FAQ on Violence

58

This could use some more time on the home page before it moves below the fold again 10-jan 3:30pm (GMT-7)

/Mike

Having read many hundreds of responses to my recent article on guns, and hundreds more to an earlier post on self-defense, I now realize that there are differences in temperament across which it may be impossible to communicate about the reality of human violence. Many people simply do not want to think about this topic in any detail. I concede that, given the relative safety in which most of us live, this can be a reasonable attitude to adopt. Most people will do just fine walking the streets of London, Paris, or even New York, oblivious to the possibility that they could be physically attacked. Happily, the odds of avoiding violence are in our favor.


Those readers who were appalled by my article on guns seem to recoil at the suggestion that one might want to prepare for an unlikely encounter with evil. What is the best way to respond to a knife attack? How do home invasions actually occur?—such questions can seem the product of an unhealthy imagination. There are people who consider using a burglar alarm at night or even locking their doors to be debasing concessions to fear. I have heard from many people in the U.K. who claim to be greatly relieved that their police do not carry firearms. Encountering my lengthy ruminations on violence and self-defense, these readers have begun to worry about my sanity.

Although I might find a few useful things to say to such readers, let me concede that the bar is probably set too high. Thinking about violence is not everyone’s cup of tea. Again, I do not consider ignoring the whole business to be necessarily irrational (depending on where one lives, one’s degree of responsibility for the security of others, etc.) It is irrational, however, to imagine that such insouciance can pass for an informed opinion on how best to respond to violence in the event that it occurs. I have now heard from many people who have never held a gun in their lives, and are proud to say that they never would, but who appear entirely confident in declaiming upon the limitations of firearms as defensive weapons. Before proceeding, perhaps there is general rule of cognition we might all agree on: It would be surprising, indeed, if avoiding a topic as a matter of principle were the best way to understand it.

Because beliefs about violence can directly impact people’s safety, I feel a special responsibility to address some of the questions and criticism I’ve received in response to my writing on this topic. Here, I will gradually build an FAQ on self-defense, guns, and related matters, revising my responses as needed (any revisions will be indicated by a new date).

1. You have overlooked the most basic point in favor of stricter gun laws: Countries with strict laws have much less lethal violence than the U.S. does. America’s goal should be to become more like the U.K. And yet you seem eager to maintain a status quo that makes you demonstrably less safe and your country a scandal in the eyes of the world.

If I saw a way that we could remove 300 million guns from our streets—perhaps by amending the U.S. Constitution and instituting a $150 billion buy-back program—then I would be happy to weigh the merits of doing this. But, given the legal and political realities in the U.S., I don’t consider the banning and confiscation of guns to be a serious possibility (nor does it seem to be a goal of gun-control advocates).

Written By: Sam Harris
continue to source article at samharris.org

58 COMMENTS

  1. “So, while the U.S. has many more murders, the U.K., Australia, and Sweden have much higher levels of assault (I included Scotland just to emphasize the point). One might think that having a few more murders per 100,000 persons each year is still much worse than having many hundreds more assaults.”

    Is there any data to suggest that owning a gun in the major reason for reduced number of assaults in US when compared to other developed world? I still have a lingering notion that the general public regard their police to be friendly & accountable, hence they might tend to report more assaults.

    From my own personal view, comparing UK & Germany, I have never struck a friendly conversation with any of the German Polizei but have often done so with the British Police, including asking for time. Is it because the British Police generally do not carry guns & are often portrayed as friendly next door types. Or it might be due to the fact that I know that my German is awful :)

  2. “…judging from the data on rape, we might want to give Aussie and Swedish women some guns.”

    Oh, yes! Then those two unfortunate women who were “raped” by Julian Assange in Sweden could have saved him all those legal headaches by simply shooting him the day after they consensually had sex with him but then changed their minds about it afterwards (otherwise known as “rape” in Sweden).

    Keep diggin that hole, Sam! Let us know if you see Jonah Leher down there…

  3. “I own several guns and train with them regularly. Every month or two, I spend a full day shooting with a highly qualified instructor. This is an expensive and time-consuming habit, but I view it as part of my responsibility as a gun owner.”

    Be honest, Sam… Just say that you like guns, and that you like spending time shooting them. It is your hobby, as well as you responsibility, because you chose to own a gun, because you enjoy owning and using it.

    Please, don’t pretend this is some grudging burden you’ve accepted.

  4. “Suffice it to say, if a person enters your home for the purpose of harming you, you cannot reasonably expect the police to arrive in time to stop him. This is not the fault of the police—it is a problem of physics.”

    Of course, if a person enters your home for the purpose of harming you, they are likely to be armed already, as well or better than you, so REASONABLY, it is likely that a confrontation will end in injury and/or death.

    So, here’s another problem of physics: when an intruder breaks in, what is the fastest, and the safest, course of action: arming yourself for an encounter, or fleeing the premises?

    (hint: you do not need to be able to correctly pronounce the name of any kind of gun on TV to come up with the correct answer here).

  5. “Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns…”

    Most gun owners understand what now? Did Sam Harris take a poll, or is there some established evidence of this claim? As should be needless to say, the claim is on-its-face preposterous.

    It’s this kind of rhetorical sloppiness that leads so many of Sam’s fans (myself included) unable to square his reputation foe brilliance with his recent cack-handed ruminations on gun rights.

  6. Self defence is a consequence of having to cope with aggressive elements in society and we need to invest time in educating people better. We do not teach children to deal adequately and rationally with their feelings. People develop along the lines of the rules they acquire by experience. I have yet to see a teacher sit down with an aggressor and the victim and talk them through how they feel and get the aggressor to understand the consequences of their actions. This is not an abstraction beyond the mental capacity of children both parties know how they feel and can be encouraged to explore alternatives to anger. It will take most of their childhood to acquire skills but it is better than the traditional response to violent children which was to subject them to violence as a deterrent. It is no surprise that we often see foul tempered and violent adults whose normal response to affront or accidental injury or even the possibility that they may have been injured or slighted (e.g. road rage) is a sudden angry outburst, shouting, ad hominem abuse, threats and physical violence. None of which solves anything. In civilised societies (I use the term advisedly) we have central dispute resolution and we pay taxes for it.

