Sean Faircloth: Sam Harris Ought to Reconsider His Stance on Guns

Sean Faircloth, Director of Strategy & Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, has a response to Sam Harris when it comes to the issue of guns:

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

1) the evidence regarding domestic violence against women;

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

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

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

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

You can read Faircloth’s full response here.

(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.

  • Patterrssonn

    When did Sam Harris join the Tea Party?

    • DougI

      Probably back when he was advocating for war and torture.

      • asgonwr

        uh…he still is.

    • The Captain

      Since when does taking a position that gun laws may not be a solution “tea party” worthy? I guarantee I’m more liberal than you, loath the Tea Baggers and I take pretty much the same position as harris.

      • Patterrssonn

        “I guarantee I’m more liberal than you” You probably are as I don’t consider myself a liberal at all. But then by American standards, as a Canadian, I’m a default liberal/socialist/communist.

        • The Captain

          Hell even by Canadian (and European) standards I am a liberal/socialist/communist. Thats why I support gun rights since I live in a country where millions of right wingers would happily pull me out of my house and drag me and my family behind a truck.

          • Patterrssonn

            So there is a real risk of open warfare between the left and the right in America? At any moment it’s going to descend into a maelstrom of violence and slaughter like a larger version of Serbia/Croatia.

            • The Captain

              Now that’s a long complicated question, but short answer as it is now I would so no. Even though there is a bit of self segregation of communities based on politics, it’s very small and most people still live in politicly mixed neighborhoods, even in Portland you may have a right wing neighbor. So while there is defiantly strong regional political tendencies the idea Balkin type war seems a bit far fetched since they already had their isolated ethnic enclaves that was easy to militarize. Although if there was say a law passed tomorrow that say banned assault riffles and it called for enforcement by confiscation, then I’m sure we would get a militia type fight against the police. But still not a Balkin situation.

              What I think could be more of a reality is small targeted attacks on individuals or small groups seen as the political enemy by groups of political thugs. That is something we have a long history with and could easily happen and a large scale.

              Also on a side note to your question, man I hope not. Most (and I say most not all) of my fellow liberals are frankly pussies (and proud of it) and unarmed so if there was a Balkin type of war as you asked, they would get wiped off the map pretty damn quick.

  • DougI

    Some wonder how religious scientists can compartmentalize their faith with their scientific education. The same should wonder how Harris can compartmentalize his faith with his philosophical education. The vast array of Harris’ illogical arguments to justify his adoration of guns is easily shot down in the essay. It just goes to show that Harris is more a man of faith than a man of reason. Given his past advocacy of war and torture I wonder why someone like him should be allowed to own a gun given his penchant for the love and justification of violence.

    • Trickster Goddess

      is easily shot down in the essay

      Tangential to this discussion, notice how much gun violence metaphors are embedded in everyday language and used unthinkingly even by those of us who are generally against guns?

      Food for thought.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        They can pry my metaphors from my cold, dead fingers.

      • DougI

        C’mon, I’m an alcoholic, I was thinking body shots.

    • kongo bill

      But…but…Sam is one of the NEW ATHEISTS! what…what are you trying to say?

    • Pseudonym

      Sam Harris has a philosophical education?

  • primenumbers

    Nor did he consider accidental gun deaths.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Probably because there is no such thing as an “accident” with a gun. If you own a gun, you are implicitly stating that you intend to kill someone with it, and therefore it cannot be “accidental”.

  • Gus Snarp

    It seems to me that any rational person looking at the issue of gun control should find that the evidence is at worst, ambiguous about its effectiveness, but pretty solid in favor of its harmlessness. Modern industrialized democracies with strict gun laws have less crime than we do in America, this is at least a strong statement that guns in private hands are not necessary to prevent crime. There does seem to be more gun crime in states with stricter gun laws, but there’s no evidence at all of causality, and gun laws are unlikely to be effective when they can be subverted simply by driving across the state line. It is highly unlikely that gun laws in some states are causing more gun crime, and far more likely that states with crime problems pass stricter gun laws, which are ineffective in alleviating the existing higher rates of gun crime due to the lack of uniformity of gun laws nationwide.

