Sam Harris Neglects The Most Important Evidence About Guns

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I have the highest admiration for Sam Harris.  I was an elected official when I first read his book. He made me think in new ways about religion and about the hard realities of its force in the realm of public policy. I am forever thankful to him. In the years since, I find I agree with him the overwhelming majority of the time.   


However, in his recent piece on gun control, Sam Harris failed to address the two most important pieces of evidence related to that topic.

1) the evidence regarding domestic violence against women;

2) the data confirming success of gun control in other countries.

Loaded guys with loaded guns is at the heart of violence in America. Most will not be surprised that homicides by men are ten times those committed by women.

In an ironic coincidence, Harris’s piece on gun control was published on the same day that The Violence Against Women Act was unjustly shot down in the U.S. House. Firearm assaults on female family members, and intimate acquaintances are approximately twelve times more likely to result in death than are assaults using other weapons. Two-thirds of women killed by spouses are killed with guns. This is not some minor secondary issue, yet Mr. Harris did not delve into it. It is the heart of the matter—a form of chronic and pervasive domestic terrorism.  

It is impossible to claim to address gun violence in American while failing to address domestic violence against women. The graphic for his blog on this topic is a picture of a handgun. And that is the where the discussion must be centered.

Second, Sam Harris fails to delve into the actual data comparing U.S. gun violence with other developed nations. This comparison was the first point that Richard Dawkins correctly and immediately made after the recent massacre in Connecticut. (While Richard Dawkins and I agree on gun control, I am fully responsible for this piece).

America’s rate of homicide with guns is dramatically higher than in most countries that have strict gun control policy. Harris fails to address the data, quickly dismissing comparisons to other countries, implying this is a really an inner city problem (he lists “Detroit, Oakland, Memphis, Little Rock, Stockton”). 

There are gangs in Europe. They kill each other less frequently – because they have less access to guns. Sadly men engage in domestic violence in other developed countries (rural and urban), but they have less access to guns than do American men (urban, suburban and rural). The horrendous terrorizing reality, the reality that his piece fails to dignify with serious discussion, is that a much smaller percentage of women die in other developed countries specifically because there is far less access to guns, especially handguns.

The neglect of the data regarding these two critically important topics means that the most important two aspects of gun violence in America are not really analyzed in Sam Harris’ piece.

Harris instead offers that it is reasonable that Sam Harris judges “himself” to be “psychologically stable” and “committed to safe handling” of firearms.

I worked briefly as a prosecutor before serving in elective office. Harris’ statement about himself is ironic given the stark realities law enforcement faces when dealing with vast numbers of people. Does Sam — or Joe or Jim — think he’s “stable” when he buys a gun?  Of course. We all think that. But in the real world — it’s later when the gun gets drawn.  Men, often drunk, get in fights. Men, often drunk, become jealous or want to control women. As anger or jealousy boils “stability” and “commitment to safe handling” can change — and do change — often – and often very quickly — into a dangerous and often lethal rage.

Harris devotes space to discussing his positive experience at target.This fails to capture the ocean of drunken rages that — in America distinctly — are supercharged by guns.  (And, though more rare, let’s consider: do maniacs who engage in mass shootings deem themselves “stable”? It’s a silly question of course. They can get guns in this country just as easily as intellectual authors and just as easily as an otherwise normal man, who, sparked by circumstance or pre-disposition or both, flies into a blind range.

Harris drags out the Swimming Pool Canard. You’ve heard this canard: Children are more likely to die in pools than by getting shot. Therefore children dying by gun violence should be dismissed as…just one of those things. Similar reasoning works like this: “Women are about eight times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than by breast cancer, so all that concern about breast cancer is overblown.” Please. It is entirely reasonable that society can, and should, work to address breast cancer – and cardiovascular disease, hospital hygiene safety (Harris raises this chestnut too) and handguns. The either/or choice is a rhetorical trick, not a reasoned argument.  

In fact we can and must in public policy balance issues not by comparing swimming pools to handguns – but on their own merits — the pluses and minuses unique to each — based on evidence.  For example, the Swimming Pool Canard: What are the advantages and disadvantages of pools? How many Michael Phelps are produced? Very few. How many people live healthier more pleasurable lives? Millions upon millions. How many save themselves from drowning because they learned to swim in a pool?  Many, myself included.  Swimming pools, you will concede, have positive attributes, indeed healthful attributes, that benefit millions. But to follow twisted NRA logic we must utterly ignore the positive value of pools.

Now, what positive is offered by guns? The pleasure of target practice? Perhaps…but the risk of death, much more common than in other nations, the widespread terrorizing of women, I would submit, far outweigh the pleasure of shooting at a pretend paper body on a target.  As the data make clear, the mythological self-defense argument is far outweighed by well-documented domestic violence, accidents, and suicides that exist in much smaller percentages in other developed nations. 

Sam Harris throws this one on the wall: a lot of people die from fist-fights. This one doesn’t stick either because the obvious was not acknowledged. If you handed guns to the same pool of often drunk fist-fighters, a much higher percentage of them would kill or die.

Toward the end of his piece, Sam Harris slips in that he favors strict gun licensing and gun control. I commend him. He asserts this position with less energy and emphasis than his assertion of NRA arguments, but he must be commended nonetheless.  However, on two critical remedies, Harris backs up his NRA rhetoric with NRA policy positions. Both are wrong.

Those two are handgun buy-backs and legislation removing the handgun from its prevalent place in the American way of life, maiming — and death, a prevalence that does not exist in so many other entirely productive, more safe and more healthy developed countries.

Harris offers that some people will kill people with hunting rifles which are more accurate than handguns, but that’s a side issue. I assume Harris agrees that rifles should be strictly licensed anyway, and, moreover, most people aren’t Oswald style killers. Far more common are the angry situations with handguns that Harris does so little to confront.

The handgun is easily the most convenient and most common choice for the loaded man wanting a loaded gun – the combination that causes so much terror in America every single day. It is the crux of the issue. Regardless of our position on the issue, we must squarely acknowledge that America would dramatically reduce killing in general and fatal domestic violence in particular if we dramatically reduced access to handguns (which can’t be used for deer hunting).  

Harris first dismisses reduction of access to handguns (and automatic and semi-automatic weapons) with The Gun Flood argument. When one chooses to face up to how pervasive the terrorizing of women with guns is in America, it allows the reader to much more conveniently shrug one’s shoulders and conclude, well, America’s flooded with guns, especially handguns, so we’ll just have to tell everyone to, well, buy even more guns.  Will the NRA’s “tell everyone to buy more guns” argument make women safer? Harris does not answer this question — because the answer is most certainly no. The proposed new Gun Flood will in the real world mean more women killed in domestic violence. Mr. Harris did not address this.  And, regardless of one’s stand on this issue, it is a fact and it must be faced unblinkingly, just as law enforcement and surviving family members will be forced to face this fact if it comes to pass.

Yet — logistically — this is indeed the best NRA argument (however cynical). They say implicitly: 1) We flooded America with guns quite successfully, so it’s now too late, and therefore explicitly 2) be afraid and buy more guns.

Public policy is a balancing of choices based on real world possibilities. Why fail to discuss less deadly alternatives? 

Gun buy-backs were successful in Australia after a mass shooting in the 1990s. It worked. Gun violence is down Down Under. Will it work here? Who knows, but it will work a lot better than Gun Flood Part Two, on top of the massive Gun Flood Part One. That is certain. Better to emulate Australia’s success than to guarantee more domestic terrorizing of women.

I’m glad Sam Harris and I agree that a “well regulated militia” does not include every Tom, Dick and drunk or angry Harry. However, Harris quickly offers a second argument against handgun buybacks and restrictions: He says it’s not politically feasible in 2012.

Assuming that conclusion is true, it is irrelevant. 

In 1955 it would be entirely reasonable to conclude that a civil rights bill was not going to pass – not in 1955. Opponents falsely claimed that a civil rights law was unconstitutional in 1955.  I suppose civil rights organizers and sympathetic politicians could have dusted their hands and had cocktails instead.

Because sound policy may not become law today says nothing about whether a movement can be built to address a horrible injustice, an injustice that falls especially harshly on women and the poor, an injustice that would only be made far worse by flooding this country with even more guns, particularly more handguns.

I strongly commend Sam Harris for his support of some gun control laws. However, as the 2012 election proved, American demographics are changing and will change more. It is entirely possible that we can indeed work successfully for legislation that removes handguns and assault weapons — which have no sporting use — and create a strong buy-back program to counteract the NRA orchestrated gun flood.  Given the carnage guaranteed by the alternative, we have no ethical choice but to organize. We have no ethical choice but to give this cause our best. 

Enraged men with loaded guns is the most dangerous and pervasive part of this problem.  Very frequently those killed will be terrorized family members who deserve much more respect than the NRA reaction has offered them so far. Sam Harris is a courageous, thoughtful and good human being from whom I have learned much. I urge him to expand his analysis and focus and join this effort. This is what a reasoned approach requires. I extend my hand to him in undying admiration.

Links for more information are below:

Sean Faircloth is author of Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It.  Faircloth briefly served as a state Assistant Attorney General handling child protection cases then was promoted to a prosecution position, then served ten years in his state legislature. Faircloth is Director of Strategy & Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/14/chart-the-u-s-has-far-more-gun-related-killings-than-any-other-developed-country/

http://www.netwellness.org/healthtopics/domesticv/violenceUS.cfm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-actual-facts-about-dom_b_2193904.html

https://docs.google.com/a/richarddawkins.net/viewer?a=v&q=cache:vPqWdszoaR8J:www.futureswithoutviolence.org/userfiles/file/Children_and_Families/Guns.pdf+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESioU1IZB1Uun40gISsvTxEuiT7sFZnoHGc4vwUCFfmZUhYl4fCtU4hYxLIncmLe45fWxWwl62zJfgVUHHpRUGiXZBY-wduRIlXG6rD7rmdiz_yl8azWKaLoGaHpPwYmZXPlNiMO&sig=AHIEtbRKvA71A_py7NbJfvSMsBYd0RityQ

Written By: Sean Faircloth
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209 COMMENTS

  1. Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

  2. I agree with this article, and I believe that gun culture and those who support it probably bear some responsibility for the slaughter of the innocents.

    To me the right to bear arms doesn’t make any sense.

    I once heard a pro-gun advocate express the view that the right to bear arms was a fundamental freedom which was so inalienable that it extended to the right of individuals to possess nuclear weapons. One gun buy-back after the Sandy Hook shooting netted two rocket launchers.

    We have to draw the line somewhere and most people would agree the line should be way below nukes and heavy military weapons. I believe there should be serious restrictions on weapons designed to kill people. The self-defence argument isn’t a reason to own such a weapon. The weapons used in the Sandy Hook shooting were acquired for this reason and look how they ended up being used.

    I did some hostile environment training run by ex Special Forces guys, and the first thing they said in weapons training was that it is safer not to have a gun for several reasons. The main ones I recall were that in nearly all circumstances flight is a better option than fight, and by having a gun you are more likely to make the wrong choice; also an armed defender is likely to be the one taken out first, while an unarmed person fleeing or hiding is less likely to draw fire.

    If Sam Harris likes target shooting, he can have a gun designed for target shooting, and be allowed to take it out at a shooting range. Guns designed to kill animals would have a different set of restrictions aimed at reducing accidents and the killing of protected species. But I don’t see why anyone feels they have the right to technologically improve their ability to kill other people.

      • Defend yourself from what? The Boogey Man? Most gun sales are based on fear, of what I don’t know.

        In reply to #214 by Prophiscient:

        In reply to #2 by stylofone:

        To me the right to bear arms doesn’t make any sense.

        What doesn’t make sense about having the ability to defend youself?

    • In reply to #2 by stylofone:

      Your reply is consistent the masses of people who are informed largely by the media and others who share their views on gun control. For example, the so called “rocket launchers” collected at gun buy backs are empty, non functioning tubes. They are not illegal and pose no threat to anyone. They do not have rockets in them.

      So called “Assault Weapons” are used for target practice and hunting.

      New York State banned these weapons, even though, less than five people a year died from any cause (including suicide) from long guns of any kind. More children where murdered in foster care through abuse from hitting and starvation. Even more children where killed in car accidents, drug over doses, and drowning.

      Yet, firearms, with well over 100,000,000 in circulation here in America, and with such an minute number of them are used in crimes compared to the number in circulation.

      One can not point to any other sport in which law abiding mass majority of the participants are punished the criminal actions of the very few.

      You are swimming in a sea of misinformation and cognitive bias.

      I agree with this article, and I believe that gun culture and those who support it probably bear some responsibility for the slaughter of the innocents.

      To me the right to bear arms doesn’t make any sense.

      I once heard a pro-gun advocate express the view that the right to bear arms was a fundamental freedom which was so inalienable that it extended to the right of individuals to possess nuclear weapons. One gun buy-back after the Sandy Hook shooting netted two rocket launchers.

      We have to draw the line somewhere and most people would agree the line should be way below nukes and heavy military weapons. I believe there should be serious restrictions on weapons designed to kill people. The self-defence argument isn’t a reason to own such a weapon. The weapons used in the Sandy Hook shooting were acquired for this reason and look how they ended up being used.

      I did some hostile environment training run by ex Special Forces guys, and the first thing they said in weapons training was that it is safer not to have a gun for several reasons. The main ones I recall were that in nearly all circumstances flight is a better option than fight, and by having a gun you are more likely to make the wrong choice; also an armed defender is likely to be the one taken out first, while an unarmed person fleeing or hiding is less likely to draw fire.

      If Sam Harris likes target shooting, he can have a gun designed for target shooting, and be allowed to take it out at a shooting range. Guns designed to kill animals would have a different set of restrictions aimed at reducing accidents and the killing of protected species. But I don’t see why anyone feels they have the right to technologically improve their ability to kill other people.

  3. Assuming your figure on 8 times as many women dying from heart disease as breast cancer is correct, then of course it doesn’t mean we forget about solving breast cancer, but it does mean it’s entirely irrational to direct more concern and resources to it than heart disease. It should get 1/8 as much attention, no? Actually more since heart disease affects men too. Cancer has a much more emotional reaction than heart disease though, as to shootings. Sam even points out that it’s actually worth considering the shocking traumatizing nature of a mass shooting and not just raw numbers, but at the end of the day, paying attention to facts and not our emotions is always the best course of action, especially for us atheists/skeptics.

  4. I tend to find that the same old fallacies crop up time and again regardless of subject. The swimming pool canard resembles the all-or-nothing fallacy, (or as I like to call it the “argumentum ad perfectum”) that I hear all the time from those defending animal cruelty and it goes along the line of “because I cannot prevent all cruelty in the world I shall go on being cruel”. I hear again and again: “cars kill people so should we ban cars?”

    Guns are designed to kill and comparing their correct and proper use with the misuse of items that are not is fallacious; as is the red-herring fallacy of trying to equate the reasonable and desirable banning of a pernicious killing weapon with the banning of a popular and benign item designed for utility or pleasure.

    Many studies have shown that gun ownership in the home is far more likely to result in the death of the gun owner or his family than their protection in the event of a break in.

    The 1998 study What Are the Risks and Benefits of Keeping a Gun in the Home? published in the journal of the American Medical Association entitled, concludes Based on the evidence currently available, it appears that gun ownership is associated with a net increase in the risk of death for a typical individual.”

    Injuries and deaths due to firearms in the home, a study published by researchers at Emory University Atlanta found that “Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.”

    Mass shootings in the USA are not merely facilitated by the presence of guns, they are caused by the presence of guns. This is a crucial point to understand.

    Typical scenario: Emo, emotionally immature, child-brained person (of any age) is insulted or otherwise butt-hurt and feeling sorry for himself (it’s invariably a male), or even experiencing the extreme anomic despair that precedes suicide.

    Possible choice to relieve the upset:

    1) go home and masturbate / jump off a bridge
    or – hang on, wait a second…
    2) mom has FIVE guns in the cupboard at home, hmmm……

    When will people understand that it’s the presence of guns that create the murders. If you doubt this, go to any large urban high school yard and hand every teenager a loaded gun and step back and watch what happens.

    Now try the same experiment but this time give them a sharpened stone and see the difference.

    America needs to implement a road map to phase out all private gun ownership beginning with the immediate banning of all assault weapons, automatic and semi-automatic rifles and pistols combined with a generous amnesty buyback followed by very severe penalties for ownership. The ultimate goal has to be zero private gun ownership.

    Every single illegal gun in America started out as a legally owned gun sold over a counter. Until the sale of guns and ammo is ceased this problem will never be solved. People insist that it cannot be done but that’s just a lack of imagination on their part. Sweden switched over from driving on the left to the right on Sunday 3 September 1967. Many people said it couldn’t be done but the night the switch was implemented there were fewer road fatalities than on an average Sunday. Change can be accomplished, it just needs big thinking and new paradigms.

    http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=187805

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9715182

  5. One issue with your claims about domestic violence being a predominantly male upon women endemic:

    This simply isn’t true. Numerous police and government reports have shown domestic violence to be neck-and-neck in terms of which gender performs it upon the other, and the trouble with linking this to gun violence in particular is that this simply isn’t true either.

    You cite that 2/3 of domestic murders committed by men upon women are via fire-arms. Fair enough. Did you know that 80% of those committed by women upon men are the same?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1635092

    You can peruse the data here, and we can quickly see that the established trend is that when women commit violence (most especially of the armed variety), they do so to intimate partners, or someone they know well, on average. Men trend towards violence toward strangers, instead.

    None of the above is any kind of argument against treating gun violence seriously, and I am very much in favor of gun control. I do, however, take issue with cherry-picked data in a bid to entwine two causes into one, when one of them is easily debunked.

    I would hope we each can strive for accuracy, in future.

    1. Where there are more guns there is more homicide
    2. Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide.
    3. Across states, more guns = more homicide
      http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/index.html

    Sweden’s gun laws would have stopped Norway killer: police
    http://www.thelocal.se/35156/20110725/

    Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States

    1. Shooting sprees are not rare in the United States.
    2. Eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States.
    3. Of the 11 deadliest shootings in the US, five have happened from 2007 onward.
    4. America is an unusually violent country. But we’re not as violent as we used to be.
    5. The South is the most violent region in the United States.
    6. Gun ownership in the United States is declining overall.
    7. More guns tend to mean more homicide.
    8. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.
    9. Gun control, in general, has not been politically popular.
    10. But particular policies to control guns often are.
    11. Shootings don’t tend to substantially affect views on gun control.
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/14/nine-facts-about-guns-and-mass-shootings-in-the-united-states/
  6. I agree with Harris. It seems more reasoned where this piece seems to be more one of victimization and pulls at the heart strings. I have enjoyed Sean’s comments before and agree with many of them, but must diverge here. Gun control is not a national priority and should not be a priority of the RDF.

  7. In reply to #7 by SophusE:

    Are you there sam?

    Um, no. If you disagree with something written, please attempt to actually form a contrasting argument, rather than a flimsy attempt to dismiss someone by implying inherent bias.

    It’s cheap.

  8. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    Other places have alcohol and men too (and videogames and bunch of other stuff), but the gun problem is uniquely American, so it should be clear on what he is advocating.

  9. Excellent article, but I find these gun control discussions often miss several important factors:

    1. This is a statistical issue.
      Arguments about what people can or can’t kill with or how one can imagine getting around regulations or finding ways to kill are completely irrelevant. The issue is whether or not a particular policy will reduce the number of murders and whether the voters think that reduction is worth the “cost”, which may be that some gun lovers can’t access the guns they want as easily. Guns are efficient and effective killing machines. What is possible is less important than how easy it is to do. You do get into this issue in the article, but sadly the NRA rarely does.

    2. The problem is non-linear
      People on both sides of the gun control argument seem to use simple linear correlations as arguments. That doesn’t work here. Local minima and global minimum can be opposite policies. Imagine that guns were everywhere and every thief, rapist, and murderer used them. This might put your chances of being brutally murdered at, say 30 per 100,000 population. So scared homeowners also buy more guns to protect themselves and the risk may drop now to 25. One might legitimately argue that more guns reduced murders and crime. Sure. But making guns very hard to obtain for anybody might bring the risk down to 2 or 3.

    3. Culture changes occur top-down
      The U.S. problem isn’t so much a law problem as a cultural problem, but that doesn’t mean that gun control laws aren’t important. In the U.S., guns are seen as “protection”, cool to own and use, and a right. People become obsessed with owning them. The rest of civilized world sees them as a dangerous weapon that is very efficient at killing, easy to accidentally cause great harm, and something that people should only own under strict rules for well-justified reasons, and used only for those reasons. Until the U.S. begins to see things this way there won’t likely be a lot of change.

    So how does that sort of cultural change happen? Well, it often occurs via reasoned, top-down legislation and time. For example, Andrew Hammel traced the disappearance of capital punishment from Western civilization in his book “Ending the Death Penalty”, even including the trend towards abolishing it even in the one holdout: the U.S. It didn’t happen by growing popularity or random shifts. It happened by a “norm cascade” that goes like this:
    (1) Intellectuals continually formed well-reasoned arguments that eventually convinced pundits, policy makers, and legislatures.
    (2) After time passes, people and the press get bored of the change.
    (3) Politicians eventually realize it isn’t a vote-getter anymore.
    (4) Eventually nobody wants to re-open the issue.
    (5) People get used to it and favour the status quo.
    (6) Remaining resistance gets outcast as radical fringe groups, and whose extremism only serves to cement the new consensus.

    Similar norm cascades happened with bigotry, racial segregation, criminalizing homosexuality, women in the workplace, and so on. If we are to ever change the U.S. gun culture, gun control laws will be a necessary step regardless of the nitpicking of ways around them. Laws can, and do, change culture.

  10. Pretty convincing arguments here. However, you missed the part of his piece that I found the weakest. This sentence is the center of it:

    “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.”

    We cannot reasonably expect a properly-secured handgun to stop him, either. Death by accidental shooting, suicide, or one of the situations you’ve described here are so much more likely than a situation in which a homeowner retrieves a gun from one secured location, the ammunition from another, loads, aims, and shoots an intruder.

    I have never been against people owning guns for recreation or hunting, although I would never, ever own one myself or allow one to reside in my home. But I think the idea that guns in our homes can protect us from harm are delusional.

    • In reply to #13 by badrescher:

      Pretty convincing arguments here. However, you missed the part of his piece that I found the weakest. This sentence is the center of it:

      “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.”

      We cannot reasonably expect a properly-secured handgun to stop him, either. Death by accidental shooting, suicide, or one of the situations you’ve described here are so much more likely than a situation in which a homeowner retrieves a gun from one secured location, the ammunition from another, loads, aims, and shoots an intruder.

      I have never been against people owning guns for recreation or hunting, although I would never, ever own one myself or allow one to reside in my home. But I think the idea that guns in our homes can protect us from harm are delusional.

      “properly secured”. One would have be dumber than a fundy to think that you would have time to unlock a gun and load it and shoot when you already have an armed intruder upon you. The whole POINT of having a gun for defense is to have it on your person or within arms reach and loaded (duh). If you would rather be beaten and killed, have you wife and kids assaulted, raped and killed than to be responsible for your own and your own family’s immediate protection, that is your choice. It is NOT your choice to restrict other peoples’ right to do so.

  11. Not sure if it says anything about ammunition in the constitution. Guns are no good without bullets. Banning the manufacture and or sale/possession of ammunition types required to make handguns and assault rifles deadly could do the trick. Non lethal alternatives for target purposes could be developed. People can own all the assault weapons they want but getting ammo would require them to go to the black market.

    Of course, multipurpose ammo that can fit a long gun as well as assault rifle would still be an issue. Taxing the crap out of it might not be a bad idea. The problem is guns, if not, it’s Americans and that’s a bigger problem. Clinging to culture is like clinging to a favourite colour, it’s silly.

  12. @yutt,

    Sean addresses this point in the article. It is a non-starter. If that were the case, any effort on anything by the #1 risk would be silly which isn’t the case. That’s not how it works. You can address multiple issues in parallel, and pure risk isn’t the only issue. You also need to address the complexity, efficacy, and cost of solutions as well.

    Much effort already goes into heart attack, stroke, cancer, and car safety. But curing them is harder, costlier, and more complex than gun control. Other countries have solved the gun violence problem. They haven’t solved heart attacks or cancer.

    There are also efforts in reducing harm from drinking and violent tendencies in men. But these have to be weighed against the cost and what a society is willing to give up for solving the problem.

    The question is, if changing gun laws or culture saves thousands of lives per year, including many children, is it too much to ask gun lovers to require more paperwork, checks, regulations, and live with fewer rounds per second? Or is getting to play with a rapid firing gun as quickly and easily as possible so important that it is worth losing about 4000 American children per year?

    In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

  13. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    I don’t disagree with everything you said, but talking about driving provisions doesn’t fit in this. Those are choices and controllable by the individual. Where is violence against someone is not controllable no matter if they have a weapon or not. Apples and oranges…..and gets no where to the core of an answer of which way to go.

  14. “Harris drags out the Swimming Pool Canard…. The either/or choice is a rhetorical trick, not a reasoned argument.”

