Sam Harris Tackles America’s Gun Problem

Sam Harris, who seems to start a controversy anytime he talks about something not directly related to atheism, is now talking about our country’s gun problem.

It seems like a topic that could backfire (no pun intended) on him, but he handles the subject with a level of nuance you rarely seen from anyone discussing the issue. He’s not against guns, but he believes the way many of us (liberals) advocate for gun responsibility (“gun control” is a misnomer) is all wrong. The assault weapons ban, for example, would be meaningless since perfectly legal guns could be almost (if not equally) as deadly, but making gun licenses more difficult to acquire and closing the “gun-show loophole” could be helpful. In short, Harris writes: “I believe that good, trustworthy, and well-trained people should have guns.”

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.

Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world. A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want. It is a world in which a man with a knife can rape and murder a woman in the presence of a dozen witnesses, and none will find the courage to intervene. There have been cases of prison guards (who generally do not carry guns) helplessly standing by as one of their own was stabbed to death by a lone prisoner armed with an improvised blade. The hesitation of bystanders in these situations makes perfect sense—and “diffusion of responsibility” has little to do with it.

The most controversial aspect of the piece may be that Harris didn’t completely abhor everything NRA vice-president Wayne LaPierre said in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, even asking why it’s so hard to believe a “good guy with a gun” (my words) might have been helpful to have by your side during attacks:

Gun-control advocates appear unable to distinguish situations in which a gun in the hands of a good person would be useless (or worse) and those in which it would be likely to save dozens of innocent lives. They are eager to extrapolate from the Aurora shooting to every other possible scene of mass murder. However, a single gunman trying to force his way into a school, or roaming its hallways, or even standing in a classroom surrounded by dead and dying children, would be far easier to engage effectively — with a gun — than James Holmes would have been in a dark and crowded movie theater. Even in the case of the Aurora shooting, it is not ludicrous to suppose that everyone might have been better off had a well-trained person with a gun been at the scene. The liberal commentariat seems to have no awareness of what “well-trained” signifies. It happens to include an understanding of what to do and what not to do when the danger of shooting innocent bystanders exists. The fact that bystanders do occasionally get shot, even by police officers, does not prove that putting guns in the hands of good people would be a bad idea. Gun-control advocates seem always to imagine the worst possible scenario: legions of untrained, delusional vigilantes producing their weapons at a pin drop and firing indiscriminately into a crowd.

Keep in mind I’m only highlighting a few excerpts from a very lengthy piece — with many numbers/citations — so please read the whole thing before commenting.

Where Harris falls short for me is that he doesn’t properly distinguish between “good” and “bad,” “trusty” and “untrustworthy” gun owners. What happens when a good guy turns into a bad guy? There are plenty of mentally stable people I still wouldn’t feel comfortable around knowing they possessed a gun, even if they were well-trained. I don’t think I would trust their judgment when it comes to when they should use their weapon. (Hell, Harris knows perfectly well that we live in a nation where many well-educated people have absurd, illogical beliefs. Is it hard to imagine well-trained people who are still trigger happy?)

Harris would probably say I’m being paranoid and that being “well-trained” implies having the right sort of judgment in those situations, but it doesn’t make me feel much better about it.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ortcutt

    More gun-nuttery dressed up to explain why his hobby is essential. If bowling killed 87 a day, we wouldn’t be talking about responsible bowlers. We’d be taking much more dramatic action to limit bowling balls and who can own them.

    • CelticWhisper

      The problem (if you care to call it that) is that in life, there are some things that are more important than safety or the number of deaths avoided. Rights are among those things.

      Before I go any further, let me clarify: I’m not a gun guy. I don’t particularly care for firearms the same way I don’t particularly care for skateboards, orange shag carpeting, or Windows 8. They’re not my thing, so while I don’t hate them, I don’t really dig them either.

      What is my thing, however – what I do dig – is liberty and the preservation of the rights of the citizenry. For better or for worse, the Constitution states that the government does not have the power to infringe upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It’s something that government is prohibited from doing, no matter how badly government may want to (or how badly some people may want the government to). Now we can argue all day -and it’s been done, and I don’t necessarily disagree with some of the arguments – that times have changed, and that the 2nd Amendment was written in the flintlock-and-musket era. That the nation’s founders didn’t have “modern assault weapons” in mind when the Bill of Rights was penned. The point is that in any debate, it is wisest for an (ostensibly) free nation to err on the side of maximizing the rights and powers of the people.

      Consider also that history has shown that in general, people seek to preserve their freedoms while governments seek to curtail them. We saw it in a really ugly way under Bush 2 and the histrionic emotional overreaction to 9/11 with the Patriot Act, FISA warrantless wiretapping, and the (thankfully failed) Total Information Awareness program. We also saw it with Bush’s general impression of “I can’t make it illegal for people not to be christian, but I would if I could” with the blatant pandering to religious interests (I think it was referred to as “faith-based initiatives”). We’ve seen it as well under Obama with NDAA, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, the response to the Occupy protests and the transformation of airports into 1930s-Poland-style ghettos (complete with TSA clerks flat-out stating, albeit erroneously, “You have no rights, I repeat, NO RIGHTS, at a checkpoint”).

      Due to this general trend, it seems to me that we need to stand up for ALL rights, even the ones we ourselves find distasteful or that we wouldn’t personally care to exercise, because eventually it’s possible that freedoms we do care about will be threatened. We stand up for Fred Phelps’ right to free speech, as disgusting and repugnant as his message is, because we don’t want our own right to speak against religion to be curtailed. The same principle extends past different manifestations of the same right (speech A vs speech B) to manifestations of different rights as well (free speech vs freedom from warrantless searches & seizures vs gun ownership).

      I realize that the skeptic/atheist community is left-leaning in general, due in no small part to reactions to religious types associating with the right. People band together, it’s human nature, and I understand that adopting other causes from similarly-aligned political movements can serve as a show of solidarity. I also realize that I’m going to encounter nontrivial ideological resistance for going against the grain here. So please understand I’m not trying to kick the hornets’ nest or make enemies with this. However, I think caution is warranted when advocating for anything that would reduce the autonomy or independent agency of individual people in any way. We saw what hysteria and reactionism got us after 9/11. Hell, FISA was just renewed, 11 years later, for yet more warrantless wiretapping, and TSA has been spotted at football games, of all places. I think we need to tread carefully in the wake of Sandy Hook to avoid making similar mistakes. Restrictive laws are troublingly easy to put in place and even more troublingly difficult to remove, once entrenched.

      And yes, guns do kill people. Or people with guns kill people. Or people with guns kill people more easily than people with knives do. Or whatever – phrase it how you wish, but guns are dangerous. That was never in question. The question is, instead, one of how to deal with that. We cannot have perfect safety – if we take away guns, people like the SH shooter may turn to explosives or arson instead, which have the potential to be even worse if employed cleverly. This sounds like “choose between people shooting schools up or burning/bombing them down” but it’s more a matter of recognizing that there exist individuals who will be destructive no matter what means are available to them. Taking away one toy won’t solve the problem – be it black market guns, homemade bombs, or containers full of gasoline and a book of matches, people will figure out how to do damage. Call it the dark side of human ingenuity, but there it is.

      And it bears repeating – freedom and rights are, frankly, more important than safety. Even those rights which may directly increase risk. 236 years ago, we decided as a society that liberty was worth the inherent risk it presented and we founded a nation based on that principle and there’s no shortage of historical documents, quotes, snippets and references to show that “Liberty first” was the mentality of the day. I’d like to think we haven’t lost that conviction, even in the shadow of events like the Sandy Hook shooting.

      Bruce Schneier’s advice can be applied here – our time, money and efforts would be better spent on emergency response, evacuation procedure training (there are arguments that “lockdown” procedures actually create more targets than they remove, but that’s something I’ve not really researched and this post is long enough already) and services for the mentally ill to prevent at least some cases like this from ever happening in the first place. These will be both more agreeable and more productive than gun restrictions.

      • ortcutt

        You are aware, I hope, that until 2008, no Court had ever found a individual right to possess guns in the Second Amendment. Then with Heller, in a 5-4 decision, the conservative wing of the Court made up that right.

        You also talk about this as if overthrowing the government is a solution to what you perceive as problems with the TSA. That’s just insane and if you don’t see that, please get professional help. You are what I worry about, when I worry about people having guns. Unhinged libertarians who feel like TSA screenings entitle them to start killing people to “defend liberty”.

        • CelticWhisper

          Wait…huh? Where on earth do you see me talking about overthrowing government or killing…anyone?

          Also, you did read the part about me not liking and not owning guns, correct? I’m speaking in general terms here – individual rights are always worth defending even if the right being defended isn’t personally important to us, because eventually someone will call into question a right that is important to us. By standing up for all rights all the time, we demonstrate to those in government who would impose restrictions that restrictions will not be imposed easily or taken lightly. It’s not always immediately evident how important that is, especially when the presidential administration is friendlier to secular interests as Obama is by comparison to Bush, but sooner or later we’re going to be stuck with another POTUS who tends toward religion and when that time comes, it will be important for them to understand that the people don’t pick and choose which rights are important to them, so they’d best not even think about threatening the Establishment Clause because we’re going to defend one right just as vigorously as another.