    Given that virtually no one is proposing an outright ban on gun ownership in America, isn’t it reasonable, given that reasonable gun laws are essentially harmless, only costing money to implement and some people’s fun on the gun range, that we at least conduct an experiment? Why don’t we at least eliminate the private sale background check loophole and ban magazines over six round capacity and implement buy back programs that are consistent, easy to access, and well funded and keep all of this in place long enough to allow the economics of gun ownership to change over time?

    • http://twitter.com/gingerjet gingerjet

      I agree with you to a point. But you are focusing on the wrong problem. Too much focus is on banning guns and not on what causes crimes that guns are used in. If you look at gun crime stats you will find that the vast majority of gun deaths in the US have to do with drugs and depression. Which other countries tackle more reasonable ways (such as legalizing drugs). We can dramatically lower gun deaths in this country by reforming our backwards drug laws and pro-actively treating the mentally ill.

      But all this ignores a basic fact – the crime rate has been steadily falling year after year. We have never been safer in the history of our country.

      • Gus Snarp

        No, I’m focusing on one aspect of the problem. I’m all for altering our drug laws, but that’s not the only means available to reduce crime, and I’ll need a citation for your most gun deaths having to do with drugs and depression statistic. I’ve also made the argument in another comment that gun control addresses means and opportunity, while motivation is another matter. We should reduce opportunity when we can, even while we’re addressing motivation at the same time. When it comes to reducing gun deaths and addressing drug laws and mental health care it’s not either or, it’s both and.

        I ignore falling crime rates overall because it’s a non sequitur. Falling crime rates are great, but the case of most of Europe shows that we can do much better at reducing violent crime, and that gun control may help, and certainly won’t hurt. And as I’ve noted in other comments, murders are not the majority of gun deaths.

        But none of this addresses my central argument: we know that the treatment (gun control laws) is harmless, so we should do the experiment.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Depends on what you mean by ‘harmless’. I’m with you, but I know there will be an outcry that we are ripping up the constitution, and what part of “shall not be infringed” do you not understand.

          • Gus Snarp

            To which I reply, what part of “well regulated militia” do they not understand?

            • sunburned

              I would guess *well regulated militia” does nothing to change the “shall not be infringed” part.

              It could say “well regulated band of purple donkeys” or any phrase and it still would not change the statement “shall not be infringed”.

              Just as prepending “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” wouldn’t change the effects of the 1st amendment.

              • Gus Snarp

                Well, the courts seem to agree with you on the first part, but I think it was intended originally to alter the meaning. The ownership of guns was originally meant to come with the responsibility of militia membership. That point is moot now since the courts have ruled it so, but it does point out that everything in the Constitution and its amendments is open to interpretation. And it’s as pointless and petty a retort as “what part of shall not be infringed don’t you understand”, and so in keeping with the spirit.

                But the better argument is, why do most Americans and the courts find strict regulations on fully automatic weapons, grenade launchers, RPGs, and anything bigger and more powerful perfectly acceptable? It is clear that not infringing the basic right to keep and bear arms does not imply an absolute right to any weapon you choose.

                • sunburned

                  I always like the automatic jump from “right to bear arms” to right to have missile launchers and grenades.

                  If we were to put it into context of other specifically protected rights there would be similar restrictions. The right to free speech does not imply an absolute right to *any* speech you choose.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                  Actually, it does. The right to free speech means you can say ANYTHING YOU WANT, up to the point you place others in danger with your words (i.e. shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre).

                  Likewise, with guns, with the one caveat that ALL guns are intended for one purpose: killing people. And as that is not a legitimate purpose (or need), guns should be banned.

                • Theseus

                  Protecting oneself and family is a legitimate purpose and need. We cannot always rely on cops to be there.

                  And please don’t tell me that social breakdown, at least on a public level, is a remote possibility. It happened in L.A. and it happened in New Orleans. There are a numerous reasons why a city or state wide emergency can effectively render the local government and authorities powerless. Sorry your argument has gaping holes in it that you are not addressing.

