Title?
Data center Technician

Where are you originally from?
Ojai, CA

What attracted you to Backblaze?
It’s a technical job that believes in training it’s employees and treating them well.

What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze?
As much as I can.

Where else have you worked?
I was a Team Lead at Target, I did some volunteer work with the Ventura County Medical Center, and I also worked at a motocross track.

Where did you go to school?
Ventura Community College, then 1 semester at Sac State

What’s your dream job?
Don’t really have one. Whatever can support my family and that I enjoy.

Favorite place you’ve traveled?
Yosemite National Park for the touristy stuff, Bend Oregon for a good getaway place.

Favorite hobby?
Gaming and music. It’s a tie.

Of what achievement are you most proud?
Marring my wife Masha.

Star Trek or Star Wars?
Wars. 100%. I’m a major Star Wars geek.

Coke or Pepsi?
Monster.

Favorite food?
French fries.

Why do you like certain things?
Because my brain tells me I like them.

Thank you for helping care for all of our customer’s data. Welcome to the data center team Jacob!

The post Welcome Jacob – Data Center Technician appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Two New Papers on the Encryption Debate

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/two_new_papers_.html

Seems like everyone is writing about encryption and backdoors this season.

I recently blogged about the new National Academies report on the same topic.

Here’s a review of the National Academies report, and another of the East West Institute’s report.

EDITED TO ADD (3/8): Commentary on the National Academies study by the EFF.

When You Have A Blockchain, Everything Looks Like a Nail

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/blockchain-everything-looks-like-nail/

Blockchain, AI, big data, NoSQL, microservices, single page applications, cloud, SOA. What do these have in common? They have been or are hyped. At some point they were “the big thing” du jour. Everyone was investigating the possibility of using them, everyone was talking about them, there were meetups, conferences, articles on Hacker news and reddit. There are more examples, of course (which is the javascript framework this month?) but I’ll focus my examples on those above.

Another thing they have in common is that they are useful. All of them have some pretty good applications that are definitely worth the time and investment.

Yet another thing they have in common is that they are far from universally applicable. I’ve argued that monoliths are often still the better approach and that microservices introduce too much complexity for the average project. Big Data is something very few organizations actually have; AI/machine learning can help a wide variety of problems, but it is just a tool in a toolbox, not the solution to all problems. Single page applications are great for, yeah, applications, but most websites are still websites, not feature-rich frontends – you don’t need an SPA for every type of website. NoSQL has solved niche issues, and issues of scale that few companies have had, but nothing beats a good old relational database for the typical project out there. “The cloud” is not always where you want your software to be; and SOA just means everything (ESBs, direct integrations, even microservices, according to some). And the blockchain – it seems to be having limited success beyond cryptocurrencies.

And finally, another trait many of them share is that the hype has settled down. Only yesterday I read an article about the “death of the microservices madness”. I don’t see nearly as many new NoSQL databases as a few years ago, some of the projects that have been popular have faded. SOA and “the cloud” are already “boring”, and we’ve realized we don’t actually have big data if it fits in an Excel spreadsheet. SPAs and AI are still high in popularity, but we are getting a good understanding as a community why and when they are useful.

But it seems that nuanced reality has never stopped us from hyping a particular technology or approach. And maybe that’s okay in order to get a promising, though niche, technology, the spotlight and let it shine in the particular usecases where it fits.

But countless projects have and will suffer from our collective inability to filter through these hypes. I’d bet millions of developer hours have been wasted in trying to use the above technologies where they just didn’t fit. It’s like that scene from Idiocracy where a guy tries to fit a rectangular figure into a circular hole.

And the new one is not “the blockchain”. I won’t repeat my rant, but in summary – it doesn’t solve many of the problems companies are trying to solve with it right now just because it’s cool. Or at least it doesn’t solve them better than existing solutions. Many pilots will be carried out, many hours will be wasted in figuring out why that thing doesn’t work. A few of those projects will be a good fit and will actually bring value.

Do you need to reach multi-party consensus for the data you store? Can all stakeholder support the infrastructure to run their node(s)? Do they have the staff to administer the node(s)? Do you need to execute distributed application code on the data? Won’t it be easier to just deploy RESTful APIs and integrate the parties through that? Do you need to store all the data, or just parts of it, to guarantee data integrity?

“If you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” as the famous saying goes. In the software industry we repeatedly find new and cool hammers and then try to hit as many nails as we can. But only few of them are actual nails. The rest remain ugly, hard to support, “who was the idiot that wrote this” and “I wasn’t here when the decisions were made” types of projects.

