Why I’m Not a Gun Owner

Last month, Sam Harris wrote a controversial essay arguing for private gun ownership:

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.

Although the piece goes on at length, this is his central and overriding argument: that carrying a gun is the most reasonable way for individuals to defend themselves from crime. I strongly disagree with this. I don’t own a gun, nor do I ever plan to, and I think less gun ownership, not more, is a more rational goal for society to advocate. Here’s my case for why Harris’ logic is faulty.

Harris argues that in the event of someone breaking into your house determined to do you harm, owning a gun is the only way you have to defend yourself. He may well be right about that. But a home invasion, as most people would recognize, is a highly improbable crime – as Bruce Schneier would put it, a “movie-plot threat“. Holders of high office and other public figures have legitimate reason to worry about assassination or kidnapping (which is why they have armed and trained security), but the vast majority of us don’t. Even most burglars try to strike when no one is home, for obvious reasons.

To balance against that rare risk, there’s the undeniable fact that keeping a gun in your home makes it a more dangerous place every single day. What if I mistake a friend or a family member for a home invader and shoot them? What if the gun accidentally goes off and hits me or someone else? What if a person in my home uses my gun to commit suicide? What if someone steals my gun and uses it in a crime? A responsible gun owner can take steps to reduce each of these risks, but they’re all much more likely than the implausible scenario of a home invasion by a criminal who specifically wants to harm me. Harris, for someone who professes rationality, ought to recognize that he’s committing the fallacy of misleading vividness by worrying more about a rare but spectacular crime than a commonplace danger.

The same logic applies to another common justification for gun ownership which Harris didn’t cite: the macho fantasy of an armed citizen happening across and foiling a slaughter in progress. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that an ordinary passerby carrying a gun would ever be in a situation to stop a mass shooting (in fact, this has never happened). But what is likely is that widespread gun ownership would increase the rate of everyday violence, turning an altercation that might otherwise end in yelling, or at worst a fistfight, into a lethal duel.

I’m not saying there’s no reason whatsoever to own a gun. I think there are some legitimate recreational uses for them – hunting, for example, especially if it’s to control the population of invasive species like wild pigs or pest species like deer whose natural predators we’ve wiped out. And current or former members of the police or the military, people who have specialized training, probably have better justification for carrying a gun than most.

But much gun ownership, I fear, stems from a different motivation: the NRA-stoked fear that owning a gun is necessary to “defend your rights” against a tyrannical government. The idea that individual armed citizens could plausibly resist the U.S. military, or that such a step is ever likely to be necessary in a democracy marked by decades of peaceful transitions of power, is a paranoid and absurd delusion. In fact, I’d argue that mass gun ownership undermines the legitimacy of democracy, by weakening the perception that compromise and power-sharing are necessary and feeding the violent fantasy that people can and should rise up in rebellion whenever the government isn’t to their liking. (See: the Republican party for the last several years.)

The fact is that in private hands, guns are essentially just expensive toys, like consumer electronics, only much more dangerous. We live in a society that, by historical standards, is remarkably peaceful. And because I’m confident in my own sense of self, I don’t buy into the messaging of the gun manufacturers who try to make their customers feel insecure about their masculinity and then promise that buying a gun will calm that fear – no different than any other company that invents a problem in order to sell the cure.

Image: An AR-15 assault rifle, via Shutterstock

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Norm

    I am a gun owner,always have been,always will.Yet surprisingly I agree with Adam.I seriously doubt I will ever need to defend my life from an armed intruder,even if i were in that situation I think I would try and get out first.To shoot any person for just about any reason I would find to be absolutely horrific,however justified it seemed at the time.My guns are for hunting and target shooting only,people who carry guns for self defence might just end up pulling it out to discourage a violent act and end up shooting a person over a minor stupid altercation.If they didnt have it on them ,yes they might have a bruised ego or broken nose but not a corpse to think about.

  • http://www.twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    I don’t understand the “it makes the home safer if there was a home invasion” bit. If that were the case, your gun would need to be easily accessible (ie. NOT locked up) and loaded at all times. Oh, and of course within arm’s reach. This adds a RIDICULOUS amount of danger to a home, especially one with a child.

    “What if a person in my home uses my gun to commit suicide? ”

    This is why you will never find a gun in my home. We’ve got two people living here with a history of mental illness. A gun is the last thing we need.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    I was once been in the position of being in a house that was being burgled. I had borrowed the keys for a friend’s ground floor flat while he was away on business so I could spend a couple of days in London. The flat would otherwise have been empty which is why (I guess) someone tried to break in through the back window. I heard the noise, went to check, he looked at me and ran.
    Because I live in the UK there was no gun in the flat, but I can be reasonably (if not 100%) sure that the burgler was unarmed also. I suspect, in the US one or both of us would be dead.

