The Riddle of the Gun

67

Fantasists and zealots can be found on both sides of the debate over guns in America. On the one hand, many gun-rights advocates reject even the most sensible restrictions on the sale of weapons to the public. 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 about the problem of gun violence.


Unlike most Americans, I stand on both sides of this debate. I understand the apprehension that many people feel toward “gun culture,” and I share their outrage over the political influence of the National Rifle Association. How is it that we live in a society in which one of the most compelling interests is gun ownership? Where is the science lobby? The safe food lobby? Where is the get-the-Chinese-lead-paint-out-of-our-kids’-toys lobby? When viewed from any other civilized society on earth, the primacy of guns in American life seems to be a symptom of collective psychosis.

Most of my friends do not own guns and never will. When asked to consider the possibility of keeping firearms for protection, they worry that the mere presence of them in their homes would put themselves and their families in danger. Can’t a gun go off by accident? Wouldn’t it be more likely to be used against them in an altercation with a criminal? I am surrounded by otherwise intelligent people who imagine that the ability to dial 911 is all the protection against violence a sane person ever needs.

But, unlike my friends, I own several guns and train with them regularly. Every month or two, I spend a full day shooting with a highly qualified instructor. This is an expensive and time-consuming habit, but I view it as part of my responsibility as a gun owner. It is true that my work as a writer has added to my security concerns somewhat, but my involvement with guns goes back decades. I have always wanted to be able to protect myself and my family, and I have never had any illusions about how quickly the police can respond when called. I have expressed my views on self-defense elsewhere. Suffice it to say, if a person enters your home for the purpose of harming you, you cannot reasonably expect the police to arrive in time to stop him. This is not the fault of the police—it is a problem of physics.

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

67 COMMENTS

  1. Wow.

    I would have never thought Sam Harris would write something like this, but he has and he has valid points as usual.

    Weapons are going nowhere, at least in the US. We need to learn to deal with the reality of this.

  2. Sam Harris once wrote a piece about how, regardless of the evidence that the smoke damages health, people still loved to light log fires.
    He said such people were “not only wrong but dangerously misguided”.
    Calling the phenomenon “the fireplace delusion” he said: “I recently stumbled upon an example of secular intransigence that may give readers a sense of how religious people feel when their beliefs are criticised”.

    I see he diplomatically chose the word “riddle” in discussing guns in this piece…

  3. In reply to #6 by Byrneo:

    Sam Harris once wrote a piece about how, regardless of the evidence that the smoke damages health, people still loved to light log fires.
    He said such people were “not only wrong but dangerously misguided”.
    Calling the phenomenon “the fireplace delusion” he said: “I recently stumbled upon an example of secular intransigence that may give readers a sense of how religious people feel when their beliefs are criticised”.

    I see he diplomatically chose the word “riddle” in discussing guns in this piece…

    Well I did smell the smoke coming from that title. Also, we need to name a version of Godwin’s Law that describes the increasing likelihood of being called religious as a secular debate progresses.

  4. “Just imagine how a few men with box cutters would now be greeted by their fellow passengers at 30,000 feet.”

    Yes, I agree that we now understand box cutters have no place on an airplane and presumably should elicit a ‘defensive reaction.’ I would hope to extend that mentality to future reactions to a gun in a school.

  5. In reply to #3 by MilitantNonStampCollector:

    How disappointing, coming from an otherwise rational mind in my view.

    How and where exactly is he NOT being rational?

    Before I actually read his piece, I expected to disagree with him. Having read it all, I can’t now arrive at that conclusion. So again, where exactly is Harris being non-rational?

  6. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, this is one of the more reasonable gun articles I’ve read during the last couple of weeks. It’s very different in content and style from Steven Pinker’s recent live CNN radio interview about rampage killings, but I am appreciative that both are having their opinions aired publically, and widely.

    Mike

  7. Sam Harris’s argument seems to be that there are now too many guns to ever hope to effectively ban them, so let’s embrace them with maybe a few stricter rules. Can things be possibly worse than they are now? Yes, they can. The Weimar Republic in Germany was characterized by shootings between rival political groups. Both sides were amply armed because many of the weapons issued during WW 1 were simply taken home after the war. America, in my opinion, is just one step away from the same armed warfare exhibited during the Weimar Republic. Any political group that feels it didn’t get what it wanted in the last election might try to get it with armed violence. I for one would be very troubled by a “friendly” NRA armed volunteer in the schools. The same NRA goon might be a religious nut or homophobe who at the very least could menace or intimidate teachers and children. What if he doesn’t like evolutionary theory? Don’t laugh, the Dean of Liberty University Law School believes homosexual marriage will lead to civil war.

  8. Most criminals don’t break into your home intending to harm you – they break in to steal your stuff and make a clean getaway. A dog would be just as good a deterrent and wouldnt accidentally shoot your kid in the head.

  9. Astonishing how the notion of stationing armed guards in primary schools can be presented as a rational policy initiative. Viewed from outside it’s a horrific symptom of a sick society, yet when one grapples with the problem of the sheer number of guns in the US – and the political problems associated with making even a tiny reduction in their availability – it can indeed seem to be the only practical option.

    That said, this a very poor piece from Sam Harris. For one thing he argues from the position that the US is gun-saturated and that this position is unchangeable. That may be true, but he seems to pretend that his position follows from the mere existence of guns, not the particular case of the US. It may be verging on the impossible to implement, but a vigorously enforced ban on all privately owned guns is at least a theoretical option and would (in my view) make for an environment with fewer gun deaths than Sam’s solution.

    He trots out the line that without guns the man with a knife is king yet offers no evidence whatsoever to support his line that a gun society is therefore “better” (and there are plenty of knife crime stats from relatively gun-free societies). He says “A world without guns, therefore, is one in which the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive”, without considering that a world WITH guns is one in which numbers, size and strength can count for nothing against a lone, weak individual armed with a gun.

    His conclusions may well represent what can be practically achieved in the current climate in the US, but much of his argument is as poorly thought out and, by and large, he pays only lip service to one side of the debate.