          As for TSA, I don’t think their procedures are justification to buy guns and go on a rampage. I think their procedures are justification to abolish that particular agency and hand back airport security to the airlines, with landside security returned to pre-9/11 standards (walk-thru metal detectors, handheld metal-detector wands for secondary screening) while keeping locked and reinforced cockpit doors and the passenger mentality of non-cooperation with hijackers.

          As for the 2008 court decision, I wasn’t aware of that and I appreciate the information.

          I’m trying to be civil here but you’re reading a lot into my comments that I’m not actually saying.

          • ortcutt

            If there is no individual right in the Second Amendment, then everything you said about defending rights is irrelevant. If guns aren’t supposed to be the means by which to “defend rights”, then what is your point? To me, it’s simple. There is no individual right to gun ownership, so there is no right to defend. And second, there is no right to overthrow a democratic government to defend what someone perceives as liberty. So, guns are irrelevant to liberty on both counts.

            • Reginald Selkirk

              To Keep and Bear ArmsGarry Wills, 1995

              Over the last decade, an industrious band of lawyers, historians, and
              criminologists has created a vast outpouring of articles justifying
              individual gun ownership on the basis of the Second Amendment…

              • CelticWhisper

                An interesting, if lengthy, read. Thanks for that too.

                I should clarify at this point, as it’s become evident from that article that it may seem like I’m pointing to the Constitution the way christians point to the bible as an argument-stopper, that my advocacy for the right of individuals to arm themselves doesn’t stem from words in the Constitution (though I do respect the idea that the Constitution doesn’t grant rights to the people but rather grants only limited powers to government) but from a personal ideology that states that individual human beings should be given as much freedom as reasonably possible, and even some freedom into the realm of the unreasonable, just for good measure.

                It is at that point that I believe attempts to find common ground may fail. My love for the right of an individual person to live their life howsoever they choose (insofar as they do not harm anyone else or infringe upon any other’s right to live freely – which is not done by the mere possession of weapons but may very well be done by the irresponsible or deliberately malicious use thereof) informs the vast majority of what I say and do. I used to use the word “libertarian” to describe it but since that word has come more to mean free-market fetishism and spillover from restrictive social-conservative ideology, I don’t use it anymore. You could say that I’m a libertarian in the “I’m pro-choice on everything” sense as it applies to living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings, but beyond that I hesitate to employ the term. Perhaps it’s better to view my arguments in the light of Voltaire’s quote “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Extrapolate out beyond the realm of speech and into the realm of action (with the aforementioned provisions regarding harming or restricting others) and you get closer to how I feel.

                That said, I would be a hypocrite if I told anyone here – you, Ortcutt, Reginald or anyone else – that you weren’t entitled to your own perspectives on this matter or if I were not duly respectful of your stances, disagree though I may with those stances. I appreciate hearing your perspectives and I hope you don’t take from this that I believe you should be forced to change your mind or betray your principles. I would be livid and disgusted if I were made to do so; it’s only fair that you would feel the same.

            • CelticWhisper

              To pick a few nits, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everything I said about defending rights is irrelevant. Certainly that’s the case if a right never existed in the first place, but I’m sure you can see the merit in equally standing up for all rights that we do have.

              Also, I’m not saying that guns are a direct means for defending rights. We have other avenues to pursue a redress of grievances. The old adage about the four boxes lists the ammo box last for a reason – violence, while it unfortunately must remain an option to consider in some situations (to clarify, I do not think the threat to the ability of the people to own guns is practically dire enough to warrant violent response, though I do find it ideologically distasteful), should always be considered after all other options have been exhausted.

              Again, I never spoke about overthrowing governments so I consider your statement to that effect to be null and void.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        For better or for worse, the Constitution states that the government
        does not have the power to infringe upon the right of the people to keep
        and bear arms

        Here’s what the second amendment says. I’ll highlight a section of it just for you.

        A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free
        state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be
        infringed.

        • CelticWhisper

          I know, and that’s another point that’s been debated to death. I think it’s a question of which part people zero in on – I could post the same excerpt but apply bold tags to the part reading “the right…shall not be infringed.”

          Again, I’m not a gun aficionado or even a gun owner myself. I do, however, take notice when laws are interpreted in ways that may potentially have negative impact on the rights of individuals.

          I also take issue with your tone. “I’ll highlight a section of it just for you” is snide and unnecessary – I’m well aware of arguments in favor of and in opposition to the 2nd amendment as well as interpretations requiring, or not requiring, the inclusion of an organized militia or other structured military or paramilitary entity. To imply that I’m unaware of that is arrogant and reflects poorly on your capacity for tact and civility.

        • Robert Freid

          I don’t not think that is what the Founding Fathers meant by that. After the American Revolution the Founding Fathers did not tell their citizens that they had to give up their rifles to the State…

          Besides, why would they add: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” to the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution

          Of course we do have modern weapoons, which complicates things…

      • Sean Santos

        I am opposed to government overreach, but I can’t think of any scenario in which you could correct it with an armed citizenry that is not orders of magnitude more horrific. To say that your right to bear arms is necessary to check government power is logically equivalent to stating that you trust and armed mob more than a democratic civilization.

        • Sean Santos

          Rereading, maybe your point was not that you should have a right to bear arms to check the government, but just because it’s a freedom, and people should just generally be free to do things. I don’t see why it should be a fundamental right to have projectile weapons in the first place. Just waving your hands and saying that people should be free to do things in general doesn’t clear anything up. (e.g. I’m quite content with not having the “freedom” to kill endangered species, so not all loss of freedom bothers me. Why should loss of the freedom to own some weapons? L

      • Troglodyke

        Well said, sir. I agree.

        “And it bears repeating – freedom and rights are, frankly, more important than safety. ” Many hate this idea, but it is true.

        I am a slightly left-leaning centrist when it comes to politics, but on the 2nd amendment, I lean more to the right. Harris’ argument makes sense if you look at statistics. I think the emotionally-charged issue of children being massacred at a school, even if is a seriously small sample statistically (as opposed to the other ways in which people die every day) is what makes this so difficult to discuss. As an atheist I look at the reason behind the arguments against banning guns, even certain types, as opposed to the emotion. I imagine that it’s the randomness of gun violence that scares so many people; statistics show that pools kill more kids than guns, but we know where the pools are, and we can keep our kids away from them. Some “nut with a gun” could be anywhere.

        I’m as disgusted by the current phalanx of snap-em-up-quick gun purchases (before Obama bans them all!!!!!) by people who already have, in all likelihood, more guns than anyone *needs* as I am by the wailing and gnashing from the Left about how no sane person needs ANY guns–that all they do is cause mayhem.

        The answer will be found in some middle ground, and many 2A supporters are in favor of some restrictions when it comes to purchasing. But the hyper-emotionalism over the issue is threatening to drown out the real solutions.

        Most gun owners are not having hero fantasies about mowing down bad guys. Those of us who are trained to use our weapons hope that the only things we ever fire at are paper targets. The thought of collateral damage is always front and center when responsible people carry firearms. And banning firearms will punish the responsible people–never the criminals.

      • disqus_d9CI6cNVtD

        I wish I could upvote you a million times. Those who value security over liberty seem to be exercising a religious mindset, which should be anathema to an atheist.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    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?

    Reasonable questions, which Harris never answers.

    • Bad_homonym

      Stored properly the firearms should be locked and not loaded. If anything, correctly stored firearms might take too long to access and load to help in an invasion

    • sunburned

      Rhetorical questions to be sure, you know the kind that perhaps don’t have an answer.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Of course, owning a gun is not a responsibility that everyone should
    assume. Most guns kept in the home will never be used for self-defense.
    They are, in fact, more likely to be used by an unstable person to
    threaten family members or to commit suicide. However, it seems to me
    that there is nothing irrational about judging oneself to be
    psychologically stable and fully committed to the safe handling and
    ethical use of firearms—if, indeed, one is

    But what if one isn’t, but thinks he is? After all, mentally unstable people might be expected to have impaired judgment on this question. Or what if one is psychologically stable, but lives with someone who isn’t? Was Nancy Lanza psychologically stable?

    Carrying a gun in public, however, entails even greater responsibility
    than keeping one at home, and in most states the laws reflect this. Like
    many gun-control advocates, I have serious concerns about letting
    ordinary citizens walk around armed.

    But if your gun is locked up safely at home, all that wonderful stuff you wrote about protecting yoruself and others by gunning down bad guys is a lot of BS, isn’t it?

    • ortcutt

      What’s important isn’t gunning down bad guys or preventing home invasions that are never going to happen. What’s important is that insecure men can live out their childhood fantasies of being the hero and shooting exactly the right person or “protecting their families” from those mythical home invasions. That’s what guns are good for. The domestic violence victims, dead children, and suicide victims are just an unfortunate by-product of those unfulfilled hero fantasies.