    I disagree. I think the reason this gets brought up is because gun control advocates make a moral case about a number of people being killed by firearms each year, some accidental, some spur of the moment rage, some premeditated. The answer suggested usually is some form of gun control, from certain weapons being banned to all weapons being banned. No where else do we make this case. All those deaths from automobiles and no ban on them, not even for the elderly who have problems with sight and reaction times due to their age, although that might be because of the AARP and the fact that the elderly are a more reliable demographic for politicians. So why target guns? It seems that if you claim we don’t target any other tool of death because of a perceived usefulness or because of their value to society, it seems you abandon the argument using numbers of people and shift it to a value you place on the different tools that bring about death. Are automobiles useful? Yes, but necessary? Not for the average person. In addition, you mentioned “drunk men” several times in relation to domestic violence against women and people at the bar. “Drunk men” and “drunk women” drives cars, usually at night. Drunk driving deaths would be substantially lower if we banned cars. Does that mean we should? I’m guessing you don’t think so. Gun control advocates seem to argue that if a tool is doing the killing, take away the tool. I think that with proper training, like Sam Harris said, and trying to get to the causes of crime and violence (poverty, drug use, alcohol abuse) then we could lower violence across the board.

  15. The problem is that something that should be considered to be a privilege, is considered to be a right.
    We are involved in discussions regarding who should be exempt from having the right to have guns, instead of discussing who should have guns.
    We start with the assumption that everyone should be able to acquire guns if they wish and then we try to figure out who shouldn’t after all, instead of starting with the logical assumption that no one should have guns and then figure out the exemptions to that (e.g. police officers obviously should have guns).

    It is fine to have guns for hunting although that should not be your right… you should be examined thoroughly, routinely and regularly for your fitness to have a hunting rifle for example.
    If a court were to decide that it is a good idea for one to carry a gun for protection that would be alright too, as the gun ownership privilege would be granted to an individual in such a case by his/her peers through the state.
    It is fine to have guns for target practice in specially designed areas, but they should STAY there. If you need it just for practice and not for protection why take it with you?
    For protection we have the police. This is why we pay taxes: to have police, firefighters, etc so that we wont have to police, firefight, etc ourselves.

    Obviously I think that the second amendment should go…

  16. In reply to #3 by fuzzylogic:

    Assuming your figure on 8 times as many women dying from heart disease as breast cancer is correct, then of course it doesn’t mean we forget about solving breast cancer, but it does mean it’s entirely irrational to direct more concern and resources to it than heart disease. It should get 1/8 as much attention, no? Actually more since heart disease affects men too. Cancer has a much more emotional reaction than heart disease though, as to shootings. Sam even points out that it’s actually worth considering the shocking traumatizing nature of a mass shooting and not just raw numbers, but at the end of the day, paying attention to facts and not our emotions is always the best course of action, especially for us atheists/skeptics.

    Off topic but the heart disease to breast cancer argument is the reason I think charitable donations should be taxed, so we can divert money to more needy charities from the tax dollars given to better marketed but less needy charities.

  17. There are several problems with this piece.

    Mr. Faircloth appeals to emotion by using the word ‘terror’ or its derivative no less than 7 times in this article. –> Men, often drunk, get in fights. Men, often drunk, become jealous or want to control women. As anger or jealousy boils “stability” and “commitment to safe handling” can change — and do change — often – and often very quickly — into a dangerous and often lethal rage. <– What is this? It’s another appeal to emotion. This language adds absolutely nothing to the dialogue except for a charge of emotion. He doesn’t qualify how often Men get drunk, or how often they get into fights, or how often drunk men get into fights, or how often men who are drunk and/or fighting decide to start raging and throw common sense out the window whilst playing with firearms. What is the per-capita rate of men flying into drunken jealous rages and shooting their significant others? I suspect it’s far less than Mr. Faircloth would have us believe with this statement.

    If we’re going to have a rational discussion, Mr. Faircloth needs to leave the value judgements and inflammatory language out of the picture.

    All of these statistics are interesting from a philosophical viewpoint, but they don’t prove anything. I can think of a few excellent counter-examples. If we follow Mr. Faircloth’s premise, then we might think that a sharp increase in firearm purchases would mean a sharp increase in crime will follow! Interestingly enough, there have been a few instances in recent history we can examine for such information:

    -In 2009, after Obama was elected, gun sales rose sharply… yet the murder rate in the U.S. dropped by 7.4 percent.
    -A similar drop in murder rate occurred in 1999, during a sharp increase in firearm sales after the Columbine massacre.
    -After the gun ban went into effect in both cities [Chicago and Washington DC], murder rates rose dramatically. After the Supreme Court threw out DC’s ban and gunlock laws in 2008, the District’s murder rates plunged by 25 percent in 2009.

    There is other research that I haven’t quoted here that further demonstrates a connection between increased firearm permitting or usage and a decrease in crime.

  18. So while there are “incredibly more pressing problems than guns” does that mean that we should ignore the obviously lax constraints in regards to owning one? Should we ignore the fact that in the US, you stand the highest chance of being shot in the industrialized world? There is a common denominator that exists here and to ignore that is ignoring the facts, plain and simple.

  19. Very very well written Mr Faircloth. I am aghast at how nonsensical Harris’s article was, I thought he was supposed to be a rational thinker.

    I can’t believe that Harris thinks he can protect his family by keeping a gun given the high rate of domestic gun deaths. Children finding their Dad’s gun, a parent getting drunk or in a moment of anger cause more fatalities than from armed home invasions by a large margin.

    He says: “… On the other, proponents of stricter gun laws often seem unable to understand why a good person would ever want ready access to a loaded firearm. Between these two extremes we must find grounds for a rational discussion”
    I’m sorry but why does anyone need ready access to a loaded firearm again?? The vast majority of people in the world do not own a firearm, let alone a constantly loaded one, and they live their life well and safely. Is Harris suggesting these people are all irrational in their choice?

    Really disappointed in Harris.

  20. In reply to #13 by badrescher:

    “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.”

    We cannot reasonably expect a properly-secured handgun to stop him, either. Death by accidental shooting, suicide, or one of the situations you’ve described here are so much more likely than a situation in which a homeowner retrieves a gun from one secured location, the ammunition from another, loads, aims, and shoots an intruder.

    I have never been against people owning guns for recreation or hunting, although I would never, ever own one myself or allow one to reside in my home. But I think the idea that guns in our homes can protect us from harm are delusional.

    And yet, there are stories every day about homeowners who successfully defend themselves against intruders using firearms. The sequence of events you describe would rarely occur, if ever. People who are serious about home defense keep their firearms loaded and at the ready, locked in a safe by the bed. Those who practice can awaken from a deep sleep and have their firearm ready in about a minute or less.

    http://www.ksn.com/news/local/story/Homeowner-shoots-suspect-during-home-invasion/9fYDMtx0kUS1P4pfHKFBGQ.cspx

    http://www2.wbtw.com/news/pee-dee-wbtw/2012/dec/28/darlington-county-break-suspect-shot-victim-when-t-ar-5258589/

    http://gunssavelives.net/self-defense/video-las-vegas-resident-shoots-and-kills-1-of-4-armed-home-invaders-as-infant-child-slept/

    http://gunssavelives.net/self-defense/tx-woman-shoots-and-kills-violent-ex-boyfriend-who-broke-into-her-home-assaulted-her/

  21. Actually, 2010 data has of all female homicides (n=1622), 52 percent of women victims as gun homicides and only 35 percent were killed by an intimate partner who used a gun – domestic violence. There were ~65 million women married in the US in 2010 – the number of other women in relationships isn’t available. But, if we guess at 1/4 of that, it would be a more than 80 million women. So 0.002 percent of women died in gun-related violence and only 0.0007 percent of all women in a relationship were killed with a gun via domestic violence.

    While any murder of an innocent is a shame, it’s an insignificant percentage to use in advocacy of gun bans, Such bans would do nothing to address the underlying problems which lead to such violence in the first place. I would also venture a guess such bans would also do little to reduce the numbers of domestic violence homicides. They would just use the weapons the other 65 percent used – knives, blunt objects, hands, etc.
    The effort to tie guns to the cause of domestic violence/murders is disingenuous at best.

    http://www.vpc.org/studies/wmmw2012.pdf

    The author also fails to support his contention there are more “hot-blooded” or “heat of the moment” murders than “cold-blooded” murders in his effort to support his position banning handguns. (The insinuation being if only there wasn’t a gun handy, no one would have died.) I’ve combed through the FBI crime stats and where gun crimes are broken down by categories, “arguments” are a very small percentage of gun homicides.

    In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.

    Again, an insignificant statistic in support of gun bans.

    The Constitution is emphatic that the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed and “well regulated militia” is not a caveat that it can be infringed upon.

    That doesn’t mean that gun ownership shouldn’t be regulated. I support the same registration process for all fire arms one has to go through to own automatic weapons through the ATF. Almost half a million American collectors legally own fully automatic firearms (not the semi-auto versions used in recent homicides) and I can’t recall the last time one was ever used in a crime.

  22. Hypothetical question to Sam Harris,

    If a child came home with a new video game on their i-phone where pressing a button actually really killed someone in the room. Do you think

    a. Such a video game should be banned outright?

    b. It should be available to all

    c. It could come in useful if someone tries to murder us, so the game should be available to adults who pass a test

  23. Sam Harris says, “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.”

    Amongst gun owners, as a population, what differences, if any, can be seen between those gun owners who Have had [x] dozen hours of formal training — in both classroom and gun range, and those gun owners who Have Not had such training? Increased or reduced likelihood of gun-related accident? Of gun-related homicide?

    Would such a requirement, if meaningfully enforced, serve to reduce the number of guns in the hands of those persons who are less-than-stable? And, perhaps, even reduce the homicide rate, in general?

    I’m so glad that Sean Faircloth put this proposition forward as an enlightened alternative to Sam Harris’ retrograde gun fanaticism.

    Except, of course, it was Sam’s suggestion.

    Sam actually made a number of fairly radical proposals regarding restrictions we could place upon the transfer and ownership of guns in the US.

  24. Is it unreasonable of me to suggest the following?

    An official representative of a respected organization, when writing an essay likely to be seen and read by hundreds/thousands of persons, should at the very least do a careful check for grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation errors prior to publishing.

    Perhaps, also a check for awkward sentence/paragraph structure.

    Ideally, this would be done by someone other than the author.

    Just a friendly suggestion from someone who–even though he knows better–too often conflates a person’s faulty grammar with faulty logic.

  25. I was so shocked when I read Sam Harris’ piece as I normally admire his clear thinking and reasoned argument,and I am very happy to read Sean Faircloth’s rebuttal,to which there is not much to add.
    What is it about Americans and guns that makes rational people like Sam Harris think irrationally,and go and do stupid things like spend hours shooting guns at rifle ranges? It is truly bizarre.
    America deserves to have 12,000 people murdered by guns every year as they support this orgy of gun ownership.I am currently living in Singapore,where no gun ownership is allowed,full stop.No gun violence either,believe it or not.

  26. Living without guns is a deliberative life choice. It is a personal attitude, a set of values, that at bottom repudiates the ‘just in case’ argument for access to a gun as a legitimate and defensible response of first choice. To fictively imagine gun possession as an enhanced measure of protection providing a ring of confidence as a deterrent, in a community itself fearfully bristling with all manner of killing machines, is not the kind of message that inspires confidence or safety. Carrying a gun as the preferred tool of choice in conflict resolution is not the kind of message that inspires hope for a safer community. Not in the least. Violence foments violence. Period. No amount of rationalizing and weasel-wording about personal safety and family protection, while ever guns are at front and centre of that conversation, will make the case more real or any the truer. That is just crazy talk.
    There is no civil or civilized alternative to a society with less guns and less access to guns. Live by the gun: die by the gun. The adage has never been more apposite than it is today as we reflect on this pathological compulsion to feel invincible and powerful, powerful enough to take anybody’s life with a simple squeeze of the finger.

    As much as I admire Sam Harris for all the wonderful things he has so lucidly explained, this is not one of those occasions.

  27. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Good grief! You didn’t read the article, did you? “The Swimming Pool” canard is what you repeat here- so we should ignore “heart attack, cancer,…etc, etc.

    Myopic emotional reaction is yours and that of all the NRA’s fans. I do hope it is not your child next slaughtered in an “incredibly rare and unique situation”. Or maybe that would wake you up to your stupidity

  28. America’s love affair with guns amounts to religious belief; faith, that despite any and all evidence of the harm caused, “I will go on believing”.
    Amazing that Sam Harris, rational and incisive thinker, can delude himself with this blind spot in his otherwise admirable mind. Therefore no surprise at all that Mr Average can do likewise.

    Effective gun control- not likely, until America shakes off this delusion. Ergo, not likely EVER.

  29. It is much healthier to live in a society where guns do not proliferate. I live in Australia, and I have never fired a gun, no-one in my family has ever owned a gun, and to my knowledge no-one I know has ever been a victim of any gun-related crime or ever had any reason to own a gun. After reading Sam Harris’s wrong-headed and very depressing article, I think I will never go to America. Singapore sounds better (when it comes to guns anyway). Or Japan, another country where private gun ownership is not part of the culture at all. I have disagreed with some of Sam Harris’s writing before (including parts of “The End of Faith”), but in this case he’s certainly no a horseman, he’s not even in the pony club.

    In reply to #32 by nicksg:
    I was so shocked when I read Sam Harris’ piece as I normally admire his clear thinking and reasoned argument,and I am very happy to read Sean Faircloth’s rebuttal,to which there is not much to add.

    What is it about Americans and guns that makes rational people like Sam Harris think irrationally,and go and do stupid things like spend hours shooting guns at rifle ranges? It is truly bizarre.
    America deserves to have 12,000 people murdered by guns every year as they support this orgy of gun ownership.I am currently living in Singapore,where no gun ownership is allowed,full stop.No gun violence either,believe it or not.

  30. Some talk about Sweden here. Over here I think I’m considered a gun nut. A gun nut because a friend and I often talk about going the US with the main purpose of visiting one of your gun ranges to “get it out of our system” if you will.

    Besides having felt up his (and some other people’s) hunting rifles some I can’t recall ever having seen a real gun except holstered in the belt of our police. Nor do I fear an assailant breaching into my home for the purpose of killing me, with or without a gun. (Not that I live with the fear of getting shot anywhere else either) You often hear the home protection argument (from the US I mean) but out of the thousands of people killed with firearms in the US each year, how many were actually the home invader getting shot, or the house owner for that matter? Isn’t it true in the US as it is in Sweden – in the home you are most likely to fall prey to the violence of another family member – not a stranger breaching in to a populated house? Are your homes really that unsafe – or is there alot of money in fear?

    Theoretically, stretching the argument a little I know, to me the most likely gun owner would be a woman defending herself against domestic violence.

  31. like others here I was very surprised to read Sam’s essay.I have in the past been a huge fan of his work and have had the pleasure of hearing him speak and shaking his hand when he visited the U.K.in 2010.However, I think he has got it wrong this time.Recently we have been seeing more and more gun programmes here.Sons of Guns,Family Guns etc.The theme is the glorification of guns themselves and the culture that promotes their ownership and use.I have to say that some of the characters in these programmes would be the last people I would trust with a catapult, let alone a machine gun, but surely some sort of control is necessary now.Although the same sort of culture has never been part of the ‘British way of life’ the horror of the Dunblane massacre effectively stopped gun ownership here.I sold my clay shooting guns for a fraction of their value within 48 hrs of the tragedy as did many of my friends.Pistols which had never really been widely available were banned altogether, with even our Olympic shooters having to practice abroad.America is a dangerous place made even more so by it’s access to the most deadly arms,if they do not wish to continue to slaughter themselves they will need to ‘Bite the Bullet’ (sorry) and accept that there really is no valid reason to possess these weapons.

  32. This argument is causing me lots of confusion. I like that there is honest and open discussion on the matter. Perhaps a google hangout (streamed live) between Sean and Sam could really help delve deep into the issues at hand.

  33. For me it is very simple. Guns are designed to kill. The more of them you have the more likely they are to be used. In countries where gun ownership is not the norm gun deaths are low. There is no other argument!
    I agree with Sean about the link to domestic violence. I am a big fan of Sam Harris but I have lost some respect for him when his rationalism goes out of the window and his arguments start to resemble those spouted by the NRA, who have a vested interest in increased gun ownership.

  34. In reply to #9 by MaxwellJ:

    I agree with Harris. It seems more reasoned where this piece seems to be more one of victimization and pulls at the heart strings. I have enjoyed Sean’s comments before and agree with many of them, but must diverge here. Gun control is not a national priority and should not be a priority of the RDF.

    oh, i just think it’s great that two such intelligent people can have a debate like this – imagine two ayatollahs “arguing”!

  35. One thing that no-one seems to mention, or indeed seem to care about, is that the USA’s inability to control guns does not just affect the USA. A very high proportion of illegally held guns outside the USA come from there. One of the main reasons Mexico is in chaos is the free access to arms from across the border – but arms from the US make their way elsewhere as well. US gun laws kill a lot of non-Americans.

    But more than that the culture that goes with free access to guns encourages people in other countries to ape it. Look at gangs in the UK – modelled on American gangs despite the fact that pretty much no-one in any of the UK gangs will have any familial or cultural links whatsoever with anyone in the US. And as American gangs carry guns, they crave guns as well. Fortunately they find it very hard to get hold of them!

  36. In reply to #42 by chezzyd:

    For me it is very simple. Guns are designed to kill. The more of them you have the more likely they are to be used. In countries where gun ownership is not the norm gun deaths are low. There is no other argument!

    Did you read the article I posted? Yes, there are other arguments.

  37. Who is the one neglecting the evidence here? Your two points that you think Sam Harris missed are full of holes.

    You site Australia as having less gun crimes since it passed it’s gun buyback program. Ok that’s great but in the United States during that same time we saw gun crimes fall just as fast while passing more permissive gun laws. On top of that the United States saw all violent crime drop while in Australia they saw violent crime increase, in 2006 alone it went up 42% including a 30% increase in rape.

    Your second point seems to hinge on drunken domestic abuse while there is absolutely no sign that the United States leads in that category. A huge majority of our gun crime is gang related, not domestic. Gun ownership outside of cities is much higher while murder rates are much higher within cities. You also ignore that other countries have very high gun ownership and legal alcohol and yet somehow they manage to avoid being murder capitals.

    All of this seems to indicate that your premise of drunken domestic abuse is deeply flawed and that it is not the simple presence of a firearm that creates the problem nor are restrictive laws the solution. You might be happy with an increase in violent assault and sexual assault as long as deaths by firearms can be reduced but here in the United States we seem to be reducing both without any new gun bans.

  38. In reply to #13 by badrescher:

    Pretty convincing arguments here. However, you missed the part of his piece that I found the weakest. This sentence is the center of it:

    “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.”

    We cannot reasonably expect a properly-secured handgun to stop him, either. Death by accidental shooting, suicide, or one of the situations you’ve described here are so much more likely than a situation in which a homeowner retrieves a gun from one secured location, the ammunition from another, loads, aims, and shoots an intruder.

    I have never been against people owning guns for recreation or hunting, although I would never, ever own one myself or allow one to reside in my home. But I think the idea that guns in our homes can protect us from harm are delusional.

    Actually, the main nonsense about the idea that having guns at home (or, for heavens sake, in schools) is a logical one. If you wanted to break into a house, what effect would the knowledge that they owners might be armed have? First that would ensure that you carried a gun – a probably a bigger one that you might otherwise have done. Second, you would be much more inclined to use it. If you think the other guy has a gun, you will want to use your gun first.

  39. In reply to #1 by yutt:
    Hu Yutt,

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three.

    I don’t understand how you got that? The piece is clearly about gun control.

    The reality is most Americans are go[ing] to die of a heart attack, stroke, etc.

    Sean addresses the swimming pool argument.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction.

    I don’t see how this piece is myopic? It seems to me to be long-sighted and focused on improving the sum of human happiness in America in the long term.

    The piece is emotional? It seems to spend far too long time talking about solid evidence – like statistics – to be characterized, overall, as emotional.

    In addition, what’s wrong with emotional? While I agree that a cool head is needed when setting policy, there is surely good reasons why we have emotions. Hundreds of children dying every year, for no reason, is okay with you – clearly.

    That seems to me to be an emotional outburst on your part.

    Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    That must mean there really is an asteroid coming and it really will kill hundreds at random.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

    Again, Sean addresses the swimming pool argument.

  40. In reply to #47 by Nodhimmi:

    In reply to #40 by Peter Grant:

    I don’t own a gun, but I do sleep with a machete next to my bed.

    Wow! So you live in perpetual fear… in the Land of the Free?

    Peter Grant lives in South Africa.

    Michael

  41. In reply to #46 by Bignuncio:

    You site Australia as having less gun crimes since it passed it’s gun buyback program. Ok that’s great but in the United States during that same time we saw gun crimes fall just as fast while passing more permissive gun laws. On top of that the United States saw all violent crime drop while in Australia they saw violent crime increase, in 2006 alone it went up 42% including a 30% increase in rape.

    You should read the article Nodhimmi mentions below. The critical thing about Australia is that guns have always been heavily restricted and gun crime low even before the buy back. The buy back was a good thing but just aimed at further restricting the spread of semi-automatics because of the Port Arthur massacre. The situation in Australia with guns has never been like the US. In fact the comparison was probably one of the great motivators for Australian’s buy back besides the Port Arthur massacre. We were worried we were going to end up like the US.

    Michael

  42. What I find interesting, and slightly disturbing, is the emotional attitude people have to weapons in general. When it comes to handguns, people tend to see them as “nice” weapons; clean, clinical, practical, and sometimes even merciful. Other weapons like knifes, axes, chainsaws and baseball bats are considered brutal, violent, and tools of a deranged person. This difference affects the discussion of firearms in a major way.

    Pulling the trigger and firing a bullet into someone from a distance is somehow seen as a more acceptable way of defending yourself. Using a gun detaches you from the victim. But sticking someone with knife is gruesome, you get blood on your hands. The outcome is still the same.

    I’ve been thinking about a scenario in which I had to defend myself against burglars in an American state which allows violence against intruders. If I owned a katana and slit the throats of the intruders and watched them bleed to death on my floor, some might see me as a hero. But at the same time many would consider me deranged. After all, a sword is seen as a medieval and barbaric weapon. But if I simply shot them with a handgun, I would be almost universally haled a hero for defending my property. Firearms are clearly revered as “nicer” weapons even though they are one of the most effective killing tools. The potential for killing someone is even greater than with bladed weapons since a firearm can be used from a distance.

    I think this view of guns being preferable despite their great potential for killing has to do with the same mentality people have when talking about different forms of executions. Different methods have been used because we want to see increasingly humane executions. But the question is if the new methods have decreased the suffering of the convicted, or have they just become more tolerable for the executioners? Execution by beheading would probably be unthinkable in the US today, because it’s considered a macabre way to go. But is the lethal injection really any better for the victim? Some sources say it is painful, but the people watching the procedure can’t tell because of the muscle relaxants. So the needle is easier for the audience to deal with since it’s clean, but is it the best for the convict? New “humane” methods have not necessarily made it easier to die, only easier to take a life.

    The same goes for firearms. When talking about gun control, the ease of use and refined functioning mechanism of a gun seems to make people blind to what kind of tools we are talking about. They are dangerous to the person on the receiving end of the bullet, as much as – if not more than – other lethal tools. People support carrying concealed firearms, but I don’t see anyone supporting the right to carry a machete in your trouser leg or an umbrella with an built-in gun that fires ricin-filled pellets.

  43. What I find interesting, and slightly disturbing, is the emotional attitude people have to weapons in general. When it comes to handguns, people tend to see them as “nice” weapons; clean, clinical, practical, and sometimes even merciful. Other weapons like knifes, axes, chainsaws and baseball bats are considered brutal, violent, and tools of a deranged person. This difference affects the discussion of firearms in a major way.

    Pulling the trigger and firing a bullet into someone from a distance is somehow seen as a more acceptable way of defending yourself. Using a gun detaches you from the victim. But sticking someone with knife is gruesome, you get blood on your hands. The outcome is still the same.

    I’ve been thinking about a scenario in which I had to defend myself against burglars in an American state which allows violence against intruders. If I owned a katana and slit the throats of the intruders and watched them bleed to death on my floor, some might see me as a hero. But at the same time many would consider me deranged. After all, a sword is seen as a medieval and barbaric weapon. But if I simply shot them with a handgun, I would be almost universally haled a hero for defending my property. Firearms are clearly revered as “nicer” weapons even though they are one of the most effective killing tools. The potential for killing someone is even greater than with bladed weapons since a firearm can be used from a distance.

    I think this view of guns being preferable despite their great potential for killing has to do with the same mentality people have when talking about different forms of executions. Different methods have been used because we want to see increasingly humane executions. But the question is if the new methods have decreased the suffering of the convicted, or have they just become more tolerable for the executioners? Execution by beheading would probably be unthinkable in the US today, because it’s considered a macabre way to go. But is the lethal injection really any better for the victim? Some sources say it is painful, but the people watching the procedure can’t tell because of the muscle relaxants. So the needle is easier for the audience to deal with since it’s clean, but is it the best for the convict? New “humane” methods have not necessarily made it easier to die, only easier to take a life.

    The same goes for firearms. When talking about gun control, the ease of use and refined functioning mechanism of a gun seems to make people blind to what kind of tools we are talking about. They are dangerous to the person on the receiving end of the bullet, as much as – if not more than – other lethal tools. People support carrying concealed firearms, but I don’t see anyone supporting the right to carry a machete in your trouser leg or an umbrella with an built-in gun that fires ricin-filled pellets.