    Sadly self defence will probably always be with us but in my view where life and limb are actually threatened it is justifiable. Some socities have developed sophisticated and effective methods of combat which take years of practice and discipline to acquire. I don’t see that everyone carrying a gun for self defence is a good idea. Unattended guns don’t kill people but they make the killing of others by any person a whole lot quicker and easier particularly those persons less inclined to be rational and disciplined.

  7. In reply to #2 by McCourt:

    “…judging from the data on rape, we might want to give Aussie and Swedish women some guns.”

    Oh, yes! Then those two unfortunate women who were “raped” by Julian Assange in Sweden could have saved him all those legal headaches by simply shooting him the day after they consensually had sex with him but then changed their minds about it afterwards (otherwise known as “rape” in Sweden).

    Keep diggin that hole, Sam! Let us know if you see Jonah Leher down there…

    To believe this requires an almost encyclopedic ignorance of the Swedish legal system and terms under which Julian Assange would (and should) be extradited. The formal definition of ‘rape’, according to Swedish law, is as follows: “Forced vaginal intercourse or a comparable sexual act, which is carried out by assault or threat of violence.” It is not defined as consensual sex that is later regarded as forcible at the discretion of the victim.

  8. Christ Sam, this is hard to watch! Take the blindfold off and look around, the evidence is clear and your lust for your gun isn’t changing anything but your mind from rational to irrational.

  9. In reply to #3 by McCourt:

    “I own several guns and train with them regularly. Every month or two, I spend a full day shooting with a highly qualified instructor. This is an expensive and time-consuming habit, but I view it as part of my responsibility as a gun owner.”

    Be honest, Sam… Just say that you like guns, and that you like spending time shooting them. It is your hobby, as well as you responsibility, because you chose to own a gun, because you enjoy owning and using it.

    Please, don’t pretend this is some grudging burden you’ve accepted.

    Yosemite Sam Harris, you mean. Ha ha ha, oh mercy.

  10. People who need guns for self defence are more likely to end up killing themselves or someone else with the gun before they ever need to use it for defence. Assuming they survive their own stupidity, they are probably going to be killed by the intruder before they can get to their gun.

    With rare exception, I would wager, is a gun owner actually able to defend themselves with their gun. Unless you wear it on your person all the time and walk about paranoid, checking over your shoulder every second or two, self defence gun folk don’t know they need the gun until they’re bleeding on the ground.

  11. I’ve a big problem with the use of the word evil. Some say evil it is a mystical , sinisterly logical universal force pervading our universe. Outside of criminal motivations such as robbery , gang warfare , turf warfare , drug running , etc, there lays the outrages committed by the mentally stressed and the mentally ill. These people are thought to be ‘Evil’. Bullshit these people are not evil , it may make people feel better to call them so. Such people are materialistically a result of malformed psychology. Whether it be an inherited predisposition , insidious development due to environment and habit or sustained neglect and abuse. Evil is not magical and its easy for people to make the distinction so that they can ignore the motivations and causes of such irrational actions.

  12. On the point Dr. Harris makes about trading “2 murders per 100,000 people for 400 assaults.” Come now, you know far better than to imply that it’s a simple one-variable function. For example, the US employs incarceration as penalty for assault more frequently, and with longer incarceration times than the countries cited. (The UK, specifically, relies more on imposition of fines. See Justicepolicy.org )

    The cavalier attitude diplayed in the interview quoted with the two West End thugs might be quite different had they been locked up for a considerable spell.

    Of course, more frequent and longer incarceration leads to the expensive and troubling high incarceration rate in the US compared to other nations. But to simply imply that more guns unilaterally shifts the assault rate to the murder rate is unscientific and ignorant, as well as unworthy of Dr. Harris’ otherwise excellent analytical capabilities.

  13. The below statement is in response to this line by Sam Harris

    Those readers who were appalled by my article on guns seem to recoil at the suggestion that one might want to prepare for an unlikely encounter with evil

    In reply to #12 by Pauly01:

    I’ve a big problem with the use of the word evil. Some say evil it is a mystical , sinisterly logical universal force pervading our universe. Outside of criminal motivations such as robbery , gang warfare , turf warfare , drug running , etc, there lays the outrages committed by the mentally stressed and the mentally ill. These people are thought to be ‘Evil’. Bullshit these people are not evil , it may make people feel better to call them so. Such people are materialistically a result of malformed psychology. Whether it be an inherited predisposition , insidious development due to environment and habit or sustained neglect and abuse. Evil is not magical and its easy for people to make the distinction so that they can ignore the motivations and causes of such irrational actions.

  14. Sam claims that “If there were a true, non-lethal substitute for a gun, more or less everything I have said on the subject of gun control would be moot. I would support a ban on all firearms (with the possible exception of rifles specifically designed for hunting) and champion this new weapon as the greatest breakthrough in applied ethics to arrive in centuries. And I suspect that most gun owners could be convinced to trade their guns for a nonlethal alternative, provided it had the stopping power and other defensive virtues of a gun”

    Nah! Men LOVE guns in the same way they love their car, or the way a woman loves her favourite shoes or handbag

  15. In reply to #1 by kbala:

    “So, while the U.S. has many more murders, the U.K., Australia, and Sweden have much higher levels of assault (I included Scotland just to emphasize the point). One might think that having a few more murders per 100,000 persons each year is still much worse than having many hundreds more assaults.”

    Is there any data to suggest that owning a gun in the major reason for reduced number of assaults in US when compared to other developed world? I still have a lingering notion that the general public regard their police to be friendly & accountable, hence they might tend to report more assaults.