  10. Already before I read this article I guessed what Sam’s stance on the issue would be. He has talked previously about people’s right to defend themselves, e.g. he got some heat for his opinions on torturing terror suspects in the name of a greater good and preemptive strikes against rouge countries that are threatening the safety of democratic ones.

    Apparently he is trying to look at the issue from both perspectives. He belongs to the group of people which does not want everyone to run around with firearms, but at the same time advocates the right to own guns for personal protection in the rare event that one is needed. These people commend themselves for being reasonable and actually wanting to solve the problem of a high number of crimes committed with guns.

    However, when talking about possibly restricting gun ownership, what I find is that the main argument these “reasonables” have is to shrug their shoulders. They say that the idea is beautiful, but idealistic and cannot work any more. The US is just in too deep. The population owns too many guns for them to be controlled, so the only way to move forward and increase safety is the other option; more guns. While the “reasonables” admit that in the light of statistics a decrease in gun ownership would probably mean less gun related incidents, they consider it to be a utopistic goal at this point. So to protect people one has to go the other way and arm them even more.

    My question is though, when will it end? What kind of end goal do these people see? If there is no going back for the US on the firearms issue, no way to decrease the amount of firearms, but only to buy more of them to protect oneself from the previously bought ones, what kind of society do they see at the end? I would like to hear a description of this peaceful society that supposedly is the result when it is saturated with guns. I’m not being critical of the idea in itself, just genuinely interested in hearing interesting views on the matter.

  11. guns… Guns! GUUUUUNS!!!! FOR EVERYONE!!!

    Yeah, I’m not a gun advocate, ‘but’… And here we go…

    You know, if you need your schools to be protected by armed guard (and should I say, private firms protecting public schools? hmm…), then you REALLY have other deep-rooted problems that needs to be seriously addressed. Is that really the mark of a healthy and responsible society? Get responsible first, then we can talk about your gun fetish.

    And if you have a collection of guns, for ‘home defense’, then you are part of the problem. I suppose, the tool for the right job, yeah? Snub nosed .38 pistol in the pocket, in case I get surprised by the attacker. Or a high calibre hand-cannon to shoot through walls and furniture and eventual pets. And a high-capacity semi-auto, if there are several of them and I need suppressing cover fire. And of course the always dependable ‘room sweeper’ compact pump-action shotgun.

  12. I haven’t a clue who Sam Harris is but I’m not really impressed. The USA has had numerous shootings in schools we’ve had one in Dunblane years ago. Yes we have guns and gang crime but we’ve had nothing like Newtown or Columbia and most normal people outside of gang culture would never dream of owning a gun. The response to Dunblane was to tighten our laws not call for armed police in schools.

  13. “Between these two extremes we must find grounds for a rational discussion about the problem of gun violence.”
    What is exreme about maintianing that calling 911 is an adequate protection?
    “I am surrounded by otherwise intelligent people who imagine that the ability to dial 911 is all the protection against violence a sane person ever needs.”

  14. Yeah, not Harris’ best piece. I would not say he is unreasonable, but he does seem ill informed. Without going into great detail, let’s just say that there are places in the world that contradict some of his arguments. Where I live, Norway, the police are normally unarmed, and yet they usually have no trouble apprehending violent, even armed, criminals. Even during the extraordinary events of 22. july, which the police admittedly were unprepared to deal with, they managed to apprehend the perpetrator without resorting to violence.
    Trained professionals with formal authority usually go a long way towards subduing criminals in the wast majority of cases, without resorting to threats of violence.
    As for defending yourself against an armed assailant in your home, well, I’ve never heard of this actually happen. I read several newspapers every day, but I never hear of anyone entering someone’s home and doing violence to them. There are occasional burglaries, but they almost always happen when there is no one at home, and if it does happen that there is someone at home, the burglars usually run for it.

    I can understand that people want to protect themselves, but people are almost never attacked by random strangers, and those very few cases are usually outside the home, so you would have to carry a gun anywhere you go. I don’t think even most americans would feel safer in a world where everyone was armed, all the time. You would then have the same power as everyone else, but any confrontation would be deadly.

  15. Oh Sam!
    I don’t understand why nobody on the gun ownership side of the argument wants to acknowledge the direct correlation between the number of guns owned in a society with the increased risk of becoming a victim of gun related violence. The chances of being a victim of gun violence in the US is 60 times higher than in Germany and almost 90 times higher than in the UK. Australia is still struggling with the transition from a gun owning society to one without guns, and it is a struggle, but I think it also shows there is a way out.

    More legal guns means easier access to illegal guns, lets say by theft or fraudulent purchases. More illegal guns means more violence. Additionally, when someone can expect violent response to a burglary by the home owner, the criminal is more likely to be armed as well. I also find the argument that a single man armed with a knife can only be stopped with a gun rather weak, trying to rationalize your own bias there?

  16. Sam Harris is an intellectual hero of mine. But having read this piece, it is intellectally clear that I would never place myself nor my children in his vicinity. Wherever sane and intelligent people feel the need to own firearms for personal protection is not a place for civilized people.

    Actually, it is now becoming clear that I will never again visit the USA, nor let my underage children do so. Thank goodness I don’t ever have to, and thanks to internet I can converse with intellectual Americans without experiencing the lamentable fear and horror of their physical environment.

  17. I can understand someone like Sam Harris requiring a weapon for self defense. He is probably a target for religious right wing nutjobs who will use their religion as their rational for harming him for speaking his mind and tearing apart their beliefs. But Sam’s possible reasons are the exception rather than the rule. There needs to be comprehensive and uniform (federal) gun laws that require each person who wants to own a gun undertake training and licensing (including mental health and background checks). There needs to be restrictions on the type of guns available with special licenses required for certain weapons, then all guns must be registered in a central registry and tracked by ownership from manufacture to destruction.