                • sunburned

                  “with the one caveat that ALL guns are intended for one purpose: killing people.”

                  Lol. Not all guns are intended to kill people. I have a .22 target rifle, it’s intention isn’t to kill people. I have a 12ga shotgun that has a purpose of knocking clay targets out of the sky. I can go on. But to say that all guns have a single purpose is silly.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          Sorry, but every gun death is, by definition, a murder, because the very act of owning a gun is tantamount to declaring “I intend to kill people.”

          • Theseus

            Uh No. It also means I intend to defend myself and family if absolutely necessary. This is a skeptical website. Your thinking had waaay to many holes in it.

            BTW I am for reasonable gun control being on the table with everything else. However, the argument has shifted from rational background checks, restriction from mentally ill or criminal people, and assault weapons bans to “let’s take hand guns out of law abiding citizens hands”. We have over 100 million guns in this country: people need to be allowed to protect themselves in their own homes.

            Plus the author is being inconsistent and illogical. I could give him a list of potentially very dangerous activities, pieces of equipment etc. that are directly responsible for many deaths in this country and he wouldn’t be suggesting a ban on the items in question……BUT he would probably suggest reasonable controls in place. For example no one wants to ban alcohol or cars even though they are a toxic combination.

            The author also shows his lack of critical thinking skills in regards to the VAWA. I am certainly no Republican, but how many skeptics don’t agree that the title of the bill is inflammatory and ridiculous? Any one with a working knowledge of DV will tell you in no uncertain terms that the vast majority of cases are people in a dysfunctional powderkeg of a relationship usually with a volitol mix of alcohol and drugs involved; with both man and woman EQUALLY as likely to lash out verbally or physically ( anyone can check this stat out from any reputable source). The ogre of a tyrant standing over a cowering individual huddled in the corner, is the exception ( although they do exist) rather than the rule.

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              Any one with a working knowledge of DV will tell you in no uncertain terms that the vast majority of cases are people in a dysfunctional powderkeg of a relationship usually with a volitol mix of alcohol and drugs involved; with both man and woman EQUALLY as likely to lash out verbally or physically

              BULLSHIT and victim-blaming.

              • Theseus

                So DV is a man thing? Bullshit RIGHT BACK AT YA! Women are just as likely to hit, slap, scratch, kick, spit etc. as the man.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              Here’s a reputable source, and no, it’s not EQUALLY. It’s also not EQUALLY when it comes to which gender ends up with the most physical damage, nor is it EQUALLY when it comes to which gender has is most likely to be financially dependent on the other and more responsible for the care of any dependents. There are a shit ton of inequalities, and some of them go one way, but most of them go the other way.

              “majority of cases are people in a dysfunctional powderkeg of a relationship usually with a volitol mix of alcohol and drugs involved”

              dysfunctional is true by definition. If there’s abuse going on in a personal relationship, then it’s dysfunctional. the alcohol and other drugs depends on what exactly ‘usually’ means. The more important fact is that they can be a catalyst, but are by no means necessary for the abuse. That may seem obvious, but some people forget it, and think that if you remove the drug problem that that in and of itself will fix everything else.

              And like wmdkitty, and Sean Faircloth, I have a very working knowledge of DV.

              Almost forgot the linky http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

              • Theseus

                Rich I was trying to bring a little proportionality to the issue. You are not denying that the tyrant standing over the cowering individual is a stereotype, and the issue is far more complex than usually portrayed are you?

                Also I am not denying that statistically men are bigger and stronger and are more likely to do damage with a punch than a woman with a slap or a kick.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  Incorrect stereotypes abound on this issue.