    From my own personal view, comparing UK & Germany, I have never struck a friendly conversation with any of the German Polizei but have often done so with the British Police, including asking for time. Is it because the British Police generally do not carry guns & are often portrayed as friendly next door types. Or it might be due to the fact that I know that my German is awful :)

    My experience in Australia (& I’ll bet it applies in UK & Sweden) is that lawmakers have robbed the public of every non-lethal defensive option. Banned are mace, pepper spray, tazers and anything police can deem ‘offensive weapon’- even common items like a tyre lever, wheel brace, kid’s baseball bat, piece of wood…

    Assault and rape have been made that much easier

  16. Valid points. I am completely undecided on this, even after reading both his essays and the Sean Faircloth’s response to the first essay.

    My only contention was, that the reduction is homicides would result in more assaults needs more data. As many have pointed out, in western Europe, people tend to view police in a positive light, so are not intimidated to report assaults that might have otherwise been ignored if the police were a bunch of thugs.

    How do we know that increased assault numbers in UK are due to either

    a) Higher reporting due to public-friendly system & non-intimidating police force or
    b) Higher number of assaults due to lack of self-defense mechanism

    It is not as clear as comparing to gun-ownership & gun-related deaths.

    In reply to #16 by Nodhimmi:

    In reply to #1 by kbala:

    “So, while the U.S. has many more murders, the U.K., Australia, and Sweden have much higher levels of assault (I included Scotland just to emphasize the point). One might think that having a few more murders per 100,000 persons each year is still much worse than having many hundreds more assaults.”

    Is there any data to suggest that owning a gun in the major reason for reduced number of assaults in US when compared to other developed world? I still have a lingering notion that the general public regard their police to be friendly & accountable, hence they might tend to report more assaults.

    From my own personal view, comparing UK & Germany, I have never struck a friendly conversation with any of the German Polizei but have often done so with the British Police, including asking for time. Is it because the British Police generally do not carry guns & are often portrayed as friendly next door types. Or it might be due to the fact that I know that my German is awful :)

    My experience in Australia (& I’ll bet it applies in UK & Sweden) is that lawmakers have robbed the public of every non-lethal defensive option. Banned are mace, pepper spray, tazers and anything police can deem ‘offensive weapon’- even common items like a tyre lever, wheel brace, kid’s baseball bat, piece of wood…

    Assault and rape have been made that much easier

  17. Sigh!

    A lot of emotion here and not much reason .

    Weapons are not going away in the US anytime soon and the US is is not any other country. So, we need real solutions to deal with the problem, solutions along the line of closing gun show loopholes, for instance. Not everyone is going to give up their weapons. I do not own a weapon myself, but that is me and not everyone. Many people here seem to expect the impossible on no good evidence that it will happen.

  18. When most liberal-minded people instinctively think that strict gun control should be necessary, and some of the comments to his articles show a very emotional response, I like the fact that Sam Harris is encouraging critical, objective thinking on this issue. Whether or not he is right remains to be seen.

    Much of his argument seems to be centred around a scenario of a vulnerable person being at risk of murder or serious assault when their home is broken into. And so he advocates keeping a gun, or a number of guns, in the home for protection. However, it’s my impression from hearing about homicides or serious assaults through the media, especially in UK (I don’t know if USA is different), is that it is exceptionally rare for an assault or homicide to occur in this way. It’s my impression that most homicides and serious assaults occur either on the street or in domestic disputes.

    If most serious violent crime occurs either on the street or in domestic disputes, then I think Harris’s argument starts to fall very short. It would mean that everyone would need to carry a gun at all times in public in the hope that they could prevent an assault in the street, or it would mean everyone would have to keep a gun in the home which could be equally available to any party (aggressor or victim) in a domestic dispute.

    Does anyone know what the statistics show in terms of the percentage of homicides that are carried out by someone invading a home and killing the occupants? Or, in such circumstances, how often are the occupants successful in defending themselves if they have a gun? Or, indeed, how often are the occupants MORE likely to come to harm if they have a gun and attempt to use it. These would appear to be fairly critical statistics in determining whether or not it is worth arming everyone with guns for self-defence.

  19. Sam is confusing so much here.
    1. the much higher levels of assault elsewhere despite the low levels of murder actually makes the effect of guns laws MORE impressive, not less relevant.
    2. In an ethical discussion, it is right to consider what is right for my, you and Sam and then accept that the other 311m Americans have the same rights. Gun law is political, not ethical. The right approach is consider what is best for the other 311m Americans first. Then accept that you me and Sam have the same limitations put on us as they do.
    3. Arguing for the practical over the ideal. A politician arguing that guns laws are impossible to bring in because of the practicalities is one thing (if less that 100% true). A philospher arguing that Gun laws are wrong because they are impractical is bizarre and perverse.
    4. I’ma gonna stick 6 foot steel spikes on the front and back of my car. I’m a careful driver, willing to get re-trained every year, and my spikes aren’t going to endanger any peace loving careful driver. But they’ll be fantastic for self-defence.

  20. You know, I actually had hoped that there would be considerably more intellectual debate and considerably less knee-jerk reactions. Not all gun owners are paranoid, violence-prone simpletons with a hard-on for loud explosions and killing; characterizing them as such only shows your ignorance. Sam is trying to state why he owns guns and what purpose they serve in a manner that people who are reasonably intelligent should be able to grasp. And grasping his views is actually very important as they are in like with the people who consider themselves responsible gun owners and seem to make up the silent majority of firearms owners.

    If his statistics are incorrect, then post about that. If you disagree, post it in an intelligent manner. I would hope that the majority of us are reasonably intelligent human beings so act like it.

  21. Sam Harris has now added 11,241 words to the national talk about gun violence for the month of January. I applaud his for this.