      • Carla

        Please, tell me more about the unfulfilled hero fantasies I was having while there were two armed men hunkered down outside my bedroom window while the police tried to find them. I was just pretending to be Captain America when I went out and got my first gun the next day, right? Not everyone lives in your perfect, safe little world. Some of us have a damn good reason to be scared walking from our car to our front door every night, and can’t do a whole hell of a lot to better that situation. I keep my guns safe, and I shoot them well. But I am far from delusional when I think I might have a need to use them one day.

        • ortcutt

          Baloney. I’m sick and tired of this made-up shit to justify our nation’s gun-nuttery. Stop lying or feel some shame about it.

          • Carla

            What? What am I lying about? The string of break ins in my neighborhood? The fact that the people behind me were tied up and robbed one night? The gunshots I hear at least once a week? Hell, I’ll get a copy of the police report from that incident if you’re really interested. Just please, tell me what I’m lying about.

          • icecreamassassin

            Oh come now. I don’t know the veracity of Carla’s claims, but to summarily dismiss that reality as a possibility is myopic and reeks of a sheltered life.

            I’m not a big fan of gun-nuttery myself, but your assumption that Carla is lying implies that you think her situation is very unlikely or impossible.

            • ortcutt

              I’m been on the internet long enough to know that “Carla” is a dude who lives in a gated community with his horde of guns and masturbates reading Guns and Ammo.

              • 3lemenope

                I’m been on the internet long enough to know that “Carla” is a dude who lives in a gated community with his horde of guns and masturbates reading Guns and Ammo.

                Then perhaps you’ve been on the Internet too long. It’s started to do damage.

          • Godless Monster

            Made-up shit? What are you, a fucking twelve year old trust-fund baby or just a moron? Pull your head out of your ass and give your brain some much needed oxygen.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Please, tell me more about the unfulfilled hero fantasies…

          George Zimmerman, the shooter of Trayvon Martin, for just one example.

          • Godless Monster

            Talk about a weak and specious argument…
            For every asshole like George Zimmerman there are hundreds, if not thousands that have effectively and justifiably defended themselves and others with firearms.

        • matt

          Indeed. I’ve had a similar experience. Plenty of violent crime to go around here in STL city. Hopefully I can afford to move out soon!

      • Godless Monster

        “…or preventing home invasions that are never going to happen…”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheshire,_Connecticut,_home_invasion_murders
        Reality is a real bitch, isn’t it?

    • Godless Monster

      He stated that he had CONCERNS about letting ordinary citizens walk around armed, he didn’t say that all citizens should be denied the ability to carry weapons. Big difference.

  • BigJ

    Please stop with the gun talk. I come to your site because I find it to be one of the most forward thinking on the topic of atheism. But you’re losing me with your totally backward stance on guns. I would love to debate the topic with you, but I doubt you would appreciate what your site would become as a result. Please remember that while your audience may agree with you regarding faith, we don’t necessarily deserve to be preached to by you when it comes to other forms of delusion. Like the idea that guns are the problem.

    • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

      Really? You “deserve” to not hear his position on his blog? Give me a break.

    • Andrew B.

      Please stop telling other people what and what not to post on THEIR websites. Thanks.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      Or, you know, you could just not read it. The idea that because you like a site that you’re entitled to have everything be something you like is just absurd.

    • CelticWhisper

      While I agree that this has nothing to do with atheism and I’d prefer not to hear about it on a site I read for atheist news, as others have said, that’s not our call to make. I felt the same way about the deluge of gender-wars articles FA saw a few months ago and was to the point of closing the tab anytime I saw an article posted by Lauren Lane, but I’m fine with doing that – closing the tab myself and not reading the article. It’s in my power to refuse to read or acknowledge a gender-wars article, just as it’s in yours to refuse to read or acknowledge a gun-control article.

      This is Hemant’s blog and he has a right to post what he wants on it. You have a right to disagree with the content silently, disagree with the content vocally, or simply Ctrl+W it away. You technically do even have a right to say “Please don’t post this anymore, we don’t like it” provided, of course, that you recognize his right to refuse that request. None of us, however, have a right to tell him “You can’t post that here.” I think that’s reasonable enough.

    • AxeGrrl

      What’s with these posters ‘telling’ Hemant what/how his blog should be? If he thinks the topic of guns/gun control in the US is a relevant or thought-provoking issue, then he can write about it on his blog.
      It got soooooo tiresome with the feminism thing, and it’s equally as tiresome now, whatever the issue being complained out.
      If you’re tired of reading, then stop. You don’t get to ‘tell’ Hemant to stop writing about anything.

  • jose

    Nobody is arguing for the destruction of all guns, so I don’t know what he’s talking about. What we want is regulations precisely to prevent the guy with the biggest gun to rule over others.

    I don’t like that he ignores context when he talks statistics. He says ok, other countries are doing better than us BUT gun crime has gone down! Yeah, what he doesn’t say is that other countries have decreased crime, too. Then he says gun ownership rate is higher in the countryside, but there’s more gun violence in cities, therefore the correlation between guns and violence is weak at best. He never suggests that why might want to control for population density (if you’re living isolated at the countryside and only meet like 3 people a week, you have less chances to kill somebody), he just leaves it at that because it benefits his argument. etc.

    And when he talks about real, useful legislation that works in other countries saving real lives, calling them “liberal dreams”, I can only raise my hands in frustration. Whatever, man.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Travis-Dykes/19217851 Travis Dykes

      You almost lost me at your first point, because there ARE quite a few people out there arguing that we remove all guns from the population (excluding the police). It may not be being introduced as bills right now, but there is a lot of talk on it.

      His point on why those are “liberal dreams” when referring to assault weapons bans is that there are currently too many to buy back, and enough that they will continue to circulate widely after a new assault weapon ban.

  • John L.

    I must say I’m honestly shocked as I was expecting this to be another “Guns are the root of all evil and if we ban them everyone will hold hands and sing Kumbaya”. I don’t have time to read the entire blong post right now but just from the excerpts you posted, it appears to echo my sediment on this subject. I don’t disagree w/ the NRA’s position on this issue. We’ve tried banning certain guns and it simply hasn’t worked and statistically speaking (which Penn Jillette has also mentioned), gun deaths in America is pretty low when compared to smoking, drinking, abortion (I support the right to choose but if you’re honest about the issue, you are ending a life) and auto deaths. So what I want to ask all gun control nuts out there is this: When some gun restrictions are passed, that wouldn’t have stopped this or any other of the shooting anyways, what will be your suggestion then? Will you be willing to concede that your way fails? Will you admit that our children deserve a higher priority than cash in a bank?

    • http://www.facebook.com/phil.studge.3 Phil Studge

      If it echoes your sediment, maybe you’re just flinging mud too. :)

  • James Cape

    I’m tempted to simply catalogue the nonsense and inaccuracies in that article (“AR-15 wasn’t designed to kill as many people as possible,” “.223 bullets may just go straight through,” “a hunting rifle would be just as bad,” etc.), but I may not live long enough to complete such a project.

    • Andrew B.

      And what’s the actual reason you don’t try?

    • Godless Monster

      I am a former firearms instructor and use of force instructor and I saw nothing in his article that was erroneous.

      Depending on several factors, projectiles CAN go straight through a body with minimal damage. I’m just one man and I’ve seen it several times and heard of or read accounts of it by innumerable others. It’s more likely to happen at close range with a 7,62 x 39 mm than a 5.56 round, but it DOES and can happen with ALL intermediate or battle rifle calibers, especially with military issue ball (FMJ) ammo. Hunting rounds or defensive rounds…not so much. Those have a greater chance of causing massive tissue damage due to expansion and/or frangibility. Except for match grade sniper ammo, most military ammo is better suited for wounding. Hunting and defense rounds are meant to drop whatever you’re shooting at as quickly as possible.
      Admittedly, regardless of whether a bullet passes through a person or not, there is the possible issue of damage caused by hydrostatic shock. Organs can be damaged by the sudden increase and then decrease in pressure around the wound channel as the round passes through the body. I can shoot a man in the side and have the round pass through without directly penetrating his vitals and still blow up his spleen, liver, etc.
      It’s a crap shoot, really, but Sam Harris was not wrong.

      As far as standard hunting rifles potentially being just as dangerous, he’s absolutely correct. The M40 was nothing more than a Remington model 700 hunting rifle adopted for use by the USMC during the Vietnam conflict as a sniper platform. In many ways, most hunting weapoins would be better than their military counterparts for certain applications except for one important thing…durability. However, when you are planning on going to a venue to murder some folks and then off yourself, what does long-term durability or reliability matter?

      • gg

        It’s all a matter of perspective, a through and through shot to the liver, heart,lung, aorta or brain can kill you just as dead as a bullet that decides to stick around.

      • James Cape

        I notice you conveniently ignored Harris’ whopper about the design goals of the AR-15. (Which says really all you need to know about Harris’ grasp of the situation.)

