Sam Harris responded in his blog’s FAQs to my last piece on guns. Both are linked at the bottom of this piece.
I begin my rebuttal as I began my last response to Sam Harris. I commend him as someone I admire. I also begin here as I ended my last piece, extending a hand in hopes of reaching agreed conclusions through reasoned discussion. This spirit is appropriate in a community of reason, and also because it best honors the memory of the many who have died through gun violence in America, even since we last exchanged essays on this topic. I expect to continue to agree with him over 90% of the time.
That said, Sam Harris does not offer persuasive evidence to contradict my original assertions about this horribly bloody issue. I share Mr. Harris’ perspective that ethical conduct can spring from a scientific view, and I welcome his application of that view to the field of gun killing in America even as we disagree.
First, as to gun violence against women, I wrote originally: “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.”
Sam Harris does not refute this data. Instead he asserts: a) domestic violence can happen without guns; and b) fire-arm trained women can, one hopes, better defend themselves. I agree completely (anyone would), but these statements are not relevant to the assertion at issue: “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 by guns.”
Sadly, a hell of a lot of women are killed with guns, vastly more than by the other methods to which Mr. Harris points. As I asserted in my original piece, handguns are very convenient when the urge to kill strikes, as it often does, with lightning speed, enabled with superior efficiency.
The vast majority of gun-owners are not maniacs. The vast majority are not planning on shooting their girlfriends, wives, or partners. It is sometimes months later, however, in a fit of anger, that the convenience of gun killing presents itself, often in a matter of seconds. These are the facts of life.
The many thousands of new gun buyers after the Connecticut massacre deem themselves to be just as responsible as gun enthusiast Sam Harris. Most are — but take a step back. Forget anecdotal self-praise or the responsibility of particular gun owners and face the bell curve. As the Harvard School of Public Health found, “guns in the home are used more often to frighten intimates than to thwart crime.”
Sam Harris’s anecdotal assertion about females in his own family being gun-trained does not extrapolate to the world of large numbers.
Think about it. The NRA and Sam Harris say that more guns is the answer. Okay. Play this out in terms of the highly trained women gun owners that Sam Harris suggests as an ideal. Part One (more guns) is already happening. There’s been a dramatic jump in gun purchases since the Connecticut massacre. Massacres are good for the gun sales.
However, Sam Harris’s proposal for a nation of highly-trained female gun experts (Part Two) is not something that will come to pass with any ease. In the practical realities of this world, in order to counteract the flood of even more guns in the random hands of jealous boyfriends and drunk bar-fighters, the government will, under the Sam Harris proposal, have no choice but to step in and mandate gun ownership by the selected group, and then force training upon them.
How, as Sam Harris suggests, do women in the US suddenly become seriously trained gun experts who carry loaded guns when on the street — and, like Sam Harris, keep costly guns at the ready in multiple rooms to guard against all points of entry? Who would pay for this unprecedented federal gun distribution program?
Remember that, as Sam Harris states, urban people, thus urban poor women disproportionately, face this danger. A gun safety class, marksmanship, emergency response, two or three guns — all for just one low-income woman? It will be required to do this for millions — if Sam Harris’s concept is to work at all. These low-income women who can’t afford the guns and training themselves must get government subsidies to the tune of four figures – each.
You may say that Sam Harris proposes no such thing, but then how is his plan going to be effective? Is there any other possible way? Are women going to volunteer for this training based on a blog entry that says it’s a good idea?
Another pragmatic consideration: what about the low-income women most in danger? Surely we are not leaving them out. So, yes, the only way this gun-expert woman concept is to work is with a massive government gun subsidy – immediately.
In reality, no can guarantee that the guns provided to all these women (in addition to costly expert training) would not result in more deaths through rage than justifiable self-defense, whether by action of the woman herself grabbing the gun — or by an enraged intimate. (just as current statistics overwhelmingly document).
Sam Harris states that it would be a very difficult political fight to remove handguns from American society. I agree completely! Indeed this will be a difficult fight, though one that has been successful – and very effective in saving lives – in many other nations. But if you want to talk about political impossibility, try the guns-for-all-women mandate (along with the training and gun purchase costs, to which this proposal inevitably commits America). It is a Gun “Welfare” program. It is never going to happen and it would (sorry) backfire if it did.
And please don’t say women can simply “volunteer” to buy guns (more than one each per Mr. Harris) and pay to get trained using them. The pep rally approach to arming women is a fantasy. Middle and low-income women can’t afford the guns and training that Sam Harris has.
What way is there to counteract the woman-killing numbers (twelve times higher, remember?) without a massive and probably unconstitutional federal mandate? The protection of women with more guns argument doesn’t withstand practical scrutiny. Perhaps Mr. Harris and I could agree to a concept where getting a gun is treated more rigorously than getting a car, and government mandated safety training and psychological screening are required before purchase. Most would view even this as a huge tax. And it would do nothing to address the women, particularly low-income women, who live in an ocean of guns, but simply choose, or cannot afford, to buy guns and get properly trained.
The domestic violence issue has not been addressed at all, but even if it were, we face the overall problem supported by data: more guns in the population, more death in the population.
To his credit, Sam Harris does not deny (as so many NRA advocates do) that America gets a lot higher percentage of people killed with guns than other nations. His primary opposition to handgun removal is that it is politically impossible in 2013.
I already responded to that as follows in my earlier piece:
“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.”