    I’ve been ruminating about this topic on my dog walks, trying to distill a few ideas into simpler ones. To that end, I realized that one word which is absent in Sam’s writings is selfish. Granted, perhaps the words bible and banana are also absent (they are), but there is a huge void left unexplored when trying to understand the psychology surrounding this subject when selfishness isn’t addressed.

    I’ve been a vegetarian since October. Nevertheless, I still have the rifles that I used to kill game not that long ago; they are hanging up, bolts removed, collecting dust. Let me also say that as an Alaskan, I don’t think of my rifles as tools for self-defense (except perhaps against brown bears should I find myself in their habitat). It is very difficult for me to relate to those in other parts of the country who keep guns primarily for self-defense against other humans but I don’t deny this is a fact or a legitimate concern of many. I just can’t relate.

    There is a good chance that I’ll never shoot my rifles again. However, if someone came along and told me that I should destroy or relinquish my rifles because they aren’t being used and, ostensibly, pose some sort of second hand smoke-like threat to my neighbors, I would have a very hard time agreeing. And that point is what I have been mulling about on my dog walks as of late.

    I’m selfish. I’m selfish in the sense that my rifles mean a lot to me. I have memories attached to them that are related to some of the happiest experiences in my life (as either being a gift, or associated with the many hikes stalking game with and without my dog).

    However, when I think about this, I am not sure that selfishness would or should trump all reasons to relinquish or destroy my guns. I think a national talk about guns should include this selfish/sentimentality aspect to owning property and I guess I’m just surprised that Sam Harris hasn’t mentioned this as being a meaningful part of a complex equation.

    Mike

  22. Harris is making ridiculous excuses for his personal paranoia and defense of gun ownership. It is quite bizarre to even imagine that a person who can think isn’t quite able to see beyond the attraction to owning guns. It makes me feel sick too on hearing about people who train dogs to be vicious and use them as security devices when an electronic alarm system will do nicely. As Harris points out, most of us live in communities that are stable and don’t really worry about random violence that may be perpetrated by strangers. Statistics show that guns in the home are often used in domestic violence.

    My husband and I travel in India often and don’t feel threatened as we know that gun ownership there is not common. That is a comfort.

    Harris can offer a myriad of excuses about but it only makes him seem pretty darn incapable of assessing reality. Shame on that.

    Say what about that last work by Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, the TED talk on the subject for those who may have missed it is here: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

    Pinker is Canadian, we think differently and I’m glad about that. Harris’ fear mongering is distasteful. The penchant for guns and irrationality is another reason that we’d never move to the USA, a nation of those afraid of their own shadows.

  23. Let’s arm the UK shall we? Let’s see what happens.

    Hey… Sam started it.

    In reply to #21 by Thylacinidae:

    You know, I actually had hoped that there would be considerably more intellectual debate and considerably less knee-jerk reactions. Not all gun owners are paranoid, violence-prone simpletons with a hard-on for loud explosions and killing; characterizing them as such only shows your ignorance.

    Sure. Then they should welcome more gun regulations, education and controls. For example, how hard is it to own a gun versus how hard it is to own a driving license. The gun nuts give the responsible gun owners a bad name, yeah? So why not get rid of these clowns entirely?

    If his statistics are incorrect, then post about that. If you disagree, post it in an intelligent manner. I would hope that the majority of us are reasonably intelligent human beings so act like it.

    For starters, he is happy to prop up these very societies as beacons of well-mannered secularism. So which one is it? Then he is also locking horns with Steven Pinker on violence staticstics? Because that would be interesting to see. Statistics, hey…

  24. In reply to #24 by papa lazaru:

    Then he is also locking horns with Steven Pinker on violence staticstics? Because that would be interesting to see. Statistics, hey…

    Can you cite the statistical data from Steven Pinker that contradicts the data from this article? I’ve yet to finish “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and I’m genuinely curious to know where these two differ on the subject of violence (in the data they use and what inferences they make).

  25. In reply to #28 by LWS:

    Pinker is Canadian, we think differently and I’m glad about that. Harris’ fear mongering is distasteful. The penchant for guns and irrationality is another reason that we’d never move to the USA, a nation of those afraid of their own shadows.

    I find it ironic that you describe this article as being ‘distasteful’ and falsely accuse it of being incendiary before making a sweeping generalization about an entire population of people.

    Also, I’ve yet to see anyone provide a clear distinction between the opinions of Steven Pinker and Sam Harris. In fact, it appears as though their views on this matter coincide quite beautifully*. Yet somehow it’s become fashionable to make the facile (but objectively true) claim that violence has declined precipitously over the last century, as if it falsifies Harris’ entire argument. To the contrary, he eloquently acknowledges and addresses this discovery!

    Please know that I am not attempting to defend the views expressed in this article; I’m simply annoyed with the lack of critical thinking by otherwise intelligent people.

    *Allow me to annex a quote from Steven Pinker to help illustrate this point: “[On recent gun related killings] To concentrate all of our violence reduction efforts on the most unpredictable, the hardest to control, the craziest incidents is, I think, a misallocation of resources. If we want to keep most people from being killed, it’s the wrong place to obsess.”

  26. This piece is well reasoned and very convincing. Who would have thought that guns actually reduce violence? It’s a pleasant feeling to have one’s mind altered by thoughtful argument. I’m also glad that Sam Harris has a gun, considering who his enemies are.

  27. In reply to #7 by Selim:

    In reply to #2 by McCourt:

    “…judging from the data on rape, we might want to give Aussie and Swedish women some guns.”

    Oh, yes! Then those two unfortunate women who were “raped” by Julian Assange in Sweden could have saved him all those legal headaches by simply shooting him the day after they consensually had sex with him but then changed their minds about it afterwards (otherwise known as “rape” in Sweden).

    Keep diggin that hole, Sam! Let us know if you see Jonah Leher down there…

    To believe this requires an almost encyclopedic ignorance of the Swedish legal system and terms under which Julian Assange would (and should) be extradited. The formal definition of ‘rape’, according to Swedish law, is as follows: “Forced vaginal intercourse or a comparable sexual act, which is carried out by assault or threat of violence.” It is not defined as consensual sex that is later regarded as forcible at the discretion of the victim.