        In terms of ammunition, DARPA specifically studied 5.56 FMJ ammunition, and their findings are pretty simple: when a bullet is heavy in the back and light in the front, the back keeps moving even while the front is slowing down (because it’s hit a person). A bullet that does that while it’s spinning will “tumble” when the front hits something. Depending on the how fast the bullet is traveling, the shearing force of the back of the bullet trying to overtake the front of the bullet will rip the bullet apart… while it’s inside a person.

        Does this happen every time? Of course not. Nothing ever works as advertised all the time.

        Am I comfortable saying that the military accepted (effectively) a .22 caliber rifle over a .308 because studies showed that horrific wounds are more likely with a .223 FMJ than a .308 Winchester? Absolutely.

        In terms of hunting rifles, you’re talking nonsense. Military weapons have evolved from muzzle-loaders (you put the bullet in the end) to breach-loaders (you put the bullet in the back) to lever-action (western-style) to bolt-action (sniper-style) to semi-automatics (point and click), to fully automatic, to selectable (pulling the trigger fires 1 or 3 bullets). At the same time, capacity has increased from 1 bullet to 30.

        There’s a reason for all this: the faster you can accurately fire bullets at people, the more people you can kill. It doesn’t even take a lot of imagination to see where the point of diminishing returns was reached on the graph—when they removed the fully-automatic mode from the M-16 and replaced it with a short burst, because at 14.2 rounds a second, you can only fire an M-16 for 2 seconds (and not very accurately) before you need to reload—which takes at least a few seconds to do and reduces your long-term rate-of-fire.

        A bolt-action hunting rifle, even if it is used by a military or police sniper, is not the same animal as an AR-15 (or other assault rifles), because assault rifles are the product of applied science: allow an unskilled, poorly-trained draftee to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible (because that is how infantry wars are won).

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

        You saw nothing erronious?

        May I suggest you wobble off down to the opticians and get some reading glasses?

        How about the stupid statement and blatant untruth that is his claim that the only effective way to stop a man wielding a knife is to shoot him? That stupid claim proven wrong by the fact British bobbies armed with truncheons disarm and arrest idiots with knives every single day?

        And then there is his and yours conflation of bolt action single shot hunting rifles with military style semi-auto style spray and pray rifles capable of taking drum magazines containing 100 or more rounds of ammo and capable of bump firing at high cyclical rates. The Bushmaster style weapon that is the emerging favorite of spree shooters and criminals across the US?

        Nothing erroneous there either?

        derp

    • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

      Those three are all true, actually. You could certainly argue their relevance, and you could go back and forth with someone as to whether each is perfectly accurate, but none are nonsense.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The liberal commentariat seems to have no awareness of what “well-trained” signifies.

    Oh, please enlighten us. And then explain how several hundred thousand security guards are going to be hired and positioned in schools in short order, and they’re all going to be well-trained, psychologically stable and responsible. They’re never going to accidentally leave their gun sitting around where a student might pick it up. They’re never going to blow their own foot off.

    Gun-control advocates seem always to imagine the worst possible
    scenario: legions of untrained, delusional vigilantes producing their
    weapons at a pin drop and firing indiscriminately into a crowd

    If you’re not considering the worst case scenarios, then your contribution is of very limited value. Maybe where you live, unicorns poop rainbows, but the rest of us have to live in the real world where the scenarios are not always perfect.

    • Godless Monster

      “They’re never going to accidentally leave their gun sitting around…”

      Accidentally “leave their gun sitting around”? Ridiculous. Are you even remotely familiar with firearms and how they are carried, presented and deployed by trained professionals? This is tantamount to saying that teachers shouldn’t enter classrooms because they may forget to wear pants to work one day. Seriously, this has got to be one of the silliest comments I’ve read on this issue in years.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Well, there was that one cop who shot himself in the leg while showing a gun to a classroom full of kids… but a single anecdote, since nobody was seriously injured. (well, I don’t think he was seriously injured) is humor, not data.

      • Sean Santos

        Saying that a thing that already happens is “ridiculous” might be true, but does not argue against it happening. All levels of professional make mistakes, and that includes, very rarely, police and military personnel whose own children have died in accidents with loaded guns. That’s why knowing the actual rates is important.

        • Godless Monster

          Again, someone showing their complete ignorance in regards to firearms deployment and carry by armed professionals in the field. Btw, nobody here was referencing home accidents with firearms, so you can save that for another discussion. Stay on topic. We’re talking about firearms carry and usage in the field…on the job. By PROFESSIONALS. Got it? Get it? Good.

          The weapon would be held in a holster and never unholstered except to use. Professionals don’t just remove their weapons from their holsters and leave them lying around. Where in hell do you get this stuff?

          • El Bastardo
            • Godless Monster

              Congratulations, you can Google. I never said that people don’t do stupid things.This was not a cop or security professional at work with a holstered weapon. Did I really need to point out I was referring to a work environment? This was a reckless asshole with his kids in the car. Nobody on the job just removes their weapon from its holster and leaves it lying around.

            • Godless Monster

              Congratulations, you can Google. I never said that people don’t do stupid things.This was not a cop or security professional at work with a holstered weapon. Did I really need to point out I was referring to a work environment? This was a reckless asshole with his kids in the car. Nobody on the job just removes their weapon from its holster and leaves it lying around.

    • Pseudonym

      There’s a huge continuum between unicorns pooping rainbows and the worst case scenarios.

      Concentrating on worst case scenarios can be counter-productive, because it can blind you to the world that the overwhelming majority of us live in. To use Adam Curtis’ metaphor, you’ll never dream of a better tomorrow if you insist on peddling nightmares.

      That’s a failing of both sides in the debate, by the way. Those opposed to gun control seem to imagine bizarre scenarios where someone could commit a mass killing using kitchen knives and caustic soda, or something.

  • DougI

    I can see Sam’s point. After all, the vast majority of airplane crashes don’t involve someone with a weapon taking over a plane, therefore the point of having metal detectors to detect weapons is pointless. So let’s do away with metal detectors at airports.

    Of course, this is stupid. Sam loves to build up a strawman and tear it down. Yes, we aren’t going to do away with all crime. Sure, a guy in China managed to injure 20 children with a knife, but none died, so the sensible thing would have been to make it easier for him to get a gun and be more efficient with the killing?

    Sam Harris again reaffirms my position that he is the worst Atheist “intellectual” out there. Sure, mass shooting with assault rifles constitutes a small percentage. Is it his argument that we must have many more dead people from mass killings in order to do something about it? That’s just plain stupid, solve the problem now like Australia did. They banned the weapons, bought them back from the owners, and haven’t had a mass gun killing in 16 years. Common sense. You do something to reduce the problem rather than just ignore it.

    I really question his competence when he thinks a revolver can be loaded quickly. The two revolvers I have take a bit of time. They certainly aren’t as quick as switching out one 30-round mag for another. If he likes then regulations can be required that doesn’t allow the cylinder to pop out of the revolver, that way it’ll take a hell of a long time. Regulation, you know, something that works rather than his idea of just giving up on a problem and leaving it to resolve itself through faith.

    If Sam thinks armed guards in schools would prevent the murders then Columbine must have never happened, they had armed security. Ft. Hood had armed security. Every university has armed security, didn’t prevent the largest school shooting. If trained, armed personnel prevented deaths then we wouldn’t have the term “friendly fire”. Harris is simply naive or willfully ignorant.

    Again, nobody is talking about a complete gun ban as Harris is arguing against. His desperation to justify his love of guns means he has to appeal to an illogical strawman to make his point. Gun control advocates, including the majority of gun owners like myself, are talking about regulation, the same sort of thing we have with automobiles. If he thinks more guns is the solution to gun violence then maybe more drugs and more hookers will solve drug addiction and prostitution. But that would be just as stupid as Harris’ blind faith in anarchism when it comes to gun violence.

    • Maleekwa

      Did you read the entire article? It sounds like you are the one building the straw man.

    • CJ

      I think you have gravely misinterpreted what Sam is trying to convey in his article.

    • sunburned

      LoL.
      “Of course, this is stupid. Sam loves to build up a strawman and tear it down. ”

      “If Sam thinks armed guards in schools would prevent the murders then
      Columbine must have never happened, they had armed security. Ft. Hood
      had armed security.”

      Err, He didn’t say it *would* have prevented it. He said it *could* have prevented it. In fact he spent several paragraphs explaining his stance, paragraphs that you have dismissed.

      >Again, nobody is talking about a complete gun ban as Harris is arguing against.

      >If you ignore the very comments that are present even here and that proliferate every single discussion of the topic.

      Because all solutions to all problems are the same?

    • Yabadabado

      Intial reports were that some of the kids in the Chinese attack did die, but the story changed.
      The Chinese Media lies even more than the Amrerican one.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    Remember the Liberty University chap a few days ago that thought that gay marriage would bring about a new civil war? One of the key problems with his argument was that plenty of places have gay marriage and yet, still no apocalypse.

    When Harris says “A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want” he’s got the same problem. Plenty of places have sensible gun control, and not only no apocalypse, not only fewer gun deaths, but lower murder rates overall.

