Sam Harris Responds to Critiques of His Gun Article

After taking a stance in support of guns, Sam Harris has listened to the responses to his article (including Sean Faircloth‘s) and written an FAQ to respond to the most common criticisms he heard:

4. What about the role that guns play in violence against women?

I share Faircloth’s concern about the safety of women. Ironically, the danger that men pose toward women is my primary reason for thinking that guns should be legal and available to responsible adults. As someone who was raised by a single mother, and as the father of little girl, I tend to view all questions of self-defense through the lens of what will enable a woman to protect herself from a man who is bent upon raping and/or killing her.

… I’m not saying that guns are the solution to the problem of domestic violence. Clearly, there is a need for strict laws, good policing, psychological counseling, women’s shelters, and other resources. Above all, women must refuse to stay in abusive relationships. But when all else fails, a gun in the hands of a woman trained to use it is the best solution that civilization has found for the problem of male aggression. Indeed, there are situations in which a gun in the hands of a woman who is untrained can suffice to save her life…

I haven’t had a chance to read/dissect the entire FAQ just yet, but here’s the link to the piece.

Feel free to point out any parts we should seriously consider or critique.

(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.

  • The Anti Harris

    Harris has a pattern of defending Pre Emptive Nuclear war, torture, profiling, killing people for their beliefs (page 52 of TEOF) and they whining when he is rejected and called out on it.

    He always says he was “misinterpreted”.

    This happens again and again…perhaps he should be more clear.
    But lets hope his day in the sun is finally ending.

    • James Martin

      There is also the matter of his ideas about telepathy, the paranormal and reincarnation.

    • C Peterson

      I’ve never heard Harris “defend” any of these things. He has argued- not unreasonably- that each of these things merit consideration. He may well be wrong, but to dismiss him for bringing controversial ideas to the table is itself a sign of weak intellect and poor thinking. (In TEOF he asks the question, is it possible that some beliefs are so dangerous that killing their holders becomes ethical? That is an entirely reasonable question to ask in a discussion of ethics. It is not defending the practice.) Each and every one of the things he has presented arguments for are supported by people who are well qualified to hold those opinions.

      You dismiss Harris because you don’t personally like his views, or the conclusions he reaches. Yet you offer no substantive arguments of your own.

      • Obamas Lied and People Died

        Harris does not ask if it is possible that some beliefs are do dangerous that killing them becomes ethical.
        He makes the positive statement that some beliefs are so dangerous that it is ethical to kill people for believing them. page 52 of TEOF
        And who decides which beliefs are that dangerous?
        Why, atheists like Harris of course, who defends pre emptive nuclear war, torture, and profiling.
        There is a definite pattern to his behavior.

        • C Peterson

          If you see his statement on page 52 as a positive statement that some beliefs make it ethical to kill people, I would argue that your reading comprehension skills are so poor as to make any discussion with you about this impossible.

  • Tim

    Harris’s only useful function is to show that athiests span the political spectrum including the nasty right-wing end of it.

    • JGoertzen

      Harris is extremely liberal in every other area. I am like Harris in this regard: pro-feminism, reproductive rights, gay marriage, pot legalization, etc., etc. And I am a firearm enthusiast who thinks strict licensing and storage laws are necessary, but that banning is unnecessarily extreme. Not all liberals agree on every topic and not all conservatives agree on every topic. It’s not useful to categorize people like that and expect all of their opinions to be identical.

    • Pseudonym

      Sam Harris is many things I dislike, but he is not at the nasty right-wing of the spectrum.

      Most people are do not like on a single-dimensional spectrum between left-wing and right-wing. As the famous adage goes, to tell if you’re left-wing or right-wing, all you need to do is determine if you are politically closer to Stalin or Mussolini.

      The more I think about it, the more I come to understand that Harris’ central problem is that he is essentially unable to comprehend other people’s arguments unless someone explains them to him in words of one syllable. That explanation usually isn’t forthcoming until after he drops his initial clanger on a given topic. But by that time, he has too much emotional and intellectual investment in his position, and so it’s too late to shift any misconceptions.

      Because he is surrounded by arguments which make no sense (because he can’t understand them), he is the lone voice of rationality. Because he is the lone voice of rationality, any on your part must be your fault for misunderstanding him. (Yes, he really said this about Sean Faircloth.)

      Sam Harris is often an original and creative thinker, don’t get me wrong. Part of the problem with discussing Harris’ op-eds is that they are a mix of deep misunderstandings (both of the evidence and of other people’s arguments) and original creative thinking which is invariably poorly motivated or explained.