    The arguments that the gun lobby will use are “that then only criminals will have guns”. This is not true of course. People would still be able to own guns – just have laws that regulate this potentially dangerous product. To offset the so called pain on legitimate gun owners. Additional mandatory sentencing provisions could offset that and make committing a crime while using a gun unattractive as a diminishing return on the risk of a higher sentence. I would suggest the following:
    An additional 18 years without parole on top of any sentence for the base crime if a gun is fired (no injuries) during the commission of a crime.
    An additional 15 years without parole on top of any sentence for the base crime if a gun is brandished or used to intimidate victims during the commission of a crime.
    An additional 10 years without parole on top of any sentence for the base crime for an unarmed accomplice to the crime if a gun is brandished or used to intimidate victims during the commission of a crime. IE the getaway driver for example.
    Crimes resulting in death of a victim would still be covered under existing murder and manslaughter laws with an additional non parole period added for the use of a gun.

  18. In reply to #23 by ColdThinker:

    Actually, it is now becoming clear that I will never again visit the USA, nor let my underage children do so. Thank goodness I don’t ever have to, and thanks to internet I can converse with intellectual Americans without experiencing the lamentable fear and horror of their physical environment.

    Admittedly, the U.S. isn’t the safest place in the world. That is no reason to lock your children in a golden cage.

  19. In reply to #3 by MilitantNonStampCollector:

    How disappointing, coming from an otherwise rational mind in my view.

    What, exactly do you find irrational?- I personally lean towards strict gun control, but your critique borders on ad hominem lite.

  20. In reply to #16 by papa lazaru:

    guns… Guns! GUUUUUNS!!!! FOR EVERYONE!!!

    Yeah, I’m not a gun advocate, ‘but’… And here we go…

    You know, if you need your schools to be protected by armed guard (and should I say, private firms protecting public schools? hmm…), then you REALLY have other deep-rooted problems that needs to be seriously addressed. Is that really the mark of a healthy and responsible society? Get responsible first, then we can talk about your gun fetish.

    And if you have a collection of guns, for ‘home defense’, then you are part of the problem. I suppose, the tool for the right job, yeah? Snub nosed .38 pistol in the pocket, in case I get surprised by the attacker. Or a high calibre hand-cannon to shoot through walls and furniture and eventual pets. And a high-capacity semi-auto, if there are several of them and I need suppressing cover fire. And of course the always dependable ‘room sweeper’ compact pump-action shotgun.

    Sensationalism Alert!!!!!!

    No where does Sam H say GUUUUNS FOR EVERYONE!!!- In fact, he say’s almost the opposite.
    If you were a theist, I could guess what kind you’d be.

  21. I don’t automatically, or even semi-automatically think of personal protection from humans when I hear the words gun, rifle, or pistol. I suppose this is peculiar considering here in Alaska there are more gun-related deaths (I don’t know the accidental versus intentional ratio) than motor vehicle deaths per capita; but it’s the truth.

    And so I find myself watching this and other conversations like this (around the internets) a bit surreal. I wonder if I have a type of “Shotgun Syndrome” in that I am perhaps too sympathetic to an industry that in the long run is against my best interests and my country’s? Perhaps I’m too close to this topic and I appreciate the conversations people are having.

    Many points in Sam’s piece resonates with me but it’s always fun to have an entrenched opinion overturned. I will keep reading and learning.

    Mike

  22. In reply to #22 by tmittag:

    Oh Sam!
    I don’t understand why nobody on the gun ownership side of the argument wants to acknowledge the direct correlation between the number of guns owned in a society with the increased risk of becoming a victim of gun related violence. The chances of being a victim of gun violence in the US is 60 times higher than in Germany and almost 90 times higher than in the UK. Australia is still struggling with the transition from a gun owning society to one without guns, and it is a struggle, but I think it also shows there is a way out.

    More legal guns means easier access to illegal guns, lets say by theft or fraudulent purchases. More illegal guns means more violence. Additionally, when someone can expect violent response to a burglary by the home owner, the criminal is more likely to be armed as well. I also find the argument that a single man armed with a knife can only be stopped with a gun rather weak, trying to rationalize your own bias there?

    Your reply is almost moot. The sheer size (geographically) and amount of guns in this reason forsaken country means that only a measured gun control society is possible at this point.

  23. In reply to #23 by ColdThinker:

    Sam Harris is an intellectual hero of mine. But having read this piece, it is intellectally clear that I would never place myself nor my children in his vicinity. Wherever sane and intelligent people feel the need to own firearms for personal protection is not a place for civilized people.

    Actually, it is now becoming clear that I will never again visit the USA, nor let my underage children do so. Thank goodness I don’t ever have to, and thanks to internet I can converse with intellectual Americans without experiencing the lamentable fear and horror of their physical environment.

    WOW- What a knee-jerk emotional response lacking rationality.

  24. Yet another Strawman attack from Harris. This is becoming a trend, he gives made up examples of strawman liberals without ever once mentioning a single specific person or a single specific statement and then he easily refutes the strawman position he just made up. Please name one serious person in the gun control argument who is a “[proponent} of stricter gun laws often … unable to understand why a good person would ever want ready access to a loaded firearm.” I have never heard any proponent of stricter gun laws make such an extreme statement.

    But on second thought, I will make a statement that is close: I see no reason why a rational person would think that a gun in the house would make them or their family safer. All the evidence is that a gun in the house is far, far more likely to be used accidentally or in an emotional outburst to hurt someone who lives in that house than to defend them from an intruder. For self defense there is nothing like a dog. No one ever accidentally hurts a loved one when cleaning or playing with their dog. No one commits suicide by dog. No one picks up a dog in a fit of rage.

  25. As always, Harris supports his views with facts and well researched, well articulated arguments. It’s unfortunate, though, that he has used so many words to completely miss the point. If, as his article eludes, the numbers of shooting deaths really are so small and inconsequential, if shooting deaths are more a problem for inner-city black youths who bring on violence themselves, or the victims of the occasional psychopath, then why should the average American be so afraid to have gun ownership more strictly regulated? If the chances of the average American citizen being shot are really so remote (with numbers declining as Harris points out), then what does the “virtuous” gun-owner need a gun for?