    The reason Harris seems to ’cause controversy’ is because he says very silly things from a big platform.

    • jose

      Good parallel there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Travis-Dykes/19217851 Travis Dykes

      Your missing the point of what he said. He was saying if guns did not exist, that is the kind of world we would live in. In the countries with the most restrictive gun control laws, their police and military still have guns.

      • Pseudonym

        …which makes Harris’ point even more of a straw man.

        Nobody (as far as I know) is advocating a world without guns. Certainly nobody who thinks about it for more than ten seconds. Even the most ardent of gun control advocates will readily concede that guns are inevitably part of the standard toolkit for certain jobs. Even in the UK, police have ready access to appropriate firearms even if they don’t carry them. If you’re a farmer, equine vet, park ranger or any one of a number of positions, you need to be able to access a gun quickly.

        We all agree that it would be insane to ban anyone (certainly any adult) from owning kitchen knives. Similarly, it would be insane to let anyone own a nuclear weapon. The argument is entirely about where to draw the line. Harris understands this.

        Where I differ with Harris is the “personal/home defence” argument. Harris sees this as an ethical imperative; I do not. In almost all developed countries, personal defence or home defence is not a legitimate reason to own a gun, and with good reason. Unsurprisingly, the gun violence rate is correspondingly lower in those places.

        (Incidentally, nobody knows if stricter gun control has any effect on the rate of other types of assault, including sexual assault. There are many reasons for this, including under-reporting, different definitions of rape, and differing counting methodologies. However, most studies would seem to indicate that the rates of violence in general are largely dominated by culture.)

        Reading Harris’ piece, I get a subtext of despair under a thin veneer of trying to explain things rationally. He’s absolutely right that gun control advocates routinely embarrass themselves in public debate by clearly not knowing anything about firearms. But the central message seems to be that tighter gun control won’t work in the United States because the United States is already screwed.

        I do like Harris’ conclusion as far as it goes. The US has a culture that the responsibility for crime is on the perpetrator, every perpetrator, and them alone. Harris is right to point out that this is naive. Reducing gun violence is everyone’s responsibility.

        What he doesn’t seem to understand is that, just as with nuclear weapons, the only way you end a pointless, destructive arms race is with both sides committing to disarm.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

          “Even in the UK police have ready access to guns….”

          No they do NOT. Armed police are a special highly trained and highly monitored sub set of the police force, and ONLY they can carry and use firearms. Regular police have NO access to guns, and NO ability to legally use one. They must call out the armed squad cars to deal with incidents. A regular police bobby for example who was getting shot at, and used a weapon recovered at the crime scene to fire back, would first loose their job and pension, then be tried for illegal possession and use of a firearm. On conviction they would then face a mandatory 5 year sentence in prison. No exceptions, no excuses.

          In Britain we like our bobbies unarmed, and they like things that way too.

          They every day in the course of their duties also proudly discredit Sam’s stupid and patently untrue claim that the only way to deal with a man armed with a knife is to shoot him. Really Sam? And I should respect your other musings why….?

          • Pseudonym

            You’re right.

            I know that UK police are almost all unarmed, but I heard a report some years ago that Metropolitan Police area cars did contain guns in a locked compartment. It turns out that this was just a plan, and didn’t happen.

            Incidentally, where I live in Victoria (Australia), there was a pubic enquiry into the overuse of guns in situations where an assailant was not holding a gun. They recommended lots of retraining in alternative options, including increased use of dogs. We’re also in the middle of a roll-out of tasers across the state, which are… well, less lethal than a gun.

            Most civilised countries know that adding guns to a bad situation almost always makes it a worse situation, and that includes police.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

              There are, as the article you read asserted, armed patrol cars on regular and constant patrol routes, as well as several on backup at the central London armory. These are a tiny number of the patrol cars in circulation – I think in the London Met area there are around 5 on patrol at any one time. They carry two handguns, and two H&K rifles in the strongbox. The officers can wear the handguns belted, but the H&Ks can only be removed with a clear order and permission from their control.

              Armed police are further restricted as to where and when they can carry. I remember an incident in a coffee shop near where I worked when an armed officer left his car and came in for a coffee, forgetting his gun was still on his belt. Several members of the public in the shop instantly had a go at him, and the counter staff told him in no uncertain terms to get out and come back when he had left his gun with his partner in the car.

              A very shamefaced officer returned, sans gun, and apologized for his mistake.

              Airport and Ports security Police can and do carry openly, but are part of a special command allowed to do so. The Transport Police also have a small armed command.

              The only other armed Brit bobbies are part of the SO (special operations) command called “diplomatic protection” officers. Plainclothes body guards for “VIPs.

      • Lagerbaer

        Not in New Zealand. If cops there feel that a situation requires guns, they have to call in a special reinforcement team. Officers patrolling the streets do not have guns.

    • DBergy65

      remember laws don’t stop the bad guys. Schools are “sensible places” where guns aren’t allowed. And we know how that turned out. Until we get to some magical land where no guns exist AT ALL, then we still need the good guys to have guns to try to stop the bad guys.

      • rg57

        Canada is a sensible place where guns (of the human-murdering variety) generally aren’t allowed. Until recently, we didn’t even arm our border guards with such weapons. There’s still gun murder here, and some of it is done with prohibited weapons. But our laws are saving proportionally more lives than those of the US. Laws work, or we wouldn’t have any. As long as the “good guys” are the police and military, run by a democratic and representative government, nobody else needs human-murdering guns.

      • Jinx

        This “good guys with guns” argument is completely baseless.

        Even so-called “good guys with guns” are perfectly capable of shooting innocent people by accident or shooting in situations where lethal force is not required.We do not need to turn our schools into prisons where every teacher is an armed guard.

        Also, an English teacher with a handgun and a few hours of concealed weapons training is not going to be of much use against a mass shooter armed with an AR-15.

        • The Anti Harris

          She is if she shoots him in the back of the head as he walks around a corner.
          You sniveling coward.

    • The Anti Harris

      Screw Harris…he makes excuses for the death penaly, pre emptive nuclear war, torture, profiling, middle eastern wars, etc.
      He has become an atheist psychopath.

      • barael

        Sorry, were you looking for Pharyngula?

  • Octoberfurst

    I didn’t read the article Sam Harris wrote but I will give my 2 cents worth on guns.I grew up on a farm & my dad owned guns and it was never a problem. We did target shooting and hunting with them. No one ever got hurt.
    I believe that people have the right to own a gun but there should be limits! I see no reason on earth why anyone should own a military style assault rifle. They serve no purpose other than to kill people in large numbers. If you want to own a handgun or a shotgun that’s fine. But there is no need for anyone to own, say an AK-47 with a 30 round clip. None! It’s madness to let anyone own such a weapon. If it were up to me I would ban anyone from owning an assault rifle or any magazine clip that can hold more than 10 rounds.

    I know some people will whine–”But bad guys will still get them anyway.” Oh bullshit. We outlaw grenades and I don’t see crazy people using them to commit mass murder. (After all, surely you can get them on the black market right?) The other argument is that we need assault weapons to overthrow the government should it become a dictatorship. Yeah, dream on Rambo. Your assault rifle will do no good against tanks, drones & chemical weapons. All I am asking for is a little common sense when it comes to guns.

    • ortcutt

      “The other argument is that we need assault weapons to overthrow the
      government should it become a dictatorship. Yeah, dream on Rambo. Your
      assault rifle will do no good against tanks, drones & chemical
      weapons.”

      You’re right to point out that overthrowing the government is impractical, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s also unjust. Every time someone gets it into their head that the government is infringing their rights, they can’t go overthrow the government. When we accepted a democratic form of government, we accepted that we would settle questions with elections, laws, and courts, not with guns. In the Civil War, people decided they didn’t like elections and laws, and we fought a war to overcome that. The insurrectionist ideology is deeply un-American, and usually plays out with people on the Right who don’t like political choices deciding that they have a right trump elections, laws and courts and impose their personal conception of their rights on everyone with force.

      • Godless Monster

        Every time someone gets it into their head that the government is
        infringing their rights, they can’t go overthrow the government. When
        we accepted a democratic form of government, we accepted that we would
        settle questions with elections, laws, and courts, not with guns.

        Of course, but nobody sane on the pro-2nd amendment side is preparing for war with Uncle Sam, now are they? Strawman argument.

        • ortcutt

          We had a US Senate candidate in 2010 (Sharron Angle) who talked about “Second Amendment Remedies”. National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre said that people have a right “to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.” If you’re not familiar with the wide dispersal of insurrectionist ideology in the gun-nut movement, then you should really open your eyes. It’s everywhere.

          • Godless Monster

            No, it’s NOT widespread, it’s widely covered. This is tantamount to saying that elementary school massacres are widespread. Define wide dispersal and define insurrectionist ideology. Judging form what you’ve spewed to date, your definitions are intentionally (and conveniently) vague and broad.

            Besides, did you or did you not read what I wrote? I stated that nobody SANE on the pro-2nd Amendment side is preparing for war with the government. If it wasn’t for you misquoting other commenters or taking their words out of context, you’d have no arguments whatsoever.