  44. I agree with all you said in general and the stats/data you do present are presented simply, which is good, but some of the sentencing is a bit awkward, and some of the backing is a bit under-presented and assumed. The article kind of has the tone of expected agreement, a presumed preaching to the choir, and you don’t really provide what Sam says in way of exposition before rebuttal some of the time (feel like I need to go read his article to really understand yours) or really footnote data when presenting things as facts other times.

    Some copy edits:
    Harris fails to address the data, quickly dismissing comparisons to other countries, implying this is … really an inner city problem (he lists “Detroit, Oakland, Memphis, Little Rock, Stockton”).
    Harris devotes [more] space to discussing his positive experience at target practice than the ugly reality of gun-related carnage.

  45. These are exactly the arguments I’ve been making and they fall on deaf ears to the gun enthusiasts. They somehow think that Europeans and Australians and Japanese people, all of whom have enacted effective gun control, are fundamentally different creatures than Americans. The enduring myth of American exceptionalism.

    Gun control works because fewer people die; and that’s enough reason to do it right there.

  46. In reply to #26 by Joshua.K:

    Hi Joshua,

    The WSJ piece you link to is false.

    The column talks about the tiny number of very rare cases in Britain – (one in the last fifteen years) where a registered gun owner has killed other people – as if they were common occurrences – in order to mislead you. This is not true: Britain’s experience of gun control has been that it is a great step forward.

    While it is true that gun crime in Britain has risen since tough gun controls were introduced that is due to two reasons:

    • Guns not turned in following the 1998 Act

    • Increased illegal imports by criminals

    The column also claims: “Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time.” This is utter rubbish. Police in Britain do not normally carry guns – which is another way to cut gun deaths of innocent people, by the way.

    There are no armed gangs roaming Britain’s streets – as is implied. The vast majority of people in Britain are not threatened by gangs – which are a shadow of the threat of gangs in most other countries. Knife crime increased in some major cities – particularly London – in the last decade, but a concerted effort by the authorities has greatly reduced this threat. We are not complacent and continue to work on these issues, even though they are now relatively minor.

    More police officers have been carrying guns in Britain as a part of their everyday duties in recent years, but this is not in response to gangs. It is protection against organised terrorism being imported by specific international groups and is mostly restricted to major, and sensitive, public areas such as airports and police raids on terrorist suspects.

    Our experience for fiftenn years has been: Gun control works.

    Peace.

  47. Whether or not you agree with everything Harris says, I think he does a very good job of opening up a discussion so that every aspect of an issue is looked at as openly and objectively as possible.

    I get the impression that he sometimes pushes arguments a little bit further than he might have a real conviction for; not because he is being dishonest but because he wants to think everything through properly to ensure nothing is missed and a well-rounded view is achieved. Although his articles appear very well-structured, they are just an elaborate form of “thinking out loud”.

    When he compares the number of deaths by shootings to the number of deaths by drowning, I don’t believe he is really concluding that we need to get rid of swimming pools as much as guns. He’s demonstrating how we can instinctively react to certain events in a way that can cloud our judgement of an issue that is a lot more complex than it might appear, and sometimes the solutions are not obvious.

  48. Parts of this piece simply remind me that sooner women are in overall charge the better: all positions of power in a civilised society should be under the control of women.

    I will bet that the persecution of men under that system would be as negligible to non-existent compared to the continuing persecution and mutilation of women (and children!) all over the world over millennia under systems run by men. The Y chromosome is simply a dodgy deal and can’t be trusted: Arguably, it served humanity well initially, but going forward lets face it as history tells it, if humanity is to survive this increasingly real existential threat, men have to take a back seat.

    I’m really fed up now of men same-old cocking things up, threatening the world, indulging in criminality and boosting other sociopathic metrics, and spreading literal to psychological damage one way or another every day in the news. And i’m not saying men should work less or their potential diminished (i happen to be one), only that we have to defer in our own interests really since we are too much controlled by our genitals and penis substitutes and if not we consider it unmanly!

    Lets get to the heart of the problem, not piffle about with details like gun laws or ‘de-patriarchalising’ religion that can all be eliminated anyway in this one fell swipe! It’s not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, its cultivating the survival of the species. Man up, you know it makes sense!

  49. In reply to #48 by John Birch:

    In reply to #13 by badrescher:

    Actually, the main nonsense about the idea that having guns at home (or, for heavens sake, in schools) is a logical one. If you wanted to break into a house, what effect would the knowledge that they owners might be armed have? First that would ensure that you carried a gun – a probably a bigger one that you might otherwise have done. Second, you would be much more inclined to use it. If you think the other guy has a gun, you will want to use your gun first.

    There is another effect. If the criminal thinks that the homeowners have guns, they might decline to break in. True, if they do break in, they will be more dangerous.

    I would recommend quality locks and a big dog.

  50. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

    Didn’t Sean address this exact line of reasoning in the article? “Children are more likely to die in pools than by getting shot. Therefore children dying by gun violence should be dismissed as…just one of those things. Similar reasoning works like this:

    “Women are about eight times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than by breast cancer, so all that concern about breast cancer is overblown.” Please. It is entirely reasonable that society can, and should, work to address breast cancer – and cardiovascular disease, hospital hygiene safety (Harris raises this chestnut too) and handguns. The either/or choice is a rhetorical trick, not a reasoned argument.”

    The presence of other concerns does not mean that others should be ignored.

  51. Dear Mr Faircloth,
    I am only addressing one issue in your article, that of Australia’s success. Yes the gun buyback was successful in terms of removing legal, registered firearms from civilian possession. In terms of effect on rates of violence a clear look at crime statistics shows it has had nil effect. It is true to say that the rate of homicide has reduced since the gun buyback however that reduction has simply been following a steady trend from the decade previous to and the decade following the buyback.

    The rate of non-homicide violent crimes has been rising rather steadily in the same time. Armed robberies actually rose considerably for the 5 years after the buyback but have since dropped to the previous, rather static rates. To suggest that the scheme had any effect at all on violent crime in Australia is false and misleading. Any reasonable assessment of the work of Australian criminologists will show you this.

    Like you have stated yourself, any argument on this issue should be handled reasoned arguments based on facts. The fact is that the Australian experiment has shown our buyback scheme to have been a failure in terms of impact on violent crime.

    Otherwise, keep up the good work with the Dawkins Foundation!

    P.S.
    You can see a brief overview of violent crime trends here:
    http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/tandi/341-360/tandi359/view%20paper.html

  52. In reply to #6 by Lodatz:

    One issue with your claims about domestic violence being a predominantly male upon women endemic:

    This simply isn’t true. Numerous police and government reports have shown domestic violence to be neck-and-neck in terms of which gender performs it upon the other, and the trouble with linking this to gun violence in particular is that this simply isn’t true either.

    You cite that 2/3 of domestic murders committed by men upon women are via fire-arms. Fair enough. Did you know that 80% of those committed by women upon men are the same?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1635092

    I don’t understand your issue on domestic violence. Even your own evidence stated as follows: “More than twice as many women were shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance than were murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means. Although women comprise more than half the U.S. population, they committed only 14.7% of the homicides noted during the study interval.”
    I don’t follow your train of thought.

  53. Sean Faircloth is taking the Foundation is a very dangerous direction. Supporting leftist causes like gun confiscation with statistics that are easily reversed and his own view of the 2nd Amendment, which is not shared by the people who matter- JUDGES, will only narrow the your audience to a point where it cannot attract new members outside of your narrow ideology which has become knee jerk liberalism. Gun control is extremely unpopular in rural areas where we need to be building bridges- not nuking them!

  54. In reply to #58 by sbooder:

    Surely the USA should be weighing up which holds more clout, The right to bear arms or the right not to be shot by one?

    Why the false dichotomy? I lean towards reasonably strict gun control (close to Sam Harris’s stance), but we do have a right not to be shot. It’s actually not legal to shoot a person here for fun.

  55. Sean
    As I read sam’s piece too I was a bit shocked by his reasoning as well. The GUN FLOOD as you out is so true. The only answer the NRA gives time and again is be very afraid and arm yourself!! It truly is incomprehensible to me to continue to advocate for nothing but tons of more guns. At this rate infants will be required to be born with a pistol in their little hands. I find myself disgusted by the idea that forcing teachers and other shool personnel would be encouraged. Are we to force tem into policing the schools and sign a contract to lay down their lives in the service of everyone’s children. I am appalled at this notion. I also know that then guns would extended to buses, field trips, playgrounds, etc. I disagree strongly with Sam on this one as well and add my voice to a sense of urgency regarding rethinking this whole issue. Lastly, do we even want a productive reasonable society at all anymore because we are heading towards an accelerated path of destruction as a
    Whole and we will scarcely resemble the U S soon. I reiterate; what kid of society , if any, do we want anymore?

  56. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    One unnecessary human death is too many.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    Heart attacks, stroke and cancer can be moderated by diet and lifestyle and one’s intelligence mandates a healthy lifestyle or, suffer the consequences. The only purpose a gun was invented was to kill. Your intelligence should mandate tight restriction of it’s use.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    We would boycott useless killing asteroids if we could but, in America your chances of dying from skin cancer is more common and your chances of being killed by gun violence is even greater. We can make guns illegal and promote sun screen.

  57. In reply to #68 by KRKBAB:

    In reply to #58 by sbooder:

    Surely the USA should be weighing up which holds more clout, The right to bear arms or the right not to be shot by one?

    Why the false dichotomy? I lean towards reasonably strict gun control (close to Sam Harris’s stance), but we do have a right not to be shot. It’s actually not legal to shoot a person here for fun.

    If guns were not available you could not shoot anyone, legally or otherwise, for fun. Must be a religious thing I guess??!!

  58. In reply to #67 by Andrew Karl:

    Sean Faircloth is taking the Foundation is a very dangerous direction. Supporting leftist causes like gun confiscation with statistics that are easily reversed and his own view of the 2nd Amendment, which is not shared by the people who matter- JUDGES, will only narrow the your audience to a point where it cannot attract new members outside of your narrow ideology which has become knee jerk liberalism. Gun control is extremely unpopular in rural areas where we need to be building bridges- not nuking them!

    The second amendment should be re-amended. It cheapens the importance of a great constitution and promotes a culture of mindless gun worship. No one needs free access to guns in any democratic society today. Most democracies in the world, except America, have already proven this point.

  59. Guns are dangerous in the wrong hands, but so are martial arts skills, the problem isn’t with guns, its most certainly with the individuals who own them, everything needs to be done to ensure guns are not in the wrong hands any longer. How this would be done is too much for me to think of, obviously, full background checks, regarding criminal histories aswell as mental health? Even more detailed study into who are more likely to use guns to commit murders, obviously gang members, mentally ill, ex-military possibly? I don’t know, but guns should be tightly controlled, even if it went as far as having peoples families or neighbours vote on whether a person they knew could be trusted with a gun? I see this being a long battle myself.

  60. In reply to #31 by ScienceNerd:

    Hi ScienceNerd,

    The document you link to is not a study of erifiable data but a political pamphlet that manipulates figures in order to try and make a point.

    The authors do not try to hide the fact that it is an exercise in political posturing – even in the introduction. The very first sentence says:

    International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths.

    That is completely beside the point. People will seek other methods to harm others if they get angry enough – the number of deaths is irrelevant to the number of guns in circulation. The real problem is that using guns is more likely to result in death or serious life-long maiming or loss of limbs.

    The only way to compare the effectiveness of gun controls internationally is to study statistics on the number of deaths and other injuries directly attributable to guns in different countries, the availability of guns (incl. illegally obtainable) and the balance of gun-related injuries and deaths to non-gun-related. Control regimes also differ, but this appears not to be considered. When scanning through the document before reading I found the authors, at one point, referring to “Europe” as if it were a single sovereign area.

    The document has already revealed that it is trying to pretend that murder and suicide rates are the only focus of gun control. That is simply not true. Perhaps injury statistics will not support their case.

    The problem is that guns are very good killing machines, so good that when they are put in the hands of the stupid, drunk, drugged, angry, or insane that person can kill or maim by accident.

    Next, the document’s authors simply state some bare assertions without offering any evidence (not even an internal reference!):

    There is a compound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why (b) the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so.

    Perhaps the paper is old – but the 2012 Wall Street Journal does not agree with assertion b. See these figures.

    So far I haven’t seen any facts, only partisan political opinions and bare-faced falsehood – and I haven’t even finished page 1!

    Next the document goes over some anti-Soviet propaganda, which probably has a grain of truth in it. However, why the authors think the false analogy of the Soviet Union – standing in the the US – is useful is far from clear. Also they assert:

    … the Soviet Union [1965–99] [had] far and away the highest murder rate in the developed world.6

    This greatly interested me as they had [previously said:

    Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate has been an artefact of politically motivated Soviet minimization [propaganda] designed to hide the true [Soviet Union] homicide rates.

    How do the authors therefore separate truth from propaganda. I went to the footnotes to track down their source at note 6, and found:

    Russian homicide data given in this article (for years 1965–99) were kindly supplied us by Professor Pridemore from his research in Russian ministry sources (on file with authors).

    So, on page 2, they are using privately obtained, second hand, data which they have been told comes from the very source they rubbished on page 1. Give me a break!

    Next we get:

    Since well before [1965], the Soviet Union possessed extremely stringent gun controls [applied] by a police state apparatus providing stringent enforcement. So successful was that regime that few Russian civilians now have firearms and very few murders involve them.

    I laughed, oh how I laughed. I have lived and worked in modern Russia. The idea that guns are not readily available, widely owned and commonly used in crimes is just so at odds with the facts I thought it must be a joke.

    I well remember, a few years back (i.e shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union) an American Director of a joint venture complaining that after falling out with his Russian Partner they (the Russians) brought Kalashnikovs to the next Board meeting. He (the American) quickly obtained a bullet-proof vest. If he also obtained a gun he wasn’t saying.

    I’m not, by the way, telling you anything any Russian will not happily tell you themselves. Just try watching some modern Russian TV to see how long it takes for guns to come on screen. For best results, use a stopwatch.

    At this stage I was beginning to think that maybe the rest of the document would be worth reading. I thought: Perhaps it’s a parody? I read on …

    There was lots more fun stuff on page 2, but the penny dropped by the time I got to page 3 – these guys are actually serious.

    Then I got to Table 1 – which lists countries by Murder Rate, and adds the Rate of Gun Ownership. This table is meaningless. This table is falsely pretending that there is a correlation between gun ownership and murder rates. It ignores: social factors, police effectiveness, political will, funding, injuries (as above), accidents, the control regimes (differences, effectiveness, etc.), former gun ownership (and its potential effect on availability), criminal shipments, holdings and availability, and, and, and …

    At this point (and I’m only on page 3 of 46, don’t forget) I gave up in disgust.

    You are of course right, ScienceNerd, it is an alternative point of view. Please don’t take this personally, ScienceNerd, I appreciate that you only linked to it – you didn’t write it.

    This document is clearly, a stupid, ignorant, false and worthless point of view.

    This document was written by two adult criminologists. It seems to me that a couple of 8th Graders could easily have churned this out – and even then I would only have given it a C.

    Peace.

  61. In reply to #32 by nicksg:

    I was so shocked when I read Sam Harris’ piece as I normally admire his clear thinking and reasoned argument,and I am very happy to read Sean Faircloth’s rebuttal,to which there is not much to add.
    What is it about Americans and guns that makes rational people like Sam Harris think irrationally,and go and do stupid things like spend hours shooting guns at rifle ranges? It is truly bizarre.
    America deserves to have 12,000 people murdered by guns every year as they support this orgy of gun ownership.I am currently living in Singapore,where no gun ownership is allowed,full stop.No gun violence either,believe it or not.

    First off, saying America “deserves” 12,000 gun deaths a year because the country allows guns is not only ludicrous and thoughtless, but entirely heartless as well. People seem to forget that America and guns go hand-in-hand. Our country was won from the Brits with lead and black powder. Our country was founded with guns and therefore it has become deeply ingrained in who we are. You can argue all you want about the morality or ‘correctness’ of this fact, but it is a reality nonetheless. It is much easier to keep something out of an established nation than to take it away from people who already have it. Even after winning our freedom, guns were used heavily for hunting purposes for human survival. The problem with guns is that they allow crazy and irresponsible people to do more damage when they fly off the handle. They don’t cause violence. I agree with Harris and feel that Faircloth, like usual, is far too preachy. Gun regulation is attainable, but eliminating guns in our society is a pipe dream. You can talk about all the nice dreams of a zero gun-violence society all you want, but it will never happen. So instead, try to change the things that DO have an effect on society. Provide more funding to facilities that treat mental illness and house the mentally unstable. The people are the problem, not the weapons. Correct the problem instead of merely treating the symptoms.

  62. I noticed one thing after the Sandy Hook massacre, the right blames an imaginary magic sky wizard and the left blames inanimate objects.
    It seems every graph of your article comes back to domestic violence against women and to me the logical conclusion based on the way you keep coming back to it as the major issue it would seem we should just arm all women and take the guns away from the men, if that is really the number one concern relating to guns.
    Yes, the problems are in the inner-cities. Population centers above 200k have 1/2 the LEGAL/REGISTERED guns of the rural areas and twice as many gun crimes.

    To say there is no “sporting use” for a handgun is ignorant and displays the knowledge-level of most anti-gun commenters, especially the knee-jerk lefties, who have become quite feverish over the issue since Sandy Hook, responding mostly emotionally. Have you ever fired a handgun? It’s an art that takes much skill and practice.. Firing a 22 cal. is very different from firing a .45. Not to mention there are handgun firing competitions, in which I have competed.

    I’m no stranger to massacres and their effects on communities. I have been stationed at Fort Hood since 2007 and was here when MAJ Hasan, allegedly, shot the processing center. These are horrible events and fortunately rare. Their effects are felt for years but that is no reason to start prohibitions on inanimate objects.

    I don’t know what the left is advocating. It seems to be outright prohibition of ownership of guns. Because when you say “semi-auto” you are also referring to the most common class of handgun, not just the (cue dramatic music) semi-automatic rifle, which you could use for hunting as the 7.62mm NATO is comparable to the .308 round popular for hunting, but you probably already know that in your great breadth and depth of experience in marksmanship and owning guns.

    Until the left comes up with a cogent policy that does not include outright ban on ownership they will have no traction in the US. They would however have allies like me on the “gun-nut” side of argument if they were to argue for policy that advocated 1) a national standardization for handgun ownership responsibilities and training 2) a national law that sets the standards for concealed handgun licensing and carry. This would piss off the “Tenthers” taking it out the hands of the states that all have 50 separate rules and laws and makes it very confusing and potentially legally hazardous when traveling. I don’t like the idea but I would even go so far as to say that maybe we need to register all firearms; if that is the course we need to go. I don’t like it but on my side that’s a concession I’m willing to make. I’m not sure what good that would do because the people committing heinous and illegal acts certainly aren’t going to make sure they fill out the proper paperwork to make sure their gun is registered before they go shoot up a school, but it would hold gun owners liable and responsible for making sure their weapons are secured properly and kept from the incompetent.

    And I have pulled my concealed handgun twice, and I know I’m a man so I must have shot my wife with it according to most of your argument. No. Not really. I have broken up two cases of domestic violence only intervening when I thought it was necessary and the cops wouldn’t get there in time to avoid serious physical injury or death. I never had to fire a shot. Not even at the guy that outweighed both me and his wife by a good 200 lbs. An off-duty cop in San Antonio, TX carrying a concealed handgun shot a perpetrator at a movie theater staving off a massacre akin to the Colorado shooting the same day as Sandy Hook. Good guy stops bad guy.

    Yes, I’m pro-guns. I own guns, lots of them. I’m a gun nut. I shoot at least once a month (about 12x more than your average cop). I’m also a lefty and a liberal, not a right-wing kook libertarian before you go casting dispersions.

  63. thewildlifer

    “In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.”

    I don’t know where you figures came from and I am conflicted as to the issue under discussion, but 8,583 is not 2.7% of 311,800,00. It is .000027.

  64. In reply to #75 by Prime8:

    In reply to #32 by nicksg:

    I was so shocked when I read Sam Harris’ piece as I normally admire his clear thinking and reasoned argument,and I am very happy to read Sean Faircloth’s rebuttal,to which there is not much to add.
    What is it about Americans and guns that makes rational people like Sam Harris think irrationally,and go and do stupid things like spend hours shooting guns at rifle ranges? It is truly bizarre.
    America deserves to have 12,000 people murdered by guns every year as they support this orgy of gun ownership.I am currently living in Singapore,where no gun ownership is allowed,full stop.No gun violence either,believe it or not.

    First off, saying America “deserves” 12,000 gun deaths a year because the country allows guns is not only ludicrous and thoughtless, but entirely heartless as well. People seem to forget that America and guns go hand-in-hand. Our country was won from the Brits with lead and black powder. Our country was founded with guns and therefore it has become deeply ingrained in who we are. You can argue all you want about the morality or ‘correctness’ of this fact, but it is a reality nonetheless. It is much easier to keep something out of an established nation than to take it away from people who already have it. Even after winning our freedom, guns were used heavily for hunting purposes for human survival. The problem with guns is that they allow crazy and irresponsible people to do more damage when they fly off the handle. They don’t cause violence. I agree with Harris and feel that Faircloth, like usual, is far too preachy. Gun regulation is attainable, but eliminating guns in our society is a pipe dream. You can talk about all the nice dreams of a zero gun-violence society all you want, but it will never happen. So instead, try to change the things that DO have an effect on society. Provide more funding to facilities that treat mental illness and house the mentally unstable. The people are the problem, not the weapons. Correct the problem instead of merely treating the symptoms.

    Try substituting arsenic for the word gun in your argument supporting guns and you will quickly realize why most sane individuals cannot grasp supporting your insanity. Arsenic has more practical use than a gun even in medicine but, even arsenic is harder to obtain than guns in America. If arsenic were responsible for as many deaths in America as guns it would be impossible for a private citizen to obtain it. Time for gun nuts to seek help and healing. We don’t need generally accepted insanity in this country. We have enough of that phenomenon with religion.

  65. thewildlifer

    “In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.”

    I don’t know where you figures came from and I am conflicted as to the issue under discussion, but 8,583 is not 2.7% of 311,800,00. It is .000027.

  66. thewildlifer

    “In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.”

    I don’t know where you figures came from and I am conflicted as to the issue under discussion, but 8,583 is not 2.7% of 311,800,00. It is .000027.

  67. thewildlifer

    “In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.”

    I don’t know where you figures came from and I am conflicted as to the issue under discussion, but 8,583 is not 2.7% of 311,800,00. It is .000027.

  68. In reply to #43 by Net:

    In reply to #9 by MaxwellJ:

    I agree with Harris. It seems more reasoned where this piece seems to be more one of victimization and pulls at the heart strings. I have enjoyed Sean’s comments before and agree with many of them, but must diverge here. Gun control is not a national priority and should not be a priority of the RDF.

    oh, i just think it’s great that two such intelligent people can have a debate like this – imagine two ayatollahs “arguing”!

    I guess your solution would be to have them pistol duel to the death. Discussion creates compromise, guns end discussions without solving the problem.

  69. In reply to #78 by JHJEFFERY:

    thewildlifer

    “In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.”

    I don’t know where you figures came from and I am conflicted as to the issue under discussion, but 8,583 is not 2.7% of 311,800,00. It is .000027.

    Thanks, sleep deprivation, math and late-night posting to be avoided in the future.

  70. In reply to #32 by nicksg:

    I was so shocked when I read Sam Harris’ piece as I normally admire his clear thinking and reasoned argument,and I am very happy to read Sean Faircloth’s rebuttal,to which there is not much to add.
    What is it about Americans and guns that makes rational people like Sam Harris think irrationally,and go and do stupid things like spend hours shooting guns at rifle ranges? It is truly bizarre.
    America deserves to have 12,000 people murdered by guns every year as they support this orgy of gun ownership.I am currently living in Singapore,where no gun ownership is allowed,full stop.No gun violence either,believe it or not.

    Right, Singapore with 1.383 executions annually per hundred thousand of population is no bastion of progressive thought.

  71. You make some good points. But I think the point you make with the pool argument is flawed.

    First you say that public policy is not to be made by comparing issues, but rather based on the merits of each issue. Then you say, “Swimming pools, you will concede, have positive attributes, indeed healthful attributes, that benefit millions. … Now, what positive is offered by guns? The pleasure of target practice?”

    For pools, I think you are saying the benefits outweigh the death caused by drownings. And we can know this simply by evaluating the benefits-to-cost ratio of pools.

    For guns, it seems you can’t imagine that shooting at paper targets could possibly be worth an equivalent (or six times less) amount of death. And I should include a gun enthusiast’s similar health benefits gained by getting out in the fresh air and lugging his heavy equipment around. What I think you are doing is judging the benefits of guns as a recreational activity to negligible levels based on your own preference. Or more likely, the horror you’ve witnessed in your legal career doesn’t allow you to view guns as tools for recreational activity. But when you talk about the pluses and minuses unique to each issue that must be evaluated based on evidence, you couldn’t possibly be thinking your personal experience could count as overwhelming evidence. Much like with pools, I think you would have to factor in the amount of people who claim to enjoy the activity, and factor in other benefits like health. I think you have discounted the benefits of guns based on your own personal experience to artificially reduce the benefits-to-cost ratio of guns used as a recreational activity.