    Does Wikipedia count as “encyclopedic”?…

    “On 20 August 2010, Swedish police began an investigation into allegations concerning Assange’s behaviour in separate sexual encounters involving two women. Assange has described all the sexual encounters as consensual, and statements by the plaintiffs confirm that the encounters at least started as such. The arrest warrant was canceled on 21 August 2010 by one of Stockholm’s Chief Prosecutors, Eva Finne, and the investigation was downgraded to only cover one of the lesser allegations. Finne said in a statement to the press: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” The warrant was subsequently re-issued on 1 September 2010 by another Swedish Chief Prosecutor, Marianne Ny, who considered that the allegations could be classed as rape after all.
    ….
    An extradition hearing took place on 7–8 and 11 February 2011 before the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court. At the hearing, Assange’s defence raised a variety of objections, including mismatches between the EAW and the original accuser statements to the Swedish police that exaggerated the nature of the complaints. In particular they argued the original police reports showed – contrary to the EAW – absence of alleged rape; absence of alleged force or injury; admission in both cases of consensual sex on the same occasions as the allegations; and splitting of a condom used with plaintiff 1 rather than failure to use one.”

    Yep, a real shame these ladies didn’t take out their “rapist” with gunfire… you know, for self-defense.

    LOL.

  28. Here’s a link to another common sense refutation of Harris’ clumsy contradictions: http://www.salon.com/2013/01/10/why_does_anyone_take_sam_harris_seriously/

    The fisking of Sam’s silliness could go on and on… best to just say, Sam Harris is an expert on atheist spirituality, neuroscience, and probably a few other things… but, given this gun debacle, and his recent airport profiling embarrassment, he should simply admit he is an idiot about security issues, and in the future, should try not to spend his limited reserves of credibility so very unwisely.

  29. In reply to #31 by McCourt:

    Does Wikipedia count as “encyclopedic”?…

    Yep, a real shame these ladies didn’t take out their “rapist” with gunfire… you know, for self-defense.

    LOL.

    First, if you’re going to cite an entry that’s publicly available you shouldn’t try to obscure the issue or selectively extract biased statements. The point of contention was with the legal definition of rape (which you incorrectly described) and how it was being applied to the prosecution of Julian Assange. Second, you are assuming, or tacitly implying, that every instance of rape has been contrived in some way, which is patently false—therefore, your criticism is invalid. That isn’t to say that there aren’t issues with the statistical data that Sam Harris presented, but this particular line of reasoning is so vapid as to hardly warrant a response.

    “FYI Steven Pinker credits part of our decrease in violence on the state’s monopoly on violence (as opposed to armed citizens), which tends to extinguish local skirmishes and vendettas.”

    Yes, the authority that government entities have was established to protect the economic interests of the state and the civil liberties of the population. It is no accident that violence has declined substantially in state societies that are governed by Hobbesian entities (or entities who at least partly embrace Hobbesian philosophy). The rules of propriety in anarchic or libertarian societies do not obviate the role of a governing force; however, I don’t believe that this is what Sam Harris is arguing for. You are being overly reductionistic in your response to this article and it’s only helping to deteriorate the quality of this discussion.

  30. Any discussion that involves statistics of violence needs to be informed by the issue of lead, Pb.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/07/violent-crime-lead-poisoning-british-export

    For a practical suggestion based on this, perhaps a blood test for lead levels as part of the checks to determine eligibility for a firearms license.

    Then Sam and all the other lead-free fine-upstanding-citizens and NRA members can continue to pack heat to defend themselves against the hordes of lead-poisoned violent offenders breaking into their homes with malicious intent.

    But then – Sam spends so long at the firing range, maybe he’s elevated his own lead levels past the point of safety? Yes, I understand that it is childhood exposure to lead that causes the real harm, but wouldn’t it be ironic if the very act of using guns renders one unsafe to have them?

  31. In reply to #4 by McCourt:

    “Suffice it to say, if a person enters your home for the purpose of harming you, you cannot reasonably expect the police to arrive in time to stop him. This is not the fault of the police—it is a problem of physics.”

    So, here’s another problem of physics: when an intruder breaks in, what is the fastest, and the safest, course of action: arming yourself for an encounter, or fleeing the premises?

    Here is Sam’s view on that.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-truth-about-violence

  32. In reply to #39 by zengardener:

    In reply to #4 by McCourt:

    “Suffice it to say, if a person enters your home for the purpose of harming you, you cannot reasonably expect the police to arrive in time to stop him. This is not the fault of the police—it is a problem of physics.”

    So, here’s another problem of physics: when an intruder breaks in, what is the fastest, and the safest, course of action: arming yourself for an encounter, or fleeing the premises?

    Here is Sam’s view on that.

    That link

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-truth-about-violence

    is well worth a read.

    Michael

  33. Harris’s description of guns as ‘an equaliser’ is the most painful part of this blog.
    It hardly needs explaining to people here, but to every country that has been oppressed by gun-wielding powers, for everyone who has known someone injured in a gun attack, guns are manifestly NOT an equaliser, every situation involves the person with the gun having grossly more power than the rest.
    The only way that people can be equal with guns is if every man woman and child in the world carries a gun!

    Nor is it even true that guns equalise domestic violence against women, since men are by far the biggest buyers of guns and the ones who usually have the key to the lock box.

    He’s starting to sound like the head of the NRA with his borderline paranoid vision of murdering-rapist house invaders that can only be stopped by shooting (not even taser!) despite the far greater risk to the family from domestic disputes / accidents with a gun in the house.

  34. Whatever your physical skills, when you commit to using force against another person, your overriding goal is still to escape. Even if you are at home, in possession of a firearm, and well trained to use it, when confronted by an intruder your best defense is to get out of the house as quickly as possible. In such a circumstance, a gun is a means of ensuring that no one can block your exit

    S.H.