  • James

    “Harris, for someone who professes rationality, ought to recognize that he’s committing the fallacy of misleading vividness by worrying more about a rare but spectacular crime than a commonplace danger.”

    “The idea that individual armed citizens could plausibly resist the U.S. military, or that such a step is ever likely to be necessary in a democracy marked by decades of peaceful transitions of power, is a paranoid and absurd delusion.”

    Harris addressed these points before you (but not others) made them: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/faq-on-violence

    Just saying.

  • http://deusdiapente.wordpress.com J. Quinton

    From Harris’ website:

    “If I saw a way that we could remove 300 million guns from our streets—perhaps by amending the U.S. Constitution and instituting a $150 billion buy-back program—then I would be happy to weigh the merits of doing this.”

    You don’t have to get rid of guns. You just have to make ammunition hard to come by.

    When I was in the military, I was trained on how to use an M-16 and .9 mm. What’s funny is that using these weapons in their official capacity I was more restricted on my use of them than the average civilian. I couldn’t just walk around with pouches of ammo, I had to check out the ammo just like a library book; I had to be accountable for every round spent or not spent.

    Since ammunition is not reusable, it would be much easier to regulate ammo. And if ammo is hard to come by, people can have all the guns they want, but they will be much less willing to shoot from the hip (heh) with their weapons.

  • Greg G

    A friend recently told me he used to have a gun to protect himself and his property until he realized he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he killed someone to protect his TV.

  • Darren

    ”Since ammunition is not reusable, it would be much easier to regulate ammo. And if ammo is hard to come by, people can have all the guns they want, but they will be much less willing to shoot from the hip (heh) with their weapons.”

    Chris Rock said as much…

    (Warning – potty talk, as if I had to tell you)

    Chris Rock on Gun Control

  • Darren

    This was a tough choice for me. Being a former farm boy, and former military, having a gun in the nightstand was no different than having a flashlight in the nightstand.

    But, I have children. Now, my oldest, she knew better. We taught her to stay away from firearms, and she has the personality to do so. My younger sons, though? No way. They take after their old man (who at the age of 9 completely disassembled his father’s rifle, removed the trigger lock, put it back together, took it out, shot it, cleaned it, disassembled it again, put the trigger lock back on, and hung it back on the wall).

    But, how to square my responsibility to “defend my family”, in the rare, though non-zero chance that we are the victim of a home invasion? How to do this without the very real risk of friendly fire or accidental discharge by my too-curious-for-their-own-good sons?

    My compromise, and it is imperfect as all compromises must be, is a fighting knife and a mag-light in the nightstand, and training in how to use them. The reality is that I would not escape injury in a violent encounter, even death is a real possibility. But I feel confident in my ability to deliver sufficient damage that a would-be invader would lose interest in the family iPhones.

    Sure, a 12 gauge would be a lot easier, and present less risk to me, but on balance, the odds of home invasion are much less than the odds of accidental discharge, so I am content with my current plan.

  • Bdole

    Pffft. You didn’t address the most important reason to own a gun that makes all your arguments so much hot air:
    zombies

  • Improbable Joe

    When my wife and I moved from a peaceful suburb to a high-crime inner-city neighborhood, I bought a handgun. Because it was just my wife and me in the house, I have a decent amount of range time from my military service, and we have no kids and no friends or family who might have accidentally or randomly dropped by, I kept my gun loaded and at hand at all times. I wore it openly on my hip when I walked my dog, especially at night, because I would rather be “crazy gun nut neighbor” than “easy target” in an area where the cops showed up for calls on my street a couple of times a week and you could hear gunshots every weekend.

    When we moved to another low-crime area, the gun was immediately unloaded and locked up, and sold within a month. To a cop, coincidentally. Because it was no longer reasonable for me to take on the risks of having a loaded handgun around, I decided to just get rid of it.

  • Darren

    “Pffft. You didn’t address the most important reason to own a gun that makes all your arguments so much hot air: zombies”

    Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the chain saw for my zombie defense needs.

  • trucreep

    I often think of this great scene from X-Men 3 (unfortunately a terrible movie, but the scene is great nonetheless). The mutant guy talking about the “cure” – and Magneto gives some wise advice…

    “No one is talking about extermination people!”

    “No one ever talks about it – they just do it. And you go on with your lives, ignoring the signs all around you. And then, one day, when the air is still and the night has fallen… they come for you.”