    I think you put yourself on shaky ground when you start evaluating and ranking the quality of recreational activities people choose. But if that is necessary to make policy based on risky activities, then rhetorical questions like, “The pleasure of target practice?” just aren’t enough evidence to make a judgement. And whether we are talking about pools or guns, the amount of people benefiting from positive interactions has to be factored in with the same methodology.

  72. First, a minor point: Sean claims that handguns can’t be used for deer hunting. This is not true. I have (at least) one friend who does precisely that, and he does so because it is much more challenging than using a long gun.

    Now my two cents: Personally, I favor the analogy comparing guns to automobiles. One can, quite legally, own an unregistered vehicle, so long as one doesn’t drive it in public. However, to take it off one’s own property one has to either tow it or register it to drive it (to a car show, for example.) A useful first step in disarming the nation then would be to require that all guns carried in public be either registered or carried in a locked box, and that anyone carrying a registered gun in public be duly licensed and vetted to do so. Admittedly, that won’t address the domestic violence aspect of the problem, but it’d be a good step toward reducing the number of yahoos who feel it necessary to carry with them the means to readily kill at a distance.

    Do whatever (legal) thing you like with a gun on your own property or on the private property of someone consenting to your carrying/using a gun, but society has the right to regulate your behavior out in public.

  73. In reply to #17 by dewd:

    “Harris drags out the Swimming Pool Canard…. The either/or choice is a rhetorical trick, not a reasoned argument.”

    I disagree. I think the reason this gets brought up is because gun control advocates make a moral case about a number of people being killed by firearms each year, some accidental, some spur of the moment rage, some premeditated. The answer suggested usually is some form of gun control, from certain weapons being banned to all weapons being banned. No where else do we make this case. All those deaths from automobiles and no ban on them, not even for the elderly who have problems with sight and reaction times due to their age, although that might be because of the AARP and the fact that the elderly are a more reliable demographic for politicians. So why target guns?

    This is simply not true, can you drive a tank on the roads or a F1 car? Why not? Because it would pose significantly greater and unnecessary risk for those around you. Now I’ll go with an extreme case that I think we can all agree on. Watch some You tube on guns and you’ll soon find examples of people who own and use Gatling guns with 1000′s of rounds/ per minute, why stop there why not allow citizens to own their own thermonuclear weaponry.

    Clearly this is ridiculous, but why? You can certainly train someone to use them safely (many Americans currently have access to them in the military and come into contact with them in their everyday professional life. Have any gone off accidentally? No, so definitely safer than swimming pools or cars. So clearly the reason we don’t give them to anyone is the potential for them to be used poorly, or someone who is nuts using them. It only takes one to cause enormous damage. So if you are going to have this argument you first need to acknowledge that there are weapons that are too potentially destructive to outweigh the potential harm they may cause. That regulations are limited in the power to deal with people who are nuts. Do you want to live in a society where some nutter can in a very short time blow away thirty or forty people in 10 minutes? Clearly everyone (sane) can agree there should be a limit, the only question is how many people can be killed in how short a time by a lone nutter before someone can intervene. If I’m wrong please tell me how.

    Even before the massacre in Tasmania Australia that led to greater gun control (basically you cannot own semi-automatic weapons unless specifically licensed, a lot of restrictions around pistol ownership- my understanding is you cannot have one in the home but you can keep one at a gun club etc.) there were very few domestic incidences with guns, very little armed break-ins to homes (there were armed hold ups at service stations however). The reason being most citizens never owned guns here, so very few home invasions, break-ins involve guns, most are simply unarmed or armed with knives, when you have a culture of gun ownership thieves expect people will be armed and bring weapons accordingly. The British police are largely unarmed for similar reasons. Also, as you correctly point out, our poor and desperate are not as poor and desperate in America are, we pay enough tax to support good social security, everyone can get free medical and hospital. You are correct to suggest that if you want to reduce violence look at how well you treat the poorest members of you society.

  74. @ Joshua.K:

    “-In 2009, after Obama was elected, gun sales rose sharply… yet the murder rate in the U.S. dropped by 7.4 percent. -A similar drop in murder rate occurred in 1999, during a sharp increase in firearm sales after the Columbine massacre. -After the gun ban went into effect in both cities [Chicago and Washington DC], murder rates rose dramatically. After the Supreme Court threw out DC’s ban and gunlock laws in 2008, the District’s murder rates plunged by 25 percent in 2009.”

    Flag on the play: Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Perhaps electing a president with a functioning brain lowered the stress level of the nation, or the horror of a senseless killing shocked a nation into thinking twice before reaching for a weapon. To attribute a reduction in murder rate to an increase in gun sales is unwarranted.

  75. Thank you very much for writing that piece. I really respect the views of Sam Harris as a rule. I think he has recently acted as an agent provocateur in his many of his pronouncements, but that’s ok, somebody has to do it, I guess.
    My particular difficulty with the latest support by Sam Harris, is that of logistics. If he keeps a gun in his house to defend his life and that of his family, (understandably it is more pressing when one’s life has been threatened), is it kept loaded and “at-the-ready”? If so, I think that is more of a hazard than a possible attack. If not, under what set of circumstances would it be possible to fetch the gun from its secure hiding place, load it, then repel the invader/assassin with a round of bullets.
    Owning guns didn’t help the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter, so I think it’s unlikely to help any other well trained individual.

  76. In reply to #91 by Nitya:

    Thank you very much for writing that piece. I really respect the views of Sam Harris as a rule. I think he has recently acted as an agent provocateur in his many of his pronouncements, but that’s ok, somebody has to do it, I guess.
    My particular difficulty with the latest support by Sam Harris, is that of logistics. If he keeps a gun in his house to defend his life and that of his family, (understandably it is more pressing when one’s life has been threatened), is it kept loaded and “at-the-ready”? If so, I think that is more of a hazard than a possible attack. If not, under what set of circumstances would it be possible to fetch the gun from its secure hiding place, load it, then repel the invader/assassin with a round of bullets.

    First, yes guns are inherently dangerous. I participate in many dangerous activities (SCUBA diving, skydiving, sport shooting) but that is my choice. My child participates in some of these activities with me (target shooting), and some on their own (football, swimming) that is my choice as their guardian and parent. You don’t get to make that choice for me especially not on the basis of some ignorant and ill-conceived notion that you must have a gun ready with the hammer cocked back for it to be useful. There are devices for securing a firearm that allow the weapon to go from secured to ready in seconds. Again the ignorance of people that have never held a gun, much less shot one or owned them is staggering. These same people setting the rules and laws is preposterous and really, it’s dangerous.

    Owning guns didn’t help the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter, so I think it’s unlikely to help any other well trained individual.
    No. Guns didn’t help her because she was a dolt. Not to be callous but she had a mentally deranged son that she allowed access to her firearms. Her guns should have been locked and secured from the incompetent that includes, minors, felons and the mentally disturbed. She was an irresponsible gun owner. Period. She paid for it with her life. Allowing a minor access to your firearms is a felony and in the state of Texas you are liable criminally and civilly for any crime they commit or any damage they do with your firearms and that should be the rule nationally.

  77. BIn reply to #87 by miker42:

    You make some good points. But I think the point you make with the pool argument is flawed.

    First you say that public policy is not to be made by comparing issues, but rather based on the merits of each issue. Then you say, “Swimming pools, you will concede, have positive attributes, indeed healthful attributes, that benefit millions. … Now, what positive is offered by guns? The pleasure of target practice?”

    For pools, I think you are saying the benefits outweigh the death caused by drownings. And we can know this simply by evaluating the benefits-to-cost ratio of pools.

    For guns, it seems you can’t imagine that shooting at paper targets could possibly be worth an equivalent (or six times less) amount of death. And I should include a gun enthusiast’s similar health benefits gained by getting out in the fresh air and lugging his heavy equipment around. What I think you are doing is judging the benefits of guns as a recreational activity to negligible levels based on your own preference. Or more likely, the horror you’ve witnessed in your legal career doesn’t allow you to view guns as tools for recreational activity. But when you talk about the pluses and minuses unique to each issue that must be evaluated based on evidence, you couldn’t possibly be thinking your personal experience could count as overwhelming evidence. Much like with pools, I think you would have to factor in the amount of people who claim to enjoy the activity, and factor in other benefits like health. I think you have discounted the benefits of guns based on your own personal experience to artificially reduce the benefits-to-cost ratio of guns used as a recreational activity.

    I think you put yourself on shaky ground when you start evaluating and ranking the quality of recreational activities people choose. But if that is necessary to make policy based on risky activities, then rhetorical questions like, “The pleasure of target practice?” just aren’t enough evidence to make a judgement. And whether we are talking about pools or guns, the amount of people benefiting from positive interactions has to be factored in with the same methodology.

    Both activities may promote excellent health benefits to the user but, the danger to human life is what blows the gun out of the water, so to speak. Pools and guns are tools with specific purposes. The purpose of a pool is to promote exercise and practice aquatic skills. The purpose of a gun is to kill and to practice your skills at killing. A pool cannot be transported or concealed in public. There are guns specifically designed for that purpose. I personally do not know of a pool ever being used to perpetrate a crime. Guns are predominant in every type of criminal activity. Gun owners should be willing to pay the cost of high taxes, high insurance premiums and high restrictions/regulation, as with all other HIGH RISK recreational activity.

  78. Wow, this has been an interesting thread. I’ve just had a protracted debate on Facebook arguing for gun control against a very thoughtful and intelligent opponent in support of gun freedom. I remain convinced that a reduction in the quantity of guns in circulation can only be a good thing but have had to re-asses what I had previously considered a no-brainer; that stringent gun control legislation is needed in the USA as a matter of urgency. What really became clear to me during my FB debate and in reading Sam Harris, Sean Faircloth, a number of other articles as well as all the comments on this thread and discussion on other forums is that the whole debate is filled with people on both sides reacting emotionally, denying that they are yet accusing the other side of a purely emotion reaction. A little honesty might be helpful. Our reasoned arguments arrive only on the heals of our emotional response, not the other way round. And, our reasoned arguments are usually deployed in the service of supporting our prior emotional response, it’s called ‘bias’, ‘confirmation bias’ in particular and it’s practically impossible to avoid in such emotionally charged circumstances.

    Maybe the truth lies between the trenches!

  79. Something I don’t think I understand about Sam Harris’ self-defense argument in favor of gun ownership is how it meshes with his views on free will and responsibility. Since a significant portion of the pro-gun argument suggests that gun violence is at root caused by social and environmental factors beyond the gun owner’s will, we should expect that any home invader pointing his gun at a homeowner is just as much a victim of “being him” as any unfortunate sociopath Dr. Harris mentions when arguing that we should rehabilitate or sequester such dangerous individuals rather than viciously punish them. Surely a down on his luck home invader looking for a flatscreen to fence is no more deserving of being unceremoniously shot than those similarly (or even moreso) dangerous serial killers who merely get put away for life? (Also, a question I have upon reading so many of the comments here trying to mediate discussion of gun laws’ role in gun violence with discussion of the pressing social causes that go into gun violence: can’t we both address those social problems and reform gun law at the same time? We can try to reduce violence from both ends.)

    More generally, I just do not put much store in two specific arguments often made on this topic. The first is the necessity of fatal weapons for self-defense. With all our technological skill and especially our alacrity when it comes to ways of doing damage, I’m sure we can make good use of self-defense weapons that merely disable. Stun guns, knockout gas pellets, whatever colorful things we’ve toyed with. I don’t in all seriousness know what weapons are out there, but if there was one that could disable as efficiently and effectively as guns can kill, it would do just as good a job at defending one’s home as the gun would, with the added bonus of forestalling the thousands of accidental deaths each year we already see from guns.

    The second is the “eye for an eye” theory, which I normally argue against in the context of retributive versus rehabilitative justice. Mr. Faircloth considers it in the form of the “Gun Flood” argument. If Tom threatens Tim with a gun, perhaps Tim’s reciprocal threat of gun use is the best way to equalize the odds of who’s going to get hurt (as opposed to those odds being totally in Tim’s favor), but it’s also the best way to increase the overall odds that somebody, perhaps somebody other than either Tom or Tim, is going to get hurt too. If a gun is the preferred way of checking a gun, then all interaction becomes a measure of who’s got the bigger/faster/etc. gun. Such an arms race is inevitable once begun (see: Cold War); the only response is mutual disarming. Why not skip all the fear and casualties along the way and go straight to the disarming?

  80. To Marcusdbyrne.
    Do you think the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter knew she was a dolt? Or do you think that she thought she was a sensible person as you do? The problem isn’t complete nutters, but sensible people who misread the situation.

  81. In reply to #95 by James Martin:

    I just remembered something Harris once said:

    “my wife and I once accidentally used a bag for carry-on in which I had once stored a handgun—and passed through three airport checkpoints with nearly 75 rounds of 9 mm ammunition”.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/in-defense-of-profiling

    The man can’t even keep track of his own guns.

    And some people obviously don’t know the difference between guns and ammo and hence should refrain from commenting until they learn the difference.

  82. In reply to #94 by M69att:

    Wow, this has been an interesting thread. I’ve just had a protracted debate on Facebook arguing for gun control against a very thoughtful and intelligent opponent in support of gun freedom. I remain convinced that a reduction in the quantity of guns in circulation can only be a good thing but have had to re-asses what I had previously considered a no-brainer; that stringent gun control legislation is needed in the USA as a matter of urgency. What really became clear to me during my FB debate and in reading Sam Harris, Sean Faircloth, a number of other articles as well as all the comments on this thread and discussion on other forums is that the whole debate is filled with people on both sides reacting emotionally, denying that they are yet accusing the other side of a purely emotion reaction. A little honesty might be helpful. Our reasoned arguments arrive only on the heals of our emotional response, not the other way round. And, our reasoned arguments are usually deployed in the service of supporting our prior emotional response, it’s called ‘bias’, ‘confirmation bias’ in particular and it’s practically impossible to avoid in such emotionally charged circumstances.

    Maybe the truth lies between the trenches!

    There is only one truth and the answer is a matter of science. The truth will usually lean toward common sense conclusions based on science. Statistics show that America has the highest incident of gun deaths and gun violence of all democratic countries in the world with good gun regulation. The tighter the gun controls, the less incident of gun deaths and gun violence was evident in those countries. Guns are like religion, a belief in a false deity. Once the fear and power is instilled in the psyche, it takes prolonged psychological programming to reverse their emotional processes.
    Other countries used common sense a chose to tighten gun control. We will just have to wait and see how much common sense America has.

  83. In reply to #100 by James Martin:

    In reply to #99 by thewildlifer:

    Oh now come, come. Not keeping track of where you keep your ammunition is an example of extremely irresponsible and dangerous behaviour, and you know it, chief.

    Ammunition is not a gun. Your claim was he didn’t know where his gun(s) were. You can’t fire ammo without a gun and it’s relatively harmless (unless you throw it in a fire or something equally stupid). And note also, 75 rds of 9mm ammo doesn’t take up much room – a box and a half which would be about 3″x3″x6″ w/2 boxes stacked.

  84. I’d like to point out a few fallacies of the arguments against Sam Harris’s position.

    1. Correlation does not equal causation. Saying that countries with more guns have higher homicide rates could just as easily be stated as countries with higher homicide rates have more guns. Have you considered that American culture is producing more murderers? Does a gun have mystical powers to induce it’s owner to shoot someone because they’re angry?

    2. The swimming pool canard. By dragging this out a second time, you are making the mistake that because Harris’s argument pits apples against oranges, his argument is invalid. Are you trying to save children’s lives, or aren’t you? How many? 20? 1000?

    3. Your arguments seem to stem from the idea that people need to be treated like children, until they are able to act more in accordance with your world-view. We should take away all guns until people can learn to play nice with each other and not go on shooting rampages. How about the statistic that concealed weapon carrying permit holders are statistically less likely to commit murder than police officers? Have you factored this into your decision making process?

    4. Thinking that removing assault rifles will stop killing sprees. You neglected to mention the point that Harris made about the epidemic of knife attacks in elementary schools in China. 25 dead, 115 injured. How would gun laws stop this? Perhaps we will have to restrict people to only carrying safety scissors. The Virginia Tech massacre was carried out with two handguns.

    It seems that what you have presented here is an emotional response to a natural fear of a weapon that can cause injury and death. What I would caution however is that you do not confuse a symptom with the cause. If you want to stop murders, then figure out what makes a murderer, resolve it, and stop trying to take away every toy they don’t play nicely with. It will only work until they figure out the next thing they can use to hurt people with.

  85. [Quote of moderated post removed by moderator]

    What’s with the ALL CAPS? creationist? Gun banning is not gun control. Sensible restrictions which limit access can be found in all corners. But a criminal isn’t going to care if a gun is banned and prohibition has never worked. There will continue to be a market in which they can get guns they want.

  86. Exactly. I made these same points in the original post about Sam Harris’ gun article. Their have been several recent instances right in my own area of homeowners accidentally shooting their own family members (kids sneaking in after being out too late, or who climb in windows because they’ve forgotten their house key) who they’ve mistaken for intruders. Then there is the problem of keeping loaded guns around the house in anticipation of a home invasion – these guns are far more likely to be found and tragically misused by kids, or by the homeowner in a rage or a suicide attempt, than is a gun that is unloaded and locked up.

    I have several rifles that I used to hunt for food with back in the day when I lived in an isolated Montana cabin. I no longer need to hunt for food, and the guns (which I haven’t gotten rid of because they were inherited from my dad) are now locked up with their bolts removed; I no longer have any ammo for them. They wouldn’t be good for shooting an intruder anyway; they have telescopic sights that make it kind of hard to aim at close range in the dark. I guess they could be useful as a club…but they’re locked up…

    In reply to #13 by badrescher:

    Pretty convincing arguments here. However, you missed the part of his piece that I found the weakest. This sentence is the center of it:

    “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.”

    We cannot reasonably expect a properly-secured handgun to stop him, either. Death by accidental shooting, suicide, or one of the situations you’ve described here are so much more likely than a situation in which a homeowner retrieves a gun from one secured location, the ammunition from another, loads, aims, and shoots an intruder.

    I have never been against people owning guns for recreation or hunting, although I would never, ever own one myself or allow one to reside in my home. But I think the idea that guns in our homes can protect us from harm are delusional.

  87. This article brings to mind another thing I’ve wondered about: Every single mass shooting or school shooting I’ve ever heard of was perpetrated by a male. I’m not saying that a female would never be capable of doing such a thing, just that, as far as I know, no female ever has. I know a lot of women who have guns and know how to use them (me included), and there are just as many women with psychological issues such as major depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, PTSD, etc, as men, but women are not grabbing their weapons, jamming hundreds of rounds into magazines, and heading out to the nearest mall or school. Certainly huge numbers of women have every reason to “snap” after the emotional, physical and sexual abuse they’ve endured, but still, they don’t seem to take it out on society this way. Why is that?
    Maybe, in addition to gun control, we should be looking at why men are so much more likely to take out their aggression on society in such horrific ways.

  88. In reply to #107 by Sue Blue:

    This article brings to mind another thing I’ve wondered about: Every single mass shooting or school shooting I’ve ever heard of was perpetrated by a male. I’m not saying that a female would never be capable of doing such a thing, just that, as far as I know, no female ever has. I know a lot of women who have guns and know how to use them (me included), and there are just as many women with psychological issues such as major depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, PTSD, etc, as men, but women are not grabbing their weapons, jamming hundreds of rounds into magazines, and heading out to the nearest mall or school. Certainly huge numbers of women have every reason to “snap” after the emotional, physical and sexual abuse they’ve endured, but still, they don’t seem to take it out on society this way. Why is that?
    Maybe, in addition to gun control, we should be looking at why men are so much more likely to take out their aggression on society in such horrific ways.

    Good points. Also in comparisons of the US to other “western” nations, there’s only a comparison of murder rates and very little mentioned of the differences in social safety nets and the accessibility of mental health care.

  89. In reply to #27 by thewildlifer:

    In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.

    Again, an insignificant statistic in support of gun bans.

    The Constitution is emphatic that the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed and “well regulated militia” is not a caveat that it can be infringed upon.

    While you may consider 4% “an insignificant statistic”, I find it terrifying. However, 12,664 is actually 0.004 percent of 311,800,000.

    It is still too many individuals. Consider the additional, potentially hundreds of thousands of people affected by those deaths: family, friends, coworkers, community members, unborn children, former associates. Individuals don’t exist in a vacuum; we’re not just names on a list or numbers on a spreadsheet.

    Also, owning a gun doesn’t make one a member of a militia. A gun owner has no responsibility, legally, morally, culturally or otherwise, to become a member of anything resembling a militia, which has structure, purpose, leadership, laws, regular and required drills, and very likely, dues payable to a treasurer.

    Of course such militias do exist. Let’s see the statistics on how many gun owners belong to one. It would mean conforming to a group — not appealing to the gun owner who imagines that it’s just him/her against the world.

  90. The pro gun lobby appear to be a bunch of permanently scared people? What a terrible way to live! The correlation with high levels of religiosity is interesting….a god given right to own vicious weapons and use them to kill….mmm…..it must be gods wish, especially to kill spouses as Sean points out.

  91. Thanks for this Sean. Of late I have been reading a bit of Sam’s stuff that caused me to question his skills at analysis. Whether it is state and airport security, suspect profiling, or here with guns Sam is just blundering around like the omnishambles of the 4 Horsemen.

    You missed out what I think is the best example of Simple Sam Stupidity in the post though – his assertion that the only way to effectively deal with a knife wielding lunatic was to shoot him.

    Really Sam? So….all those British bobbies on the beat who have dealt with knife wielding criminals through the use of the uniform, their “presence”, and as a final option their TRUNCHEON got it wrong. All those almost exclusively unarmed in terms of bang bang sticks British Bobbies who so proudly and consistently on a personal level and professionally through The Police Federation resist the calls to unilaterally arm said Bobbies…. they are all wrong.

    Sam…please, stick to Neuroscience and related matters, and leave discussions on gun control, security, profiling and risk analysis to people who know what they are talking about.

  92. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

    America has over 30,000 gun related deaths a year. The UK has around 30. Japan has around 5 to 10. The UK and Japan have extremely strict gun ownership laws. The US does not.

    On the list of armed countries, the ones in the developed world with a guns per capita ownership figure anywhere close to that of the USA….and countries like Canada and Switzerland are still way way down that list ….. have nowhere near the same incidence of gun deaths. The laws in those countries around access and storage, registration and maintenance are however much stricter than the US laws.

    You were saying?

  93. In reply to #109 by wakeup:

    In reply to #27 by thewildlifer:

    In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.

    Again, an insignificant statistic in support of gun bans.

    The Constitution is emphatic that the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed and “well regulated militia” is not a caveat that it can be infringed upon.

    While you may consider 4% “an insignificant statistic”, I find it terrifying. However, 12,664 is actually 0.004 percent of 311,800,000.

    It is still too many individuals. Consider the additional, potentially hundreds of thousands of people affected by those deaths: family, friends, coworkers, community members, unborn children, former associates. Individuals don’t exist in a vacuum; we’re not just names on a list or numbers on a spreadsheet.

    Also, owning a gun doesn’t make one a member of a militia. A gun owner has no responsibility, legally, morally, culturally or otherwise, to become a member of anything resembling a militia, which has structure, purpose, leadership, laws, regular and required drills, and very likely, dues payable to a treasurer.

    Of course such militias do exist. Let’s see the statistics on how many gun owners belong to one. It would mean conforming to a group — not appealing to the gun owner who imagines that it’s just him/her against the world.

    Yes, I admitted to my math error up-thread. It’s the gun banning side who want to make it about the number of deaths – or murder rate – and saving lives. So I added some perspective. Homicide by gun (all homicides are #15) doesn’t even make it into the top 10 causes of death in the United States. More than 2-3 times as many people are killed on our highways every year, but no one wants to ban personal automobiles – because it would inconvenience them. Banning something they care little about, don’t enjoy, or understand and loathe doesn’t inconvenience them so it’s no skin off their nose if it’s banned even though such a ban doesn’t address the real issues. It’s just a feel-good band aid and on the level of decapitating someone to “cure” their brain cancer.
    If it wasn’t just a hobby horse and people really wanted to save lives, they would demand a ban smoking which causes heart disease which kills more than 40 times more people than homicide by guns.

    So, exactly how many gun owners do you personally know that you know that they imagine “that it’s just him/her against the world”? I own guns and have never thought that even once in my life. I like shooting both for sport and for food. It’s something I’m very good at it and enjoy honing my skills and killing people or taking on the government is not something I ever really think about. I would say that goes for the 100s if not 1000s of other shooters and hunters I’ve met in my 53 years, having grown up at turkey shoots, visiting target ranges and going hunting.

    And no matter how you take the militia clause, there’s no way you can separate out the clause so that the rights of the people to bear arms can be infringed upon.

  94. In reply to #26 by Joshua.K:

    In terms of the British and Aussie gun bans, here’s a WSJ piece about how they worked…or rather, didn’t work:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323777204578195470446855466.html?mod=WSJOpinionLEADTop

    From the article

    “According to their study, the use of handguns rather than long guns (rifles and shotguns) went up sharply, but only one out of 117 gun homicides in the two years following the 1996 National Firearms Agreement used a registered gun. Suicides with firearms went down but suicides by other means went up. They reported “a modest reduction in the severity” of massacres (four or more indiscriminate homicides) in the five years since the government weapons buyback. These involved knives, gas and arson rather than firearms.