            • Pseudonym

              I think it’s fair to say that it’s “widespread” (in the sense of “common”, even if not “majority”) in the “gun-nut movement”. That’s not the same as gun owners.

              Groups like the NRA have a larger proportion of gun nuts than you find in the wider gun owner population.

        • Sean Santos

          What do you mean? Either you are saying that “protection from the government”, and other, less euphemistic ideas, have no impact, or you are admitting that the idea is a substantive influence and that you think those people are insane.

          Nonetheless of this “nobody sane thinks…” evasion, please. Sanity is not a prerequisitefor influencing public opinion.

    • Robert Freid

      Grenades, you may be right on that-I don’t see the Gang-members blowing each other up with Grenades. But military-grade weaponry is deeply prevelent with organized crime. Everywhere from White nationalist gangs, to the Bloods-Crips and Norteno-Sureno rivalies.

    • Sue Blue

      I agree. I too grew up with guns – a large variety of hunting rifles and shotguns. My dad taught us how to use them and respect them. I have no problems with these types of guns, but I’m absolutely against the killing of anything unless in life-or-death self-defense or survival (hunting for food, not sport). I personally think the home-defense argument is bogus – guns should be safely stored to keep them out of the hands of children, and if they’re unloaded and locked up like they should be, they’re not going to be readily accessible for use during a home invasion. I absolutely agree that nobody outside the military needs a gun that can spray bullets like a firehose sprays water. In my rural area, only nutjobs and military wanna-be chickenhawks own “assault-style weapons” like those shitty SKS’, or semiautomatic AR-15s. Hunters, ranchers and farmers own hunting rifles of calibers suitable for deer, elk, and moose, or shotguns for birds, and don’t stockpile ammo or get concealed-carry licenses or any of that bullshit. My dad taught me that guns have one purpose, and one purpose only – to kill. How many moral, ethical, thinking people are REALLY prepared to shoot and kill another human being? Really? My son and two of my nephews served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve done it….and none of them wanted anything to do with guns when they came home. Neither of my nephews have guns now.
      I agree with Harris that it’s unrealistic to think that we can totally get rid of all guns or violence, but we need to make it harder to get the kind of guns that enable massacres. An assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity clips, and a limit on ammo purchases – all these certainly aren’t going to pry the precious guns out of any 2nd Amendment champions’ cold dead fingers, but they might just help prevent a few mass tragedies. There are limits on how much cold medication or certain chemicals you can buy, because so many were making meth out of them. Why not a strict limit on all ammo purchases – especially ammo commonly used in semiautomatic weapons? To me, there is no morally defensible reason why anyone needs easy or unlimited access to these kind of weapons.

  • falcponer33

    I’m shocked and pleasantly surprised. From the responses below its clear sheep will be sheep.

    • jose

      Wake up sheeple!

  • john

    “There are plenty of mentally stable people I still wouldn’t feel comfortable around knowing they possessed a gun, even if they were well-trained. I don’t think I would trust their judgment when it comes to when they should use their weapon.”

    So, basically you don’t want the police to carry guns?”

    • CelticWhisper

      Playing devil’s advocate for a minute (which it seems I’m already doing in this discussion anyway), there are certain police officers who I definitely think have no business carrying weapons of any kind, or at least not projectile weapons. One need only look to the overly-liberal employment of chemical weapons against the Occupy protestors (e.g. UC Davis), as well as the general rise in indiscriminate TASERings of unarmed or handicapped arrestees, to realize that there’s a real problem with abuse of power in a lot of police departments today.

      That said, considering that LEOs undergo extensive training in both marksmanship as well as discretion and how to interact with the citizenry (whether suspected of crimes or not), they are in a less dubious position than most when it comes to determining who should reasonably be carrying in public. My personal convictions (freedom for citizens first) aside, they do undergo the kind of rigorous training a lot of people are advocating for as a prerequisite to own firearms.

  • Nofear

    Guns are not the problem, America is the problem. You Americans are spoon fed fear from the day you are born. Communists, terrorists, crimminals and the boge man are always lurking under your bed. Your countrys conscience is mentally unstable.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      Way to come up with a nuanced view of the situation. (Twit.)

      • starskeptic

        Sometimes a bag of rocks really is as dumb as a bag of rocks

    • CelticWhisper

      Fear sells – that’s the sick reality of it. Fear sells TV ratings, political approval ratings, security products, foreign wars, and dangerous legislation like the Patriot Act.

      Another of Schneier’s bits of widsom that goes sadly unheeded is that about “being indomitable” and “refusing to be terrorized.” If we don’t give into fear, the boogeymen automatically lose even when it seems like they “win.” 9/11 wasn’t a terrorist victory because two buildings fell down, it was a terrorist victory because of the sweeping changes in lifestyle that we’ve experienced since then. We allowed ourselves to be terrorized and we swallowed up the fear (which was absolutely exaggerated by the GWB administration) that resulted from the attack, and we’re worse off for it.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Guns are not the problem, America is the problem.

      Check your favourite news site for a multiple shooting in Switzerland.

    • The Anti Harris

      Yeah, those Communist Countries were really big on human rights.

      If not for America, those bastards would have dominated the entire planet years ago and there would be mass Gulags in every country, you sniveling sack of pus.

      • Will Chain

        Nice strawman…

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Suppose we don’t pursue gun restrictions, but take some other avenue to address the problems. For example, how about finding ways to keep psychologically unbalanced people from getting their hands on all those guns? Has the NRA or conservatives put forward any proposals to that end? Have conservatives or liberals done a better job of funding mental health care?

  • John

    I tend to agree with Harris.Guns really aren’t going any where, no matter how much we wring our hands, so instead we need gun knowledge and safety. My father owned guns and had them in our house growing up. When I was old enough, he showed them to me, explained how they worked, taught me very strict safety rules and then finally let me fire them in a controlled situation at a range. They were de-mystified for me and I have treated guns with respect every after.

  • Mr Dumpling

    Gun control? Nah. What we need is to start racially profiling white kids like Adam Lanza and we should be honest about it.

  • Stefan

    I really admire Sam Harris. Having said that, I sometimes “feel” like he presents a simplified version of things/events/possibilities so that they can be used in neat and tidy arguments. There are so many shades of gray and other colors here and the outcomes of any course of action taken to curb gun ownership or promote armed guards in schools are shades of gray in themselves. The arguments don’t appear to fully acknowledge this.

    In any case, I do see how he is presenting scenarios where one can do their own thought experiments and that is something we need more of in public discourse…but perhaps without putting the conclusions in black and white.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      I sometimes “feel” like he presents a simplified version of
      things/events/possibilities so that they can be used in neat and tidy
      arguments

      I have noticed that as well. He has a tendency towards black and white thinking, and he tends to go to lengthy thought experiments when there is actual empirical data.

  • Mr Dumpling

    “a well-trained person with a gun”

    Hmmm, what about a well-trained Muslim with a gun? I’m guessing that this would be a definate no no on Planet Harris.

  • A3Kr0n

    I was with him for awhile, but I don’t know how it ended because I don’t want to read a damn book.

  • Sean Santos

    The problem here, especially for a utilitarian like Harris, is that most gun deaths are not from massacres. Arguments between individuals, suicides, and accidents are all more common, and all much more likely to be adversely affected by increasing the number of households with weapons. Harris also mentions knives and guns, but not the fact that some people are stabbed or clubbed specifically because their own gun escalated a situation (at point blank, barroom brawl range, many guns are terribly impractical weapons for self defense, but great for convincing someone that you are dangerous). It’s very difficult to defend the proposition that increased gun use reduces deaths in this context. It’s only tenable, I think, in the counterfactual fantasy world where so many people are so well-trained, responsible, and emotionally stable that the tiny proportion of lives they save outweigh the risks of gun use.

    Note that this is not an argument for gun control so much as for the idea that fewer people should actually own weapons, whether or not it is legal! I actually agree with Harris that it is impractical to suggest a ban on all weapons that could be used in a massacre.

    We do, however, have some groups of civilians that are supposed to be specially vetted and trained to use guns responsibly for the prevention of violence. They are called the police, as Harris notes. Improving response times (and reducing corruption that drains resources and adds risk) seems to be a much better strategy than arming some auxiliary force of guards (or encouraging civilians to arm themselves more heavily). Arming 5 million additional civilians at the cost of another few dozen gun deaths a year from accidents and suicides, in order to have a chance of preventing a Sandy Hook and an ambiguous effect on other forms of violence, this does not strike me as a good bargain. We need some actual numbers on the marginal return here.

  • Sean Santos

    One other thing to mention is that some people who do not handle guns responsibly nonetheless believe that they do. From a public policy perspective there is no such thing as “well-trained” unless you can specify what the training is and measure its effect. Anyone who does not have a demonstrably helpful form of training must be regarded as untrained, regardless of self-assessment.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Just like in the Muslim screening issue, Sam doesn’t do risk analysis. If he enjoys shooting his gun a couple of hours a month, great. If his position as a controversial speaker puts him and his family in extra danger, then sure, do something about it.