    It’s scary how two-faced our President has been when it comes to transparency and human rights – something I used to think was saved for the far-right in our country. My point being, just because it hasn’t happened, or seems unlikely to happen, does not mean it can’t happen.

    I found myself making the same arguments you’ve laid out here…until I took the courses needed for my CCW. When you get past the political BS, you’ll find gun owners are very responsible people. I would trust a person with a CCW/CPL with a firearm completely. They make absolutely sure you are aware of what you could call the three golden rules, and if you follow those rules, you are guaranteed to not cause undue harm.

    I get that the NRA has a bunch of unsavory characters, and their reputation is not that likable. The fact of the matter is, however, that gun ownership is a constitutional RIGHT – and there needs to be extra scrutiny when you want to restrict Americans’ rights.

  • ewok_wrangler

    Also, re “The idea that individual armed citizens could plausibly resist the U.S. military…” is doubly silly given that there have been several citizen-led overthrows of governments in the past few decades, and none involved citizens using guns. Libya and Egypt most recently; the fall of the USSR; the “people power” revolt in the Philippines. Once the bulk of the public was sufficiently aroused and enraged, there was no need for guns. Today, Syria might provide a counter-example more in line with the NRA’s fantasy, but on the other hand, the gun-wielding Syrian dissidents are not a majority (the majority is mainly ducking and covering and trying to stay alive) and they are not winning against a modern armed force. Only when enough of the Syrian military become disenchanted and desert will the rebels win, and then not by force of arms.

  • GCT

    The fact of the matter is, however, that gun ownership is a constitutional RIGHT…

    For those in a well regulated militia, sure.

  • trucreep

    GCT, while it does state the importance of keeping a well regulated militia, the courts have ruled that is not a requirement, and I’d argue it would take a very loose interpretation to say it covered ONLY a militia.

    Also, Ewok, just who do you think has armed the dissidents in Syria??? I’m not going to say one side is winning, but most people will tell you that the fall of the government is imminent (I’m using the actual definition of imminent here, not the Obama Administration’s definition ;]), and that is NOT because of defections.

    It’s my understanding that citizens were armed in overthrowing Qaddafi…they couldn’t have executed him otherwise.

  • trikepilot

    I am a gun owner. I keep them locked up in gun safes. I do not worry about having to protect myself in one of the safest cities in America. I am for background checks on all gun sales even to family members. I am for restricting high capacity magazines and will return all my 30 round mags in exchange for 10 round mags. I am for restricting gun purchases for mentally ill people. I believe owning a gun is an individual right. I also believe that sensible restrictions can be placed on that right.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    I think anyone that uses the excuse that they need a gun to protect themselves from the tyranny of their own government automatically disqualifies themselves from gun ownership, based on clear mental instability.

  • http://www.cautionchurchahead.com Steve Ahlquist

    I think there is a fair bit of fear mongering in a lot of Sam Harris’s work. The idea of needing guns to protect from criminal intruders, the idea of needing to racially roiled to protect against terrorists, the idea of needing to marginalze the moderately religios because they somehow empower the radicals, all these arguments are based on fear, not on empirical evidence.

  • PLink

    In the argument on guns please stop saying that dude-bros with rifles can’t possibly hope to stop the US army. Please google “asymmetrical warfare” and look at places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Mali, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and other places where state armies are finding a hard time in ending groups that have political differences with non-state armed groups.

  • Lagerbaer

    There’s some serious goal-post moving with gun advocates:
    1) You need a gun to protect your home, dude!
    2) Dude, we responsible gun owners store our guns locked up in a safe, and lock the ammo in a different place.

    Yeah. These two can’t be true at the same time.

  • Kat

    I do not (and probably never will) own a gun but I have been trained in basic firearm safety and use because, to my way of thinking, it’s part of being a responsible adult. Like learning to drive a stick shift or diaper a baby or build a fire or taking CPR/first aid training; it might never be necessary but it’s nice to know I have those skills.

  • Ritchie

    It seems to me, while a gun is a useful, even necessary, tool for some, it’s widespread availability to the US public has turned it into a status symbol – an empowering and macho one. Therefore any suggestion of gun restriction feels threatening and emasculating, and there is nothing less rational than a man who fears impending emasculation. This seems to me to be the root problem.

    But then I’m British, so what do I know? I’ll just be over in the corner with Piers Morgan.

  • trucreep

    Heh, Spanish Inquisitor, I’ve often told myself “this wouldn’t happen here,” or, “our government wouldn’t do this.” Sadly, I find myself less and less surprised that is not the case each day.