    The answer seems obvious to anyone who does not live a gun culture: a gun is simply a pacifier to help sooth the complete and utter paranoia that gun advocates seem to live with. This fear seems compounded when people like Harris look for reasons to justify arming average citizens, in case they need to take down the occasional psychopath, or black guy on drugs, who wonders into their neighbourhood. (Thankfully, he hasn’t made the good old Second Amendment argument – aka “the government is going to get ya.”) In other words, even though the average American will go his entire life, NEVER encountering a situation that calls for a gun, it’s better to be on guard with a gun handy because everybody thinks EVERYBODY ELSE is on guard and has a gun handy.

    No, the issue is not legal rights for gun ownership. The issue is America is full of FEAR, and that’s a cultural problem that is not helped by attitudes expressed in Harris’ article.

  26. In reply to #25 by zengardener:

    Admittedly, the U.S. isn’t the safest place in the world. That is no reason to lock your children in a golden cage.

    I’m sure the US is in many ways a wonderful place to both visit and live. However, I have managed to visit about 40 other countries since my last time in the US, and these years certainly didn’t feel like living in a cage. There’s plenty to experience in this world without having to share the sidewalk with civilians carrying concealed firearms. Such a fear of others is a dangerous thing.

    So unless my children insist on working for some admirable humanitarian causes, they can skip certain countries.

  27. Sure, criminals, by definition, don’t respect laws. In countries where guns are forbidden, only criminals and the police have guns. But chronic mass-murders in American schools are not perpetrated by criminals ; only by your ordinary crazy freaks. Every country have it’s share of ordinary crazy freaks,but only in the US can they freely be heavily armed. Facts prove that there is a correlation, in the US, between gun ownership and gun violence.

  28. Firearm technology is roughly 700 years old
    Riflery is around 500 years old
    repeating firearms are in the neighborhood of 200 years old

    Back in Junior High my friends and I built home made muzzle loaders in shop class and whipped up propellants using supplies from the chem lab

    With modern CNC machinery and some rough metal stock the enterprising machinist can build non-serialized AR and AK knock offs all day long

    If you think that the propellants would be an issue I’d refer you to the War on Drugs…yeah let’s ban chemistry.

    I say all this to make the point that an attempt to have any sort of wholesale ban or prohibition on firearms would have the humanitarian success of the invasion of Iraq

  29. In reply to #38 by wdbailey:

    Firearm technology is roughly 700 years old
    Riflery is around 500 years old
    repeating firearms are in the neighborhood of 200 years old

    Back in Junior High my friends and I built home made muzzle loaders in shop class and whipped up propellants using supplies from the chem lab

    With modern CNC machinery and some rough metal stock the enterprising machinist can build non-serialized AR and AK knock offs all day long

    If you think that the propellants would be an issue I’d refer you to the War on Drugs…yeah let’s ban chemistry.

    I say all this to make the point that an attempt to have any sort of wholesale ban or prohibition on firearms would have the humanitarian success of the invasion of Iraq

    I’m sorry, but this is a terrible argument. You could say the same of bombs, for example. With some knowledge of chemistry and skill and resources, it’s possible to make one even if it is illegal. Should it therefore be legal to sell and buy high explosives?

    Sure, it is possible for someone resourceful to make a firearm. It would usually be easier just to obtain one illegally, through smuggling. Does this mean that making firearms illegal would have no effect on the amount of guns lying around? Of course not. People are lazy. Making something illegal means there will be less of it around, whatever it is.

    My personal position is that no one should be allowed to own guns for any reason, with the exception of low power air guns for sport(target practice). For many types of hunting, you can use bows. Sure, it’s a bit more difficult, but it’s not supposed to be as easy as possible anyway.

  30. In reply to #9 by zengardener:

    Where, exactly, does his rationality fail?

    In Harris’ view, people who don’t understand violence are the ones who wish for a world without guns. An oxymoron. He tries to put knives on a par with guns. This is misguided. A gun reduces and de-humanises people to instant Nintendo type targets in a way that a knife cannot. He seems to inflate “a world without guns” to its extreme conclusion where ” the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive”. Yes, Especially when those troublesome youths have guns.

    He claims to be in the middle of the gun debate but comes across as more pro-gun than anything else.

  31. In reply to #26 by zengardener:

    In reply to #24 by Eyerish:

    I was with you until you started into the mandatory sentences without parole.
    Such inflexible sentencing is unjust.

    Hi Zengardener,

    I understand your concerns about mandatory sentencing, however there also needs to be a deterrent to the use of guns in the commissioning of a crime. Crime will always occur whether we like it or not and my suggestion regarding sentencing is just that to start a ball rolling and see what other ideas bubble up on how to tackle the problem of gun violence. I guess there is also needs to be a pragmatic way forward and the likes of the NRA won’t give up without a fight, but with some form of harsher sentencing in place it may appeal to the moderate gun owners (voters) to sway their opinions in favour of more gun restrictions if they feel that if they perceive to ‘get something in return’ for tighter gun controls by feeling that they might be safer at home if the perceived armed home invasion threat is reduced.

    We live in a democracy and the politics of gun laws is such a hot issue in the US that is defended by many normal people who feel so insecure in their homes that they feel the need for a gun for self defense (even if statistically the chance of an armed home invasion is probably quite remote for most people). To sway the normal voter to support a cultural change to the attitude to gun ownership then harsh sentencing for gun crime is perhaps one way of allying those perceived fears and help move tighter gun laws closer to a reality. After a period of time and when people see reductions in gun related crime or suicide rates; then the issue of sentencing for gun crime can be readdressed as the cultural context shifts.

  32. In reply to #41 by Eyerish:

    In reply to #26 by zengardener:

    I would have stiff penalties for possession of an illegal gun, and stiff penalties for violent crimes.
    There is no reason to have a separate penalty for a specific method of committing a violent crime.

  33. In reply to #40 by MilitantNonStampCollector:

    In Harris’ view, people who don’t understand violence are the ones who wish for a world without guns. An oxymoron.