I don’t have the illusion that we will calm down and skip the next hypes. Especially if adding the hyped word to your company raises your stock price. But if there’s one thing I’d like people to ask themselves when choosing a technology stack, it is “do we really need that to solve our problems?”.

If the answer is really “yes”, then great, go ahead and deploy the multi-organization permissioned blockchain, or fork Ethereum, or whatever. If not, you can still do a project a home that you can safely abandon. And if you need some pilot project to figure out whether the new piece of technology would be beneficial – go ahead and try it. But have a baseline – the fact that it somehow worked doesn’t mean it’s better than old, tested models of doing the same thing.

The post When You Have A Blockchain, Everything Looks Like a Nail appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Rosie the Countdown champion

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/rosie-the-countdown-champion/

Beating the contestants at Countdown: is it cheating if you happen to know every word in the English dictionary?

Rosie plays Countdown

Allow your robots to join in the fun this Christmas with a round of Channel 4’s Countdown. https://www.rosietheredrobot.com/2017/12/tea-minus-30.html

Rosie the Red Robot

First, a little bit of backstory. Challenged by his eldest daughter to build a robot, technology-loving Alan got to work building Rosie.

I became (unusually) determined. I wanted to show her what can be done… and the how can be learnt later. After all, there is nothing more exciting and encouraging than seeing technology come alive. Move. Groove. Quite literally.

Originally, Rosie had a Raspberry Pi 3 brain controlling ultrasonic sensors and motors via Python. From there, she has evolved into something much grander, and Alan has documented her upgrades on the Rosie the Red Robot blog. Using GPS trackers and a Raspberry Pi camera module, she became Rosie Patrol, a rolling, walking, interactive bot; then, with further upgrades, the Tea Minus 30 project came to be. Which brings us back to Countdown.

T(ea) minus 30

In case it hasn’t been a big part of your life up until now, Countdown is one of the longest running televisions shows in history, and occupies a special place in British culture. Contestants take turns to fill a board with nine randomly selected vowels and consonants, before battling the Countdown clock to find the longest word they can in the space of 30 seconds.

The Countdown Clock

I’ve had quite a few requests to show just the Countdown clock for use in school activities/own games etc., so here it is! Enjoy! It’s a brand new version too, using the 2010 Office package.

There’s a numbers round involving arithmetic, too – but for now, we’re going to focus on letters and words, because that’s where Rosie’s skills shine.

Using an online resource, Alan created a dataset of the ten thousand most common English words.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Many words, listed in order of common-ness. Alan wrote a Python script to order them alphabetically and by length

Next, Alan wrote a Python script to select nine letters at random, then search the word list to find all the words that could be spelled using only these letters. He used the randint function to select letters from a pre-loaded alphabet, and introduced a requirement to include at least two vowels among the nine letters.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Words that match the available letters are displayed on the screen.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Putting it all together

With the basic game-play working, it was time to bring the project to life. For this, Alan used Rosie’s camera module, along with optical character recognition (OCR) and text-to-speech capabilities.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Alan writes, “Here’s a very amateurish drawing to brainstorm our idea. Let’s call it a design as it makes it sound like we know what we’re doing.”

Alan’s script has Rosie take a photo of the TV screen during the Countdown letters round, then perform OCR using the Google Cloud Vision API to detect the nine letters contestants have to work with. Next, Rosie runs Alan’s code to check the letters against the ten-thousand-word dataset, converts text to speech with Python gTTS, and finally speaks her highest-scoring word via omxplayer.

You can follow the adventures of Rosie the Red Robot on her blog, or follow her on Twitter. And if you’d like to build your own Rosie, Alan has provided code and tutorials for his projects too. Thanks, Alan!

The post Rosie the Countdown champion appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

A bit more on firearms in the US

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-bit-more-on-firearms-in-us.html

This is the fifth article in a short series about Poland, Europe, and the United States. To explore the entire series, start here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my previous blog post sparked several interesting discussions with my Polish friends who took a more decisive view of the social costs of firearm ownership, or who saw the Second Amendment as a barbaric construct with no place in today’s world. Their opinions reminded me of my own attitude some ten years ago; in this brief follow-up, I wanted to share several data points that convinced me to take a more measured stance.