    Never allow yourself to be comfortable in absolute certainty. I’m sure our government is absolutely certain it has the legal authority to kill civilians in sovereign states without prejudice, just as certain as you are that your government would never, ever oppress you.

  • nobody_special

    I live in a city somewhere in northern California (starts with O, rhymes with ‘land’), in an ostensibly peaceful, crime-free area. There’s been a rash of burglaries *and* home invasions, daytime and nighttime. While the probability may be low at any given moment, it sure as hell isn’t impossible or improbable. I look like the last person in the world who might be carrying a weapon. But my SO and I have purchased guns and learned how to use and handle them properly. We understand the risks. We accept the reality.

  • Azkyroth

    But what is likely is that widespread gun ownership would increase the rate of everyday violence, turning an altercation that might otherwise end in yelling, or at worst a fistfight, into a lethal duel.

    Which happened, about where I had been standing 20 minutes earlier, on New Years Eve.

    What if I mistake a friend or a family member for a home invader and shoot them? What if the gun accidentally goes off and hits me or someone else? What if a person in my home uses my gun to commit suicide? What if someone steals my gun and uses it in a crime?

    “It’s Darwinism in action.” *spits*

  • Azkyroth

    But much gun ownership, I fear, stems from a different motivation: the NRA-stoked fear that owning a gun is necessary to “defend your rights” against a tyrannical government.

    I think you’re understating the role of racism, too. Even the gun owners who aren’t explicitly arming themselves for their own version of Manson’s take on “Helter Skelter” seem to disproportionately assume there’s a brown person with a switchblade hiding around every corner.

  • Jen

    What would you say to gun owners who argue that criminals will be deterred knowing that people are armed? Are there any statistics that this is or isn’t a reliable deterrent?

  • http://twitter.com/johnradke jtradke

    @James – he addressed the first point by pleading that he’s an exception to the statistics, with virtually no justification. I mean, I’m sure he nor his family members would intentionally hurt each other with the weapon, and I don’t doubt that he’s not prone to self-harm, but he cannot vouch for his family members’ risk for self-harm. Nor does he bother indicating why his household is less likely than any other to have an *accidental* incident involving a gun.

    As for the second one, it seems he’s in full agreement with Adam, so I’m not sure why that was brought up.

  • Tim

    What you call “The implausible scenario of a home invasion” is not that implausible. There has been a surge in cases reported and confirmed by police in my city (population about 1 million) during the past three months or so. (I can’t give you the precise statistics but I watch the local news every night and can verify the apparent rise in frequency.) I don’t own a gun but I do have a very solid baseball bat in my bedroom closet.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2013/01/breaking-the-surface/ J. James

    The problem with the modern second amendment is that is does not go far ENOUGH. As the NRA says, the second amendment is a safeguard against the government attempting a dictatorial takeover. We currently require background checks to be able to carry guns. Excuse me, since when have rights been subject to such negotiation? If you aren’t currently in prison, everyone has the RIGHT to a gun. Furthermore, current guns are largely ineffective when it comes to actually repulsing a hostile government takeover. Fully automatic guns should therefore be legalized. In fact, all military armaments and surplus should be not only legally available, but heavily SUBSIDIZED, in order to give the public at large at least a shadow of a hope of standing against the New World Order. After all, if we are incapable of fighting total war against the government, they would steamroll over us with ease. Open the way to tanks, fighter planes, anti-aircraft emplacements, shoulder-fired missiles, RPGs, miniguns and backpack nukes.

    … Or, you know, we could simply acknowledge that that particular interpretation of the second amendment is hopelessly obsolete and move on with our lives. But that would be CRAZY!

  • Andrew G.

    Some of the stuff that Harris cites in his followup is complete garbage – the usual kind of thing that US gun-advocates recycle regarding UK gun crime statistics completely stripped of context.

    The conclusion of any serious analysis of the UK handgun ban is that it had no short-term effect, and this is completely unsurprising since less than 1 person in a thousand was affected by it, and those people were already hedged around by extensive restrictions. Certainly rates of gun violence (with illegal guns) went up after the ban, but this was consistent with overall crime rates rather than any kind of causal connection.

    (It may be the case, though, that there is a longer-term effect here; gun homicide in the UK as a proportion of all homicide has been falling since the early 2000s, and one possible reason for that is the reduction in availability of handgun ammunition, even illegally; when firearms have been found on people like street-gang drug dealers, for example, they often only have a poorly-reactivated revolver and three or four rounds of badly hand-made ammunition.)