      Teasing the two apart is difficult. It’s hard to know whether or not to be impressed by the ingenuity of his proposed solutions to absurdly misdiagnosed problems. Now that I think about it, Harris is the anti-Karl Marx. Marx, after all, spent his life proposing absurdly wrongheaded solutions to correctly diagnosed problems.

      Of course, original and creative thinkers who are unconstrained by comprehension of the evidence and contrary arguments often become cranks. Harris isn’t quite at that point yet, because he’s still very much in the Dunning-Kruger zone.

  • Expat Freethinker

    I wonder if we can have a civil dialogue about this sort of thing without people losing their minds. We should use statistics an reasoning to make up our own minds and conclusions. I do think he’s making a grave error in pointing to a slim list of crimes like assault, rape, and murder. There is a vast array of criteria to look at like culture, availability of weapons, ethnic tension in a region, etc, etc. He’s simplified his arguments too much. I think getting rid of guns may be impossible, but stricter gun laws are an evident necessity. Availability is clearly an issue.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    “Above all, women must refuse to stay in abusive relationships.”

    Ah, Sam Harris law enforcement – victims should just refuse to go along with it. Also, yay guns.

    Seriously, other than trying to stop this fool making us look bad, why does anyone even care any more?

    • Veronica Abbass

      Hemant says, “Feel free to point out any parts we should seriously consider or critique.” He doesn’t say attack Harris.

      • JJGDR

        Ridicule is a valid response to mindless drivel like Harris’ article.

        • baal

          I now realize that there are differences in temperament across which it
          may be impossible to communicate about the reality of human violence.

          I don’t agree with Sam’s conclusions but he’s far from mindlessly driveling. He’s actually carefully narrow on how he says things and the criticisms I’m reading here and on earlier pieces suggest that Sam is not being narrow. That’s misreading and on the reader for failing. Sam’s writing is clear and the vast majority of the criticism is not attacking what he actually said.

        • jimv2000

          You do a disservice to public discourse when you call someone’s good attempt at thoughtful discussion “mindless drivel”. Disagreeing with his conclusions is no excuse for insults.

    • jimv2000

      So women should stay in abusive relationships?

    • jimv2000

      Are you saying that women should stay in abusive relationships? Why are you disagreeing with Harris on that point?

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        No, I’m saying that blaming the victim for not solving the problem is bad. No-one ought to be telling a domestic violence victim that they’re responsible for anything they ‘should’ do.

        • jimv2000

          Regardless of how you assign blame, someone’s still getting abused. Either the victim can wait for the abuser to stop, or the victim can do something for themselves. I think victims stand a better chance in the latter scenario.

        • CelticWhisper

          It’s one of the rare cases where the victim gets (and should get) a “freebie,” for want of a better term.

          Morally speaking, responsibility lies on the abuser to stop perpetrating their abuse upon their victims – those victims should never be held responsible for the wrongdoing of those who hurt them. The offender, and only the offender, is in control of the offender’s actions*.

          Practically/realistically speaking, we cannot reasonably expect an abuser to stop abusing of their own accord. The practical responsibility lies on the victim to do whatever s/he can in order to break free from his/her abuser and their actions. This is, however, ONLY a practical responsibility. It is merely a matter of fact – if A and B are involved, and it can be assumed that A will not change, then all change depends on B. This is not desirable but it is, sadly, often true.

          This is a case where victims who fight back (by whatever means they can, not necessarily physical force at the moment of abuse) should be lauded and congratulated for helping themselves out, but victims who don’t should not be denigrated for failing to do so. Not all victims are in a position to resist, especially where complex family dynamics are involved (abusive parents, neglectful spouse, children at risk, etc.), and so while I believe victims should be encouraged to put up any kind of fight they can, there should be no perception of a moral imperative to do so.

          *Barring cases of psychosis or other statistically-outlying extenuating circumstances, which barely warrant mention as they generally do not confer moral culpability upon a victim of violence for that victim’s own suffering.

  • Cormacolinde

    “Feel free to point out any parts we should seriously consider”.

    None. I lost all semblance of confidence in Harris’ rational abilities after his incoherent rants supporting torture and racial profiling in total spite of experts’ clearly supported arguments against those activities. One of the best experts in security matters (Bruce Schneier) corrected and clearly argued against all of his points with clear logical arguments, sourced with studies and facts. And then Harris just dug in with his racist and absurd ideas.