  35. In reply to #1 by kbala:

    “So, while the U.S. has many more murders, the U.K., Australia, and Sweden have much higher levels of assault (I included Scotland just to emphasize the point). One might think that having a few more murders per 100,000 persons each year is still much worse than having many hundreds more assaults.”

    Is there any data to suggest that owning a gun in the major reason for reduced number of assaults in US

    Die Deutsche Polizei sind nicht grundsatzlich,unterschiedlich als die Britische Polizei.(meine Meinung)
    The reason I have never considered living in the USA is primarily because of gun possession at a level far greater than any other country.
    In South Africa I owned a gun and discovered that a loss of temper and gun possession were a dangerous combination ; I sold that 9mm automatic a week later.

    when compared to other developed world? I still have a lingering notion that the general public regard their police to be friendly & accountable, hence they might tend to report more assaults.

    From my own personal view, comparing UK & Germany, I have never struck a friendly conversation with any of the German Polizei but have often done so with the British Police, including asking for time. Is it because the British Police generally do not carry guns & are often portrayed as friendly next door types. Or it might be due to the fact that I know that my German is awful :)

  36. In reply to #42 by zengardener:

    Whatever your physical skills, when you commit to using force against another person, your overriding goal is still to escape. Even if you are at home, in possession of a firearm, and well trained to use it, when confronted by an intruder your best defense is to get out of the house as quickly as possible. In such a circumstance, a gun is a means of ensuring that no one can block your exit

    S.H.

    Then use a taser and you won’t accidentally kill your new neighbour who had too much to drink.
    That’s no reason to buy a killing device for your family’s home.

  37. In reply to #44 by conmeo:

    Then use a taser and you won’t accidentally kill your new neighbour who had too much to drink.
    That’s no reason to buy a killing device for your family’s home.

    That’s a really good idea. I’m just not sure if I would trust a taser. I don’t have any experience with them.

  38. If everyone else was just like me, there would be no illegal gun violence.

    I’m injecting that statement into the current National Discussion about gun violence because I think it’s an unspoken challenge hindering a solution to events that sicken, frighten, and sadden decent human beings. The first half of the sentence can set up a number of conclusions but this particular conclusion is a fallacy. It’s a fallacy because nobody is perfectly protected from the unintended behavioral consequences of a brain tumor, mental health crisis, or delusion.

    It seems to me that we need to talk about the fine line between an individual’s sovereignty (legal gun use) and the duties that come with civilization (protecting others from harm).

    When I hear President Obama deliver the phrase “we are our brother’s keeper,” as he is known to do, I imagine that he means to draw attention to the challenge of uniting the better features of individuality with those benefits found in a civil society in order to achieve, pardon the cliché, a more perfect union. This is a lofty goal, but who disagrees that it’s not worth attempting?

    Remember health care reform? Don’t we remember healthcare reform being argued for in some measure because of a moral deficiency present in American society? Shouldn’t bloodshed by bullets also be seen as a moral deficiency in the US? It must if this National Talk is going to be meaningful. The Presidency is our government’s mechanism for economic, military, and yes, even moral leadership. Well, it’s time for moral leadership about a moral problem (the rights of the individual not trumping the rights of a society). History gives us hope on this front as our moral sensibilities have evolved to vanquish any number of what are now seen as terrible evils: human slavery, cruelty to non-human animals, subjugation of women and blasphemy crimes, to name just a few. Is illegal gun violence really just too big to stop? I keep hearing the number 300 million guns in the media. Is gun violence really bigger than the aforementioned evils? When has apathy ever merited a handshake?

    Merely saying, “we need to do something,” as the Obama Administration has repeatedly said, is not enough. It’s trite, simplistic, and I daresay even silly. The fact is, we do ourselves a favor by having goals set and pathways formed. The main goal from politicians and lobbyists , however, is simply thinking of ways to stop another rampage killing like what happened in Newtown. It’s a mistake to think this way.

    I am persuaded by psychologist Steven Pinker’s argument that bending our nation’s collective will to stop future rampage killings is “a massive waste of resources.” If reduction in illegal gun violence is the goal, there are simply better areas to focus on: urban violence in Chicago for instance, where scores of people are steadily being murdered, is a solvable challenge. Consider that New York City’s homicide rate has been impressively reduced over the decades. There is no reason to believe that the methods used in New York can’t be focused on Chicago. Is rampage-killing “prevention” looting resources? Pinker’s point about wasting resources mustn’t be relegated to only the famous newspapers in the country; it needs to be read in gazettes, weekly’s, heard in podcasts and spotlighted by the White House. It’s a stunning piece of clarity from an expert that can’t be overlooked if attempts at solutions are going to be meaningful. So why must we endure the Vice President using his power of visibility to talk about Wal-Mart’s so-called involvement in this National Talk? Wal-Mart? Why aren’t our nation’s brightest thinkers put front and center?

    The Obama Administration should change direction and put morality smack dab in the middle of the table. This is a moral problem. Let’s start talking about striving for a more perfect union by sorting out the moral needs of the individual with the moral needs of a civilized society and thereby, perhaps, change the farcical sentence opening this opinion from, “just like me” into, “just like us.” If history is any guide, moral goodness follows when we do just that.

    Mike
    /edited

  39. In reply to #35 by McCourt:

    Here’s a link to another common sense refutation of Harris’ clumsy contradictions: http://www.salon.com/2013/01/10/whydoesanyonetakesamharrisseriously/

    You think that qualifies as a “common sense refutation”? I’d call it an hysterical, dishonest, thoroughly unreasonable attempt at a hatchet-job that repeatedly and deliberately misrepresents Harris’s arguments.