    Any time you see UK crime stats quoted to support an argument about firearms, always take these points into consideration:

    1. The UK gun homicide rate is so low (around 30x smaller than the US rate) that factors with only small absolute effects represent a large percentage change. For example, a gang war leaving 6 people dead represents a ~10% increase in the national gun homicide rate for that year. (In this context also note that an area described as a “gun crime black spot” in the English press might be, for example, a poor inner-city district which sees 2 gun homicides per year in a population of 40k.)

    2. Any claim that non-gun crime rates, violent or otherwise, in the UK changed as a result of the handgun ban can safely be laughed at.

    3. Claims that the UK has higher rates of violent crime than the US should be taken with a grain of salt the size of a small asteroid. One example of the problem with this can be shown by comparing rates of robbery: the official definitions of robbery are reasonably similar between the US and UK, and the rates aren’t all that different either; but as soon as you break it down into armed and unarmed robbery, a totally different picture emerges, with the US armed robbery rate being twice that of the UK, and the rate of people killed during the commission of a robbery at least four times higher.

    Claims that rates of assault mean anything without subdividing by severity of assault are equally bogus. Claims regarding rape rates are even worse – as Harris demonstrates by citing the rate for Sweden, which has the broadest definition of rape and the highest reporting rate of the countries mentioned.

  • James

    @jtradke: Point one: that’s a valid criticism of the third paragraph of the relevant FAQ, and one which Harris has not addressed to my liking either, particularly with respect to answering for his family. However, you gloss over the first two aragraphs of the response which, imperfect as it might be, offers some form of response to Adam’s criticism (as does the third, albeit even more imperfectly). Adam making no reference to this made me believe – perhaps erroneously – that he had not read the ‘clarification’ and therefore not factored it into his thinking.

    Point 2: so why is Adam writing his point under the heading of a refutation of Harris’ logic? There’s simply no need because it was not what Harris was claiming. That is precisely why I brought it up. It simply looked to me like Adam was tardy in responding to a post by Harris and had not familiarised himself with how things had progressed since the original post was made. His arguments/viewpoint would be stronger was her up-to-date (so the comment was meant more as a helpful suggestion rather than criticism).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking Harris’ side and personally think gun ownership is moronic. It all comes down to this Constitution/Amendment business (and I don’t want to start a fight about that as I’m a UK citizen and not nearly well-versed enough to be able to carry on with one): I can understand a certain amount of veneration for the Constitution – it was an incredibly foresighted and versatile document. However, I just don’t understand arguments along the lines of “it’s in the Constitution/It’s our Constitutional *right*”: give respect where it’s due, but the document is not infallible (after all, it’s got a bunch of amendments, and for a reason): with due consideration, I don’t see why certain aspects of the Constitution or its amendments can’t be changed as new information comes to light. Just like scientific theories. But any suggestion of this tends to result in an almost religious frenzy of denunciation, even amongst people who claim to be logical, analytical, reasonable, scientific, and skeptical.

  • GCT

    But any suggestion of this tends to result in an almost religious frenzy of denunciation, even amongst people who claim to be logical, analytical, reasonable, scientific, and skeptical.

    That’s sort of true and false at the same time. So-called strict interpretationists (like Scalia) will claim that the Constitution is sacrosanct and must be taken literally, word for word…until you start talking about gun rights. Then, they turn around and interpret the Constitution to suit their positions. “Militias? Oh, that’s not anything to do with my gun rights! We don’t need to worry about that clause.” At the point where they’ve twisted the amendment to suit their needs is when they become rabid about making sure that you only pry their guns from their ‘cold, dead fingers.’

  • John Moriarty

    Regardless of ideology there comes a point of no return where a gun is a genuine necessity. Unless one has the more desirable option to flee.
    Fortunately I feel safe enough in Ireland, not to consider this as a realistic option on my horizon, and hope I never have to. America would be better off without guns on the street, again regardless of ideology.

  • Azkyroth

    What you call “The implausible scenario of a home invasion” is not that implausible.

    (I can’t give you the precise statistics but I watch the local news every night and can verify the apparent rise in frequency.)

    GGGGGGGGGGGYYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

  • Adam Lee

    @trucreep:

    I’m sure our government is absolutely certain it has the legal authority to kill civilians in sovereign states without prejudice, just as certain as you are that your government would never, ever oppress you.

    I think fear and outrage over the U.S. government’s drone-assassination program is well-justified, but if they ever decided to use that weapon to create a tyranny at home, I don’t see what good a handgun would do. There’s no realistic way for any individual citizen, however well-armed, to defend themselves against something like that; the only way to stop it is through political action.