    In 2008, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9% in homicides and a one-third decrease in armed robbery since the 1990s, but an increase of over 40% in assaults and 20% in sexual assaults.”

    So massacres are down in severity (good), Only one out of the 117 gun homicides in the two years following the 1996 National Firearms Agreement used a registered gun (good – this shows its working, most of our gun homicides are gang/drug related and organised crime related, they are usually killing each other over drug territories or revenge attacks by biker gangs etc. They, being organised criminals don’t use registered weapons for obvious reasons presumably those unregistered guns are now out of circulation and if found with weapons of this sort police have the rights to arrest them only criminals now have unregistered weapons. That only one murder was committed in that time with a registered gun tells you that shooting someone as a crime of momentary passion or from domestic circumstances is now very rare one in 2 years!) 9% decrease in homicide (good), 1/3 decrease in armed robbery (good).

    I don’t know how handing in your semi-automatic weapons (automatic weapons where already illegal) guns is meant to have increased assaults and sexual assaults. So I’d say you are guilty of a bit of bias here if an article by a journalist who disagrees with gun control reports these stats and sees them as evidence that gun regulation doesn’t work then I don’t know what to say.

  95. You were saying?

    You found some correlation, but no causation. We will get nowhere like this. Look at this correlation:

    gun ownership (Wikipedia):

    Inuit 1300 AD: 0 guns/100 people, homicide rate 100/100.000 people/year (Estimated from Steven Pinker, TBAOON, Figure 3-4)

    Jamaica 8.1 guns/100 people, homicide rate 52.2/100.000 people/year

    Belgium 17.2 guns/100 people, homicide rate 1.7/100.000 people/year

    Switzerland 45.7 guns/100 people, homicide rate 0.7/100.000 people/year

    You were saying!

    Someone should do Monte Carlo simulation or something.

  96. In reply to #93 by AlGarnier:

    Both activities may promote excellent health benefits to the user but, the danger to human life is what blows the gun out of the water, so to speak. Pools and guns are tools with specific purposes. The purpose of a pool is to promote exercise and practice aquatic skills. The purpose of a gun is to kill and to practice your skills at killing. A pool cannot be transported or concealed in public. There are guns specifically designed for that purpose. I personally do not know of a pool ever being used to perpetrate a crime. Guns are predominant in every type of criminal activity. Gun owners should be willing to pay the cost of high taxes, high insurance premiums and high restrictions/regulation, as with all other HIGH RISK recreational activity.

    “danger to human life is what blows the gun out of the water”

    The statistics Sam Harris quoted demonstrated the opposite, that pools kill 6 times more people than pools. Sean Faircloth made the very reasonable point that the idea is not to compare the two, but to treat them based on their own merit. Because if you are just going to compare then you would judge pools to be the greater public menace.

    “The purpose of a gun is to kill and to practice your skills at killing.”

    Anecdotally speaking, I’ve been target shooting with no intention of killing anything. The same goes for target shooting with a bow and arrow and skipping rocks on a lake. It is possible to enjoy these activities for their own sake, without considering them practice for nefarious endeavors. The purpose of a gun is to hurl a projectile at a relatively high rate of speed. The purpose of a bow is to hurl a rod at a relatively low rate of speed, and perhaps the purpose of my hand is to hurl a blunt object at a very low rate of speed. Typically all these activities are enjoyed while simultaneous making efforts to not hurt anyone in the process. And since you brought it up, the purpose of a killer is to kill.

    “I personally do not know of a pool ever being used to perpetrate a crime.”

    Here is a horrible and tragic article about a mother drowning her daughter in a pool. Now that you know one, should pools be treated as murder weapons? No, I don’t think you will. The point I made in my earlier comment was that the method Sean Faircloth, and now you, are using to determine that personal ownership of pools is worth that amount of death involving them, is the same method that should be applied to guns. Otherwise you are being biased. And by definition, bias is unfair.

    “Guns are predominant in every type of criminal activity.”

    That is a wildly sweeping statement. I suspect pickpockets very rarely use guns in their trade.

    “Gun owners should be willing to pay the cost of high taxes, high insurance premiums and high restrictions/regulation, as with all other HIGH RISK recreational activity.”

    Do you mean as a deterrent? Are you trying to keep people from participating in high risk recreational activities, or take steps to make them as safe as possible? As far as insurance goes, I think high cost for high risk is already built into the system. But I agree with the idea of making efforts to enhance safety in high risk activities, and I think regulation is the way to do that. What particular regulations we need, I don’t know.

  97. In reply to #111 by Dave The Sandman:

    Really Sam? So….all those British bobbies on the beat who have dealt with knife wielding criminals through the use of the uniform, their “presence”, and as a final option their TRUNCHEON got it wrong. All those almost exclusively unarmed in terms of bang bang sticks British Bobbies who so proudly and consistently on a personal level and professionally through The Police Federation resist the calls to unilaterally arm said Bobbies…. they are all wrong.

    Aren’t Bobbies much less likely to confront a criminal armed with a gun? I admire anyone who would enter melee armed with a club. Ask the Bobbies if they would like to police American streets with clubs.

  98. In reply to #120 by zengardener:

    In reply to #111 by Dave The Sandman:

    Really Sam? So….all those British bobbies on the beat who have dealt with knife wielding criminals through the use of the uniform, their “presence”, and as a final option their TRUNCHEON got it wrong. All those almost exclusively unarmed in terms of bang bang sticks British Bobbies who so proudly and consistently on a personal level and professionally through The Police Federation resist the calls to unilaterally arm said Bobbies…. they are all wrong.

    Aren’t Bobbies much less likely to confront a criminal armed with a gun? I admire anyone who would enter melee armed with a club. Ask the Bobbies if they would like to police American streets with clubs.

    Confront them or not, the Bobbies are keeping the gun violence in England a lot lower than what the police are achieving throughout America.

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  100. In reply to #101 by AlGarnier:

    In reply to #94 by M69att:

    Wow, this has been an interesting thread. I’ve just had a protracted debate on Facebook arguing for gun control against a very thoughtful and intelligent opponent in support of gun freedom. I remain convinced that a reduction in the quantity of guns in circulation can only be a good thing but have had to re-asses what I had previously considered a no-brainer; that stringent gun control legislation is needed in the USA as a matter of urgency. What really became clear to me during my FB debate and in reading Sam Harris, Sean Faircloth, a number of other articles as well as all the comments on this thread and discussion on other forums is that the whole debate is filled with people on both sides reacting emotionally, denying that they are yet accusing the other side of a purely emotion reaction. A little honesty might be helpful. Our reasoned arguments arrive only on the heals of our emotional response, not the other way round. And, our reasoned arguments are usually deployed in the service of supporting our prior emotional response, it’s called ‘bias’, ‘confirmation bias’ in particular and it’s practically impossible to avoid in such emotionally charged circumstances.

    Maybe the truth lies between the trenches!

    There is only one truth and the answer is a matter of science. The truth will usually lean toward common sense conclusions based on science. Statistics show that America has the highest incident of gun deaths and gun violence of all democratic countries in the world with good gun regulation. The tighter the gun controls, the less incident of gun deaths and gun violence was evident in those countries. Guns are like religion, a belief in a false deity. Once the fear and power is instilled in the psyche, it takes prolonged psychological programming to reverse their emotional processes.
    Other countries used common sense a chose to tighten gun control. We will just have to wait and see how much common sense America has.

    I agree Alan, the truth is a matter of science and yes, there will be an optimal path (a single truth, if you like) towards achieving the desired outcome (assuming that is the shared value of right minded people); a decrease in gun violence. However, the issues are complex and this is not a ‘Hard Science’ and so, although an optimal path surely exists, it does not necessarily follow that we know what it is. What you call ‘common sense’ is not a scientific idea and what may appear to be common sense to you, given your particular biases, may not be common sense to another, given their own differing biases. What has been clearly and scientifically demonstrated is that biases exist and affect everyone, even those with scientific training.

    Of course, in the ‘hard sciences’ we can overcome much of human bias by employing tools such as carefully designed and repeatable experiments, double blind procedures and peer review. However in the social sciences these tools are only available in a limited way. In this particular instance there is no possibility of that type of methodology. We must almost exclusively rely on statistical analysis, comparison with differing social models and inference from data provided by a variety of social sciences and historical information. Ultimately when all this is done, we are left with differing interpretation of the data and must then rely on discussion to hammer out the finer points of social policy. A scientific answer there surely is in principle but in practice our ability to find it is limited.

    Lets look at some of the issues that prevent us from reaching a solid scientific conclusion to this particular problem…

    Firstly there are a great many statistics being used on all sides of the debate and they are being used to support very different conclusions. The temptation, of course, is to claim that ones own side is using the statistics honestly and correctly and that the other side is being disingenuous. The problem is both sides make this claim and the truth is, both sides are subject to confirmation bias. So statistics clearly don’t do all the work because after we analyse them we still have to tell a story about them and our stories cannot avoid the influence of bias.

    Also, comparing the USA with countries that have successfully implemented gun control is useful but not conclusive. Each country has a different history, demographic, cultural situation and legislative framework. The particular constellation of US history, geographical size, demographic (which even within country is hugely varied), legislative framework and a wide mix of cultural influences is unique to that country. Not only that, it is also unique to this present moment in time. I don’t think that there is any other developed country that has a history, in relation to guns, that is even comparable to that of the states and certainly the level of proliferation over there is in a league of it’s own. Whether we like it or not and whether we believe it stupid, there is also a uniquely deep emotional connection with the idea of the right to bear arms and in some cases with the guns themselves. We have no model anywhere in the world which can tell us what the reaction of the American people will be if unpopular and heavy handed new laws are passed.

    Now, as it happens, I think I pretty much come down on the same side as you. I’m in favour of change and wish that the American people could find a way to end their love affair with guns. I suspect that carefully drafted and sensitively introduced legislation is required and agree with much that was said by Dr Chad in post 12…

    Culture changes occur top-down The U.S. problem isn’t so much a law problem as a cultural problem, but that doesn’t mean that gun control laws aren’t important. In the U.S., guns are seen as “protection”, cool to own and use, and a right. People become obsessed with owning them. The rest of civilized world sees them as a dangerous weapon that is very efficient at killing, easy to accidentally cause great harm, and something that people should only own under strict rules for well-justified reasons, and used only for those reasons. Until the U.S. begins to see things this way there won’t likely be a lot of change.

    But even after that is said, I still can’t claim that I have the scientific truth about this matter and if that is the claim that you are making then speaking personally, I seriously doubt your credibility.

  101. In reply to #6 by Lodatz:

    One issue with your claims about domestic violence being a predominantly male upon women endemic:

    This simply isn’t true. Numerous police and government reports have shown domestic violence to be neck-and-neck in terms of which gender performs it upon the other, and the trouble with linking this to gun violence in particular is that this simply isn’t true either.

    You cite that 2/3 of domestic murders committed by men upon women are via fire-arms. Fair enough. Did you know that 80% of those committed by women upon men are the same?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1635092

    You can peruse the data here, and we can quickly see that the established trend is that when women commit violence (most especially of the armed variety), they do so to intimate partners, or someone they know well, on average. Men trend towards violence toward strangers, instead.

    None of the above is any kind of argument against treating gun violence seriously, and I am very much in favor of gun control. I do, however, take issue with cherry-picked data in a bid to entwine two causes into one, when one of them is easily debunked.

    I would hope we each can strive for accuracy, in future.

    Unfortunately, the link you post does not support the argument you make. Please carefully read the excerpt from the article you posted below…

    In contrast to men, the killing of a woman by a stranger was rare (RR = 0.18). More than twice as many women were shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance than were murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means. Although women comprise more than half the U.S. population, they committed only 14.7% of the homicides noted during the study interval. In contrast to men, who killed nonintimate acquaintances, strangers, or victims of undetermined relationship in 80% of cases, women killed their spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member in 60% of cases. When men killed with a gun, they most commonly shot a stranger or a non-family acquaintance.

    Now do the math again or more likely for the first time. If you can’t, get back to me and I’ll do it for you!

  102. In reply to #18 by NP:

    We start with the assumption that everyone should be able to acquire guns if they wish and then we try to figure out who shouldn’t after all, instead of starting with the logical assumption that no one should have guns and then figure out the exemptions to that (e.g. police officers obviously should have guns).

    I don’t think it’s at all obvious. British police don’t generally carry guns and the majority of our police force are opposed to doing so. I don’t suggest that this would translate onto the streets of the USA where there are so many guns in circulation but, following your argument, if the assumption really was that no one should have guns other than rare and if that could be realistically achieved then no, police officers, other than specialists, don’t necessarily need them either.

  103. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

    Same false either/or argument used by SH – never mind breast cancer because heart disease kills more women. Buckle your seat belt, dont mix drinking and driving, AND do what can be done to wrest handguns away from households where they can come in handy for escalating a bout of drunken wife bashing into a case of murder. You can’t prohibit Loaded Men (tried and failed, in the 1920s), so the only course is to try to keep them away from the Loaded Guns.

    On the asteroid thing, in the short term it is low risk but high impact (not very likely to happen this year, but if it does, it will really spoil everyone’s plans). But, as the dinosaurs failed to do anything about, it WILL happen eventually. A Spaceguard program as envisioned by Arthur C. Clarke makes sense, in the long run, and would be a more rational use of a Defense budget than most of the last decade’s squanderings.

  104. In reply to #4 by shaitan274:

    Let’s set the statistical record straight, shall we?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ooa98FHuaU0

    More choose-your-own-stats unfortunately. His main agenda appears to be a desire to address inner city poverty. Not that I disagree, but I was disappointed to see how swiftly he skated past the point that England has more violent crime but less murder. It seemed he didn’t want to be drawn into any consideration of how gun availability might help turn more violent crimes into murders. Plus he clearly wants to hang onto his assault rifle.

    Despite starting with impartially collected and reported stats, he still morphed them into backing his own particular agenda, just like everyone he was complaining about.

  105. While I disagree with Sam on his analysis of gun control, and he has certainty coped a lot of flack here for it, I think given his stance on Islam (on behalf of us all) and the threats to many that have taken such a stance that I can understand his feelings in wanting to protect his family any way he can. I may well comment on this tread but I don’t do so with my own name (mainly because I’m a teacher and it would not be wise to have my students chasing up my threads-professional distance and all). Sam’s neck is right out there however and it must make him feel far more vulnerable than the rest of us.

  106. There is another statistic I would like to have at my fingertips, but unfortunately don’t have; that is the number of occasions in which a gun-bearing homeowner has successfully repelled a potential invader/assassin? My guess is that it would be an infinitely small number.

    This stat would need to be contrasted to the number of accidental shootings in the home. I would hazard a guess that this number is significantly higher than the first.

    Enough said.

  107. Thank you, Anvil. That is helpful.

    (actually, I had read it elsewhere, and thought it uncharacteristically self-serving. My point was that I feel this site at least owes him a hearing!)

    Why don’t links on this site ever seem to work? :)

    ev-love

    ev-love

    T

  108. In reply to #136 by ev-love:

    Why don’t links on this site ever seem to work? :)

    ev-love

    In the new non Disqus editor a link is not automatically processed. You need to follow the instructions under the Help with formatting link.

    Michael

  109. In reply to #131 by Reckless Monkey:

    While I disagree with Sam on his analysis of gun control, and he has certainty coped a lot of flack here for it, I think given his stance on Islam (on behalf of us all) and the threats to many that have taken such a stance that I can understand his feelings in wanting to protect his family any way he can. I may well comment on this tread but I don’t do so with my own name (mainly because I’m a teacher and it would not be wise to have my students chasing up my threads-professional distance and all). Sam’s neck is right out there however and it must make him feel far more vulnerable than the rest of us.

    But, he knows he is one of just a few under this very threat. He must surely understand his own risk of cognitive skewing?

    I do publish under my own name so forgive this being a little cryptic. There is one issue sometimes debated here where personal experience (of a comparatively rare sort within the population) has pretty much wired me for an illiberal response where my reason knows better. I am VERY careful in contributing to discussions in the area, knowing there is a greater good to be had which involves the occasional personal tragedy.

    Sam’s skewing is apparent in his bizarre identification, early in the piece, of an intruder in your home with the intention of harming you. This is a tiny likelihood for most of us. Intruders are mostly burglars. As Sam wrote in an earlier piece on avoiding harm in dangerous situations, the way to deal this is to understand that most baddies in this position will not be intending to harm you and the best plan is to simply run away at the earliest you can. Do not engage!

    Sam should have stayed schtumm on this whole topic.

  110. In reply to #19 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #3 by fuzzylogic:

    Off topic but the heart disease to breast cancer argument is the reason I think charitable donations should be taxed, so we can divert money to more needy charities from the tax dollars given to better marketed but less needy charities.

    WHAT???……….You very nearly owed me a new keyboard for that piece of insanity. Fortunately I had already swallowed the coffee.

    You would trust POLITICIANS to do this.

    Charitable donations should never be taxed. Far better to make sure the charities are indeed genuine charities.

  111. When this is an issue of religion and faith belief, Sam is clear, that on a societal level, faith is not a rational or reasonable or desirable premise on which to organize society around. While it has some social and personal utility, Sam argues, quite rightly, that it holds society back and on balance does more harm than good.

    I’m surprised and disappointed that he doesn’t demonstrate and speak a similar clarity of vision on the gun issue.

    The United States of America, just as it is largely a religious culture, is a gun culture. Like faith beliefs, guns are revered and sensationalized. They are an obsession. All the “moderate” gun owners give “cover” to the more extreme believers (sound familiar?).

    Sam’s discussions in his essay appear largely akin to arguing theological details about faith beliefs. In this case, Sam, himself, can’t escape his own faith – on guns. He discusses the practicalities of gun ownership and trifles on the various sub-issues of clip size or even the pronunciation of gun names – it starts sounding like gun culture apologetics, of the type that he otherwise has built a career on challenging .

  112. In reply to #113 by thewildlifer:

    In reply to #109 by wakeup:

    In reply to #27 by thewildlifer:

    In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the US, of those, 8,583 (68 percent) were caused by a firearm. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,800,000, so only 4 percent of the population was murdered and only 2.7 percent of the population were murdered by use of a firearm.

    Again, an insignificant statistic in support of gun bans.

    The Constitution is emphatic that the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed and “well regulated militia” is not a caveat that it can be infringed upon.

    While you may consider 4% “an insignificant statistic”, I find it terrifying. However, 12,664 is actually 0.004 percent of 311,800,000.

    It is still too many individuals. Consider the additional, potentially hundreds of thousands of people affected by those deaths: family, friends, coworkers, community members, unborn children, former associates. Individuals don’t exist in a vacuum; we’re not just names on a list or numbers on a spreadsheet.

    Also, owning a gun doesn’t make one a member of a militia. A gun owner has no responsibility, legally, morally, culturally or otherwise, to become a member of anything resembling a militia, which has structure, purpose, leadership, laws, regular and required drills, and very likely, dues payable to a treasurer.

    Of course such militias do exist. Let’s see the statistics on how many gun owners belong to one. It would mean conforming to a group — not appealing to the gun owner who imagines that it’s just him/her against the world.

    Yes, I admitted to my math error up-thread. It’s the gun banning side who want to make it about the number of deaths – or murder rate – and saving lives. So I added some perspective. Homicide by gun (all homicides are #15) doesn’t even make it into the top 10 causes of death in the United States. More than 2-3 times as many people are killed on our highways every year, but no one wants to ban personal automobiles – because it would inconvenience them. Banning something they care little about, don’t enjoy, or understand and loathe doesn’t inconvenience them so it’s no skin off their nose if it’s banned even though such a ban doesn’t address the real issues. It’s just a feel-good band aid and on the level of decapitating someone to “cure” their brain cancer.
    If it wasn’t just a hobby horse and people really wanted to save lives, they would demand a ban smoking which causes heart disease which kills more than 40 times more people than homicide by guns.

    So, exactly how many gun owners do you personally know that you know that they imagine “that it’s just him/her against the world”? I own guns and have never thought that even once in my life. I like shooting both for sport and for food. It’s something I’m very good at it and enjoy honing my skills and killing people or taking on the government is not something I ever really think about. I would say that goes for the 100s if not 1000s of other shooters and hunters I’ve met in my 53 years, having grown up at turkey shoots, visiting target ranges and going hunting.

    And no matter how you take the militia clause, there’s no way you can separate out the clause so that the rights of the people to bear arms can be infringed upon.

    The number of gun deaths is second only to the number of vehicle deaths in America. I do agree that banning automobiles would save a lot of lives. The problem with banning private transportation in the form of the automobile is that it would probably bring the entire economy to a halt. The vast majority of Americans own a vehicle and depend on them heavily in businesses, emergencies, private transportation & enjoyment. The automobile was not invented for the sole purpose of killing and deliberate homicide by automobile is almost negligible. Conversely, no one in America needs to own or depend on a gun for their livelihood. Smoking has been banned in most public places to protect the public from second hand smoke and cannot even be displayed in most stores. The risk of smoking tobacco has become an individual choice in private and cannot, under legislation, risk the lives of others. The risk of using a gun extends far beyond individual choice in private and presents an immediate risk to all those within range including the user. Strict gun control is a no-brainer to the objective observer. To a gun lover, gun control is viewed as a threat to their selfish freedoms rather than guns being an unnecessary threat to the lives of others. Except for massive profits by the manufacturers, guns and tobacco offer no redeeming benefit and create a higher cost to government health programs in most of society.

  113. In reply to #132 by Nitya:

    There is another statistic I would like to have at my fingertips, but unfortunately don’t have; that is the number of occasions in which a gun-bearing homeowner has successfully repelled a potential invader/assassin? My guess is that it would be an infinitely small number.

    This stat would need to be contrasted to the number of accidental shootings in the home. I would hazard a guess that this number is significantly higher than the first.

    Enough said.

    This may not be entirely relevant to your question but, Statistics show that over 8000 home invasions are reported daily in North America (including Canada) and according to the US department of justice, 38% of assaults & 60% of rapes happen during a home invasion. The incidents of home invasion are on the rise in America due to security and visual recorders used by most businesses. Homes with advertised security systems are 3 times less likely to experience a home invasion than those without.
    When asked how to proceed during home invasion, most law enforcement advise homeowners to contact police immediately, not to confront the intruder, leave the home if possible and to defend yourself by whatever means necessary when no other option is available.

  114. In reply to #126 by M69att:

    In reply to #101 by AlGarnier:

    In reply to #94 by M69att:

    Wow, this has been an interesting thread. I’ve just had a protracted debate on Facebook arguing for gun control against a very thoughtful and intelligent opponent in support of gun freedom. I remain convinced that a reduction in the quantity of guns in circulation can only be a good thing but have had to re-asses what I had previously considered a no-brainer; that stringent gun control legislation is needed in the USA as a matter of urgency. What really became clear to me during my FB debate and in reading Sam Harris, Sean Faircloth, a number of other articles as well as all the comments on this thread and discussion on other forums is that the whole debate is filled with people on both sides reacting emotionally, denying that they are yet accusing the other side of a purely emotion reaction. A little honesty might be helpful. Our reasoned arguments arrive only on the heals of our emotional response, not the other way round. And, our reasoned arguments are usually deployed in the service of supporting our prior emotional response, it’s called ‘bias’, ‘confirmation bias’ in particular and it’s practically impossible to avoid in such emotionally charged circumstances.

    Maybe the truth lies between the trenches!

    There is only one truth and the answer is a matter of science. The truth will usually lean toward common sense conclusions based on science. Statistics show that America has the highest incident of gun deaths and gun violence of all democratic countries in the world with good gun regulation. The tighter the gun controls, the less incident of gun deaths and gun violence was evident in those countries. Guns are like religion, a belief in a false deity. Once the fear and power is instilled in the psyche, it takes prolonged psychological programming to reverse their emotional processes.
    Other countries used common sense a chose to tighten gun control. We will just have to wait and see how much common sense America has.

    I agree Alan, the truth is a matter of science and yes, there will be an optimal path (a single truth, if you like) towards achieving the desired outcome (assuming that is the shared value of right minded people); a decrease in gun violence. However, the issues are complex and this is not a ‘Hard Science’ and so, although an optimal path surely exists, it does not necessarily follow that we know what it is. What you call ‘common sense’ is not a scientific idea and what may appear to be common sense to you, given your particular biases, may not be common sense to another, given their own differing biases. What has been clearly and scientifically demonstrated is that biases exist and affect everyone, even those with scientific training.

    Of course, in the ‘hard sciences’ we can overcome much of human bias by employing tools such as carefully designed and repeatable experiments, double blind procedures and peer review. However in the social sciences these tools are only available in a limited way. In this particular instance there is no possibility of that type of methodology. We must almost exclusively rely on statistical analysis, comparison with differing social models and inference from data provided by a variety of social sciences and historical information. Ultimately when all this is done, we are left with differing interpretation of the data and must then rely on discussion to hammer out the finer points of social policy. A scientific answer there surely is in principle but in practice our ability to find it is limited.