Let’s start with the basics: most estimates place the number of guns in the United States at 300 to 350 million – that’s roughly one firearm per every single resident. In Gallup polls, some 40-50% of all households report having a gun, frequently more than one. The demographics of firearm ownership are more uniform than stereotypes may imply; there is some variance across regions, political affiliations, and genders – but for most part, it tends to fall within fairly narrow bands.

An overwhelming majority of gun owners cite personal safety as the leading motive for purchasing a firearm; hunting and recreation activities come strong second. The defensive aspect of firearm ownership is of special note, because it can potentially provide a very compelling argument for protecting the right to bear arms even if it’s a socially unwelcome practice, or if it comes at an elevated cost to the nation as a whole.

The self-defense argument is sometimes dismissed as pure fantasy, with many eminent pundits citing one questionable statistic to support this view: the fairly low number of justifiable homicides in the country. Despite its strong appeal to ideologues, the metric does not stand up to scrutiny: all available data implies that most encounters where a gun is pulled by a would-be victim will not end with the assailant getting killed; it’s overwhelmingly more likely that the bad guy would hastily retreat, be detained at gunpoint, or suffer non-fatal injuries. In fact, even in the unlikely case that a firearm is actually discharged with the intent to kill or maim, somewhere around 70-80% of victims survive.

In reality, we have no single, elegant, and reliable source of data about the frequency with which firearms are used to deter threats; the results of scientific polls probably offer the most comprehensive view, but are open to interpretation and their results vary significantly depending on sampling methods and questions asked. That said, a recent meta-analysis from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided some general bounds:


“Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.”

An earlier but probably similarly unbiased estimate from US Dept of Justice puts the number at approximately 1.5 million uses a year.

The CDC study also goes on to say:


“A different issue is whether defensive uses of guns, however numerous or rare they may be, are effective in preventing injury to the gun-wielding crime victim. Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

An argument can be made that the availability of firearms translates to higher rates of violent crime, thus elevating the likelihood of encounters where a defensive firearm would be useful – feeding into an endless cycle of escalating violence. That said, such an effect does not seem to be particularly evident. For example, the United States comes out reasonably well in statistics related to assault, rape, and robbery; on these fronts, America looks less violent than the UK or a bunch of other OECD countries with low firearm ownership rates.

But there is an exception: one area where the United States clearly falls behind other highly developed nations are homicides. The per-capita figures are almost three times as high as in much of the European Union. And indeed, the bulk of intentional homicides – some 11 thousand deaths a year – trace back to firearms.

We tend to instinctively draw a connection to guns, but the origins of this tragic situation may be more elusive than they appear. For one, non-gun-related homicides happen in the US at a higher rate than in many other countries, too; Americans just seem to be generally more keen on killing each other than people in places such as Europe, Australia, or Canada. In addition, no convincing pattern emerges when comparing overall homicide rates across states with permissive and restrictive gun ownership laws. Some of the lowest per-capita homicide figures can be found in extremely gun-friendly states such as Idaho, Utah, or Vermont; whereas highly-regulated Washington D.C., Maryland, Illinois, and California all rank pretty high. There is, however, fairly strong correlation between gun and non-gun homicide rates across the country – suggesting that common factors such as population density, urban poverty, and drug-related gang activities play a far more significant role in violent crime than the ease of legally acquiring a firearm. It’s tragic but worth noting that a strikingly disproportionate percentage of homicides involves both victims and perpetrators that belong to socially disadvantaged and impoverished minorities. Another striking pattern is that up to about a half of all gun murders are related to or committed under the influence of illicit drugs.

Now, international comparisons show general correlation between gun ownership and some types of crime, but it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from that: there are countless other ways to explain why crime rates may be low in the wealthy European states, and high in Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, or South Africa; compensating for these factors is theoretically possible, but requires making far-fetched assumptions that are hopelessly vulnerable to researcher bias. Comparing European countries is easier, but yields inconclusive results: gun ownership in Poland is almost twenty times lower than in neighboring Germany and ten times lower than in Czech Republic – but you certainly wouldn’t able to tell that from national crime stats.