                • Theseus

                  Exactly right! My main point was to dispell a perpetuated stereotype AND show that intimate partner violence is not one gender directional (i.e. male violence). Also to show that lashing out physically ( whether one ends up doing more physical damage or not ) is roughly symmetrical between men and women; that goes for mental and emotional abuse as well

                  Here is a link that of scholarly investigations that consist of numerous empirical studies and 65 reviews :

                  http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm

                  I have read many of your posts and I agree with you most of the time. Overall I think we are on the same page about most stuff.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  I should probably put a domestic violence description trigger warning here

                  I used to be a family violence center volunteer. I have given countless presentations to high schools kids, along with a female co-presenter who was a former victim. I’ve done this with half a dozen different women, and talked to dozens more at length about their experiences, including honestly their own part in the abuse.

                  And I have spent countless hours listening to literally (the real literally, not figuratively literally) hundreds of men figuratively spill their guts. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard guys laundry list all the things their partner did. All of their partners. I realize you’re trying to point out that it’s not one sided, but I’ve been trough the process so many times (not recently, it’s been years now) that I have an automatic reaction. I know how it goes, and I know that none of the people I worked with ever denied or minimized a woman’s involvement. It’s just that those discussions were always a deflection away from the real issue, which was “I’m abusive, what can I do about my abuse”. (And one of the big things is protecting yourself from abuse which might mean getting out of the situation).

                  And the only way to be a volunteer was to have personal experience, which means I was that tyrant. Which is why I agree with you in that the characterization doesn’t help. This really is a case where you have to hate the sin, not the sinner. Absolutely no excuses whatsoever for the abuse, but treating the abuser as a monster is counter productive. (That’s not directed at anyone personally involved, but at volunteers and professionals who are supposed to be helping the situation).

                  I also know from my personal experience how the stats can’t possibly fully picture things. If I were on that stats sheet, you might consider me more the victim. I didn’t need to hit her- I was able to scare her quite effectively by yelling, posturing, hitting walls, hitting myself even.

                • Theseus

                  Wow. I absolutely agree with everything you said. Stats, even if they are numerous and detailed can give you a general picture of the overall situation (which is important) but not all the nuance and complexity of each individual situation.

                  You are correct, no excuses for the abuse. However as you say, the demonizing is counter productive and we need to realistically look at the situation and the many underlying causes surrounding DV ,instead of a one size fits all urban horror story.

            • Theseus

              BTW I am genuinely shocked that someone from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, ( Richard Dawkins!) has written a piece with obvious dramatic and inflammatory male bashing language that would normally be reserved for a radical feminist site.

              “A form of chronic and pervasive domestic terrorism”?

              Please! Should I proceed to draw analogies from other groups of people that have supposed stats to back up bigoted claims?

              • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                Calling DV a form of domestic terrorism is absolutely spot on. I never knew if I would wake up to a kiss or a kick — or if I would wake up at all.

                • Theseus

                  I am truly sorry for that. I was more or less reacting to the one directional and, in my opinion, inflammatory statement directed at males. Although I enjoy robust debate, my response should have been to you below should have been more measured. My apologies.

    • Pureone

      Minor point, but where do you get the 6 round thing? See, in 1903 there was an act of congress which instituted the Civilian Marksmanship Program. The CMP was intended to have civilians (esp youth) learn how to sustain a better rate of fire with those new-fangled bolt action rifles with a 5 shot capacity vs a lever action with a larger magazine capacity (7 or so)- both internal magazines, btw.

      The CMP was under the US Army until 1996. A person who has the right paperwork can legally buy Army surplus M1 Garands. A semi automatic military issue weapon. 5 round internal magazine. A similar one is the Russian SKS, with a 10 round internal magazine. They look and act similar.

      It seems the US military wants cuvillians to have weapons similar to what are issued. That would include AR-15′s.

      • Gus Snarp

        I made it up. It is, in my personal opinion, all that anyone could claim to need and it is a very common magazine capacity. Others usually argue for a ten round limit, simply because that’s become rather common too. I think ten is excessive, but that’s purely my gut reaction and it shows my age a bit that I still think of guns as having six shots as a standard.

        In general, semi automatic weapons with high capacity magazines enable one person to easily kill large numbers of other people before they can be stopped, and they serve no real purpose outside of that, other than being fun and making people feel better about some paranoid fantasy they have of being attacked by 17 people and needing to have a shootout.