    But by and large, even in America, you need a gun just a bit more than a fish needs a bicycle. The real problem with armed guards at schools isn’t the danger that the guard will shoot the kids, or leave her gun and pants at home. It’s that even if the person is volunteering their own time, training and gun, they could be donating something else that would help our kids a lot more.

    Sam, like all of us, pays attention to the things that make the news, and they make the news because they are, by definition, rare. It’s the things that don’t make the news that we should put our resources into protecting against.

    • sunburned

      >The real problem with armed guards at schools isn’t the danger that the guard will shoot the kids…… they could be donating something else that would help our kids a lot more.

      Did you use risk analysis to come to this conclusion? Is wasting time a risk now?

      You know what the *real* problem is? That they wouldn’t be out curing cancer that would help the kids a lot more.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Harris and the others in favor of this can have all the discussions they want, but they never answer the question I want them to:

    How much you gonna pay? What taxes are you willing to have go up so you can pay for:

    1) the HR infrastructure required to process and evaluate the people wanting to be armed guards in schools. Contrary to what people think, it’s not just “one person”. You’d have to hire multiple. There’s background checks. Pysch evals. All of this is expensive.

    2) The insurance costs associated with multiple armed people trained, and let us be honest here, to kill people.

    3) The training. This is not “let’s go to the range and squeeze off a box or two”. Look at what cops or special forces do for training. That’s what you have to pay for to have effectively trained people, and it has to be uniform training across the country. It’s also not “Pass a course once and you’re good”. It’s regular repeated training and you have to plan for people not passing. In those cases, how do you handle that?

    4) The weapons and ammunition. The storage of same.

    5) After a shootout, which, again, being honest, may not end with the death of the bad people in time, who pays for the cleanup? (In the columbine shooting, an armed guard, properly trained, in other words, the exact thing Harris is advocating, traded shots with Harris twice. He was ineffective. Didn’t even wound him. Take a look at accuracy numbers in combat, and see just how often trained soldiers miss. Or even a police shootout. Not every bullet hits its mark.) Who pays for the physical and psychological cleanup?

    How does harris feel about such a massive expansion of Federal police powers into every school in the country. K-12 and Higher ed. Public and private. It’d have to be 100% or you’re leaving schools “helpless”. Or is he advocating volunteers, which if he is, he’s an idiot.

    No one, not a *single* person i’ve seen advocating ala harris ever talks about costs, logisitics and infrastructure. Harris certainly didn’t, and I think it’s for the same reason: that stuff is boring. It’s a bummer man, we have an IDEA, we’re going to CHANGE THE WORLD, don’t bring me down with details.”

    They certainly don’t talk about the implication of creating such a huge security apparatus designed to do nothing but monitor our activities near school, nor the security changes that would need to be dealt with in a consistent fashion.

    On and on, the details required for a plan of this scope are off the charts huge, and none of these people ever want to talk about them. They just want to talk about what a good guy with a gun COULD do, and when you point out that said idea doesn’t always work, they accuse you of worst-casing it.

    That doesn’t even begin to take into account the fact that all of this depends on the shooter being easily spotted as a shooter and not taking steps to circumvent the guards. How, pray tell, does a good guy with a gun prevent a Bath School disaster? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_School_disaster)

    What happens if someone strolls in ala Seung Hui Cho to one of the buildings on a campus, and chains all the doors shut from the inside with the armed guards outside? This isn’t “worst case”, this actually happened. With a note talking about how the doors were hooked to a bomb? How do you manage that with your “lone guard”.

    Well the answer is easy, the “lone good guy with a gun” is bullshit. For this idea to be effective, each building needs its own guard(s).

    On and on. And this cost would never go away, would always go up, and we’d have to admit from the start that it wouldn’t “prevent” killings. You’d always accept a certain amount of failure. A certain amount of friendly fire deaths.

    If Harris et al, want to have this discussion, by all means do so. But lets have a complete discussion, not just one about how guns could have stopped this. They might have, but as we’ve seen in the past, they might not have, and either possibility is as likely as the other.

    • sunburned

      A complete discussion like the cost of the alternatives?

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        *any* discussion of actual costs would be welcome, and a serious one, not some idiocy where one side is trying to score PR points and “win”.

        • sunburned

          That is my point. There is really no way to discuss the costs. Let alone the costs of alternatives. The TSA has already cost in excess of 60 billion and it’s scope is minimal at best.

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            Then that’s a point of discussion to be dealt with. Pretending the fact we can’t even begin to GUESS at the costs for this “solution” is not the way to take it seriously.

            if people want to push this as a viable solution then there has to be some attempt to realistically look at costs. If we can’t do that, if we wont’ even try, then this isn’t a serious solution, it’s PR points in the unending gun control argument, and I stopped caring about that a decade ago.

            • sunburned

              Probably because the solution was never truly meant to be taken seriously.

              • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                Bingo. It seems obvious that this is a power play by the NRA to remind people that you don’t cross the NRA.

                Wayne LaPierre has the biggest lobbying penis in DC, and don’t you forget it.

                • sunburned

                  Err? I suppose you have a workable solution in mind then?

                • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                  TO a problem no one slightly understands much less fully? Nope. Which is why I’m so big on taking the time to properly define the problem and see what solutions will work. Without that, you’re “spaghetti testing”. You try something and hope it works. That’s great for noodles, not so great for human lives. We’ve seen what happens when we search for simplistic answers to large scale problems:

                  Prohibition

                  The war on drugs

                  The war on terror

                  etc.

                  Right now, the best source of long term treatment for severe mental issues in the U.S. is…prison. We view admission of mental issues as a weakness.

                  We have people on one side who think that if everyone is openly carrying weapons that crime will go away, and on the other side, if we ban guns, crime will go away.

                  None of this is actually helpful. It’s all just scoring points. There’s a lot of issues at play here, and if we don’t admit that this is not a problem we’re going to solve by June, that there’s no magical overarching solution, then we’ll spend billions and accomplish nothing.

                  We’ve been doing that for a while, maybe we should admit it doesn’t work?

    • Maleekwa

      Alright. How about a 5% tax on all firearms sold through licensed dealers? (That includes new and used firearms)
      Include the same 5% tax on all ammunition and reloading equipment and supplies?
      I don’t know how much revenue this would bring in, but it would be a start. And if the tax is going to specifically fund security for schools, I don’t see how people could be opposed to it. As a gun owner myself, I certainly wouldn’t mind.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        you’re talking about a money source without analyzing how much you need. That’s cart before the horse, and requires a revamp of gun and associated equipment sales that will be heavily lobbied against.

        • Maleekwa

          It’s a starting point. I think posting one security guard at every public school was estimated to be around 5 billion a year? I’m no analyst, and I don’t really have the time to fully research it right now. Just throwing some ideas around.

          • Maleekwa

            By starting point meaning that most people are asking how would the security be paid for.
            To be fair, I also have seen many suggestions of a weapons buy back program with a similar lack of cost/funding analysis.

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            well, from what I can tell, you’ve done more work than most of the yobs yelling at each other over this. The thing is, setting emotion aside, we DO have to look at how much this costs, and DO we want a massive federal law enforcement arm on that scale? People are pumping this up because of dead little kids, and dead little kids suck.

            My son was in day care when the OKC bombing happened. My initial exposure to that was “a daycare got bombed” without any kind of location. I cannot even begin to describe what that did to me, or the relief I felt when, as I’m driving to my son’s day care as fast as my car would go, I heard “Oklahoma City”. I had to pull over, the adrenaline drain was that intense. So I have a vague idea of what people are thinking in those moments.

            But, grandiose plans that get turned to token efforts because, surprise, we can’t afford it, and oh, maybe a massive federal police force on that scale isn’t perhaps a great idea help no one. This needs to be discussed soberly and logically. Which will never happen, so get ready for expensive token efforts.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Let’s also understand that Harris et al are pumping up the danger just a *bit*. I grew up in Miami from 1970 – 1986. Liberty city, mcduffie, mariel, cocaine cowboys, I was there for all of it. Didn’t live in a rich, gated community. Number of times someone invaded our house/apartment? Zero. Number of shootouts I saw? Zero. Did I see the results of the crime increases that city suffered from in that time? Sure.

    But the idea that I dodged bullets on the way to school and tripped over a dead body every day on my way home was something that other people pumped up to sell shit. The reality was a bit more pedestrian for the majority of the people who lived there.

    • Maleekwa

      I’m curious, can we refer to your recollection of a safe environment as anecdotal, and dismiss it? I’m asking because that’s usually the response people get who have actually used a firearm to defend themselves.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        a) those people are stupid. People with firearms have defended themselves over and over, the data on THAT is undeniable. But I have a policy of not taking idiots as serious data points, even if they sometimes agree with me.

        2) i didn’t say Miami was “safe”. I said the popular opinion of it was highly overblown, and in many cases, by people like the NRA. Also by HCI. Pretty much both sides of that argument had a vested interest in scaring the shit out of you so that you’d stop thinking and agree with them.