    It’s all about having the right people carrying the guns. When you call the cops, you are basically calling for trustworthy, skilled men with guns. Did you not watch the 10 second video of the knife attack?

    He tries to put knives on a par with guns. This is misguided.

    Knives are not very useful for mass killings, but against one person at a time, they can be very deadly. Especially if the knife man is strong and aggressive. He does not say that they are the same. He says that guns are equalizing.

    A gun reduces and de-humanizes people to instant Nintendo type targets in a way that a knife cannot.

    Some people like the feel of a knife sliding into their victim and the spray of warm blood on their face. Guns make it easier for normal people to kill, but they don’t necessarily make it easier for a murderer. This is a serious problem. The extreme case is Drone Strikes. All this means is that it is going to be that much harder for a person to defend themselves without a gun too. It doesn’t really change the equation.

    He seems to inflate “a world without guns” to its extreme conclusion where ” the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive”. Yes, Especially when those troublesome youths have guns.

    No. the Extreme condition of a world without guns means that the youth mob with knives and clubs does NOT have guns, and neither do you.

    He claims to be in the middle of the gun debate but comes across as more pro-gun than anything else.

    I think he is less pro-gun than you seem to. I think he is saying that restricting guns would be great if they can be kept out of the hands of those that would misuse them without disarming the people that would use them to good effect.

    I don’t like the fact that guns are under-regulated any more than you do, but this is a problem that can only be dealt with over a long period of time (politically). The quick fixes that congress is likely to pass, won’t have much of an immediate effect and they might not even have a long term effect. (I wish it were different)

    Before you respond, try reading SH’s article again to make sure he is saying what you think he is.

  34. Zengardener I agree with you. A careful reading of Harris’s article is needed to grasp his position. I started reading expecting to disagree with him and ended up following his argument and adjusting my position accordingly.

    In reply to #43 by zengardener:

    In reply to #40 by MilitantNonStampCollector:

    In Harris’ view, people who don’t understand violence are the ones who wish for a world without guns. An oxymoron.

    It’s all about having the right people carrying the guns. When you call the cops, you are basically calling for trustworthy, skilled men with guns. Did you not watch the 10 second video of the knife attack?

    He tries to put knives on a par with guns. This is misguided.

    Knives are not very useful for mass killings, but against one person at a time, they can be very deadly. Especially if the knife man is strong and aggressive. He does not say that they are the same. He says that guns are equalizing.

    A gun reduces and de-humanizes people to instant Nintendo type targets in a way that a knife cannot.

    Some people like the feel of a knife sliding into their victim and the spray of warm blood on their face. Guns make it easier for normal people to kill, but they don’t necessarily make it easier for a murderer. This is a serious problem. The extreme case is Drone Strikes. All this means is that it is going to be that much harder for a person to defend themselves without a gun too. It doesn’t really change the equation.

    He seems to inflate “a world without guns” to its extreme conclusion where ” the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive”. Yes, Especially when those troublesome youths have guns.

    No. the Extreme condition of a world without guns means that the youth mob with knives and clubs does NOT have guns, and neither do you.

    He claims to be in the middle of the gun debate but comes across as more pro-gun than anything else.

    I think he is less pro-gun than you seem to. I think he is saying that restricting guns would be great if they can be kept out of the hands of those that would misuse them without disarming the people that would use them to good effect.

    I don’t like the fact that guns are under-regulated any more than you do, but this is a problem that can only be dealt with over a long period of time (politically). The quick fixes that congress is likely to pass, won’t have much of an immediate effect and they might not even have a long term effect. (I wish it were different)

    Before you respond, try reading SH’s article again to make sure he is saying what you think he is.

  35. In reply to #39 by MahouShoujoMaruin:

    In reply to #38 by wdbailey:

    Firearm technology is roughly 700 years old
    Riflery is around 500 years old
    repeating firearms are in the neighborhood of 200 years old

    Back in Junior High my friends and I built home made muzzle loaders in shop class and whipped up propellants using supplies from the chem lab

    With modern CNC machinery and some rough metal stock the enterprising machinist can build non-serialized AR and AK knock offs all day long

    If you think that the propellants would be an issue I’d refer you to the War on Drugs…yeah let’s ban chemistry.

    I say all this to make the point that an attempt to have any sort of wholesale ban or prohibition on firearms would have the humanitarian success of the invasion of Iraq

    I’m sorry, but this is a terrible argument. You could say the same of bombs, for example. With some knowledge of chemistry and skill and resources, it’s possible to make one even if it is illegal. Should it therefore be legal to sell and buy high explosives?

    Sure, it is possible for someone resourceful to make a firearm. It would usually be easier just to obtain one illegally, through smuggling. Does this mean that making firearms illegal would have no effect on the amount of guns lying around? Of course not. People are lazy. Making something illegal means there will be less of it around, whatever it is.

    My personal position is that no one should be allowed to own guns for any reason, with the exception of low power air guns for sport(target practice). For many types of hunting, you can use bows. Sure, it’s a bit more difficult, but it’s not supposed to be as easy as possible anyway.

    There is no “bomb culture” in the US nor are there 80 million people building bombs and going down to the bomb range for an entertaining afternoon of blowing stuff up.

    It would require a police state out of a conspiracy theorists wet dream to even begin to enforce such total bans in the US.

  36. I have asked Sam to remove my name from his organisations lists. I am not into shunning in any way but I wanted him to know what a clunker this piece is. That it has some reasonable points is not the issue. I feel he is making points from a personal and cognitively skewed standpoint. (He has a lot to fear, sadly as manifest by his first example of threat “…if a person enters your home for the purpose of harming you…”. Where are the statistics for that? The mass killings are only 3% as he rightly says.) He has not produced a piece that will promote gun control as he claims he would like to see but one that asserts it and mostly hobbles it by its surrounding discussion.