        I think you’re trying to make a different point about military readiness, but I’m not sure I’m following. My response to what I think you’re trying to say is that the argument from 1903 simply doesn’t apply to a modern military. If you can fire a semi-automatic effectively with a few rounds, you would be no more or less effective when suddenly handed one with significantly more rounds. Besides which, military rifles are usually capable of three round bursts and fully automatic fire, which civilians are not generally allowed to have and which they must therefore be trained in when they join the military anyway. Basically, if you know how to shoot, the military can quickly train you to use the particular weapons they issue, it’s not a barrier. Interesting note, some of the impetus behind the civilian marksmanship program was that combat soldiers were found to fire over the heads of their enemies and miss them. The other interpretation of this problem was not that they couldn’t shoot well, but that they didn’t really want to kill people.

        Or maybe you’re making a different point, I’m certainly OK with a five round limit, or seven, or better yet three or one.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          Hm. 3 is a nice round number.

          …heh. “round” number.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    There’s that same stock photo again. this is what you should be using.

  • Gus Snarp

    About 87 people will be killed by guns in America today. Same as yesterday. And the day before. More than 3 Sandy Hooks a day, every day. Most of them will be ruled to be accident or suicide.

  • C Peterson

    Harris’s analysis was largely a good one. His conclusions depend in part of his personal philosophical views, but those views are not inherently unreasonable, and there’s no reason he should change them based on Faircloth’s somewhat different views (which aren’t always sound… the evidence that gun control in other countries has been effective is highly questionable).

    Harris’s position reflects an important reality: it is politically impossible in the U.S. to see gun laws changed to the point where most people will be denied access to handguns or rifles. Any call for dramatically reducing access to such weapons is doomed to total failure. It is likely to be taken as a sign of political naivete to even suggest it, and to marginalize the person with that view, making him less effective in presenting more reasonable and feasible solutions to gun violence (or more properly, all violence) in America.

    • 3lemenope

      Harris’s position reflects an important reality: it is politically impossible in the U.S. to see gun laws changed to the point where most people will be denied access to handguns or rifles. Any call for dramatically reducing access to such weapons is doomed to total failure. It is likely to be taken as a sign of political naivete to even suggest it, and to marginalize the person with that view, making him less effective in presenting more reasonable and feasible solutions to gun violence (or more properly, all violence) in America.

      The same was said about women’s suffrage, ending segregation, DUI laws, establishing Medicare, Social Security, ending smoking in public accommodations, legalizing gay marriage, legalizing interracial marriage, the moon landings, sexual harassment laws, the Civil Rights acts, state legalization of cannabis, universal health insurance, rural electrification, the interstate highway system…

      Many of these things were widely considered laughably inconceivable only a few years before they were implemented.

      Harris’ position doesn’t reflect an important reality so much as just buys into the status quo. It is lazy to assume that political realities cannot change, and inappropriate to dismiss a position simply because for the moment it seems to fall outside the range of the politically achievable. The range of political possibility is highly dynamic and responsive to events. Pretty much the one thing that guarantees egg on one’s face is a declaration that something cannot happen in the political realm. People challenging that very wisdom end up being the only people that ever do anything.

      • C Peterson

        I don’t think your comparisons are accurate. First of all, it isn’t clear that the same things were said at all. Second, in the civil rights examples the trend was always towards increasing liberties, which did not come at the expense of the liberties of others. When it is suggested that people should not be able to own guns, that is a restriction in liberty, and that is going to be a very hard sell politically.

        Perhaps in a hundred years attitudes will be different (although personally, I think there will be fewer restrictions on firearms, and no political interest in restricting them, since by then we’ll have figured out how to address the real problem- violence), but for now, I think simply calling for broad restrictions on access to firearms is doomed to failure, and as I said, is likely to be counterproductive to actually dealing with the problem.

        • 3lemenope

          Second, in the civil rights examples the trend was always towards increasing liberties, which did not come at the expense of the liberties of others.