    Lets look at some of the issues that prevent us from reaching a solid scientific conclusion to this particular problem…

    Firstly there are a great many statistics being used on all sides of the debate and they are being used to support very different conclusions. The temptation, of course, is to claim that ones own side is using the statistics honestly and correctly and that the other side is being disingenuous. The problem is both sides make this claim and the truth is, both sides are subject to confirmation bias. So statistics clearly don’t do all the work because after we analyse them we still have to tell a story about them and our stories cannot avoid the influence of bias.

    Also, comparing the USA with countries that have successfully implemented gun control is useful but not conclusive. Each country has a different history, demographic, cultural situation and legislative framework. The particular constellation of US history, geographical size, demographic (which even within country is hugely varied), legislative framework and a wide mix of cultural influences is unique to that country. Not only that, it is also unique to this present moment in time. I don’t think that there is any other developed country that has a history, in relation to guns, that is even comparable to that of the states and certainly the level of proliferation over there is in a league of it’s own. Whether we like it or not and whether we believe it stupid, there is also a uniquely deep emotional connection with the idea of the right to bear arms and in some cases with the guns themselves. We have no model anywhere in the world which can tell us what the reaction of the American people will be if unpopular and heavy handed new laws are passed.

    Now, as it happens, I think I pretty much come down on the same side as you. I’m in favour of change and wish that the American people could find a way to end their love affair with guns. I suspect that carefully drafted and sensitively introduced legislation is required and agree with much that was said by Dr Chad in post 12…

    Culture changes occur top-down The U.S. problem isn’t so much a law problem as a cultural problem, but that doesn’t mean that gun control laws aren’t important. In the U.S., guns are seen as “protection”, cool to own and use, and a right. People become obsessed with owning them. The rest of civilized world sees them as a dangerous weapon that is very efficient at killing, easy to accidentally cause great harm, and something that people should only own under strict rules for well-justified reasons, and used only for those reasons. Until the U.S. begins to see things this way there won’t likely be a lot of change.

    But even after that is said, I still can’t claim that I have the scientific truth about this matter and if that is the claim that you are making then speaking personally, I seriously doubt your credibility.

    Statistics are often used in support of scientific theory. The one statistic that looms larger than all the rest is the fact that if guns did not exist there would be no gun deaths. Statistics also support the theory that the less proliferation of guns in society the less frequently gun deaths occur. The only unanswerd scientific question remaining would be whether Americans would accept restrictions on gun ownership. Unfortunately, when it comes to emotional beliefs such as gun ownership and religion, they seldom lend themselves willingly to scientific scrutiny. We can believe what we wish but, only reality exists, and the reality may very well be that Americans will not accept gun control regardless of any scientific proof to the contrary.

  115. The one statistic that looms larger than all the rest is the fact that if guns did not exist there would be no gun deaths.

    This is not a statistic it is a fact but one that has no relevance to the reality.

    Statistics also support the theory that the less proliferation of guns in society the less frequently gun deaths occur.

    Probably true but the proliferation has already happened in American society and so the question isn’t what would happen if guns were not prolific but how to reduce the proliferation and what would actually happen during the process of doing so. The key word here is process because, even were the majority of the populace to co-operate and it is not alt all clear that they would, we still can’t simply make the gun disappear. So there would be a ‘clean up’ process and as nothing comparable has ever happened anywhere in the world before, it is impossible to say for sure how it would go.

    The only unanswerd scientific question remaining would be whether Americans would accept restrictions on gun ownership.

    Not at all. I have already given one other example above but I’m sure I could think of other and that others questions which I had not thought of would also come up during the process. In making this statement you are simply demonstrating how unscientifically your thinking actually is.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to emotional beliefs such as gun ownership and religion, they seldom lend themselves willingly to scientific scrutiny.

    Beliefs generally are emotional. There are facts and good reasons for believing them but, in general, the psychology shows that it is our emotional systems that predominantly engage in the believing.

    We can believe what we wish but, only reality exists, and the reality may very well be that Americans will not accept gun control regardless of any scientific proof to the contrary.

    First off, this sentence is incoherent. Also, the idea that we can believe what we wish is simply not true. We simply can’t. We believe what we believe and if we do actually want to change our beliefs we have to work at it and find something that convinces us, hopefully evidence. For example, I don’t believe in god but there have been times in my life (not anymore but there have been) when I fervently wished I did. I found that, in fact, I could not believe what I wished to. I just was unable to hold that belief despite my wishes and because there is no evidence at all for the existence of god I had nothing to work with which would allow me to change my belief. This is generally true of our species, we cannot just decide to believe other than we do.

    Look Al, to a large extent I agree with you but this absolute certainty you demonstrate is worrying and counter productive. This is a complex social issue and to argue otherwise is dangerous even if your intention is entirely honourable.

  116. I’m definitely one of your biggest fans. I completely respect all the work that you do and I’m totally indebted to you, that someone is brave enough to say what needs to be Said. But being an American, I also have a tremendous respect for the intentions of our founding fathers, (yeah they had slaves and treated me/women like garbage but they literally hadn’t been shown any evidence to prove differently), the real reason that we area allowed guns or cannons or tanks is because we have the right to protect ourselves against our own government. Everyone now things hahahah ah that is so silly, but it’s not paranoid to understand that it only seems ridiculous until they come for YOU. I admire you as a logical, thoughtful man, don’t give in to this child worship bullcrap. If he didn’t have a gun, he would have made an explosive. Or stabbed fifty people to death. Crazy is crazy and it will use whatever weapon is near. Don’t fall into this trap

  117. In reply to #147 by Alice666:

    the real reason that we area allowed guns or cannons or tanks is because we have the right to protect ourselves against our own government

    No that is a fallacy, the 2nd ammendment does not give you that right, which should be clear by the treason laws in the constitution. It is the right to bear arms for purposes of protecting AGAINST uprisings, not starting them.

    The ammendments were written at a time when there were muskets, they need changing from time to time. It is patriotic to be skeptical of the rules and support changing them when it is necessary (like removing the prohibition ammendment), since this makes the country better.
    Where I live there were 11 mass shootings in the decade before we introduced sensible gun control, and 0 mass shootings in the decade since.

  118. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    I think you are doing the same swimming pool argument. Seat belts, drink driving etc, we can disregard shootings. Surely we should attack all.

    A big factor in DV deaths is Alcohol, Emotion and availability of weapons of varying lethality. The more drunk, the more socially acceptable and the higher availability of high lethality weapons leads to lots of dead women. Reducing the three factors each reduces the number of dead women. What can occur is you try tackling all the issues. This is considered a multiple factor situation in most countries, and generally most countries apply multiple solutions.

    Here in Oz, we had an incident that led to massive changes in gun culture and availability. We also have a historic problem with DV so we have had a DV campaign underway to change peoples understanding and legal approaches. The DV campaign appears to be having positive effects.

    Alcohol is interesting because at about the same time as gun restrictions came in there was quite an expansion in venue opening times and relaxation of restrictions for zoning etc. This was done to increase business and revenue. So what occurred is that a big spike in violence at 3 in the the morning in the boozing districts is making the stats initially look like gun violence has shifted to other forms of violence. The lie to this though has been proved by massive reductions in violence by applying lock out regs, reinstating old closing times and closing habitually violent venues. Several locations that had seen big spikes in violence and emergency medical interventions have seen the increases completely reverse by simply reapplying the regulations that were removed.

    Governments and the venues don’t like this due to reduction in revenue and profit but once the medical costs and police costs are taken into account governments are coming around to the reimplementing of regulations.

    But my actual point is we (society) can attempt to attack all the sub issues to reduce the costs and effects to society.

  119. In reply to #147 by Alice666:

    I’m definitely one of your biggest fans. I completely respect all the work that you do and I’m totally indebted to you, that someone is brave enough to say what needs to be Said. But being an American, I also have a tremendous respect for the intentions of our founding fathers, (yeah they had slaves and treated me/women like garbage but they literally hadn’t been shown any evidence to prove differently),

    you need evidence to treat fellow human beings decently?

    the real reason that we area allowed guns or cannons or tanks is because we have the right to protect ourselves against our own government. Everyone now things hahahah ah that is so silly, but it’s not paranoid to understand that it only seems ridiculous until they come for YOU.

    And as Sam Harris points out if the US government come for you with the full might of the military, special forces, tanks, marines, drones, laser guided missiles, helicopter gunships, fighter jets, etc your little gun collection and ammo stockpile will be just about as useful as your great grandfathers muskets.

    I admire you as a logical, thoughtful man, don’t give in to this child worship bullcrap. If he didn’t have a gun, he would have made an explosive. Or stabbed fifty people to death. Crazy is crazy and it will use whatever weapon is near. Don’t fall into this trap.

    The easier you make it to kill the more likely crazy people will kill. The harder you make it the more likely they just get arrested with minimal injury to bystanders. How come the rest of the world understands this?

    Michael

  120. Why do we need laws different by gender? Please do not discriminate me. The laws should and could be written in gender-neutral way. Does the author believe that there should be any act of violence where I as a man should not be protected by laws because I am the wrong gender? Please rethink this!

  121. This article seems like a bit of a straw man to me. Calls for gun control, and indeed fear regarding guns, always seems to follow shooting sprees, always seems to target ‘assault weapons’ (which are often just semi-automatic rifles) and prey on hysteria. The same effect was used to stir up conformity during the McCarthy and Post-911 eras (if you don’t believe that fundamentalism is on the rise, look at the Republican party now vs. the 80′s and 90′s). Mr. Faircloth, you cite a lot of data regarding domestic abuse and violence towards women, yet different facts listed below make me skeptical, and even if they were accurate they draw attention to a much greater need, that of teaching more respect for people in general. Assuming your data is correct, the problem in America is that we still have backwards views of women, and these need to be addressed, badly. Whether or not your data is correct, I suppose you could make a case for kitchen knives or baseball bats (the latter being the weapon most often used in violent crimes, according to the FBI) leaving wounds that are typically easier to heal, but perhaps we should skip right to addressing the issue of domestic violence instead.

    As for shooting sprees, they are tragic, but I am telling you right now that the problem has nothing to do with guns. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people with a bomb, and the truth of the matter is that buying fertilizer at a Home Depot and mixing it with some gasoline is an unregistered purchase that you can make with cash and no ID. A precipitated event like these shooting sprees uses an accessible means of violence, and if the shooter at Sandy Hook couldn’t have stolen his mother’s guns, he could just as easily stolen a vehicle and driven it into a school bus, or used a bomb, or chlorine gas or any number of other atrocious delivery methods. Now, you may ask, why keep guns at all, since this argument doesn’t explain the crimes of passion mentioned in the above article?

    I feel that it’s important to closely examine the intent of the Founding Fathers in allowing organized militias and the right to bear arms. It was not so that every American could defend their home against burglars; it was so that Americans could defend themselves against insurrections, invasions, and their own government. The Federalist and Anti-Federalist argument boiled down to whether or not it could be conceived that any nation would possess a standing army sufficient keep its populace in check, in essence whether this protection was needed or not, as a government with a standing army was mistrusted. Noah Webster famously said, “Before a standing army can rule the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States.” America has a checkered past when it comes to the government adhering to human rights, as evidenced by the lack of recognition for women and non-whites at our founding, the constant battle of minorities for recognition, Japanese internment camps during WW2, the crimes heaped upon the First Nations, and so on. Anyone who believes that the government isn’t capable of doing awful things again is naive, as it HAS ALREADY HAPPENED. Now let’s look at how well disarmament went for the Armenians, or Nazi Germany, or Russia, or Communist China. Imagine what 59.2 million people killed in government-sponsored genocide might have been able to do with a rifle and a few rounds each.

    Now, the meat of the problem. American society is sick, and I know this because I live in it. Connecticut is one of two states that cannot hold someone in a mental facility against their will (like the Sandy Hook shooter); mental illness is also a poorly understood phenomenon, and deserves more attention and more treatment. Fix the root of the problem, don’t keep taking away symptoms because you think that’s going to make it better! Address mental health concerns, begin teaching our society to be more conscientious and accepting, and perhaps we can begin curbing violence before it ever finds a medium.

  122. “As for shooting sprees, they are tragic, but I am telling you right now that the problem has nothing to do with guns.”

    Objectively false, but ok. The number of fatalities caused by mass killings have a great deal to do with the weapons being used.

    “A precipitated event like these shooting sprees uses an accessible means of violence, and if the shooter at Sandy Hook couldn’t have stolen his mother’s guns, he could just as easily stolen a vehicle and driven it into a school bus, or used a bomb, or chlorine gas or any number of other atrocious delivery methods.”

    An accessible means of violence, yes. It’s true – he might have created a bomb. He might have driven a car into a school bus. But then again, those are very uncommon means of getting things done, even in countries with strict gun control. What’s more common is that the person grabs a knife, or a baseball bat, or some other easily accessible weapon. They can still do a lot of damage and they can still kill people, but the fatalities are generally going to be considerably lower.

    You can pretend that these situations would be just as common and just as deadly if guns weren’t as accessible – in reality, you’re almost certainly wrong.

    “it was so that Americans could defend themselves against insurrections, invasions, and their own government.”

    And they were wise to include the amendment – in the 18th century. Unfortunately, here in the 21st century, anyone who thinks their guns are going to protect them from the government’s missiles, drones, heavily armored soldiers, tanks, fighter planes, and various other advanced technologies is deeply deluded.

    No one’s denying that the US government is capable of evil deeds. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that guns are going to protect you if the government should turn against you. That made sense 200 years ago. Not as much now, particularly not in the country that spends much more on the military and military technology than any other country in the world.

    “Now, the meat of the problem. American society is sick, and I know this because I live in it. Connecticut is one of two states that cannot hold someone in a mental facility against their will (like the Sandy Hook shooter); mental illness is also a poorly understood phenomenon, and deserves more attention and more treatment. Fix the root of the problem, don’t keep taking away symptoms because you think that’s going to make it better! Address mental health concerns, begin teaching our society to be more conscientious and accepting, and perhaps we can begin curbing violence before it ever finds a medium.”

    Ahh yes, the “it’s not the guns it’s the crazies!” argument. Anything to avoid blaming our gun culture.

    You’re right in one regard – our mental healthcare system is terrible and improving it would only be a good thing. Mental illness needs to be less stigmatized, and people need to have access to mental healthcare without worrying that they’ll break their budget (or that everyone around them will judge them.) You’re wrong for thinking that that is THE solution. “People need to be nicer” isn’t really a more practical solution than those suggesting stricter gun control laws.

    This is a complex problem, and people like you are looking for easy answers.

  123. In reply to #150 by mmurray:

    In reply to #147 by Alice666:

    I’m definitely one of your biggest fans. I completely respect all the work that you do and I’m totally indebted to you, that someone is brave enough to say what needs to be Said. But being an American, I also have a tremendous respect for the intentions of our founding fathers, (yeah they had slaves and treated me/women like garbage but they literally hadn’t been shown any evidence to prove differently),

    you need evidence to treat fellow human beings decently?

    the real reason that we area allowed guns or cannons or tanks is because we have the right to protect ourselves against our own government. Everyone now things hahahah ah that is so silly, but it’s not paranoid to understand that it only seems ridiculous until they come for YOU.

    And as Sam Harris points out if the US government come for you with the full might of the military, special forces, tanks, marines, drones, laser guided missiles, helicopter gunships, fighter jets, etc your little gun collection and ammo stockpile will be just about as useful as your great grandfathers muskets.

    I admire you as a logical, thoughtful man, don’t give in to this child worship bullcrap. If he didn’t have a gun, he would have made an explosive. Or stabbed fifty people to death. Crazy is crazy and it will use whatever weapon is near. Don’t fall into this trap.

    The easier you make it to kill the more likely crazy people will kill. The harder you make it the more likely they just get arrested with minimal injury to bystanders. How come the rest of the world understands this?

    Michael

    Michael, you should look up the Millenium Challenge 2002. Also, the Winter War. Having fought in Iraq, and having been fortunate enough to receive some training from British soldiers (who have been involved in ‘asymmetrical’ warfare in Northern Ireland for decades), I can tell you that all the cool toys that Uncle Sam has at its disposal don’t always translate well to guerilla warfare. (Yes, I am aware that this admission may seem at odds with my previous post and being leery of governmental control, but what can I say? People change.)

  124. In reply to #153 by ThomasFischer:

    “As for shooting sprees, they are tragic, but I am telling you right now that the problem has nothing to do with guns.”

    Objectively false, but ok. The number of fatalities caused by mass killings have a great deal to do with the weapons being used.

    “A precipitated event like these shooting sprees uses an accessible means of violence, and if the shooter at Sandy Hook couldn’t have stolen his mother’s guns, he could just as easily stolen a vehicle and driven it into a school bus, or used a bomb, or chlorine gas or any number of other atrocious delivery methods.”

    An accessible means of violence, yes. It’s true – he might have created a bomb. He might have driven a car into a school bus. But then again, those are very uncommon means of getting things done, even in countries with strict gun control. What’s more common is that the person grabs a knife, or a baseball bat, or some other easily accessible weapon. They can still do a lot of damage and they can still kill people, but the fatalities are generally going to be considerably lower.

    You can pretend that these situations would be just as common and just as deadly if guns weren’t as accessible – in reality, you’re almost certainly wrong.

    “it was so that Americans could defend themselves against insurrections, invasions, and their own government.”

    And they were wise to include the amendment – in the 18th century. Unfortunately, here in the 21st century, anyone who thinks their guns are going to protect them from the government’s missiles, drones, heavily armored soldiers, tanks, fighter planes, and various other advanced technologies is deeply deluded.

    No one’s denying that the US government is capable of evil deeds. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that guns are going to protect you if the government should turn against you. That made sense 200 years ago. Not as much now, particularly not in the country that spends much more on the military and military technology than any other country in the world.

    “Now, the meat of the problem. American society is sick, and I know this because I live in it. Connecticut is one of two states that cannot hold someone in a mental facility against their will (like the Sandy Hook shooter); mental illness is also a poorly understood phenomenon, and deserves more attention and more treatment. Fix the root of the problem, don’t keep taking away symptoms because you think that’s going to make it better! Address mental health concerns, begin teaching our society to be more conscientious and accepting, and perhaps we can begin curbing violence before it ever finds a medium.”

    Ahh yes, the “it’s not the guns it’s the crazies!” argument. Anything to avoid blaming our gun culture.

    You’re right in one regard – our mental healthcare system is terrible and improving it would only be a good thing. Mental illness needs to be less stigmatized, and people need to have access to mental healthcare without worrying that they’ll break their budget (or that everyone around them will judge them.) You’re wrong for thinking that that is THE solution. “People need to be nicer” isn’t really a more practical solution than those suggesting stricter gun control laws.

    This is a complex problem, and people like you are looking for easy answers.

    You think that addressing mental illness and societal problems that lead to domestic violence (and violence in general) is easy? Are you serious? So let’s impose stricter gun control laws. Like the no concealed carry laws that helped Aurora, Colorado be a safer place.

    Switzerland manages to arm its entire male population. Check the statistics on gun violence in Switzerland, or Israel for that matter. Maybe the problem ISN’T THE GUNS; maybe it’s cultural. Taking away firearms from lawful citizens out of fear because of a widely publicized tragedy is the ‘easy’ way out. I agree too, that the type of weapon used can determine the death toll; the Oklahoma City bombing killed 168. 28 died at Sandy Hook. One was a home-made bomb, the latter was a batch of weapons stolen from someone else. Maybe creating a bomb takes a bit more work, and stealing a rifle was easier, but do you really think that taking away firearms will keep that number so low? Again, I’m not talking about heat-of-the-moment domestic violence here (yes, you’re more likely to survive a baseball bat than a firearm), I’m talking about premeditated incidents.

    As for the belief that people couldn’t stand up to the US Military, that is completely false. One, there aren’t that many people in it. Two, Afghanistan isn’t going well for us, despite all of our toys. Three, a tank isn’t going to drag you out of a house; in fact, a lot of assets have a hard time occupying certain places, other than infantry. Four, of the military that would obey orders to wage war on their own country, do you really think that they’d do so in high spirits? Is your solution to past government atrocities to simply say, ‘oh well, nothing we can do about it’?

  125. In reply to #146 by M69att:

    Wow, where do I start??!!
    First of all, statistics are by definition numerical datum, usually employed in scientific research. Facts are statistically proven or they are not facts. Facts are based entirely of existing reality, not emotional belief, and therefore cannot be irrelevant to reality. The fact that people believe in religion is not irrelevant but, the religious tenets they believe are usually irrelevant to reality.
    Fact: There are many guns and many gun related deaths in America.
    Fact: Without guns, there would be no gun deaths in America.
    Fact: The previous factual statements can be proven statistically.
    Emotional belief is not a requirement in factual data, acceptance of fact is all that is required. Anyone who accepts fallacies in lieu of proven fact is suffering from delusions or wishful thinking. As I previously stated, we can believe what we wish (want or desire) to believe. Otherwise, we would not believe it.

    You question the scientific validly of my statements but, you have not demonstrated your understanding of the term science. Please elaborate your beliefs.

    The proliferation of guns in America can be greatly reduced by government legislation, gun return policy and regulations. Australia, Switzerland, Singapore, etc. are excellent examples of the benefits of such legislation. Once acceptable gun laws are passed and a sufficient time frame for volunteer compliance is established, costly fines and lengthy jail terms for failure to comply will help deter illegal gun hoarding.

  126. In reply to #156 by AlGarnier:

    In reply to #146 by M69att:

    Wow, where do I start??!!
    First of all, statistics are by definition numerical datum, usually employed in scientific research. Facts are statistically proven or they are not facts. Facts are based entirely of existing reality, not emotional belief, and therefore cannot be irrelevant to reality. The fact that people believe in religion is not irrelevant but, the religious tenets they believe are usually irrelevant to reality.
    Fact: There are many guns and many gun related deaths in America.
    Fact: Without guns, there would be no gun deaths in America.
    Fact: The previous factual statements can be proven statistically.
    Emotional belief is not a requirement in factual data, acceptance of fact is all that is required. Anyone who accepts fallacies in lieu of proven fact is suffering from delusions or wishful thinking. As I previously stated, we can believe what we wish (want or desire) to believe. Otherwise, we would not believe it.

    You question the scientific validly of my statements but, you have not demonstrated your understanding of the term science. Please elaborate your beliefs.

    The proliferation of guns in America can be greatly reduced by government legislation, gun return policy and regulations. Australia, Switzerland, Singapore, etc. are excellent examples of the benefits of such legislation. Once acceptable gun laws are passed and a sufficient time frame for volunteer compliance is established, costly fines and lengthy jail terms for failure to comply will help deter illegal gun hoarding.

    You have not addressed any of my arguments other than to make certain inaccurate assertions. As it is now very late, I am unable to fully respond to you but I’ll try to make a couple of straightforward points which, sadly, will involve some repetition but as I have clearly failed to make myself understood so far, I have no option.

    The one statistic that looms larger than all the rest is the fact that if guns did not exist there would be no gun deaths.

    This is not a fact because it has been statistically proven, it is a fact because it necessarily follows that if there were no guns, there could be no gun deaths. It is logic not statistics that make this factually true. Even your own definition of statistics does not apply. There is no numerical data in that sentence unless you mean to imply that 0 guns = 0 gun deaths is a statistic.

    I’ll grant you that for something to be a fact it must be based entirely on existing reality but our ability to know what is entirely existing reality is limited. Human beings simply don’t engage with the world in that way, even when given facts our minds need to tell stories about them in order for us to form beliefs. Whether something is fact or not our emotional systems still engage in the belief formation part. Read any reputed psychologist on how we form beliefs and you will understand what I mean. I have clearly been unable to explain it in an accessible way for you. Here is a link to a brief article about Michael Sherma’s book, ‘The Believing Brian’ a very accessible explanation of belief formation. I also recommend Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ and this website for some good essays pertaining to this topic.

    As I previously stated, we can believe what we wish (want or desire) to believe. Otherwise, we would not believe it.

    No matter how frequently you state this it will never become true. Richard Dawkin’s himself touches on this in ‘The God Delusion’ and I must admit I am disappointed because I thought I had explained it reasonably well in my last post.

    I believe that in my posts on this thread I have already demonstrated a reasonable understanding of science. Again, I am disappointed that I have not done so in such a way as is clear to you. I am now appealing for someone else, anyone who has the time to comment on our discussion and perhaps point out where we have both made errors. Posts number 126 and 143 have all the lead up to this one.

  127. In reply to #158 by OHooligan:

    Just when I thought there was nothing more useful to add to this discussion, I find this.

    America’s Real Criminal Element

    What do you think?

    That is interesting. are there any other chemicals that fit this pattern?

  128. In reply to #155 by GospelofJudas:

    In reply to #153 by ThomasFischer:

    As for the belief that people couldn’t stand up to the US Military, that is completely false. One, there aren’t that many people in it. Two, Afghanistan isn’t going well for us, despite all of our toys. Three, a tank isn’t going to drag you out of a house; in fact, a lot of assets have a hard time occupying certain places, other than infantry. Four, of the military that would obey orders to wage war on their own country, do you really think that they’d do so in high spirits? Is your solution to past government atrocities to simply say, ‘oh well, nothing we can do about it’?

    Absolutely. and we don’t need assault rifles to do it either. We can get all the supplies we need through our porous borders and rebel military units.