    I read significant excerpts of his latest rant on guns, and none of it makes sense, there are logical, rational arguments against every single one of his points. Other people have done a better job than I could extolling those.

  • BShoe

    Abused women are 2.7x as likely to be murdered when there’s a gun in the house, and no study has ever shown a protective effect of guns in that scenario. Surveys also show that having guns in the house makes men feel safer and women feel less safe. Harris, surprise surprise, is wrong.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504525766 Michael Harbour

      “Abused women are 2.7x as likely to be murdered when there’s a gun in the house”

      Citation?

      • MichaelD
        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504525766 Michael Harbour

          Cool. Thanks for doing BShoe’s work for her.

        • CelticWhisper

          I believe you and BShoe. However, it’s not Michael’s responsibility to find supporting evidence for BShoe’s claim. We can’t reasonably apply burden-of-proof rebuttals to theistic arguments if we do not expect the same due diligence from one another on gun control or other issues. Or, at least, we cannot claim the moral high ground if we do so.

          • MichaelD

            I don’t entirely disagree but I find a certain laziness in debates frustrating. It took roughly the same amount of time to compose the comment asking for the source as it took to google search and find some sources. While its certainly ideal to link all your sources in your discussions if a source is missing I’d at least prefer a quick search to try to find it before asking for it. Just saves everyone time if along with the burden of proof there’s some charity and willingness to investigate on ones own.

            • LouisDoench

              Maybe one is on ones phone?

    • jimv2000

      Here’s the deal with that study. It gives us a bunch of statics about correlations, but no causes. In other words, it’s not worth much for decision making.

      • Parth

        You’re right that the study does not provide explanations for why guns end up doing more harm than preventing harm. However, I don’t think that discredits the study. Harris’ argument is that guns would allow abused women to protect themselves…clearly that’s not the case.

        Additionally, your argument doesn’t really make sense. You don’t need to know the cause to make a decision. Say a study found there’s a 90% correlation between inhaling a particular chemical and getting cancer. Using your logic, I could argue that because we don’t know the cause of the cancer, it’s useless to make a decision.

        Even if we don’t know why guns in the house would lead to more death, clearly removing guns would reduce the murder rate.

        Also, let’s be honest. It’s pretty obvious what the cause is. As the second link posted by Michael states: “The most straightforward explanation
        is that the presence of a gun increases the possibility that a
        normal family fight or drinking binge will become deadly. No other
        explanation fits the above facts.”

  • DKeane123

    From the Violence Policy Center:

    “More than five times as many women were murdered by an intimate acquaintance (605) than by a stranger (113) in the year 2000. Additionally, while firearm homicides involving male victims were mostly intra-gender, 95 percent of female firearm homicide victims were murdered by a male.”

    “A 1997 study that examined the risk factors for violent death for women in the home found that when there were one or more guns in the home, the risk of suicide among women increased nearly five times and the risk of homicide increased more than three times. The increased risk of homicide associated with firearms was attributable to homicides at the hands of a spouse, intimate acquaintance, or close relative.”

    “And while rates of intimate partner homicide have been declining, the ratio of female-to-male victims has risen. In other words, when an intimate-partner homicide occurs, it is increasingly likely that a woman is the victim rather than a man.”

    So I don’t think that his concern about making guns available so that women can protect themselves holds up very well.

    • DKeane123

      I would love it that is someone disagrees with a post – rather than “vote down”, how about comment on it instead?

      • sunburned

        “So I don’t think that his concern about making guns available so that women can protect themselves holds up very well.”

        The statistics you provided aren’t even remotely related to your statement.

        >”More than five times as many women were murdered by an intimate acquaintance”

        Without a matching statistic of women firearm owners who where murdered by intimate acquaintances it has no bearing.

        >A 1997 study that examined the risk factors for violent death for women in the home found that when there were one or more guns in the home, the risk of suicide….

        And what exactly where the rates of attempted suicide? Without this information you’ve demonstrated that guns are statistically a better method of suicide?

        >And while rates of intimate partner homicide have been declining, the ratio of female-to-male victims has risen…..

        So rates are declining, but not evenly across sexes. I really *can’t* imagine how making firearms and training available to women so they can protect themselves would have *any* impact on this statistic.

        What is really grating is the herring about abused women. Yes it’s sad and a social problem that needs addressing. However using it as a platform issue for gun control is disingenuous.

        What needs to be addressed is the ABUSE and it’s social causes.