    @James:

    Harris addressed these points before you (but not others) made them

    He acknowledged their existence, but didn’t respond to most of them in any convincing fashion, in my opinion. Here’s how he addressed the point about uncommon crime versus everyday danger, for instance:

    I also realize that handling guns and keeping them in my home increases the risk of being accidentally injured or killed by them. I am also aware that other gun owners occasionally commit suicide or murder members of their families (or both)—and it could be that guns are more often used this way than they are to defend against crime (reliable information on the defensive use of firearms is very difficult to come by). But I don’t think these broader statistics apply to me…

    But, of course, no gun owner ever thinks those statistics apply to him (in just the same way that a huge majority of people think they’re above-average drivers). I doubt that Chris Kyle, America’s most successful sniper, would ever have guessed he’d be murdered on a firing range by a fellow veteran.

    He does acknowledge the point that individual gun owners could never plausibly resist the military, but I wasn’t really aiming that argument at him in any case.

  • CelticLight

    “We live in a society that, by historical standards, is remarkably peaceful. ”
    You obviously do not like in Chicago. And if society is so peaceful now, then why the fuss over guns ?

  • RR

    @Plink
    In the argument on guns please stop saying that dude-bros with rifles can’t possibly hope to stop the US army. Please google “asymmetrical warfare” and look at places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Mali, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo

    Here’s a Letter to the Editor my 19-year-old son wrote on your argument:

    With the increased debate over gun control in the last few months, many Americans have been invoking the second amendment as a right to privately own firearms. I am as much an advocate for the second amendment as any other American. However, It is foolish to think that you need an AR-15 to protect you from an oppressive government.
    Let us suppose (however unlikely it is) that the American government becomes hostile to the people. Citizens will be facing the most powerful fighting force in the world, the U.S. Military. The boots on the ground will likely be 18 or 19 year old men trained to kill enemies of the state. By grabbing your AR-15 (or any other kind of firearm) you have made yourself an enemy of the state. It’s a good thing you have your rifle to defend yourself, right? Wrong.
    The soldiers or Marines sent after you will be carrying rifles too and wearing kevlar vests. They will have trained with those rifles for at least a solid year, perhaps more. Some of them might even have combat experience. How about you? If your rifle jams, how fast can you clear it? American infantrymen can do it blindfolded. If you are lucky enough not to be killed in the initial exchange, then they will be close on you rapidly, forcing you to keep your head down with coordinated fire.
    If you are still not incapacitated, the officer in charge will have a variety of options. He could keep up the fight until inevitably stray bullets hit you. He could order his men to storm the building, in which case you will have to deal with grenades and other weapons designed to disorient you. He could order a tank to put a round into the building you’re in, a move to which you have no defense since anti-tank weaponry is highly illegal, as it always has been.
    The officer could order an artillery strike, and your rifle bullets can’t reach the artillery crews some miles away. He could order an airstrike that would destroy you and everything else in the building, a move to which you have no defense since anti air weaponry is highly illegal, as it always has been. Or the building or car you’re in might suddenly explode from a cruse missile or a drone strike, without infantry getting involved. There’s probably a thousand ways the military can kill you, and not very many of them will be prevented by your possession of a firearm.
    Sub-machine guns, bazookas, grenades, anti-air weaponry are all highly illegal, yet no one complains about these laws. What is it about rifles that is so important for your second amendment rights?
    If you are truly concerned about the federal government taking your freedom, write your representatives and encourage them to increase funding for your state national guard. Better yet, join the national guard yourself. There is a whole lot more to the second amendment than guns, and guns alone will not do what the second amendment was intended to do.

    ###

  • James

    @Adam

    Thanks for the response! Let me just say again, I’m not defending Harris, and in fact disagree with him on this matter in general and in large part. My point was that your case against him didn’t seem to be up-to-date.

    “But, of course, no gun owner ever thinks those statistics apply to him (in just the same way that a huge majority of people think they’re above-average drivers). I doubt that Chris Kyle, America’s most successful sniper, would ever have guessed he’d be murdered on a firing range by a fellow veteran. ”

    I don’t see how the Chris Kyle thing relates to “gun owners occasionally commit[ing] suicide or murder[ing] members of their families (or both)”, so I’m not sure why you mention it. Certainly, people in general have a way of thinking statistics don’t apply to them personally (smokers come to mind), but it seems pretty clear to me his inference is that he’s not going to kill himself or murder his family. I suppose he could flip out randomly, or his life could crash in such a way as to make him think this was the best option available for him and his family, wrong as that would be, but that’s surely *at least* as unlikely as a home invasion, if not more so (and no, I don’t have stats to back that assertion up) meaning – in his mind – it’s not a risk factor at all. Of course that doesn’t cover his family doing these things, bu that’s another matter. Let’s be clear on this: I’m not agreeing with Harris or his reasoning, I’m only pointing out that I, personally, did not think your original post demonstrated you were engaging with the totality of his case.