          The right to not be discriminated against was elevated at the expense of the right to discriminate. The fact that that right is now disfavored (for what I think we can both agree are very good reasons) doesn’t make it not a right, one that people enjoyed until they had it taken from them. Once upon a time people could refuse to hire or do business with another person for all sorts of reasons, but that list of allowed reasons has grown much shorter. That is a restriction on liberty, even though it was in the service of increased liberty for those who were the main targets of that discrimination.

          Universal health insurance comes coupled with a purchase mandate. This is a public good which comes at the expense of a liberty (the right not to buy a product you don’t want) in a particular market.

          In fact, nearly everything on my abbreviated list up there includes a restriction upon a liberty in order to achieve its object; in some of the cases, restricting the liberty was the object itself. Given that, I don’t understand why you think restricting a liberty in favor of a public good is such a hard sell; it’s a sale that’s been made countless times. And for what it’s worth, a hundred years is a pretty crazy time horizon on political scales. Attitudes on seemingly far-out stuff has shifted much, much more quickly than that, and are likely to continue to do so.

          • http://www.bricewgilbert.blogspot.com Brice Gilbert

            Not to mention that there is a not insignificant group of people (usually libertarians) who believe that the civil rights act is wrong, and that businesses should be able to discriminate anybody they want for any reason.

            • Robin

              Second, in the civil rights examples the trend was always towards increasing liberties, which did not come at the expense of the liberties
              of others. When it is suggested that people should not be able to own
              guns, that is a restriction in liberty, and that is going to be a very hard sell politically.

              I daresay that the folks against gay marriage feel just as strongly about the impending wave of laws allowing gay marriage. Yet it’s going to happen.

              To say it’s politically impossible to change gun laws is to throw in the towel before the fight has even begun. Will it be easy? Absolutely not, the challenge is daunting and seemingly overwhelming. But it is not impossible.

              One could go back in time and find the point where slavery was at its peak, where it was endemic, integrated into the system, and apparently permanent. The day before that peak if you declared that we should get rid of slavery, you’d have been derided. Yet it happened.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      the evidence that gun control in other countries has been effective is highly questionable

      Feel free to ask those questions. I’d like to hear about that.

      • Georgina

        Living in a country that bans guns for civilians, I can tell you – it does not stop crooks for getting guns on the black market.
        Just means we have to protect ourselves with other things (baseball bat, kitchen knives, etc.)
        I would love to live in a country that recognises peoples right to protect themselves and thier families, and not in which a man is prosecuted because a burgler tripped over a carpet an broke a leg!

  • Gus Snarp

    I think in your selection of quotes from Faircloth’s piece, you left out a key one:

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

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

    This is really huge. Criminologists tend not to think of people as criminals and not criminals, but all as potential criminals. On average, anyone could become a criminal at any moment given the right motivation and opportunity. Faircloth makes a crucial point here, and one we should consider. One of the big problems with easy access to handguns is that we make the opportunity side of that equation really high for a lot of people, so that all that is lacking is the motivation side. We can’t really control the motivation side very well, so maybe we ought to focus on reducing the opportunity.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Another related weakness: Was Nancy Lanza “stable” when she bought those guns? Does anyone realise that isn’t the only relevant question?

      • Gus Snarp

        Disqus is weird lately. I did not make this comment. I do not know if this is a glitch that everyone is seeing, that only I’m seeing, or if someone intentionally typed the same name I use.

  • Xuuths

    So sad. I respect Sam Harris, but it appears he is having LSD flashbacks or something. There was something wrong (illogical, factually inaccurate, silly, or uninformed) in just about every paragraph of his article. I was surprised.

  • dcardona

    Pulling out the old chestnut that gun deaths are reduced when guns are banned is disingenuous. Obviously that will be the case. But gun deaths are only part of the violent crime story. Also, we need to be careful when comparing violent crime stats from different countries because we are comparing Red Delicious apples to Honey Crisp apples (sorta the same, but different in ways, too).