When it comes to gun control, one CDC study on the topic concluded with:


“The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”

This does not imply that such approaches are necessarily ineffective; for example, it seems pretty reasonable to assume that well-designed background checks or modest waiting periods do save lives. Similarly, safe storage requirements would likely prevent dozens of child deaths every year, at the cost of rendering firearms less available for home defense. But for the hundreds of sometimes far-fetched gun control proposals introduced every year on federal and state level, emotions often take place of real data, poisoning the debate around gun laws and ultimately bringing little or no public benefit. The heated assault weapon debate is one such red herring: although modern semi-automatic rifles look sinister, they are far more common in movies than on the streets; in reality, all kinds of rifles account only for somewhere around 4% of firearm homicides, and AR-15s are only a tiny fraction of that – likely claiming about as many lives as hammers, ladders, or swimming pools. The efforts to close the “gun show loophole” seem fairly sensible at the surface, too, but are of similarly uncertain merit; instead of gun shows, criminals depend on friends, family, and on more than 200,000 guns that stolen from their rightful owners every year. When breaking into a random home yields a 40-50% chance of scoring a firearm, it’s not hard to see why.

Another oddball example of simplistic legislative zeal are the attempts to mandate costly gun owner liability insurance, based on drawing an impassioned but flawed parallel between firearms and cars; what undermines this argument is that car accidents are commonplace, while gun handling mishaps – especially ones that injure others – are rare. We also have proposals to institute $100 ammunition purchase permits, to prohibit ammo sales over the Internet, or to impose a hefty per-bullet tax. Many critics feel that such laws seem to be geared not toward addressing any specific dangers, but toward making firearms more expensive and burdensome to own – slowly eroding the constitutional rights of the less wealthy folks. They also see hypocrisy in the common practice of making retired police officers and many high-ranking government officials exempt from said laws.

Regardless of individual merits of the regulations, it’s certainly true that with countless pieces of sometimes obtuse and poorly-written federal, state, and municipal statutes introduced every year, it’s increasingly easy for people to unintentionally run afoul of the rules. In California, the law as written today implies that any legal permanent resident in good standing can own a gun, but that only US citizens can transport it by car. Given that Californians are also generally barred from carrying firearms on foot in many populated areas, non-citizen residents are seemingly expected to teleport between the gun store, their home, and the shooting range. With many laws hastily drafted in the days after mass shootings and other tragedies, such gems are commonplace. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act imposes special restrictions on gun ownership within 1,000 feet of a school and slaps harsh penalties for as little carrying it in an unlocked container from one’s home to a car parked in the driveway. In many urban areas, a lot of people either live within such a school zone or can’t conceivably avoid it when going about their business; GFSZA violations are almost certainly common and are policed only selectively.

Meanwhile, with sharp declines in crime continuing for the past 20 years, the public opinion is increasingly in favor of broad, reasonably policed gun ownership; for example, more than 70% respondents to one Gallup poll are against the restrictive handgun bans of the sort attempted in Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington D.C.; and in a recent Rasmussen poll, only 22% say that they would feel safer in a neighborhood where people are not allowed to keep guns. In fact, responding to the media’s undue obsession with random of acts of violence against law-abiding citizens, and worried about the historically very anti-gun views of the sitting president, Americans are buying a lot more firearms than ever before. Even the National Rifle Association – a staunchly conservative organization vilified by gun control advocates and mainstream pundits – enjoys a pretty reasonable approval rating across many demographics: 58% overall and 78% in households with a gun.

And here’s the kicker: despite its reputation for being a political arm of firearm manufacturers, the NRA is funded largely through individual memberships, small-scale donations, and purchase round-ups; organizational donations add up to about 5% of their budget – and if you throw in advertising income, the total still stays under 15%. That makes it quite unlike most of the other large-scale lobbying groups that Democrats aren’t as keen on naming-and-shaming on the campaign trail. The NRA’s financial muscle is also frequently overstated; it doesn’t even make it onto the list of top 100 lobbyists in Washington – and gun control advocacy groups, backed by activist billionaires such as Michael Bloomberg, now frequently outspend the pro-gun crowd. Of course, it would be better for the association’s socially conservative and unnecessarily polarizing rhetoric – sometimes veering onto the topics of abortion or video games – to be offset by the voice of other, more liberal groups. But ironically, organizations such as American Civil Liberties Union – well-known for fearlessly defending controversial speech – prefer to avoid the Second Amendment; they do so not because the latter concept has lesser constitutional standing, but because supporting it would not sit well with their own, progressive support base.

America’s attitude toward guns is a choice, not a necessity. It is also true that gun violence is a devastating problem; and that the emotional horror and lasting social impact of incidents such as school shootings can’t be possibly captured in any cold, dry statistic alone. But there is also nuance and reason to the gun control debate that can be hard to see for newcomers from more firearm-averse parts of the world.

For the next article in the series, click here. Alternatively, if you prefer to keep reading about firearms, go here for an overview of the gun control debate in the US.