    “He does acknowledge the point that individual gun owners could never plausibly resist the military, but I wasn’t really aiming that argument at him in any case.”

    Fair enough, but it falls under your ‘case for why his logic is faulty’, so you can surely see why I thought you were aiming a criticism where it didn’t belong.

  • Buckley

    The question I have and am looking for is materials that I can pass on to my children (6 and 10) that will make them more anti-gun. My ex-wife and her fiancee found it acceptable to bring guns into their home recently and purchased BB guns for his child and mine. While I have joint custody they live with her and though I have expressed my opposition to guns and she gives me lectures as to how her gun is locked up. etc., I need to fight fire with water and give my kids the opposite argument that she and her fiancee is giving the kids. Any web sites or literature links would be helpful.

  • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

    As others have mentioned, the point I always make in the self-defense argument: The claim is made that private gun ownership is necessary for self-defense. I point out that privately-owned guns are overwhelmingly more likely to be used to commit a crime, very likely domestic violence or homicide, suicide, or stolen and used to commit a crime, than they are likely to be used to successfully stop a home invasion or similar crime. The rebuttal is always that responsible gun owners keep their weapons safer than that.

    Yes, for example, my wife has a handgun in a locked box, with trigger lock, ammo stored and locked elsewhere, and keys kept hidden in yet another location. That’s a safely stored weapon, it’s true. It’s also completely and utterly useless for self-defense. It is literally the case that for every layer of protection that you put in place to prevent a “negative” use of your firearm, you are considerably reducing the possibility of using it for self-defense (and even this leaves out the fact that in a domestic abuse situation, the abuser will obviously have access to the safely-stowed weapon, no matter how well it’s locked up).

  • Edward

    I think Improbable Joe’s anecdote touches on the heart of the issue – it depends where you live. Frankly, given the political shenanigans in the USA, even given the fairly consistent reasons outlined in by the letter that RR posted, I would still consider owning firearm(s) there. Likewise, if I lived in a violent city where the threat of violence was high (in the magnitude of >0.25 per year), I would consider carrying one.

    But I don’t. I live in Australia, and before that, New Zealand. Nobody (except the police* in Australia) carries guns. Merely carrying a rifle in public**, let alone a handgun, is automatically going to be classed as a threat and means the police SWAT team equivalent will be called. Carrying something like an AR-15 in a ready position is a good way to get shot by the police, who probably would not give a warning in such a situation.

    The result is that criminals don’t generally carry firearms, because when they do, it’s a good way to commit suicide by cop.

    This is possible because a) hand guns are not generally available, and b) our Governments are actually answerable to the public. In the USA, a) is clearly not the case, and in b), the government seems to be answerable only to money.

    Reading from afar, it seems that the angry tirades back and forth are less about who is right, so much as each side simply not being in the same position as the other when it comes to political power and general safety.

    * In both countries, the police have access to a full arsenal of shotguns, automatic weapons, and ranged sniper weapons, but theses are not carried on patrol.

    ** In public being locations where it would not be normal to be carrying a firearm, such as an urban environment. Farms, hunting areas and so on where there is a reason would not attract the same kind of attention.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com The Letter D

    “The same logic applies to another common justification for gun ownership which Harris didn’t cite: the macho fantasy of an armed citizen happening across and foiling a slaughter in progress.”

    My brother A (who lives in Chicago proper) actually stumbled on a crime in progress while he was out getting his morning coffee one day. Some dude was in the progress of mugging someone, just beating the living shit out of her while a bunch of people watched. He set down his coffee and pulled out his phone, called the cops, and walked up to the guy. When the assailant ran, my brother kept up with him until the cops apprehended him, then went back and retrieved his coffee. No gun.

    So, OK, it’s not exactly a “slaughter in progress,” but still, he saved the day using not a gun but his phone and his initiative.

  • Austin

    Owning a gun isn’t necessary, but neither is drinking alcohol, yet despite the fact that drunk driving accidents alone cost somewhere in the range of 25,000 lives a year. When you factor in all alcohol related deaths, it’s a 6 figure number – where is the push against outlawing alcohol???
    People want to outlaw guns simply because they don’t like the idea of them…I have a problem with that.