  129. I think you are unfairly representing what Sam Harris wrote. His assertions are:
    1. Without changing the constitution you will never ban handguns and hunting rifles.
    2 Assault weapons ban (the current proposal) will touch on a tiny fraction of violence committed and even then it will not prevent it. At best it will require more skill from the shooters to accomplish same level of carnage.

  130. In reply to #157 by M69att:

    The proliferation of guns in America can be greatly reduced by government legislation, gun return policy and regulations. Australia, Switzerland, Singapore, etc. are excellent examples of the benefits of such legislation. Once acceptable gun laws are passed and a sufficient time frame for volunteer compliance is established, costly fines and lengthy jail terms for failure to comply will help deter illegal gun hoarding.

    You have not addressed any of my arguments other than to make certain inaccurate assertions. As it is now very late, I am unable to fully respond to you but I’ll try to make a couple of straightforward points which, sadly, will involve some repetition but as I have clearly failed to make myself understood so far, I have no option.

    (Basically, I agree with your arguments. The only sticking points I have are with your assertions that facts exist that cannot be statistically proven and that personal desire does not factor into human belief systems. Please elaborate on those assertions.)

    The one statistic that looms larger than all the rest is the fact that if guns did not exist there would be no gun deaths.

    This is not a fact because it has been statistically proven, it is a fact because it necessarily follows that if there were no guns, there could be no gun deaths. It is logic not statistics that make this factually true. Even your own definition of statistics does not apply. There is no numerical data in that sentence unless you mean to imply that 0 guns = 0 gun deaths is a statistic.

    (You are correctly describing the statement as self evident and your equation 0 guns = 0 gun deaths aptly provides the statistical data. Statistically speaking, 0 is a number therefore, numerical datum. Logic can be proven statistically.)

    I’ll grant you that for something to be a fact it must be based entirely on existing reality but our ability to know what is entirely existing reality is limited. Human beings simply don’t engage with the world in that way, even when given facts our minds need to tell stories about them in order for us to form beliefs. Whether something is fact or not our emotional systems still engage in the belief formation part. Read any reputed psychologist on how we form beliefs and you will understand what I mean. I have clearly been unable to explain it in an accessible way for you. Here is a link to a brief article about Michael Sherma’s book, ‘The Believing Brian’ a very accessible explanation of belief formation. I also recommend Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ and this website for some good essays pertaining to this topic.

    (Yes, the human psyche is a fascinating topic and science is making serious inroads into decoding our emotional thought processes. I have always marvelled about the rapid evolution of human knowledge and technology concerning the secrets of the universe over a relatively short time span. But, I marvel even more about why the human psyche clings to ancient tenets as fervently as white on snow despite the proof of it’s prevarication by modern science. It exhibits an illogical dependence on predetermined beliefs.

    As I previously stated, we can believe what we wish (want or desire) to believe. Otherwise, we would not believe it.

    No matter how frequently you state this it will never become true. Richard Dawkin’s himself touches on this in ‘The God Delusion’ and I must admit I am disappointed because I thought I had explained it reasonably well in my last post.

    (Your evidence of the truth is inconclusive. Your proposal suggests that human beliefs are determined by many factors but, exclude personal desire. This would suggest that a belief is entrenched in the psyche irregardless of our desire to believe otherwise. Human beliefs are a product of the emotional interpretation of ones environmental reality. Two entities experiencing the same reality will frequently interpret that reality differently through emotional logic. I agree that one interpretation may be influenced by the other. Individual beliefs are based on reality and emotion but, truth invariably concurs with reality. Meditation trains the psyche to strip away all emotional belief providing unencumbered access to ultimate truth and enlightenment.)

  131. In reply to #160 by zengardener:

    Absolutely. and we don’t need assault rifles to do it either. We can get all the supplies we need through our porous borders and rebel military units.

    While we do have those resources, the term ‘assault rifle’ always sticks in my craw. They’re just semi-automatic rifles with a bayonet lug, handle, and maybe a collapsible stock. The media seems to like harping on that term as though ‘assault rifles’ are more deadly (while it’s true that the military version of the AR-15 has a three round burst, it’s not as accurate and I haven’t used it once personally; I don’t know anyone who has), when a semi-automatic is a semi-automatic.

  132. I’m sorry but I find Sam Harris’ arguments much more compelling as they are reasoned and logical. I’m on the fence but was leaning towards gun control and now I’m not. In contrast some of your arguments are more emotive, and you have used some straw men. I’ll address just a few points…

    1. Breast cancer – yes the response to breast cancer compared to other women’s health issues is overblown. That is the only logical assessment you can make. Given the amount of funding it receives and the lack of progress (I could say this about all cancer research) I think it’s a “popular” cause rather than the one which deserves most funding – both for women’s health and lets not forget men’s health too (though there is a recent “me too” movement regarding prostate cancer).

    2. I don’t think Sam Harris is primarily advocating guns are needed just because they are fun to shoot. Implying that I feel was unfair.

    3. If you’d read Sam Harris’ piece thoroughly you wouldn’t be saying “I assume Harris agrees that rifles should be strictly licensed anyway” – you’d know it.

    4. I live in Australia, and there’s still plenty of gun crime. Some say gun violence is way down but it sure doesn’t seem so when there’s a shooting on the news every few days, and sometimes several. Unfortunately statistics are usually manipulated to make an argument rather than used to assess things critically. I honestly don’t know what difference it has made. We weren’t drowning in mass shootings beforehand but it is true we haven’t had one since.

  133. In reply to #165 by syousef:

    I’m sorry but I find Sam Harris’ arguments much more compelling as they are reasoned and logical. I’m on the fence but was leaning towards gun control and now I’m not.

    If you’d read Sam Harris’ piece thoroughly you wouldn’t be saying “I assume Harris agrees that rifles should be strictly licensed anyway” – you’d know it.

    My goodness this is incoherent. So…not compelling after all.

  134. In reply to #158 by OHooligan:

    Just when I thought there was nothing more useful to add to this discussion, I find this.

    America’s Real Criminal Element

    What do you think?

    Excellent find. It certainly addresses the issue of causation for gun violence in America. Unfortunately, it is inclined to shift the burden of accountability from one immoral industry, gun manufacturing, to other immoral industries who are indirectly culpable in criminal negligence. Stricter regulation is required in all of these industries.

  135. In reply to #159 by zengardener:

    In reply to #158 by OHooligan:

    Just when I thought there was nothing more useful to add to this discussion, I find this.

    America’s Real Criminal Element

    What do you think?

    That is interesting. are there any other chemicals that fit this pattern?

    Also picked up in the UK http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/07/violent-crime-lead-poisoning-british-export

    This article mentions following up on the cited research, and really does have more to say.

  136. In reply to #163 by AlGarnier:

    Hi Al,

    To start with let me say that I feel satisfied that we appear to be drawing closer to an understanding of each other. I am, of course, more than happy to explain my position more fully in the areas you request and still feel the need to make myself more clearly understood on some points I wish to get over but I really am too tired tonight and fear I will make little sense if try, so bear with me and I’ll get back to you soon.

  137. The lead poisoning thing is getting off topic, many things lead to aggressive behaviour, it would be nice to reduce all of them, but getting back to the topic of gun control…

    “I live in Australia, and there’s still plenty of gun crime. Some say gun violence is way down but it sure doesn’t seem so ..[]… I honestly don’t know what difference it has made. We weren’t drowning in mass shootings beforehand but it is true we haven’t had one since.”

    What? Do you want to go back to pre-1996 where 11 mass shootings in a decade? with 35 dead in one event.

    Since the laws there have been no mass shootings, homicides by firearms down 59%, suicides by firearm down 65%. http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2012/12/16/gun_control_after_connecticut_shooting_could_australia_s_laws_provide_a.html

    It may not seem to you like gun violence has improved but it factually has.

  138. In reply to #32 by nicksg:

    What is it about Americans and guns that makes rational people like Sam Harris think irrationally,and go and do stupid things like spend hours shooting guns at rifle ranges? It is truly bizarre.
    America deserves to have 12,000 people murdered by guns every year as they support this orgy of gun ownership.I am currently living in Singapore,where no gun ownership is allowed,full stop.No gun violence either,believe it or not.

    Add to this the number of wild animals that are killed for “sport” in the USA each year. I can’t understand why anyone wants to shoot guns at anything. It must be a throwback in the genes to some distant desire to kill. Probably comes from the Bible Old Testament.

    Kudos to Singapore for their sensible gun laws; they should be universal.

  139. In reply to #40 by Peter Grant:

    I don’t own a gun, but I do sleep with a machete next to my bed.

    Well, I’m sure glad I don’t live where you live! Where I live in Australia, people sleep with their doors and windows unlocked, they leave their homes and leave their doors unlocked. They leave their cars unlocked, even leave the keys in their cars. We have no weapons and no need of them. This is what I want to leave my children, not a legacy of fear.

  140. In reply to #172 by ArloNo:

    In reply to #40 by Peter Grant:

    I don’t own a gun, but I do sleep with a machete next to my bed.

    Well, I’m sure glad I don’t live where you live! Where I live in Australia,

    If you check out his profile you will see that Peter lives to the west of us Australian’s at about the same latitude in a country which currently has some serious political and social problems.

    Michael

  141. In reply to #76 by marcusdbyrne:

    Hi Marcus,

    … the right blames an imaginary magic sky wizard and the left blames inanimate objects.

    I’m not going to church and shouting “Guilty” at the ceiling. I’m not walking up to guns on tables and shouting “Guilty”. Not guilty.

    … your article comes back to domestic violence against women and to me the logical conclusion [is] we should just arm all women and take the guns away from the men …

    Color me confused; this would be a useful policy because … ?

    To say there is no “sporting use” for a handgun is ignorant and displays the knowledge-level of most anti-gun [commentators] …

    Agreed.

    Have you ever fired a handgun?

    Yes, Browning 9mm.

    It’s an art that takes much skill and practice.

    To be excellent certainly takes practice, but firing a gun of any kind just ain’t that hard. Most embarrassing ‘newbie’ mistake, forgetting to switch off Safety.

    These are horrible events and fortunately rare.

    Not that rare. Compare the US to other countries and, in the US, these events look like a pretty common occurrence. There’s your problem right there.

    Their effects are felt for years but that is no reason to start prohibitions on inanimate objects.

    That sounds like an oxymoron to me.

    I don’t know what the left is advocating. It seems to be outright prohibition of ownership of guns.

    I see many people advocating gun controls – licensed ownership only, screening of license applicants, storage controls – and policing of storage controls and licenses, licensed areas for gun use, transportation laws, harmonisation of cross-state laws, limits on fire-power / weapon type, mandated training and weapon buy-backs. I do see a tiny minority talking about bans, but no-one takes them seriously.

    It seems to me that the above is simply the the imposition of the ‘well regulated’ that is supposedly a part of the ‘right’ to bear arms.

    Because when you say “semi-auto” you are also referring to the most common class of handgun … semi-automatic rifle, which you could use for hunting …

    We shouldn’t confuse public debate, which includes a lot of ignorant people, with draft legislation.

    … as the 7.62mm NATO …

    NATO agreed to select a smaller calibre cartridge to replace the 7.62 × 51mm cartridge in 1977. I served from ’77 to ’86 and 0.762 x 51mm cartridges were still in use when I left but 5.56 × 45mm is now the universal NATO standard.

    Until the left comes up with a cogent policy that does not include outright ban on ownership they will have no traction in the US.

    As above.

    They would however have allies like me on the “gun-nut” side of argument if they were to argue for policy that advocated:

    1) a national standardization for handgun ownership responsibilities and training

    2) a national law that sets the standards for concealed handgun licensing and carry

    This would piss off the “Tenthers” taking it out the hands of the states that all have 50 separate rules and laws and makes it very confusing and potentially legally hazardous when travelling.

    You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

    I don’t like the idea but I would even go so far as to say that maybe we need to register all firearms; if that is the course we need to go. I don’t like it but on my side that’s a concession I’m willing to make.

    That does seem the most sensible way forward.

    I’m not sure what good that would do because the people committing heinous and illegal acts certainly aren’t going to make sure they fill out the proper paperwork …

    Yeah, let’s judge before we even try.

    It’s about policing. The police and licensing authorities need to be properly funded – and regular checks need to be made to ensure rules are followed to the letter.

    … to make sure their gun is registered before they go shoot up a school …

    It is my understanding that most mass-murderers in the US have gained access to guns registered in someone else’s name. Two things:

    • Gun licensing needs to include a minimum standard of filtering. Filling in a form, on its own, is not enough.

    • If there are rules about storage and a family member knows how you access that storage your security is non-existent.

    I have pulled my concealed handgun twice, and I know I’m a man so I must have shot my wife with it according to most of your argument.

    Sean points to statistics only.

    I have broken up two cases of domestic violence only intervening when I thought it was necessary and the cops wouldn’t get there in time to avoid serious physical injury or death. I never had to fire a shot.

    Lucky you didn’t encounter another gun owner in the arguments.

    Good guy stops bad guy.

    That’s way too simplistic. If there were proper gun controls what would have happened in Texas? My guess: The Perp. wouldn’t have had access to guns.

    Yes, I’m pro-guns. I own guns, lots of them. I’m a gun nut. I shoot at least once a month (about 12x more than your average cop).

    Good for you. I’m also not totally anti-gun.

    I’m also a lefty and a liberal, not a right-wing kook libertarian before you go casting dispersions.

    I’m a right-of-center liberal, leaning to libertarian and conservative on many issues such as economics, but I can see no reason not to regulate gun ownership. From a philosophical point of view Utilitarianism seems a good guideline:

    • Is the sum of human happiness increased by a free-for-all in gun ownership?

    or

    • Is the sum of human happiness increased by sensible precautions?

    The answer seems to be a straight logic gate to me.

    Peace.

  142. I’m largely on Mr. Faircloth’s side of this argument, but Harris’ rebuttal on his blog did make at least a couple of salient points that I feel should be reiterated.

    There are some 300 million guns in the United States, and the legal and political reality around guns in the U.S. makes comparisons to the UK and Australia of highly questionable value.

    Sure, if we were starting from scratch, I’d opt for the British or Australian models of firearms regulation over the American. But we are not starting from scratch. Part of a reality-based understanding of the world is to acknowledge unfortunate truths, and two of those truths is that vast numbers of guns are already in circulation in the US, and that American law is very favorably disposed to individual gun-ownership rights. Holding up other nations as models to be emulated is closer to wish-fulfillment fantasy than a practical, achievable public policy goal for the United States.

  143. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    It is pretty clear the article is about guns, how that point can be missed is hard to fathom.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    Sure but there are no pro heart attack lobbies as far as I know. Some people find mass shootings relatively horrific things and would like them to occur less, go figure…

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    What plans and fears are you talking about?

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

    How is buckling your seat belt a pressing problem??? Again there are no lobbies suggesting that the solution to drunk driving accidents is more drinking while driving, so your “analogy” to call it loosely fails on all counts.

  144. In reply to #3 by fuzzylogic:

    Assuming your figure on 8 times as many women dying from heart disease as breast cancer is correct, then of course it doesn’t mean we forget about solving breast cancer, but it does mean it’s entirely irrational to direct more concern and resources to it than heart disease. It should get 1/8 as much attention, no?

    Not really, a bunch of other factors can influence how many resources you allocate such as how close you are to finding a solution, the complexity of the problem and the likely hood of solving it.
    There are existing approaches that can help with heart disease such as a good diet, exercise. When it comes to breast cancer it’s not obvious that there are preventive steps that can be taken by the population at large.
    In any case are you advocating that gun access laws should not be changed as long as mass shooting only happen say up to 10 times a year for example?

  145. In reply to #9 by MaxwellJ:

    I agree with Harris. It seems more reasoned where this piece seems to be more one of victimization and pulls at the heart strings. I have enjoyed Sean’s comments before and agree with many of them, but must diverge here. Gun control is not a national priority and should not be a priority of the RDF.

    Can you actually refute any of the arguments made by Sean? It is one thing to mention you diverge but unless you explain where you find his argumentation faulty, I doubt your comment will sway anyone’s opinion on the matter. How could it?

  146. In reply to #175 by Functional Atheist:

    There are some 300 million guns in the United States, and the legal and political reality around guns in the U.S. makes comparisons to the UK and Australia of highly questionable value.

    Also worth remembering is that changes to the rules in the US will result in US arms manufacturers bringing out a new gun that just meets them. This wasn’t a problem in Australia as our market is so small nobody would retool a factory for us.

    But I don’t agree with Sam that you might as well give up as it’s all too hard. It’s a long haul but there are things you can do to start. Such as:

    1. Gather a lot of money to fight the NRA advertising and their attacks on anti-gun politicians.

    2. Make private gun sales illegal or at least heavily regulated.

    3. Tighten the rules on who can buy guns and how hard it is to buy a gun. Tighten them today, tighten them after the next massacre and keep tightening until you have won.

    4. Tighten the rules on types of guns and ammunition that can be sold. Tighten them today, tighten them after the next massacre and keep tightening until you have won.

    5. Have a careful look at first person shooter video games. I’m no psychologist but watching what my kids play it does worry me.

    Michael

  147. I’m a Brit, so I’m really sticking my neck out here, but as I understand it the right to carry arms was a temporary measure brought in during the war of indendence so that citizens could protect themselves against gangs of vigilantes.

    But that like many “temporary” pieces of legislation, especially those concerning new taxes, after hostilities ended it was never rescinded, and became the norm.

    As always I stand to be corrected; and I”ve got a strong feeling that I will be!

  148. Time for anecdotes…..years ago my now ex-wife worked for a collection agency that handled bills for a major hospital.

    She was in fact a very good bill collector but a very bad person. She left me without bothering to let me know that someone had made death threats against her and had in fact told her our home address…

    So, there in a largely empty house I was awakened at 3:30 A.M. by a creaking.

    I padded softly from my bedroom to the living room thinking it might have been her returning for some reason.

    Instead I was confronted by 3 men variously armed with a large wrecking bar that I presume was the tool used to pry a window from its sill, an axe handle and a very large police style Mag-Light flashlight

    I can assure you that nothing on the planet says “GO AWAY” like the muzzle of a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun.

    I do not tell you this to proclaim my machismo. I didn’t throw down on those guys because I felt my penis to have been of an inadequate size…I had no interest at all in displaying my genitals in fact.

    they all turned and bolted and I let them go as the only way to stop them was to have shot them in the back

    I will simply say this, if you believe that a handgun can’t be used for self protection and defense you are a fool and I will not attempt reasoning with you.

    What I avoided that morning was the brutal beating that had been promised to my ex as well as the rest of us in her family. She laughed when I told her what happened..and do you know what she said to me? She told me that she was sure that I could deal with them and if I didn’t…well it was no loss to her.

  149. In reply to #182 by wdbailey:

    I am sorry to hear about this terrifying experience. I tend to think that this symbolizes, or reveals, parts of the prevailing mindset of gun advocates. In the very scenario you describe, a gun in your hand was most probably a stronger deterrent to the invaders than anything else. Sam Harris use these types of scenarios to argue for a responsible acquirement and use of firearms in American homes. In his case, getting a gun was probably even recommended by his security personnel due to the constant death threat.

    I am European, and I live in a US city that frequently is part of the top ten cities in regards to homicide rates. Like many Europeans, I find it upsetting that so many firearms (300 million guns?) are available in the US society, that the only way to reach status quo is via a sort of “Cold war” arms race. Have we reached a point where parodies of a future dystopian US society (Judge Dredd, Robocop) is upon us? Because petty thieves can get access to handguns and rob a motel, as in the example made by Sam Harris, it’s suddenly a reasonable reaction for the clerk to open fire, risking hitting a baby in the arms of a mother, and killing the perpetrator. Do we want to live in a society that works only because of a constant promise of deadly retaliation for any unjust action?

    Banning semi automatic rifles won’t change this. I am not sure banning all guns will change anything either. This problem is deeply rooted in the structure of society; a society that is strongly socio-economically segregated, in which hospitals need to send bill collectors to poor and desperate people (who will be in debt for the rest of their lives for something the rest of the modern world considers to be a human right instituted by a compassionate, humanistic society), always creates a culture of violence. Gun violence is just one of the symptoms of this; look at income disparity, the prevalence of gated communities, the non-existence of “safe walkable neighbourhoods” (go for a a stroll in Detroit, Baltimore or south side Chicago), the huge amount of homeless people in the streets of ALL major US cities etc.

    Nothing of what I have written above suggest a solution to the problem, it just illustrates why some of us, and mainly those of us who are not born and raised in the US, tend to react like Piers Morgan when we learn that more guns is the only answer.

  150. In reply to #170 by conmeo:

    The lead poisoning thing is getting off topic, many things lead to aggressive behaviour, it would be nice to reduce all of them, but getting back to the topic of gun control…

    It may not seem to you like gun violence has improved but it factually has.

    So dismissive. We’d rather squabble about guns and laws, and ignore this unwelcome information.

    So, it “factually” has what? Improved because (insert favorite reason here). Perhaps it hasn’t improved, it’s just tracked the lead poisoning levels. How off topic is that?

    To get any meaningful stats on violence, gun crime, gun ownership and gun laws, the “lead factor” must also be taken into account.

  151. In reply to #180 by Stafford Gordon:

    But that like many “temporary” pieces of legislation, especially those concerning new taxes, after hostilities ended it was never rescinded, and became the norm.

    They put it in the constitution well after the war was over, and I think it was to preclude the need for a standing army, which they believed would be expensive and lend the country to entering into unnecessary wars.

    So all together, I think it was a great idea.

    The problem was the implementation.

    I think we should have a militia, like Reservists. These men and women would be thoroughly screened for mental defects, trained and sent home to go about their lives. Occasionally they would return for more training. If they go crazy or get into trouble, then they’re out. The weapons should be stored in the local armory under guard of the professional backbone of the military, the Sergeants and Lieutenants.

    Things changed for WWII. The country had to transform the industrial center to make war. The problem is that they never went back.

    As for personal protection, One would have to go through the same screening, but more tailored training, and they could keep their more primitive guns with them.

    The only free market would be the people who contract to make the guns and personalize the personal protection weapons.

  152. In reply to #183 by Dr Astro:

    In reply to #182 by wdbailey:

    Gun violence is just one of the symptoms of this; look at income disparity, the prevalence of gated communities, the non-existence of “safe walkable neighbourhoods” (go for a a stroll in Detroit, Baltimore or south side Chicago), the huge amount of homeless people in the streets of ALL major US cities etc.

    Our guns make our social problems more deadly. Yep.

    The question is, which would make the world safer?

    Banning all guns,
    or
    Banning all guns from everyone except those who can prove that they are trustworthy.

    People will still get guns illegally, but it is foolish to think that there would be no impact.

  153. I also think Sean’s mention of violence against women and children drowning in pools are distractions. One can dispute the “facts” relevant to each argument, but ultimately the heart of the issue – assuming it isn’t simply an excuse for those for and against gun control and other issues to air their views – is, one should presume, the saving of lives. A dead person, whether a child or adult, from being drowned, shot, or in an accident is tragic when it could have, in theory, been prevented.

    Consider the fear people have of flying. We are told that statistically it is much safer than driving, as far more individual car crashes happen (killing people) than plane accidents. And yet it just seems scarier to die in a plane accident; you see it coming much sooner, are completely helpless to prepare for or avoid the situation (other then putting your head between your legs???), and it kills hundreds of people at once. Sound familiar?

    This is exactly the argument against assault rifles vs. hand guns. Despite the fact that hand guns are used to kill more people overall in individual incidents, people focus on the much rarer mass-shootings, which by definition need to involve assault rifles. So are we endeavoring to minimize the most deaths by guns overall, or just the smaller proportion that occur during mass shootings because it “seems worse,” like the irrational fear of death when flying? Consider the similarities: plane crashes and mass shootings both take more lives when they happen, but occur much less infrequently than individual car crashes and hand gun deaths, which rack up much more impressive death tolls. We feel helpless and not in control in a plane, and likewise helpless (unarmed) and in an open public space like a school. The only point Sean could salvage from this is that car and planes are more “useful” and “beneficial” than guns, and fair enough.

    An interesting side note is the observation that the author points out that guns + men + booze = trouble, without realizing that one of those variables, alcohol (and by extension other drugs) has itself been prohibited and failed miserably, and I imagine Sean would support legalization of drugs. What makes the removal of the gun from the equation (other than it is the gun that does the killing, though it can be argued that as many deaths from drug overdose and accidents is a less immediate consequence) more appealing than the drugs (when, after all, what is the obvious “benefit” of whiskey, cocaine, heroin, crack, LSD, or even tobacco – no, I’m not just addressing “legalize pot only” folks) as something we MUST remove or control? The answer, it seems, lies not in logic, but in partisan politics: if you are on the right, you must wish to keep your guns and criminalize drugs; if you are on the left, you must control guns and legalize drugs. And to each “side” the arguments will be logical to them, but ne’er the tween shall meet. Hmm.