    Nor is the piece extensive enough. Most individuals who kill with a gun in apparent self defence will have killed a little earlier perhaps than a trained police officer would have done, often needlessly and often not realising as SH does that only those wishing you harm are those you need to fear. The others you should simply run from as soon as possible and let them burgle or whatever in peace . Many suffer PTSD and abandon their weapons for good lest they have to face that burden again.

    Sam has done nothing in this to dissipate the corrosive zeitgeist of fear in the US, nor the insanely high desire for punishment (a quarter of the world’s prisoners are American) which undoubtedly leaks into the blithe societal acceptance of the lethal rough justice self-defenders dole out in their blind panic.

  37. My (possibly insane) plan for fixing this problem runs like this.

    Obama directs hundreds of millions of dollars from the military budget to perfect smart guns. (I know they’ve been around since 1975, but technology is moving rapidly on.) These are for military use first and foremost and comprise owner ID locks and supplementing with gsm, gps and inertial/gyro interpolating of location data. The military should have guns that cannot be used against themselves. They need to be located and tracked to prevent illict arms trading with enemies etc.

    Then rolling out a decade long billion dollar recall of all dumb weaponry in the public domain starting with the bad (and expensive) stuff first, weapons are swapped for vouchers for smart weapons. Guns become higher value and the gun makers receive a substantial boost to their industry, improving co-operation.

    Smart guns will indeed be less reliable, but even if they are ten times worse and move from 99.9% to 99% this could still be good enough to “make your day”. 99% likelihood of death is still pretty unlucky for punks. Police officers, people with very very high levels of training and screening may well have guns less restrictive.

    Now with the general public weapons can be controlled that inhibits use under a plethora of selectable conditions. Ownership, type of gun and location can all be invoked as appropriate for their selected purpose. Only by owner, in this state, in this country excluding these types of area (high population areas say). Or by anyone at these ranges. Shooting license for this park? No problem. Sniper rifle? No problem but many many enforceable restrictions including regular assessments for the license.

    The option of reporting all gun use is there also given gsm. If the police are present at a fire fight they could be given the right of reading the gun usage data. Dumb weapons would be identified by the sound and no supporting usage report.

    Dumb weapons must be highly criminalised with the support of the general population who should feel in their turn fully supported in having smart weapons.

    It is, of course, a wedge policy and can run as far as is needed in controlling weapons, finally telling good guns from bad guns.

  38. So criminalising them means they will disappear? Harris is arguing the situation as it exists right now in USA. And as he rightly says, the “debate” has seen a lot of poor thinking. His piece was not about dissipating the climate of fear (which you may well be right about) in the USA. It was about dealing with the reality of the here and now.

    It’s well worth reading the whole article on his website.

  39. In reply to #49 by flamenco:

    So criminalising them means they will disappear? Harris is arguing the situation as it exists right now in USA. And as he rightly says, the “debate” has seen a lot of poor thinking. His piece was not about dissipating the climate of fear (which you may well be right about) in the USA. It was about dealing with the reality of the here and now.

    It’s well worth reading the whole article on his website.

    Of course I have read the whole article, and several times too. Sam’s best pieces are always the extensive one’s. This is a problem for the US that has very deep and extensive roots that will need a long term vision that is politically sustainable over such a period.

    His piece should have dealt with the particular roots of why a runaway arms race is in train in the US. Understanding the fear behind it is the only way to solve it, and per the illustration, the only way to understand why otherwise reasonable folk should contemplate Wild West justice as compatible with a modern society.

    Burglary has been criminalised, but burglars have not been snuffed out of existence yet, (except when they choose the homes of the well-tooled nervous.). It will take a long long time to remove enough guns to say the job has been done sufficiently well, but given the lack of US grown ups taking a clear stand on the issue it is not just a problem of sustaining a long term project, but rather more of simply beginning one.

  40. Well what on earth is the “long term project” you speak of?

    Again – read Harris again. He is not arguing in favour of more guns. He is explaining why trying NOW to exert greater control needs clear thinking and simplistic knee jerk reaction is no good. I’m with him on that.

    In reply to #50 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #49 by flamenco:

    So criminalising them means they will disappear? Harris is arguing the situation as it exists right now in USA. And as he rightly says, the “debate” has seen a lot of poor thinking. His piece was not about dissipating the climate of fear (which you may well be right about) in the USA. It was about dealing with the reality of the here and now.

    It’s well worth reading the whole article on his website.

    Of course I have read the whole article, and several times too. Sam’s best pieces are always the extensive one’s. This is a problem for the US that has very deep and extensive roots that will need a long term vision that is politically sustainable over such a period.

    His piece should have dealt with the particular roots of why a runaway arms race is in train in the US. Understanding the fear behind it is the only way to solve it, and per the illustration, the only way to understand why otherwise reasonable folk should contemplate Wild West justice as compatible with a modern society.

    Burglary has been criminalised, but burglars have not been snuffed out of existence yet, (except when they choose the homes of the well-tooled nervous.). It will take a long long time to remove enough guns to say the job has been done sufficiently well, but given the lack of US grown ups taking a clear stand on the issue it is not just a problem of sustaining a long term project, but rather more of simply beginning one.

  41. In reply to #51 by flamenco:

    Well what on earth is the “long term project” you speak of?

    Again – read Harris again.

    And perhaps if you could point out where I have said that Sam has not declared in favour of gun control. I said

    “He has not produced a piece that will promote gun control as he claims he would like to see but one that asserts it and mostly hobbles it by its surrounding discussion.”

    My argument regarding his gun control advocacy was that it was seriously compromised.

    The long term project is to ween American society off its serious gun habit.

  42. In reply to #8 by NoDesigner:

    “Just imagine how a few men with box cutters would now be greeted by their fellow passengers at 30,000 feet.”

    Yes, I agree that we now understand box cutters have no place on an airplane and presumably should elicit a ‘defensive reaction.’ I would hope to extend that mentality to future reactions to a gun in a school.