  • Dismoun

    I’m a gun owner, I hope a responsible one, a target shooter and hunter. I’m also a police officer. I keep my personal guns in a locker at work. I don’t see the need for a firearm at home to defend me from invaders, and when my job requires me to being my duty gear home, the firearm, OC spray and taser are unloaded and placed into a locked cabinet which I would be unlikely to be able to access if startled at night. If the law changed, and I had to give up my guns, or have magazines shortened down even further, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    I live in a rural area of Canada, with a vanishingly low crime rate. Guns are as common as dirt here. Kids go goose hunting before school, with shotguns in their cars while they’re in class (we try to discourage this, for firearms storage safety reasons). From late september until the end of december, virtually any vehicle I stop has at least one rifle in it.

    In three years working in this place, I have only met three people who own handguns, and I’m one of them. For most of these rural people, guns are a tool, nothing more.

    The only gun violence I have encountered on the job has come from suicidal people, in those cases, guns can make a suicidal person much more dangerous than they otherwise might be (particularly the suicide-by-cop type). I am not sure of a solution to this problem, firearms licensing takes care of the more overtly mentally ill, but even people who have never had a psychological problem can change, or be temporarily out of sorts enough to do something stupid. I don’t think it is possible to pre-screen out all risk of firearms ownership.

    Magazine restrictions are a good start, high-capacity magazines have no real purpose in civilian life. IDPA and IPSC are a little less fun having to reload so often, but otherwise…. more than 10 rounds? Learn to shoot. The problem here is that the law in Canada, while imposing relatively strict capacity limits on magazines (10 for centerfire pistol, 5 for semi-auto centrefire rifle, 10 for bolt-action rifles, unlimited for rimfire rifles) allows the existence of relatively easily modified ‘pinned down’ full-capacity magazines, that can be quickly and easily restored to their high-capacity state. I would support banning such magazines entirely. This would be helpful, I think.

    The states appears to have some insane system in place where something can be so dangerous that it is banned, and yet any that were sold before the ban was emplaced remain legal? What kind of sense does that make? There should simply be a ban, any magazines over the limit become prohibited devices (in Canada, about as illegal as a silencer) and subject their owner to severe penalties.

    Sure, only law-abiding people will obey the law, but where the hell do people think that criminals get their weapons? They steal them from the law-abiding people.

  • Figs

    Here’s a thing I don’t see addressed enough: For those who think the purpose of the Second Amendment is to help citizens protect themselves in the event that the US government slides into tyranny, what would that look like, exactly? How would our system of government, still functioning, still having elections, be defined as a tyranny? If we’re still limiting our presidents to two 4-year terms, how could this be defined as a tyranny?

    More than that, will all gun owners agree on when this tyranny has arrived? The answer, self-evidently, is of course not. Neither would the arrival of tyranny turn every gun owner into a regimented, trained member of an elite fighting force, communicating and coordinating with every other gun owner. It’d be a bunch of single dudes acting crazy in the face of an organized force, for the most part.

  • Austin

    “It’s extraordinarily unlikely that an ordinary passerby carrying a gun would ever be in a situation to stop a mass shooting (in fact, this has never happened)”

    This statement conveniently leaves out the reality that no mass shooting since 1950 has occurred in a place where civilians are licensed to carry firearms.

  • Discoverer

    @Adam Lee:
    I have gone back and forth on this issue so many times I can’t even tell you (you should ask tho, it might be entertaining?) but I am glad to see that what I am starting to consider as the most rational position is also the one you are arguing. I don’t mean to embarrass you, but I do sometimes feel more confident that what I believe to be the kindest, most humane position on an issue really is, if you have said you believe it to be :)

    And I believe you have rightly pointed out a spot where Harris’s article needs to be better worded, so that his justification for his own gun ownership doesn’t sound so much like a Dunning Krueger overestimate of his reasons (seriously, it would not be hard to make Harris’s justifications into an official series of questions that would have to be passed in the *incredibly* rigorous background checks that HE himself advocates be conducted), but I am worried that a casual reader will take your article as being contrary to Harris’s when you both agree completely in all critical points as far as I can see.

    Again, thank you for weighing in, so I could feel I have a more well-rounded picture of the issue!

  • Discoverer

    Austin says:
    “This statement conveniently leaves out the reality that no mass shooting since 1950 has occurred in a place where civilians are licensed to carry firearms.”

    I would definitely like to hear more about this – including rigorous citations for future utility!

  • Azkyroth

    “This statement conveniently leaves out the reality that no mass shooting since 1950 has occurred in a place where civilians are licensed to carry firearms.”

    Like Arizona?


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