    • kdp

      Both the Violence Policy Center and the NRA are examples of groups who will find statistical data to support whatever opinion they prefer. It will take serious, unbiased discussion to determine what the best course going forward will be.

      • DKeane123

        I see your concern that they are a lobbying group, Know of any unbiased sources?

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          Harvard? http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/hicrc/firearms-research/misperceptions/index.html (among many, many other breakdowns on their site; see the left-side menu).

          • DKeane123

            Excellent – thanks

          • JGoertzen

            Of course, they found that the US confounded the results because of their high firearm ownership eclipsing other nations… It kind of makes the results irrelevant when considering US policy changes.

            • JGoertzen

              Specifically: “Female homicide victimization rates were significantly associated with firearm availability largely because of the United States.”

      • DKeane123

        Takes alot of their numbers directly from the DOJ and looks like it supports the VPC statistics.

        http://smartgunlaws.org/domestic-violence-firearms-policy-summary/

    • jimv2000

      Maybe you’ve just made a case for banning men from owning guns.

      • Pseudonym

        Or possibly just American men.

  • JJGDR

    His “argumentation” is nothing but a warmed up rehash of NRA talking points, couched in less acrid rhetoric. He willfully ignores all the contrary evidence, using pointless excuses to avoid having to consider it (e.g. gun ownership being too high to be able to implement significant gun control; tell that to Canada, which has a gun ownership rate not that dissimilar to the US).

    I agree with one of the commenters above: Harris has now devolved into being a mindless contrarian. He should be ignored, not encouraged.

    • DKeane123

      There are ways to reduce gun ownership. I believe Australia had a gun buy back program that was reasonably successful.

    • Pseudonym

      Harris has now devolved into being a mindless contrarian.

      Someone had to fill the void left by Hitchens. Unfortunately, Harris has neither the literary flair, nor the blood alcohol concentration, to do the job adequately.

  • JJGDR

    Adding to my previous comment: Harris claims that the murder rate decreasing is a sign that gun ownership is unrelated to violent crime. The simple fact is that gun ownership rates, in the US, have also declined over the last 30 years. What simple averages don’t tell you is that the percentage of households with guns has declined (although not that sharply) over the last 30-40 years, while those with guns have started to stockpile them in increasing numbers, leading to false claims of increasing gun ownership. In the early 70s, nearly 50% of households had guns; today, it’s less than 40%. It’s a significant decrease, and it is correlated with the drop in violent crime (causality is of course much harder to determine).

    Harris is losing credibility, fast.

    • sunburned
    • jimv2000

      Crime rates have dropped significantly more than gun ownership rates, and it’s not really possible to say that either trend caused the other. It could be that crime went down because gun ownership went down, or maybe gun ownership went down because crime went down, or maybe the two trends are coincidental. If Harris is losing credibility for the supposed misuse of statistics, so are you.

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        ” If Harris is losing credibility for the supposed misuse of statistics, so are you.”

        That’s not true. Harris is making a positive claim that’s not backed up by the evidence. JJGDR is simply pointing out that the evidence doesn’t back it up, he’s not claiming the that the contrary is true.

        • jimv2000

          Harris indeed uses evidence, we apparently disagree on what the evidence means.

  • DougI

    Just tried reading Harris’ first point and already he can’t form a coherent argument. The first point refers to other countries that issued stricter gun control measures and his response is something about how it’s impossible to ban and buy back all the guns in the country. So much for Harris being a rational thinker when all he can see is the issue in black and white. To him a law requiring seat belts being installed in cars is the equivalent of banning all cars.

    Then again, I can’t really accuse someone who advocates for pre-emptive war and torture as being a very rational thinker.

    • jimv2000

      “The first point refers to other countries that issued stricter gun
      control measures and his response is something about how it’s impossible
      to ban and buy back all the guns in the country.”

      That’s a completely valid response. He’s pointing out that our social and legal environment (aka, the 2nd Amendment) make the idea of a comprehensive gun ban completely infeasible. Arguing for such a ban, in that case, is simply pointless. Time would be better spent arguing for things that are feasible.

      • DougI

        Harris was creating a strawman since he was commenting on a question regarding policies in other countries that don’t have a total gun ban but responding as if they do. Harris appears to be quite ill-informed about the subject. As for the 2nd Amendment, the current court decisions about the 2nd Amendment allowing for anarchy when it comes to gun ownership is a recent invention since prior to the 70s the case law stated quite a different position.

  • Anonymous

    Harris writes of “responsible adults” being allowed to own guns as though we have reliable ways of sorting people into such a bin. To the best of my knowledge, we don’t. Did I miss something?