    Box cutters. Nail scissors. Knitting needles. Airline security now seems to be terrified that someone will launch a crochet attack on the crew, or attempt to manicure them to death. Nonsense, of course. But the Box Cutter myth is now firmly established. Along with mosques and Japanese homes, air travel also gives us all the opportunity to remove our shoes for a while. How safe we feel. Is this the only way to ensure a weapon-free environment – scanners and searches on entry, overseen by well armed paramilitaries? Expand the TSA to cover schools as well?

  43. In reply to #45 by wdbailey:

    In reply to #39 by MahouShoujoMaruin:

    In reply to #38 by wdbailey:

    Firearm technology is roughly 700 years old
    Riflery is around 500 years old
    repeating firearms are in the neighborhood of 200 years old

    Back in Junior High my friends and I built home made muzzle loaders in shop class and whipped up propellants using supplies from the chem lab

    With modern CNC machinery and some rough metal stock the enterprising machinist can build non-serialized AR and AK knock offs all day long

    If you think that the propellants would be an issue I’d refer you to the War on Drugs…yeah let’s ban chemistry.

    I say all this to make the point that an attempt to have any sort of wholesale ban or prohibition on firearms would have the humanitarian success of the invasion of Iraq

    I’m sorry, but this is a terrible argument. You could say the same of bombs, for example. With some knowledge of chemistry and skill and resources, it’s possible to make one even if it is illegal. Should it therefore be legal to sell and buy high explosives?

    Sure, it is possible for someone resourceful to make a firearm. It would usually be easier just to obtain one illegally, through smuggling. Does this mean that making firearms illegal would have no effect on the amount of guns lying around? Of course not. People are lazy. Making something illegal means there will be less of it around, whatever it is.

    My personal position is that no one should be allowed to own guns for any reason, with the exception of low power air guns for sport(target practice). For many types of hunting, you can use bows. Sure, it’s a bit more difficult, but it’s not supposed to be as easy as possible anyway.

    There is no “bomb culture” in the US nor are there 80 million people building bombs and going down to the bomb range for an entertaining afternoon of blowing stuff up.

    It would require a police state out of a conspiracy theorists wet dream to even begin to enforce such total bans in the US.

    Bomb culture? Are you overextending the comparison? What is your point? That guns should be legal because people in america generally want them to be legal? Or is it that you don’t do sport with bombs? I think I mentioned that target practice as sport can be done with relatively harmless air guns or bows. Sure, many people would rather use real guns, but are you suggesting that people’s hobbies are a greater concern than the many lives at stake?

    Police state? Either you enjoy using strawmen, or you are missing the point. Of course a ban would not magic all guns away, but do you really doubt that the number of guns would diminish, perhaps(probably) greatly, especially over time?

    This isn’t about creating utopia, it’s about reducing probabilities.

    To take one example, marijuana is a commodity that is illegal in most countries(though for no good reason). We all know there is a lot of it available illegally. However, keeping it illegal reduces the availability and amount in circulation. I don’t use marijuana, but I probably would use it from time to time if it were legal. It being illegal makes it costly and bothersome enough to procure that I don’t use it at all.

    It’s the same with guns. Sure, even if they were illegal some people would still be able to get hold of them if they had the desire and resources, but there would be a lot less of them lying around. The number of planned murders might not decline, but there would probably be less accidents and random encounters with a tragic ending.

  44. In reply to #22 by tmittag:

    Oh Sam!
    I don’t understand why nobody on the gun ownership side of the argument wants to acknowledge the direct correlation between the number of guns owned in a society with the increased risk of becoming a victim of gun related violence. The chances of being a victim of gun violence in the US is 60 times higher than in Germany and almost 90 times higher than in the UK. Australia is still struggling with the transition from a gun owning society to one without guns, and it is a struggle, but I think it also shows there is a way out.

    More legal guns means easier access to illegal guns, lets say by theft or fraudulent purchases. More illegal guns means more violence. Additionally, when someone can expect violent response to a burglary by the home owner, the criminal is more likely to be armed as well. I also find the argument that a single man armed with a knife can only be stopped with a gun rather weak, trying to rationalize your own bias there?

    Not sure where you are getting your info on Australia and its supposed gun problem, but it’s not true. We’ve never had much of a gun problem, and since 1996, many gun types are banned altogether, and you must have a “legitimate” reason for owning a gun. “Legitimate” specifically excludes self defence, and there are a number of other onerous requirements to obtain and retain a gun license.

    That’s not to say we don’t have problems, or that we dont have some gun violence, like all countries we do, but we’ve never had a widespread gun ownership culture.

  45. In reply to #54 by OHooligan:

    I enjoyed seeing “somewhere outside the USA” equated with “a golden cage”.

    You miss interpret me. I did not mean that restricting his children’s access to the U.S. would be locking them in a golden cage. I meant that if he restricted them from going anywhere as dangerous as the U.S. he would be locking them in a golden cage.

    Perhaps it was a bad choice of words on my part.
    Somehow he has managed to find 40 other countries to visit that are safer than the U.S. or else he has agreed to let them go to countries that are more dangerous than the U.S.. I would very much like to see the list of 40 countries safer than the U.S..

    That civilians are allowed to carry concealed weapons is just one aspect of our laws, but should not override one’s consideration of the overall level of safety. Are there safer countries to visit that also allow concealed weapons? Are there more dangerous countries that don’t?

    It seems a small detail to focus on.

    If you were referring to some other comment, please ignore this one.

  46. In reply to #57 by zengardener:

    In reply to #54 by OHooligan:

    I enjoyed seeing “somewhere outside the USA” equated with “a golden cage”.

    You miss interpret me. I did not mean that restricting his children’s access to the U.S. would be locking them in a golden cage. I meant that if he restricted them from going anywhere as dangerous as the U.S. he would be locking them in a golden cage.

    Perhaps it was a bad choice of words on my part.
    Somehow he has managed to find 40 other countries to visit that are safer than the U.S. or else he has agreed to let them go to countries that are more dangerous than the U.S.. I would very much like to see the list of 40 countries safer than the U.S..

    That civilians are allowed to carry concealed weapons is just one aspect of our laws, but should not override one’s consideration of the overall level of safety. Are there safer countries to visit that also allow concealed weapons? Are there more dangerous countries that don’t?