  • gg

    Yeah, and when everyone is playing cowboy, how will the arriving police be able to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys? They don’t wear color coded hats anymore.

  • http://twitter.com/mesonofgib Richard Gibson

    I’m sorry guys – perhaps it’s the fact that I’m not American that’s so fiercely contrasting my views with yours – but the idea of civilians owning guns is simply ridiculous.

    Think about it. It’s a device that has been build with the primary purpose of killing things. Now, I realise that there will be people that do actually need a gun for the necessary killing of animals (e.g. those that live on ranches or farms), but truthfully the only reason in a city or town to need a gun yourself is because everyone else has a gun. Here’s an idea: how about nobody has any guns!?

    One thing that – in all the discussion I’ve seen on the internet in recent days – has consistently been ignored when people talk about what would happen if guns were suddenly banned is what has happened in other countries when this very event has occurred. I actually found a number of people arguing that gun ownership keeps crime down. What we actually find: No guns = fewer murders, accidentals deaths, muggings – any sort of violent crime. For example: I found on The Independent that in 2008 they reported that there were 42 gun-related deaths in Great Britain. Forty-two! That’s less than one death per one-and-a-half million inhabitants. Compare that with 31,224 (http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_19.pdf) for the USA, a rate of 100 deaths per million inhabitants.

    The only reason people in America are actually arguing for the private ownership of guns is because the constitution says that it’s a right of American citizens to bear arms. Why this still applies today – a world with assault rifles, fully-automatic weapons and combat shotguns – I just can’t grasp.

    I apologise if this seems like a rant, but I just cannot for the life of me work out why people think that everyone walking around with guns is a good idea.

  • observer

    Here’s a random though: why don’t we modify guns NOT to be lethal to human beings? If the reason for guns is self-defense, well you don’t need to kill to defend yourself.

    • Paul_Robertson

      Maybe they could be modified to fire cream pies?

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I think Harris loses me when he fails to acknowledge that for every “well trained” person with a weapon, there will surely be at least a dozen untrained people will weapons. For ever well reasoned person with a weapon, there will be three dozen poorly reasoned people with weapons and another dozen batshit crazy people with weapons and itchy trigger fingers.

    Harris does make a good point about having armed skilled, trained professionals inn schools, but teachers are not what I had in mind. I wouldn’t allow my kids to go to a school that allowed teachers to carry weapons on school property.

  • http://twitter.com/shawn_hamman Shawn Hamman

    Harris, as per usual, argues his position on a monumentally difficult topic very well. He is of course right in basically everything he says. You (Americans) can be as liberal as you want and want as strict gun controls as possible but you already have too many guns floating around in your society and you won’t get all of the weapons, especially the ones that matter – all weapons including hand guns – banned.

    Given this, Sam’s argument is essentially your only viable option as unpalatable as it may be to peace loving liberals.

    Sure, other places have gun controls that work – I live in one of those places and I damn well plan on continuing to live here. It’s freaking hard to get a gun here and I like it that way. Gun control works but only when you live in a place where every second person doesn’t already own a gun or sixteen.

    Sam’s piece provides the only plausible, practical, yet liberally unpalatable course of action. It sucks but I think essentially those who live in the ‘States are screwed anyway. Your collective obsession with guns and other strange shit has gotten you to a place where you can’t easily solve the problems you have and now you’re going to have to live with the unpleasant compromises that inevitably come with those unhealthy obsessions.

    Good luck Americans.

  • Ryan Bauer

    One thing to consider, which Harris seems not to, is the use of non-lethal weapons. He says the best way to stop a man with a knife is to shoot him with a gun. I submit that a wireless Taser cartridge fired from a 12-gauge shotgun (effective range of 100 feet) should be in the arsenal of every law enforcement agency and school security program. Think of the short story/film “Minority Report,” where use of non-lethal weapons is the standard for law enforcement’s first line of defense. I realize this technology is only now beginning to come into its own, but in situations where incapacitation is the true goal anyway, why not use a non-lethal means?

  • Magnus_E

    So sad to hear an otherwise often well spoken humanitarian argue like that…

  • Shockna

    I haven’t agreed with much of Harris’ more controversial statements recently, but he echoes my sentiments here almost perfectly. Well delivered.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I wonder how Sam would feel about mandatory insurance on gun ownership. So just like cars, some gun owners would pay more, and people living in some areas would pay more, and some type of guns would cost more. Or who knows, maybe some people would get a discount for having a gun.

  • NoMore

    People that would have trouble defending themselves without firearms seem to be the biggest critics of bills that take them away.
    I suspect their fear of losing them is derived from that concept, rather than the paranoid delusion that the US Government is planning to enslave everyone when guns are outlawed.

  • ecolt

    The problem is that, even in the case of a lone gunman (or two) the “good guy with a gun” argument has been proven invalid. Columbine High had an armed and trained security guard on site during the shooting there. There was also a police officer nearby who was able to respond in moments. Virginia Tech has its own police force. The problem was that there was massive confusion as to what was going on and who was responsible. On a large campus or even within a single large building the ability to identify the shooter and get a clear shot is greatly diminished. Even if a “good guy” is there, there has never been a mass shooting in which the killer was stopped by a bystander with a gun – it has always been either police at the scene or suicide. And while I agree that responsible people should have the right to a firearm, a lot still goes wrong there. Adam Lanza’s mother was, by all accounts, a responsible and informed gun owner. Even the most well-intentioned gun owner cannot provide any guarantee that no one else will get their hands on those guns.

  • deepak shetty

    Oh Sam what has happened to you?

    However, it seems to me that there is nothing irrational about judging
    oneself to be psychologically stable and fully committed to the safe
    handling and ethical use of firearms—if, indeed, one is.

    So he knows of the studies like http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12764330

    but believes that he can beat the odds. That because he is psychologically stable today , that’s how he will be tomorrow and that’s how his wife and kid(s) will be in future.

    s. There is no question that putting a pool in your yard is as serious a
    decision as buying a gun. This is another point about which “gun nuts”
    happen to be correct.↩

    Sam believes he has a gotcha – but any parent with kids knows what a serious decision having a pool is. Driving in a car is more dangerous than flying in an airplane – is this the same Sam who wants resources to be spent on racial profiling of terrorists?

  • Dan

    I’ve read Sam’s article and I think you did him a disservice by not quoting much from the second part of his essay, the parts that you do not like. Sam can be a firebrand at times, but as a gun owner, I think his opinion is definitely more informed than most of the armchair gun grabbers in the comment section here. Kudos Sam!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
  • Clark Daniel
    • Paul_Robertson

      Really? You linked Breitbart? I hope that was done ironically.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

    The more of Sam’s stuff I read, the less I like the chap, and the less I have any respect for his supposed smartness.Because for a supposedly smart academic he does sound like a Simple Sam quite a lot of late.

    If in a 4 Horsemen style roundtable chat he had come out with this nonsense, or the profiling twaddle, I can only imagine the sneers and striping he would have got from Hitch and Prof D while Dan looked on embarrassed from the back.

    Sam: The only way to deal with a knifeman is to shoot him.
    Hitch: (coughs into his whisky) Pardon?
    Dawkins: Really Sam? So a truncheon is useless? Or any form of improvised cudgel? Or mace? A chair leg?

    Dennet: (Looking out of the window)….err hey look! Its a magpie!

  • Patterrssonn

    Guns are fun, lots of fun. Sure we could save thousands and thousands of lives, if they were controlled but guns are fun, lots and lots of fun!

    • AlaJackd

      How’s that control working out for you in Chicago?

      • Patterrssonn

        Do you mean Ontario? I’d say pretty damn good.

        • AlaJackd

          Um, no. I mean Chicago… You know, our nations murder capital where guns are illegal! :D

          • Patterrssonn

            Your nations murder capital, not mine And how do they the keep guns out of Chicago? Is there a border where guns are confiscated, perhaps a big fence?

            PS, I’m in Ontario Canada, you know the place where most guns are illegal and we don’t have people running around shooting each other all the time.

  • Witchgawd

    If you own a gun but you dont live in a war zone, use it to hunt for food, or belong to a law enforcement agency you are either a criminal or a pussy/coward. No argument will ever convince me otherwise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Franklin/100001165432336 Peter Franklin

    Sam Harris is to atheism as Pat Robertson is to Christianity. In the “fundy” realms of their respective camps, both regularly headline articles like this — extrapolations of their views on issues far beyond their expertise — and neither are given an iota of attention by serious intellectuals and scholars outside of the blog-o-sphere. They are as important to atheism & Christianity as Donald Trump is to US politics.

  • Adele Henderson

    Oonly reading from your post the parts you included from his post want me to point out one thing. At Columbine the Security Guards @ the school were armed and yet a lot of deaths still occured so I can not buy his rational for a good guy with a gun. But that is just me.

  • Steve Martin

    This country has always had a high firearm ownership percentage.

    It’s not a gun problem…it’s a morality problem.

    theoldadam


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