    There are differences in the way countries view, report, and classify crimes. I have read articles and stats showing that the U.S. actually has lower “violent crime” rates than some other countries with very strict gun control laws. Mexico is a great example. For me, the big question is how we can tease out the different causes of these variances and figure out what part is actually played by widespread gun ownership using real data. I’ve also read about prisoners in the U.S. openly admitting that their fear of gun retaliation in certain gun-friendly regions of the country has kept them from burglarizing homes when people are there – in Europe a much larger percentages of robberies occur when people are home because the perpetrators are more confident in a lack of armed resistance of any kind.

    In his essay, Faircloth says, “In fact we can and must in public policy balance issues not by comparing swimming pools to handguns – but on their own merits — the pluses and minuses unique to each — based on evidence. For example, the Swimming Pool Canard: What are the advantages and disadvantages of pools? How many Michael Phelps are produced? Very few. How many people live healthier more pleasurable lives? Millions upon millions. How many save themselves from drowning because they learned to swim in a pool? Many, myself included. Swimming pools, you will concede, have positive attributes, indeed healthful attributes, that benefit millions. But to follow twisted NRA logic we must utterly ignore the positive value of pools.” I agree this is a bad faith argument put forth by the NRA, but it is in equally bad faith the way he twists it to his own purposes. Reading this, before I got to his substitution of “gun” for “Pool,” I myself thought you could easily express the positive value of guns. Few Sandy Hooks are produced; millions find guns enhance their security and get them enjoying a sport in the outdoors; gun clubs can provide camaraderie and friendship; and many are saved directly or indirectly by guns.

    I’m not saying there aren’t some restrictions/regulations on guns we can agree on that may be desirable, and I’m most definitely not playing Devil’s Advocate, but I do think this argument needs to be more nuanced and reflect a greater respect and understanding of gun owners and enthusiasts who don’t sound like Wayne LaPierre.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      The substitution of guns fr pools is brilliant, untill you realize that the first point is a slight advantage for pools, but a slight disadvantage to guns. Not so clever now that presensation.

    • eric

      The pool comparison is also a subtle dig at the NRA no-compromise stance, as many states have fairly stringent regulations on using and owning pools. Requiring a locked fence is pretty analgous to requiring a gun be kept in a locked storage box or with a trigger guard. And imagine if shooting ranges were required to pay lifeguards to stand duty. :) Pools also affect insurance rates. Imagine the NRA outcry if insurance companies requred a ‘gun premium’ to cover potential payouts in cases where a covered homeowner shoots someone!

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Pulling out the old chestnut that gun deaths are reduced when guns are banned is disingenuous. Obviously that will be the case.

      We’ll wait here while you go find a dictionary.

      • dcardona

        Thanks for addressing the issue at hand. You really contributed to the discussion. Your convincing rebuttal is forcing me to rethink my position.

        BTW, it is absolutely a disingenuous, false, insincere, deceitful, dishonest
        (I wonder how many more adjectives I can some up with) argument because in popular use it implies a false equivalence between gun violence and overall violence and a direct correlation between overall violence and gun access.

    • Gavin

      Mexico is a terrible example. Having stricter gun laws means nothing when the laws aren’t effectively enforced. Guns (and crime) are extremely common in Mexico because of the American government’s war on drugs.

  • askgnwog@mail.com

    You know, those were some courageous women who confronted the shoot at Sandy Hook.

    If just one of them had gun they could have taken him out.

    I wonder if that crossed their minds as the kids were dying?

    • The Captain

      Well now as a gun rights supporter I can confidently say… your just a giant ignorant fucking asshole.

      Before you go and use the deaths of people and children to conjure your political scenarios you then claim without conscience they must have thought let me tell you something. I know it’s hard to get through you stupid fucking head that some people are not, and never will be comfortable around guns. That does not take away one bit from their possible bravery. So why should it be that those that never are good around guns must die so that little pricks like you can act smug at their deaths. You miserable piece of shit. Even if you gave them guns that does not mean they could, or even would have ever, been able to use them properly. You vomitous fucktard.