    From the second paragraph of Murphy’s rant:

    Harris, in his continuing quest to overcome the vicious stereotype that atheists are typically rational people, takes a page from NRA President Wayne LaPierre’s handbook of douchebaggery, and suggests the answer to the “riddle” of guns should be, in fact, more guns. Only a corporate shill or a professional philosopher could arrive at this position without realizing (or admitting) how utterly full of shit they are.

    Sam Harris’s position is, of course, as usual, far more reasonable than the caricature that Murphy, and others present:

    We could do many things to ensure that only fully vetted people could get a licensed firearm. The fact that guns in the U.S. can be legally purchased from private sellers without background checks on the buyers (the so-called “gun show loophole”) is terrifying. Getting a gun license could be made as difficult as getting a license to fly an airplane, requiring dozens of hours of training. I would certainly be happy to see policy changes like this. In that respect, I support much stricter gun laws. But I am under no illusions that such restrictions would make it difficult for bad people to acquire guns illegally. Given the level of violence in our society, the ubiquity of guns, and the fact that our penitentiaries function like graduate schools for violent criminals, I think sane, law-abiding people should have access to guns. In that respect, I support the rights of gun owners.

  40. Assault
    U.S. 250.9
    U.K. (England and Wales) 664.4
    Australia 766
    Sweden 936.6
    Scotland 1449.7

    Sadly us Brits tend to binge drink and this leads to a majority of our “assults” happening between 18-30 year-olds on a Friday or Saturday night usually with a girl shouting “Leave him Dave he’s not worth it”. Not a great reflection on us as a nation but I don’t see how guns would help the situation.

    I’d guess that the Aussies are pretty similar to us but it’s surprising about the Swedes.

  41. I hear that people who want to protect themselves with guns are paranoid. How are people who are afraid of guns any less paranoid?

    And yes, the best way to protect yourself is with a gun. (http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcdgeff.html, http://johnrlott.tripod.com/other/NCVS.html)

    Statistic about ownership of the gun and being a victim of a gun is correlation, not causation. (Criminals mostly own a gun, but they also get shot a lot and people in dangerous places tend to own a gun and have higher chance of being shot).

  42. I’m the kind of liberal that is more sensitive to irrational thinking from the left than from the right because a) I feel like we should know better, and b) it embarrasses me.

    I do lean towards S.H.s views on this because they seem more rational and less knee-jerky.
    It’s also interesting to view the lack of reasoning coming from a lot of commenters here who disagree with S.H..
    -notice the amount of short jabs, jokes, over the top statements and trite ad hominem people are resorting to

  43. Harris is once again Slayer of the Strawman (you need a 30 round clip to blast those straw suckers, they are hard to bring down). His FAQ is devoted to making the argument that people have a legitimate right to have firearms for self defense. No serious person in US politics is arguing otherwise.

    My question for him is: why when the US is in the middle of such insane gun violence, when school children are being massacred, why are you wasting your prestige and your standing as someone who defends critical thinking on arguing for a position that no one is attacking? Why don’t you join the rest of the rational people (and even most gun owners) and write about how no sane person needs a 30 round clip or an assault rifle and its well past the time that the US joined the rest of the civilized world and had the same basic licensing and regulation for firearms that we do for cars and drugs like Sudafed?

  44. In reply to #9 by alaskansee:

    Christ Sam, this is hard to watch! Take the blindfold off and look around, the evidence is clear and your lust for your gun isn’t changing anything but your mind from rational to irrational.

    “…your lust for your gun isn’t changing anything but your mind from rational to irrational.” Lust for your gun?- irrational? Lust is a sensationalistic word, and what exactly do you find irrational about Sam’s stance (even just one example would be helpful).

  45. “Here are some recent crime data comparing the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and Sweden. Although the U.S. has a higher rate of homicide, the problem of assaults in these other countries is much worse. (And judging from the data on rape, we might want to give Aussie and Swedish women some guns”

    I’m surprised that Sam Harris being a person I regard as a scientist has taken such such a “Faux News” approach to statistics. I feel, that just quoting a single years accumulation figures to be used as a representative “mean” with any context to political, social aspects or other factors (such as population size and disitribution) is really being misleading.
    While I’m sure Sam is trying to compare “apples-to-apples” so to speak, you can’t assume that just because Aus, Sweden, UK and USA are all democratic western countries therefore everybody reports assaults or rapes in each of these countries equally for instance. So I think the argument is on thin ground to suggest causation of supposed lower assault and rape figures with the presumed negative correlation of higher gun ownership purley based on some high level summations. The data shown on UNODC only has information in regards to homicides by firearms, so really that’s the only data that has any relevance

  46. In reply to #51 by Red Dog:

    Is that right? Sam Harris should write about it being “well past the time that the US joined the rest of the civilized world and had the same basic licensing and regulation for firearms that we do for cars and drugs like Sudafed?”

    Well then, you’ll be pleased to hear that, in his original piece, he makes clear that he is in favour of much stricter measures:

    We could do many things to ensure that only fully vetted people could get a licensed firearm. The fact that guns in the U.S. can be legally purchased from private sellers without background checks on the buyers (the so-called “gun show loophole”) is terrifying. Getting a gun license could be made as difficult as getting a license to fly an airplane, requiring dozens of hours of training. I would certainly be happy to see policy changes like this. In that respect, I support much stricter gun laws.

    Of course, you may prefer to continue to attack the the arguments of the Straw Sam Harris, rather than those of the man himself; fill your boots, it certainly seems to be be a popular pastime. But don’t kid yourself that such behaviour places you amongst the “rational people”.

  47. Sometimes I honestly think that everything Sam Harris says is filtered through some giant game of telephone and then critiqued for what babble is generated. I haven’t seen one argument against any point he brought up that actually answers what was written. Usually it’s members of the faith community displaying this willful ignorance, it discomfits me greatly that such ignorance can exist in this community.