    It seems a small detail to focus on.

    If you were referring to some other comment, please ignore this one.

    Out of 158 countries the USA is the 88th safest to live in. Global Peace Index

    It has moved down from 82nd..

  47. In reply to #58 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #57 by zengardener:

    Out of 158 countries the USA is the 88th safest to live in. Global Peace Index

    It has moved down from 82nd..

    I am sorry Mr. Rimmer, but you misread. The U.S. is 88th on the GPI, not 88th safest.
    There are many factors included in the index that have nothing to do with whether it is safe or not to walk the streets. Such as military capabilities, imprisoned populations, and perceived safety. If you want to see how safe the U.S., or any part of it is, you will have to dig a little deeper.

    The Index is composed of 23 indicators, ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighbouring countries and the level of respect for human rights. The index has been tested against a range of potential “drivers” or determinants of peace—including levels of democracy and transparency, education and material wellbeing. The team has used the latest available figures from a wide range of respected sources, including the International Institute of Strategic Studies, The World Bank, various UN entities, Peace Institutes and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

    Military spending and transparency are important, but they say little about how safe it is to walk the streets at night.

    Another point that one should consider when traveling is the relative safety of the place that is actually being visited and not necessarily the average for the whole country. There are places in the U.S. that wise people do not travel, and there are places that are likely safer than where you now sit.

  48. In reply to #59 by zengardener:

    I made no claim about “safety on the streets”. Most of this discussion isn’t about that. Yes its an aggregate of many factors, but I think it is interesting and may go someway to explain why Americans feel so fearful.

    Having patchy gun laws is a recipe for patchy and counter-intuitive levels gun violence possibly at no net reduced level. Guns can leak into restrictive areas where it is safer for criminals to use them with advantage. Uniform control as I think you might agree is the necessary next step.

  49. In reply to #59 by zengardener:

    The Index is composed of 23 indicators, ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighbouring countries and the level of respect for human rights. The index has been tested against a range of potential “drivers” or determinants of peace—including levels of democracy and transparency, education and material wellbeing. The team has used the latest available figures from a wide range of respected sources, including the International Institute of Strategic Studies, The World Bank, various UN entities, Peace Institutes and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

    Military spending and transparency are important, but they say little about how safe it is to walk the streets at night.

    Sorry, I didn’t answer this as fully as I could, and I should acknowledge that the GPI isn’t the specific data you are looking for, though from a quick perusal of the narrower stats it mightn’t be too far off. But one of the key aspects to the GPI is looking at all the elements that contribute to the “peacefulness” of a nation. They quite rightly include elements that relate to population disquiet. Given the frequency of argument from the pro gun lobby that fear of the government itself is a major reason for gun ownership then I think the GPI is highly relevant to this discussion.

  50. Take a look at the statistics on children and teens killed by texting and driving, drunk drivers. Not to mention any other number of preventable ignorant actions we deal with on a daily front. Why are these slaughters not met with the same militant force. Are they just “acceptable losses”, ? These preventable daily death counts trump the highlited death tolls brought about by arms. School and public shootings are a tradgedy. Statisticly isolated incidents compared to the preventable daily massacre brought about by modern convienence. When I hear people talk about gun control all I hear is, “Theres a witch get her”…..Not gonna bother with spell check today guys.

  51. In reply to #62 by ApexDisorder:

    Why are these slaughters not met with the same militant force.

    Because people generally accept that legislation to mitigate such folly is enacted. Why such resistance to this call for mitigation?

  52. In reply to #61 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #59 by zengardener:

    Given the frequency of argument from the pro gun lobby that fear of the government itself is a major reason for gun ownership then I think the GPI is highly relevant to this discussion.

    Yes. I have wondered why the same people who support widespread and lightly regulated gun ownership are also the same ones who have a fanatical support of our military and soldiers in general.

    Make up your mind people. are soldiers, “Heroes, every one.” or are they willing tools that a corrupt government can easily use to oppress the people and install a dictator ship?

    Either way, fear of the government by the populace does not necessarily make it unsafe for a foreigner to visit. My original point was that it is illogical to refuse visiting a country based on one thing like concealed carry laws while disregarding the actual safety of visitors, and at the same time making an exception for humanitarian work. I don’t have the numbers but, my first guess is that an area in need of humanitarian aid might actually be less safe than normal.

  53. In reply to #60 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #59 by zengardener:

    Guns can leak into restrictive areas where it is safer for criminals to use them with advantage. Uniform control as I think you might agree is the necessary next step.

    I do agree. A federal standard for licensing and registration of a limited class of firearms would greatly reduce the number of incompetent, legal gun owners. There would still be those who had guns illegally, but with a buyback program in place, I think that the numbers would gradually shift.

    In time only career criminals and qualified citizens would have guns. That would mean a lot fewer accidents and crimes of passion.

    The class of gun legally available, in my opinion, should be manually actuated. That would include pump, lever, breech, muzzle loading and revolvers.

    The Criminologists and psychiatrist would have to draw up some sort of plan to restrict access as well.

  54. In reply to #62 by ApexDisorder:

    Take a look at the statistics on children and teens killed by texting and driving, drunk drivers. Not to mention any other number of preventable ignorant actions we deal with on a daily front. Why are these slaughters not met with the same militant force. Are they just “acceptable losses”, ? These preventable daily death counts trump the highlited death tolls brought about by arms. School and public shootings are a tradgedy. Statisticly isolated incidents compared to the preventable daily massacre brought about by modern convienence. When I hear people talk about gun control all I hear is, “Theres a witch get her”…..Not gonna bother with spell check today guys.

    Well then wouldn’t the answer be to give more attention to cell phones and drunk driving and not to giving less attention to gun violence?

  55. In reply to #66 by KRKBAB:

    In reply to #62 by ApexDisorder:

    Well then wouldn’t the answer be to give more attention to cell phones and drunk driving and not to giving less attention to gun violence?

    We can only pay attention to or do anything about one problem at a time.

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