Next, without contradicting how much lower the rate of killing is in other countries, Mr. Harris states that violent crime has decreased a lot in America. This is entirely true, but is, again, irrelevant. Violent crime, for reasons Steven Pinker has discussed in his most recent book, has gone down in much of the developed world, including America — but other countries have fewer people actually die from their violent crimes. Thus his assertion changes not one whit that the death rate from guns is much lower in these other developed countries, leading to lower death rates overall (guns or not). We are doing far worse than we should be and the reason is guns. Too many. Not too few. Twenty times rate of death from guns than other developed countries in a recent study! (see below). Twenty times. Let it sink it.
Mr. Harris points to violent non-homicide crimes and claims that non-homicide violent crimes are a bad thing, too. Well, certainly, everyone agrees with that – but, again, it is irrelevant. My assertion was this direct comparison between America and other developed nations: a much higher rate of people get killed here than in these other nations because of guns. As bad as non-homicide violence is, less death is less death.
Mr. Harris discussion of non-homicide crimes doesn’t fly for another reason. Mr. Harris, says a country like Sweden is a place with a terribly high rape statistic and pointedly states that we should get those Swedish women some guns to thwart rapists. This assertion certainly interested me (though it is still irrelevant to homicide).
It interests me personally – not only was my recently deceased mother a rape victim, but I’m a former prosecutor, a former ten year politician (the majority of my time was spent with jurisdiction over criminal law) and a former Chair of a Sex Crime Commission which offered substantive legislation that was passed. Given all that, I was surprised — and horrified — if Swedish women faced such a relatively terrible threat of rape. (Women worldwide face too much horror in this regard, but Harris’ specific assertion about Sweden is noteworthy).
I spent much of my career analyzing crime statistics, so this would be blockbuster news were it true. After all, Sweden, as a chapter of my book discusses, is one of the most atheistic societies on earth. It is a society that prides itself on the ratio of patents per capita and its highly developed civil society. So…Sweden…a rape capital?
As intriguing as the assertion is, it does not withstand scrutiny. The link below confirms the simplest and most logical explanation. Sweden is in fact so progressive on women’s rights relative to most other nations that its data collection on rape is very rigorous and its definition of sex crimes so broad, that the reality is that, while the number is high, they are counting a much different and more broad category of sex crimes. Also, for example, for sheer accounting purposes, multiple rapes against the same woman by the same man offered in one report to the police are counted as separate for each sex act, while the same scenario is often treated as only one rape report in other countries.
To illustrate this point at the other end of the scale, consider the recent gang rape in New Delhi that has gotten so much justified publicity. An analysis found that there was one rape conviction in this entire incomprehensibly large city. Is that because there was only one person guilty of rape? Of course not. It is in fact an indication of a highly dangerous society for women with a collapsed legal system. Sweden is the opposite, and is much more progressive. The point about Sweden is both wrong as well as irrelevant.
My original points in my first post on this topic stand stronger than before:
- 1)Killings are much more common in America because of guns (a point Mr. Harris does not dispute).
- 2)Women are killed much more frequently in America because of guns. There is no way to mandate — or “volunteer” — many millions of American women to buy and be trained with guns in some incredibly expensive government program, and it would be counterproductive were that even possible.
- 3)The Swimming Pool canard doesn’t work. Mr. Harris says in his response, as he did originally, that we must view gun deaths in context and compares gun deaths to drowning deaths, but does not note even the obvious positive benefits of pools — benefits that gun advocates cannot boast for guns.
- 4)Given the horrible carnage guaranteed by #1 and #2, we should attempt to follow the example of the many developed nations that have succeeded spectacularly in decreasing gun violence through removal of non-hunting guns, including hand guns.
An organized, concerted effort over years is an entirely reasonable endeavor given the number of lives pending annihilation if the current system continues. It will not be easy, not at all, but it is much more likely to succeed than a government subsidized training and give-away program. And, based on the results in other countries, it will have an almost certain chance of decreasing death dramatically if implemented.
Let me make two predictions, one melancholy, one optimistic:
1) given the makeup of the current Congress, transformational action in the next two years is unlikely and there will be more massacres and, even more horrific (and increasing) deaths in America day in day out, often victims of domestic violence, mostly with the use handguns and the latter bloody numbers will continue to dwarf those of intermittent massacres;
2) a movement can and will arise that, if organizational effort is applied, will capitalize on changing demographics and eventually reverse this gun-flood policy thus allowing people and rationality to ultimately survive and prevail, but there will be many unnecessary horrible deaths before American finally does the right thing, but we will and we will sooner than you may think.
I close as I did last time, seeking common ground based on reason and good will — most certainly toward Mr. Harris whom I so admire and who has done so much for evidence-based reasoning — but especially for the thousands who will unnecessarily die in America until we follow the highly successful example of other nations.
I was told less than ten years ago that a black president was a political impossibility in my lifetime. I was told this by an intelligent person who wanted race to be irrelevant. Many had heard similar statements from smart people.
This nation is changing demographically every day. We cannot predict all the trends, but the path of continuing gun violence is the path of death, carnage, and policy disaster. The path of removing non-hunting guns (including handguns) combined with strong regulation is a path of practical promise and a path of life – a path worth the investment of serious organized effort based on overwhelming evidence necessary to overcome the entirely weak arguments in support of the current Gun Flood policy.
The mythology of guns for protection:
The reason some developed countries, such as Sweden, sometimes have elevated crime rates compared to less effective countries:
More guns, more death.
gun deaths twenty times greater
Americans “far more” like to suffer violent death
My initial piece responding so Sam Harris
Sam Harris responds in his FAQs to my piece:
Written By: Sean Fairclothcontinue to source article at