  48. Another very poorly thought out piece from Sam. Firstly, he points to stats on assaults and concludes that the only way to account for the difference is guns. I’m afraid he has no basis for such a conclusion until he looks at whether there might be other factors accounting for the difference. For example, crime stats are recorded differently in different countries so what gets labelled as an assault in one place may not in another. Similarly, police practices may differ so that a cop in one place may have discretion to break up a brawl and, if no-one is hurt, send the participants home without having to draw up a report while a cop elsewhere has to do the paperwork for every little incident. UK police have very little discretion in this respect whereas my impression is that sherriff’s in smaller US towns have a good deal of discretion.

    On the flipside, it could be that there is less reporting of assaults from the victim’s side in the US. For example, inter-gang violence might be greater in the US but neither party is going to report it to the police. Or there may be less reporting of assults generally among sectors of the population (e.g. black and hispanic). Domestic assault may go unreported among certain groups.

    Other factors could be at play too. For example, the UK is a much more densly populated area then the US. My impression is that you get more assaults where more people live in close proximity.

    I’m not claiming to have the answers here, I’m just pointing out that the bald stats on assaults might be explainable in ways other than the availability of guns. Let’s face it, religionists could take those same stats and say the reason the US is a “safer” place is because it is more religious. Would Sam Harris accept that argument?

    So much for number crunching. Let’s assume that Sam is right – that guns keep the numbers of assaults down in the US compared to some other countries. My question to him is this, what is the acceptable death to assault ratio? How big a reduction in punches in the face is each extra death worth?

  49. I am witnessing an interesting reaction to Sam Harris’ original letter about gun violence. Stereotypic right-wingers in the US are agreeing with him. I only have local knowledge of this from friends of friends. These individuals, however, are usually people of some sort of faith.

    Despite the challenges some RDF members are finding with Harris’ position, I am mildly pleased at what may or may not be an unintended consequence of Sam Harris’ article: his audience is widening and that certainly is a good thing.

    Mike

  50. The claim that stricter gun laws reduce violent crimes are absolutely fictitious. The actual facts that disprove this wishful thinking are for all serious truthsekers are easy to find. Examples include: England- when guns were banned, as were the use of any and all non-lethal deterrants such as pepper spray and mace, within six months cases of assault, rape, burgulary, theft, and other crimes skyrocketed. You will be put in jail for defending yourself in ANY fashion. The same was and is Australia. Recently,it was named as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with the highest number of assaults. Countries where gun ownership is required such as Switzerland and Israel have the LOWEST crime rates, and validated FBI data proves that ever since US citizens began taking responsibility for their own protection and stopped letting themselves be victims to such things as home invasions, burgularies, and assaults, the actual crime rate in america has been going steadily downwards, NOT upwards, as the anti-gun ignoramuses would like you to think.
    In fact, a friend of mine’s apartment was broken into about three in the morning while she and her four year old daughter were sleeping. She told me that at first she thought it was one of the neioghborhood dogs on the porch, but when she heard the footsteps in the house grabbed her shotgun and went to her daughter’s room.He was greeted by both barrels in the face While keeping him on the floor waiting for the police, she told me how much she was thankful that she had the means for protection. So i ask this to all those who would take away people’s guns- would you prefer them happy,alive and well, or just another victim?

  51. In reply to #54 by skeelo:

    In reply to #51 by Red Dog:

    Is that right? Sam Harris should write about it being “well past the time that the US joined the rest of the civilized world and had the same basic licensing and regulation for firearms that we do for cars and drugs like Sudafed?”

    Well then, you’ll be pleased to hear that, in his original piece, he makes clear that he is in favour of much stricter measures:

    “Rather than new laws, I believe we need a general shift in our attitude toward public violence—wherein everyone begins to assume some responsibility for containing it.” – Sam Harris, The Riddle of the Gun

    Do you see how, contrary to being “clear”, Harris’ essay is self-contradictory. That’s the problem: he’s in favour of stricter laws, but also not in favour of new laws…. so, which is it?

    Sam could have saved himself a lot of grief, and retained a few admirers, had he employed an editor, who might have counseled him to NOT contradict himself, NOT carelessly insult “liberals”, and NOT appreciatively spout NRA talking points.

    Or, perhaps, Sam’s intent all along was to (clumsily) disguise a pro-gun-control essay as a pro-gun-rights essay. The reality is, Harris is in favour of people like Harris owning guns, and virtually no one else.

  52. In reply to #61 by McCourt:

    Do you see how, contrary to being “clear”, Harris’ essay is self-contradictory. That’s the problem: he’s in favour of stricter laws, but also not in favour of new laws…. so, which is it?

    Harris is, as usual, perfectly clear:

    Finally, I have said nothing here about what might cause a person like Adam Lanza to enter a school for the purpose of slaughtering innocent children. Clearly, we need more resources in the areas of childhood and teenage mental health, and we need protocols for parents, teachers, and fellow students to follow when a young man in their midst begins to worry them. In the majority of cases, someone planning a public assassination or a mass murder will communicate his intentions to others in advance of the crime. People need to feel personally responsible for acting on this information—and the authorities must be able to do something once the information gets passed along. But again, any law that allows us to commit or imprison people on the basis of a mere perception of risk would guarantee that large numbers of innocent people will be held against their will.

    Rather than new laws, I believe we need a general shift in our attitude toward public violence—wherein everyone begins to assume some responsibility for containing it. It is worth noting that this shift has already occurred in one area of our lives, without anyone’s having received special training or even agreeing that a change in attitude was necessary: Just imagine how a few men with box cutters would now be greeted by their fellow passengers at 30,000 feet.

    He prefers “a general shift in our attitude toward public violence” rather than new laws that would allow the authorities to “commit or imprison people on the basis of a mere perception of risk”.
    Earlier in the essay, he made crystal clear that he is in favour of stricter gun control laws.

    There is no contradiction there. I suggest you try reading Harris’s work in the order in which it was written: it may spare you a bit of confusion in future.

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