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Which leads to other questions, such as: was Nancy Lanza a “responsible adult?” You won’t find Sam Harris tackling this question though.

      • WoodyTanaka

        Nancy Lanza was, the day before the Newtown massacre, a “responsible gun owner” and the NRA would have done their “out of my cold, dead fingers” mummer routine if anyone suggested that the guns be taken from her. Of course, the day after the murders, she was the “one bad apple” that the gun fetishists claim shouldn’t dictate gun policy.
        The NRA, and most of the people who support it, prefer as a policy choice that occassional first-grade classes are murder en mass than to enact sensible restrictions on who can own guns and how they may own them.

        • AbelCrunk

          You didn’t say otherwise, but I think it’s worth pointing out that Sam Harris is not the NRA.

          • WoodyTanaka

            No, but the NRA does not exist in a vacuum. It has many supporters among people who describe themselves exactly as Harris does with regard to guns, not all of whom are members. I would not say that Harris is anything other than being “potentially dangerous” — like every other gun owner — without more info. concerning his opinions on the NRA. But given the current political climate, statements like his do give aid and comfort to the enemy-the NRA-even if he is not a member.

            Just as he argues that moderate religious people make extremist religious people possible, moderate gun people like Harris make extremist gun people like the NRA possible.

    • C Peterson

      Realistically, we are capable of assessing responsibility in a critical way, and could become much more so with additional research. The problem isn’t with our ability (or the ability we might reasonably have in the near future), but with our lack of political will to actually make something like that happen.

      When incidents of unprovoked or unmotivated violence are analyzed after the fact, strong and evident indicators of the lack of responsibility of the perpetrator are almost always found (as well as other warning signs). We are simply not a society that is very good at addressing problems before they occur.

      • sunburned

        It’s more than that. We cannot, as a government, address problems before they occur. To do so amounts to thought crimes. Until a person breaks the law they have the same rights and privileges as the next person.

        Can you imagine a world where you can’t get a drivers licence because you have been known to buy beer or wine and have other qualities that are similar to people who have been convicted of drinking and driving?

        • C Peterson

          We certainly can address problems before they occur. For instance, we address the problem (to a degree) of incompetent drivers by training, testing, and licensing. We address the problem of impaired workers in many critical areas by drug testing.

          This is a problem that is amenable to political solutions, and it need not be as extreme as “thought crime”.

          I can, indeed, imagine a world where you can’t get a driver’s license because you demonstrate a pattern of behavior with respect to alcohol that is related to impaired driving.

          • sunburned

            See your original comment:

            “When incidents of unprovoked or unmotivated violence are analyzed after the fact, strong and evident indicators of the lack of responsibility of the perpetrator are almost always found (as well as other warning signs). We are simply not a society that is very good at addressing problems before they occur.”

            All of the *precursors* and warning signs are almost always found to be perfectly legal. Your examples deftly ignore this while blurring the lines between private corporate activities and public governance.

            You cannot deny people equal protection and enjoyment of their rights unless they break the law to start with.

            • C Peterson

              It is legal to have epilepsy, yet we can deny epileptics the right to drive. There is no obvious legal reason that we can’t place restrictions on the privileges that society grants when people can’t meet necessary requirements. Nobody is suggesting that those people are criminals before the fact.

              • sunburned

                Obviously the driving analogy that breaks down at being a privilege and not a protected right.

                • C Peterson

                  There is no real difference between a privilege and a right. We can interpret the Second Amendment anyway that we wish (as a society). The right to possess certain kinds of firearms (e.g. machine guns) is already treated as a conventional privilege, and there are already many restrictions (e.g. background checks, registration) on even very ordinary firearms. We currently limit firearms ownership based on various preexisting conditions, including a history of violence or a history of mental illness.

                  I don’t see any reason that an assertive demonstration of psychological stability couldn’t be taken as consistent with the Second Amendment.

                • sunburned

                  >There is no real difference between a privilege and a right.

                  What? I think there are quite a few judges, politicians and historians who would differ.

                  >We currently limit firearms ownership based on various preexisting conditions, including a history of violence or a history of mental illness.

                  You can’t mean breaking the law and/or being adjudged by a court of being mentally incompetent? Hardly conditions that you imply.

                  See: http://www.jaapl.org/content/35/3/330.full

                  >I don’t see any reason that an assertive demonstration of psychological stability couldn’t be taken as consistent with the Second Amendment.

                  See the above link.