      Hell I’ll go you one better even, did you even think it’s possible that some of those women may have been against guns so much that when they died they knew they had stood up for their principles and died a better and braver person than your cowardly arrogant trolling ass will ever be?

    • Gavin

      If any of them had guns, they probably still would have been killed, and then the shooter would have another gun. The idea that a proliferation of firearms prevents crime is silly.

  • Bad_homonym

    I thing the stance of people on the issue of gun control is as varied as any could imagine. I keep wondering how the issue keeps coming up in a blog of this nature. I live in Canada and most of the gun control strategies that have been tried here have failed to produce any significant result except to drain public funds. Oh and FYI. There are a great many handguns designed specifically for hunting!

  • Justin
  • JGoertzen

    I don’t understand how so many intelligent, scientifically-people fail to see that the “reduction of gun deaths” statistic is a red herring that was trotted out to justify the gun control policies that had failed to reduce *homicide rates*–their intended target.

    Of *course* fewer people die to guns when you reduce the rates of gun ownership. But unless fewer people are dying, that’s not a victory yet. An honest look at the statistics shows no correlation between lower homicide rates and strict gun laws from country to country. Actually, this is only true once you correct for poverty–otherwise you see an *inverse* correlation, owning to the poorest nations–where people can’t afford guns–being the most plagued by violence. The same is true for suicide rates. These are facts, available to anyone interested in spending the half hour it takes to go through the UN’s detailed data on the subject. But people don’t; they assume the statistics back up their biases.

    Neither do you see a decrease in homicide rates (in any country that has adopted strict gun laws to address these problems. Or, more accurately, you don’t see an increase in the rate of decline of homicides–since in every developed country, these rates have been in rapid decline for decades; gun laws or no. You only see a decrease in gun-related deaths. This is like being pleased that red-car-related traffic accidents were prevented by the banning of red cars.

    The only area where gun legislation has had any effect is in *accidental* gun deaths–which can’t be neglected (though it does make the swimming pool analogy far more apt than Faircloth suggests)–but these deaths that can be prevented by stricter licensing and storage laws. No bans are needed, and none would be effective without the storage and licensing laws. Accidental deaths don’t happen more with handguns or assault rifles. Nor is one more likely to die to a high-capacity magazine.

    I think Faircloth needs to re-read Harris’ article, and rethink his use of statistics.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      owing to the poorest nations–where people can’t afford guns–being the most plagued by violence.

      What the bleep are you talking about?

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    I don’t understand why some people apparently WANT people to have and use killing-machines on other people. Seriously, that’s all a gun is. A machine for the efficient and brutal killing of people. And as such, should NOT be available to J. Average Citizen.

    • Pseudonym

      Slight nit: A gun is a machine for the efficient killing of living creatures, not just people. Which is why they’re more trouble than they’re worth in an urban environment, but part of the standard toolkit of a farmer or park ranger.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        nittier nit: a gun is a machine for projecting (a) small object(s) at a very high velocity. Some people use them for seeing if they can hit a target with said projectile(s).

        • Pseudonym

          Even nittier nit: The propelled object doesn’t have to be small.

          Nonetheless, guns were invented for doing damage. They have some legitimate civilian uses, but not nearly as many as some Americans seem to think.

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

    So, Harris wrote a piece about the Newtown shooting and proposed solutions–clearly the issue at hand–and he was wrong because his essay wasn’t about a related but different topic?

    Nope.

  • andreas

    can I just point out that the “poster-woman” for guns used in the blog article above has her finger on the trigger, not on the side of the trigger guard, as she should, since she is not firing the weapon but standing in front of cameras and lights. That weapon is in fact un-safe, given the perspective of the camera. A gun should not be held like that (finger inside trigger guard) unless everything in front of the shooter is clear. If she is in fact firing the weapon, then they have placed the camera in an unsafe position which may cause ricochet and injury.

    Just sayin’

  • Tobais27

    While your research is worthwhile, you are never, ever going to get a ban on handguns in America, which is what you seem to be advocating.


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