    Similarly those who favor an open border and lax immigration laws seem unbothered by the drugs, guns and violence such unenforced openness allows, I imagine, because the philosophy is more powerful than the voiced public intended ends. Obviously closing the borders would prevent as many guns entering the country, but this is trumped by how difficult this would be in practice, and how we want open borders anyway, damn the consequences (because, after all, SWEDEN has open borders with no ill effects….). So what can we learn from this? Nothing, because I have yet to hear from anyone how having had more criminal and mental illness screening and gun bans would have prevented the Sandy Hook massacre. What would have stopped a determined psychopath’s ability to acquire such dangerous weapons – widely available on the black market in the millions, much like equally illegal drugs – from strolling into the same school, once again in this scenario unarmed by any guards or “secretly armed” teachers, and causing the same death toll? Nothing. And yet, there we as a nation would be, having smugly in our moral superiority passed another round of unenforcable or ineffective laws, having scored political points because “he HAVE to do SOMETHING,” confronted with THE NEXT TRAGEDY, to which one can only say: “now what?” What indeed, if not to slip inevitably further down the slippery slope of “fallacious logic” toward a reality of more banned weapons and curtailed (infringed) freedoms.

    I also find it interesting how Sean points to “other countries” that have banned guns and are living a comparatively idyllic lifestyle of which we should be envious. Well, there is the most obvious point that I doubt these “other” countries have a version of our 2nd amendment to preserve and “enjoy.” But also, as was mentioned, many of these utopian examples lack the political, racial, religious and other complexities (including size and dense urban populations) that the US has. Why Sean and others fail to see this, or give it validity, escapes me. Especially when one considers the (apparent?) hypocrisy when the same persons would argue that certain nations have “democracy” foisted upon them (when one can point to all the nations where democracy is seen as the better deal) PRECISELY because of the particular socio-political, religious, racial, economic, etc. differences of those countries. They can see why democracy in country X can’t possibly work (and thus not be tried, never mind one might be simply anti-war), but cannot accept that banning guns in country Y would work solely on the precedent that it worked in country Z. If that were the case, people would argue that US police should only carry truncheons because “they’ve managed marvelously in England.”

    On the issue of home protection, I find it alarming that certain people would demand that their wishes to ban all guns should supersede not just the 2nd amendment, but the “will” of the individual, and the democratic process to decide the proscribed course. How dare anyone tell anyone else if and how they should, if they wish, arm themselves against intruders, or their ability to successfully defend themselves or feel safe for years just IMAGINING that they can. In my own home (though I don’t own a gun), there is only one narrow staircase the the second floor, from which the approach is entirely visible from the bed atop the stairs from an ever-open door. Who is to say that upon being awaken by an invader’s entry, I could not shoot, or at least scare off, such a person as I see the top of his head ascending the stairs? Am I to be placated by the assurance that all denials of my defense “statistically” would result in fewer accidents, or failed defenses?

    Which moves us to the 2nd amendment itself, which I just saw an interesting exchange in a Piers Morgan interview, where it was pointed out (again) that the 2nd amendment was not drafted merely for hunters and home burglary defense, but to prevent government tyranny. Such thoughts are scoffed at and laughed at as paranoid, until it is pointed out that there have been such countries (in the past century alone) that previously enjoyed democracies and imagined safety from their leaders – and currently enjoy such statuses that we can point to them again with envy over their educational systems and so forth – but nonetheless went tyrannical and resulted in millions of deaths. Only mocking laughs, and no thoughtful comments on that one? Just ostrich-heads-in-the-sand “it can’t happen here?” thinking?

    And yet, there is a flaw in 2nd amendment logic. Well, at least if one applies a gun-restricting logic toward it. On the grounds that the average bloke doesn’t stand a chance (statistically) of surviving a home invasion or an imminent mass shooting had he himself been armed, then in what sense did our Founding Fathers imagine a bunch of farmers and hillbillies – if well armed – could stand a chance against the nation’s new militia, if it were go bad and rogue, which had just succeeded in defeating the army of the great British empire? On these grounds they should not have even bothered, since nobody would actually ever stand a chance. Indeed, fast forward to today, what does an individual, regardless of how large or deadly their arsenal – or hold-out compound breakaway community, complete with tanks and such – against the USA armed forces: a greater power than all other nations combined? Please – on the grounds of the likelihood of success (0%), it should be struck down forthwith, if presumably THAT is what the 2nd amendment is ostensibly about.

    One last thought on the guns themselves, with regard to a comment someone in the thread made: “guns are designed to kill.” That is overgeneralizing. Guns are designed to fire a projectile. The fact that this CAN kill someone (and in military combat this is indeed the point) is not the point. On one hand there are examples of guns NOT designed to kill, but for target practice, stunning or incapacitating people or animals – for example “b-b guns,” rock salt, rubber bullets, tranquilizer guns, etc. On the other hand there are many other objects not designed to kill but can: an ice pick through the heart or head, for example.

    It is a complicated issue indeed, and my points are not one-dimensional. There are no easy answers – indeed I admit I have offered few but to poke holes in the logic of others (having claimed themselves to have successfully poked similar holes, quite rightly free from public rebuke or banning, I might add). If I have one point to make it is that whatever we do as a nation, it should try to preserve our rights and freedoms while actually standing a chance of being EFFECTIVE at what the laws (or revoked rights) claim to do. We should not, however, act knee-jerk with the predictable prescriptions one’s partisan political ideologies one was already predisposed to obligingly and loudly demand.

  154. Lots of confused jumble in AA’s comment, but just a couple that shouldn’t pass by unchallenged:

    US open vs closed borders: What is the net flow of weapons across US borders? Into, or out of,the USA? I have read claims elsewhere that the gun violence in Mexico is fuelled by the ready availability of the weapons north of the border, so “open” borders are hardly contributing to the prevalence of guns in the USA, and “gun control ” by tightening at the border isn’t going to do any good.

    Assault Rifles are like Aircraft, Handguns are like Cars: What’s this? Only allow airline pilots to have assault rifles? That would work,to some extent, I suppose.

    Guns and Drugs: End the obscene “war on drugs”, and the drug lords and their private wars will go the way of the (alcohol) prohibition-era gangsters, along with the driving force behind all kinds of drug related crime. Fun and profits for all, except for those running the drugs, and those making money out of working against them: the drug policing and incarceration industries. Oh, and those arming both sides.

    Hmm. No wonder there seems no politically acceptable way out of the disastrous status quo.

    These I think are what’s necessary – all of these, not just a bit of one or the other…

    • continue the removal of lead from the environment. There’s a twenty-year time lag on this, so it’s a long term strategy

    • declare an immediate armistice in the War on Drugs. Legalize the lot of them, let pharma and agribusiness take over at market rates, tax them enough to pay for the healthcare required for the casualties, but not so much there remains incentive to make “moonshine”. Cut the funding to DEA and the like, free those convicted of non-violent drug crimes, shut down the surplus prisons. Use the surplus to fund mental health care and tax enforcement.

    • scale down the level of weaponry that can be legally held by private citizens, with buybacks, amnesties, stricter licensing requirements and eventual significant penalties, as already outlined by other posters.

    I don’t expect all of these to happen, and therefore I don’t expect any workable solution to the problem.

  155. In reply to #187 by AgriculturalAtheist:
    >

    What would have stopped a determined psychopath’s ability to acquire such dangerous weapons – widely available on the black market in the millions, much like equally illegal drugs -

    There is a big difference between illegal drugs and illegal guns. There is no reason to think that banning certain kinds of guns would lead to the same kind of black market.

    1.Many many people use drugs, which are relatively easy to produce and transport, and are consumable. Guns are not so easy to make.

    2.Buying an illegal gun would be a very different undertaking. One would have to find the market that would be much smaller because so many fewer people buy illegal guns, and also because trades would be much less frequent. Smokers buy weekly or monthly, but gun nuts may only buy a few in their life unless they are middle men.

    3.Guns can be made so that they are easier to track.

    4.One of the similarities is that they would both be more expensive to get (legal weed will be much cheaper if they don’t put on a 500% tax) and they require more time to find.

    …the 2nd amendment was not drafted merely for hunters and home burglary defense, but to prevent government tyranny.

    Good point. It was also to fight Indians and other invasions. Judging from history, the “Militias” would be organized locally and would prevent a Federal government from dominating the states. Or from neighboring states. There wasn’t supposed to be a standing army to worry about. The 2nd. was supposed to preclude that necessity.

    … in what sense did our Founding Fathers imagine a bunch of farmers and hillbillies – if well armed – could stand a chance against the nation’s new militia, if it were go bad and rogue, which had just succeeded in defeating the army of the great British empire?

    No standing armies. The local militia was to be called up in case of Injuns, or the French or Spanish or a rogue state. They could hold out until news got around and reinforcements came.

    It is a complicated issue indeed, and my points are not one-dimensional. There are no easy answers – … We should not, however, act knee-jerk with the predictable prescriptions one’s partisan political ideologies one was already predisposed to obligingly and loudly demand.

    Ramen!

  156. In reply to #189 by Fouad Boussetta:

    I almost fainted reading the interview in #8 of Sam Harris’ new “FAQ on violence”:

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/faq-on-violence

    With guns readily available in the UK, Nev and Steve would be the first to have them. Decent people hesitate before unleashing lethal harm. They have intact censor and veto wiring to double check their actions. Psychopaths are unencumbered by these. They’ll win everytime unless their lethal intent is not perhaps so lethal, they are not so psychopathic.

    But also in a gun free for all country, the tooled up super anxious will make sure they aren’t to be outdrawn. Getting your defense in early is the answer for them.

    There is not always a direct answer to be had to every problem. Encountering Nev and Steve after they’ve had a bevvy is one of them. Societal solutions are the order of the day first. Second, Sam’s saner advice of avoidance and escape fixes it more safely than guns.

    I hope Sam realises the enormity of the blow he’s landed upon the rationalist community, with this ill-thought through set of arguments.

  157. In reply to #191 by phil rimmer:

    With guns readily available in the UK, Nev and Steve would be the first to have them.

    I need to flesh this out with Sam’s initial proposal and subsequent amelioration (guns only for good guys…those with white hats and riding greys, perhaps?) and life imprisonment for unlicensed gun ownership, then complete distancing “not advocating concealed weapons” etc. at all. (Americans sure do like the punitive mode of people control…)

    Even if Sam’s repugnant vision were possible for the UK it would be the work of a few partially threatening encounters to find those with legal guns and later remove them, a distraction in front, an attack from behind. Life imprisonment a deterrent?…for psychopaths? Nah. Neuro-savvy Sam knows this.

    Why doesn’t he sit quietly and do a thorough Failure Modes and Effects Analysis of these various situations? The sheer emotional security carrying (or imagining your carrying) a weapon can provide is quite removed from the security it actually provides.

  158. In reply to #139 by SomersetJohn:

    In reply to #19 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #3 by fuzzylogic:

    Off topic but the heart disease to breast cancer argument is the reason I think charitable donations should be taxed, so we can divert money to more needy charities from the tax dollars given to better marketed but less needy charities.

    WHAT???……….You very nearly owed me a new keyboard for that piece of insanity. Fortunately I had already swallowed the coffee.

    You would trust POLITICIANS to do this.

    Charitable donations should never be taxed. Far better to make sure the charities are indeed genuine charities.

    Genuine charities can have great advertising campaigns and a good marketing teams (who make crap loads of money based on the amounts they raise, far more than any tax sceme) and receive far more funding than far more needy chairties.

  159. In reply to #188 by OHooligan:

    Lots of confused jumble in AA’s comment, but just a couple that shouldn’t pass by unchallenged:

    I actually agree with some of your points, but at least one thing you challenge is not of anything I actually said (or meant).

    US open vs closed borders: What is the net flow of weapons across US borders? Into, or out of,the USA? I have read claims elsewhere that the gun violence in Mexico is fuelled by the ready availability of the weapons north of the border, so “open” borders are hardly contributing to the prevalence of guns in the USA, and “gun control ” by tightening at the border isn’t going to do any good.

    I could concede this point, were it not for some info I just yesterday received from my brother-in-law whose friend works in Yuma at the border (I know, personal or hearsay anecdotes presented as evidence – ugh!). Allegedly Mexicans will survey across the border at construction vehicles at the site and acquire identical vehicles and/or paint them identically and repeatedly try to run them through the checkpoint, and those caught invariably are carrying drugs or guns. But what do I know.

    The whole point was people of different political persuasions will stick to their beliefs of what laws are fair game to be changed, revoked or unenforced and which should be (or created), and often it has little or nothing to do with results. Clearly anyone against securing a secure border (walls, more guards, etc.) is not concerned in the least with any people who might enter illegally, regardless of whether such individuals, if even a small minority, would ever pose a threat. Their philosophy overrides the concerns of those who want a secure border – after all, it will cost too much, and if you can’t catch everyone why catch any, and besides, who will pick our lettuce cheaply? Similarly those who want to ban guns seem more concerned with the perceived moral high ground of doing so than any actual beneficial effect (to the idealized unarmed law-abiding citizenry, also denied armed guards at their children’s schools) set against the criminal element in society that has a ready access to millions of guns already out there. It can’t possibly be about preventing another Sandy Hook if there is no evidence or guarantee that such laws if previously passed would have.

    Assault Rifles are like Aircraft, Handguns are like Cars: What’s this? Only allow airline pilots to have assault rifles? That would work,to some extent, I suppose.

    I was not comparing assault rifles to aircraft, which is why I thought I took pains to mention the difference in necessity and usefulness of one over the other. I was providing another analogy with regard to Harris’ guns-and-swimming-pools argument. My point was to be limited to the PERCEIVED (if irrational) fear most people have of aircraft vs. cars, which they hold despite the fact that more people die per year in individual car crashes than do as larger groups in airplanes. Yet this is exactly the irrational selectivity I see in trying to ban assault rifles when, scary as they may be, and as many deaths occur when wrongly used, those death tolls are still dwarfed by those resulting from individual cases of hand-gun use – the same hand guns presumably an assault-rifle ban will leave alone. To me, a death is a death, so if it is death one want to prevent, why not go after that which is most often the cause of it, rather than the “scary” movie-like news-craze scenario we get from stories like Sandy Hook.

    Guns and Drugs: End the obscene “war on drugs”, and the drug lords and their private wars will go the way of the (alcohol) prohibition-era gangsters, along with the driving force behind all kinds of drug related crime. Fun and profits for all, except for those running the drugs, and those making money out of working against them: the drug policing and incarceration industries. Oh, and those arming both sides.

    We agree. Again, I only brought it up to show how a person’s politics, rather than logic, are largely what determine which side of an argument one will agree with.

    I don’t expect all of these to happen, and therefore I don’t expect any workable solution to the problem.

    Fair enough. At least I seemed to get a shout-out of at least some agreement from ZenGardener, which I don’t suppose has anything to do with our agriculturally-inspired monikers…..

  160. Sorry, love Dawkins but I agree with Harris on this one.

    “Swimming pools, you will concede, have positive attributes, indeed healthful attributes, that benefit millions… Now, what positive is offered by guns? The pleasure of target practice?.”

    Totally disagree. If owners of pools and guns had to choose between the attributes of either, I would wager the VAST majority would keep their guns. Running an obstacle course in competition, and firing an AR-15 at a paper targets while pretending it’s Osama Bin Laden beats doing the doggy paddle in the family pool any day. Plus your kids are more likely to get killed by the pool than the gun anyway.

    Does Sean understand that some people love their guns? They spends literally thousands of dollars and countless hours practicing. “The risk of death…the widespread terrorizing of women, I would submit, far outweigh the pleasure of shooting at a pretend paper body on a target.” Sean is so wrong, for many gun owner (including women gun owners), it is totally worth it.

  161. In reply to #67 by Andrew Karl:

    Sean Faircloth is taking the Foundation is a very dangerous direction. Supporting leftist causes like gun confiscation..cannot attract new members outside of your narrow ideology….Gun control is extremely unpopular in rural areas where we need to be building bridges- not nuking them!

    Totally agree. Can we please stick to science and atheism here? We are small enough as it is.

  162. In reply to #196 by Satheist:

    Sorry, love Dawkins but I agree with Harris on this one.

    “Swimming pools, you will concede, have positive attributes, indeed healthful attributes, that benefit millions… Now, what positive is offered by guns? The pleasure of target practice?.”

    Totally disagree. If owners of pools and guns had to choose between the attributes of either, I would wager the VAST majority would keep their guns. Running an obstacle course in competition, and firing an AR-15 at a paper targets while pretending it’s Osama Bin Laden beats doing the doggy paddle in the family pool any day. Plus your kids are more likely to get killed by the pool than the gun anyway.

    Does Sean understand that some people love their guns? They spends literally thousands of dollars and countless hours practicing. “The risk of death…the widespread terrorizing of women, I would submit, far outweigh the pleasure of shooting at a pretend paper body on a target.” Sean is so wrong, for many gun owner (including women gun owners), it is totally worth it.

    The religious get a serious buzz off God. They love it better than swimming pools. It give’s most a serious feeling of security despite little actual proof of efficacy. Whilst we’re at it, we should cut them some slack too.

  163. In reply to #198 by phil rimmer:

    The religious get a serious buzz off God. They love it better than swimming pools. It give’s most a serious feeling of security despite little actual proof of efficacy. Whilst we’re at it, we should cut them some slack too.

    I agree because, wouldn’t you know, our constitution protects religious freedom too. I would also uphold that, even if I don’t practice religion myself. We shouldn’t be trying to pass laws restricting or banning the freedom to have a religion, despite it having little proof of efficacy.

  164. As an American I’m still wondering when we’re going to stop burning time on the outlying – and statistically insignificant – “issues” such as this one.

    I’m aware of all of the statistics. I’m really tired of trying to ignore distractions like this. Move on.

  165. In reply to #196 by Satheist:

    Sorry, love Dawkins but I agree with Harris on this one.

    “Swimming pools, you will concede, have positive attributes, indeed healthful attributes, that benefit millions… Now, what positive is offered by guns? The pleasure of target practice?.”

    Totally disagree. If owners of pools and guns had to choose between the attributes of either, I would wager the VAST majority would keep their guns. Running an obstacle course in competition, and firing an AR-15 at a paper targets while pretending it’s Osama Bin Laden beats doing the doggy paddle in the family pool any day. Plus your kids are more likely to get killed by the pool than the gun anyway.

    Does Sean understand that some people love their guns? They spends literally thousands of dollars and countless hours practicing. “The risk of death…the widespread terrorizing of women, I would submit, far outweigh the pleasure of shooting at a pretend paper body on a target.” Sean is so wrong, for many gun owner (including women gun owners), it is totally worth it.

    Interesting – I think Sean was focusing on the “health benefits” of swimming pools, and the hours of aerobic activity they occupy their children with (keeping them off computer games and TV), who don’t have the same “luxury” of choice to prefer and use guns like adults can.

    But one can probably settle this by approximating how many guns are owned by people vs. swimming pools in the USA? True, I suppose cost and space are a consideration for a pool (though I imagine some rifles have price tags that exceed a basic above-ground pool – remember: a drowning can even occur in those $20 tiny kiddie pools), but cost alone cannot be the reason for this discrepancy because all pools are essentially “bowls of water” and don’t require a license or background check to purchase and install.

  166. And Harris disappoints again. Unfortunately he is only good at criticizing religion, anything past that, such as his promising “Moral Landscape,” is simply a disappointment.
    Gun control is yet another issue when the american “mind” is led by very profitable companies to ignore facts. Other countries have data. The data speaks for itself. Take for example the comment by “yutt” down below, “Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men.” Let’s see, England has less then 100 gun related deaths per year, which one of the above did it outlaw?
    [EDITED BY MODERATOR TO BRING WITHIN TERMS OF USE]

  167. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

    And yet we govern, regulate, insure, educate and change our approach to every ONE of those issues you mention, as we learn more, as we research more and as we evolve as a society, but not guns??

    I have to have health insurance, motorcycle insurance, training, licensing; I have to take a Car driving test, a Motorcycle specific test, I have to update the address on my license if I move, I have to have proof of insurance, I have to prove I keep my vehicles safe in order to get insurance discounts; I get tickets if I speed, or run a red light; I have to report a minor fender-bender to the police if it involves damage of $500.00 or more, I have to have an eye test to prove my vision is good enough… Do guns not require good eyesight to use correctly? Do guns not have the potential to cause enough damage to require insurance? Training? Registration?

    All of these things are FAR more organized, regulated and tracked than gun ownership in the USA at present. Guns are FAR, FAR more dangerous than Cars, alcohol or hamburgers (ever seen a madman kill 26 children in 20 minutes with a big Mac?). And the point is that we do everything we can to STOP people from dying of heart disease, alcoholism and from crashing their cars; education, dietary information on food, seatbelts, ABS, airbags, alcohol prevention campaigns, age limits, severe penalties for driving drunk etc, etc, etc.

    Should we just not do ANYTHING regarding guns? Nothing? Or can we have a discussion about ways to stop the insane, the drug addicted, the sociopaths, the people with zero judgment, those that treat guns as toys from gaining access to guns?

    Cars kill people as a by-product of people’s lack of attention, lack of training, lack of ability, NOT as a primary function; their primary function is as transport… Guns are purely for killing; can you use a gun to stir your coffee? Hammer a nail into a plank? Throw it at a fly and squash it? YES, but that’s not it’s primary function.

  168. In reply to #203 by Mortalc01l:

    Guns are purely for killing; can you use a gun to stir your coffee? Hammer a nail into a plank? Throw it at a fly and squash it? YES, but that’s not it’s primary function.

    I’m from Australia and find the US attitude to guns completely bizarre but I have to say I have stopped believing this line that “guns are just for killing”. They are also very good for threatening people and making them do what you want. That’s why some people carry them because they want to say “get away from me”, “drop that knife”, “leave my house and stop threatening my family” in a convincing manner.

    In Australia it’s easy enough to decide not to have a gun for personal protection because it isn’t allowed and very unlikely to be needed. If I lived in the US I’m not completely sure what I would do. It’s easy, from a distance, to say of course I wouldn’t have one.

    Michael

  169. The Yanks should take a lesson from that American icon, the “western”. When the townsfolk had had enough of killing they appointed a new sheriff. When the sheriff came in to clean up the town, what was the first thing he did? He made everyone hand in their guns. He knew that the more guns there were, the more chance that people would be shot. Frontiersmen needed guns when they set out. But once there were civilised communities, guns had to be put away.

  170. In reply to #195 by AgriculturalAtheist:

    and besides, who will pick our lettuce cheaply?

    Well said. That is probably the crux of the US/Mexico border issue.

    Now, back to the guns. Would a (really) closed border reduce the flow of guns? Of course it would. But, at present, which way to the guns flow? I mean where do the Mexican criminals get their guns from? Your anecdote – which I don’t doubt – doesn’t answer one way or the other, Mexico is now awash with guns too, but where were they made?

    On cars and aircraft, the latter are safer because of the training and the regulation of operators.

    But that wasn’t your point. A headline I saw recently – “900 gun deaths since Sandy Hook” is probably closer to what you wanted to address. The high-body-count massacre gets headlines and tears from the president, another 900 corpses in ones and twos all over the country rate just a few column inches and no comment at all. Just like planes vs cars, I see your point. How many people have died in car crashes since the last fatal airliner crash?

  171. In reply to #1 by yutt:

    Unsure if you are advocating outlawing guns, alcohol, or men. Your arguments seem to equally fault all three. Instead of treating these as the incredibly rare and unique situations they are, too many react emotionally.

    The reality is most Americans are go to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or car accident. But those aren’t as evocative, so no one is discussing mandating sun screen our healthy eating.

    This entire discussion is no more than myopic emotional over reaction. Reminds me of all the plans and fears of the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

    Buckle you seat belt, drive more safely, and don’t ever drive intoxicated. Those are incredibly more pressing problems than guns.

    It is not about what attributes to the most deaths. It is about fear. It is about what if scenarios. A gun gives people power. Power that many people should not have, and is often abused. In many areas within the US people are afraid to go outside into their own community. It is torture. Millions of Americans, including kids, are living this every day. Your message, and the message of the other gun enthusiast is akin to telling them to just give up hope.

  172. In reply to #2 by stylofone:

    There already is a law that limits the weapons you can own. The most powerful gun you can buy fires a 50 cal BMG cartridge. It would make a very good sniper rifle. But it has almost never been used in crime, because it’s 6 feet long and heavy.

    I think Sam Harris owns guns in case of the possibility that one of the psychos who makes death threats decides to act on it. Sometimes they do, such as some enraged Muslim showing up with an axe at a Danish cartoonists house. Or Muhamend Boyary(sp?) murdering Theo van Gogh. It’s his choice not to be apathetic about it.

  173. In reply to #8 by Bleib:

    You cant claim that Sweden’s laws would have stopped Anders Brievic.
    If that were true then there wouldn’t be anyone addicted to Heroin, meth or cocain as there are plenty of laws making that very illegal.
    I’m sure US and Oklahoma law bans making an amonium nitrate truck bomb, but that didn’t stop McVey.

  174. In reply to #22 by conmeo:

    You didn’t have much respect for Harris already, if you think there is any chance he’s going to shoot a family member in a drunken rage. All potentially dangerous items like power tools, machinery, or cars need to be handled resposibly to avoid accidents.

  175. Those two things have nothing whatever to do with responsible gun ownership. Comparing the US with any other nation on “gun control” is a non-starter. Few things could possibly be less relevant to the issue. If you don’t want to own any guns, then don’t. Otherwise STFU about other peoples’ rights to own them.

  176. Ms. Faircloth ignores the most important hole in gun violence evidence, mainly that there are very little to no statistics collected regarding the number of assaults and homicides prevented by potential victims who were able to defend or discourage an attack through the use of a firearm. The data that is collected is entirely about the negative effects of firearms. Her article is rife inconsistencies and ignorance.

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