                • AbelCrunk

                  I agree with the statement that there’s no real difference between a privilege and a right except perhaps in our attitudes. The fact is any “right” that you have is useless if you can’t exercise it, and there’s nothing magical about our enumerated rights that ensures that won’t happen. As a matter of Law, there is a difference, but there’s no practical difference. A right is just a privilege you’re generally less likely to lose.

                • sunburned
                • C Peterson

                  Other than a slightly different legal interpretation (and not all that different- rights are just privileges that require a higher burden to restrict), there is really no difference. Of course, many religious people believe that there is such a thing as “natural rights”, but since I don’t believe that, I don’t recognize any substantive difference between rights and privileges. Both are human inventions, granted by humans, to humans (and sometimes to animals), and only as strong as people’s ability to defend them.

                • sunburned

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_and_legal_rights

                  Many non-religious people also arrive at the same conclusion through reasoning. E.G. Immanual Kant.

                  “I don’t recognize any substantive difference between rights and privileges.”

                  The *exceptions* you have pointed out are indeed very substantial. Such as the higher burden to restrict the rights of individuals and an even higher burden to to restrict those rights that are specifically protected.

                  That higher burden being the very point of my original post. The Government can’t restrict the rights of an individual who are acting in a lawful manor because of statistical probabilities.

                  “Both are human inventions, granted by humans, to humans (and sometimes to animals), and only as strong as people’s ability to defend them.”

                  Which brings us full circle.

    • jimv2000

      You say that we can’t determine who is responsible and who is not responsible. How is that an argument for more gun control? How would you even implement a gun control system if you can’t tell who shouldn’t have gun?

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        You could take the approach the UK does to deciding which random civilians should be allowed to have handguns; none of them are.

        • jimv2000

          I don’t think a law based on “we can’t tell if you’re responsible with a gun” would stand up to a 2nd Amendment challenge.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

            that’s what annoys me most: the current interpretation of what it “means” somehow the “well regulated militia” part is always forgotten, while the “bear arms” part is always enforced.

            well regulated means laws regulating gun ownership. why is that so hard to understand? the militias had to be armed in the time of the Founders because our nation was damn poor in its earliest days and there were problems keeping people showing up on the battlefield, armed and clothed, during the Revolution.

            but this nonsense about the 2nd amd meaning “any hillbilly can own 13 grenade launchers” is just sick and wrong. the SCOTUS who “interpreted” that way is responsible for the mess we’re in now.

        • Pseudonym

          Another option is the Australian approach. Which civilians should be allowed to have class X of gun? Anyone who has a legitimate reason to have one. And no, personal or home defence is not a legitimate reason.

          The only legitimate reason for a civilian to own a handgun is if you are a legitimate sporting target shooter. To prove that you are a legitimate, you must compete a probationary period in a licensed gun club and participate in a minimum number of approved sporting events every year. Plus, of course, there’s all the usual background checks and licensing.

          The probationary period and requirement to participate in approved events is, I think, an under-appreciated piece of regulation. It effectively means that you are both initially and subsequently judged by your peers and the officials who regulate these events.

      • Anonymous

        It’s not an argument for more gun control. Hemant wrote: “Feel free to point out any parts we should seriously consider or critique”. That’s all it was.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    But when all else fails, … is the best solution…

    This is idiotic. This is poor logic, this is poor writing. This is evidence that Sam Harris is not thinking clearly on this issue.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Clearly, there is a need for strict laws, good policing, psychological counseling, women’s shelters, and other resources.

    I look forward to the NRA offering political support and funding for these vital needs.

    • keddaw

      Why would a gun manufacturer funded lobby, who are willing to throw the 1st and 4th Amendments under the bus to sell more guns, give a damn about these things?

      The really damning thing is that anyone listens to the NRA. And that anyone who makes the few sane points the NRA has in its favour is immediately smeared as a gun nut.

      Arguments stand or fall as the evidence dictates, not based on who makes them.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Why would a gun manufacturer funded lobby, who are willing to throw the
        1st and 4th Amendments under the bus to sell more guns, give a damn
        about these things?

        The serious answer you didn’t expect: because if it would reduce gun-related crime, it would diminish the link between guns and crime, and thus improve the image of guns in this country.

        • keddaw

          Good answer, but strict laws and good policing would not have a positive impact on gun sales, psychological counselling would have a minor detrimental effect on sales and crime, and women’s shelters would reduce crime but aren’t really in the style of the NRA – they’d rather say, “Abusive parter? Buy a bigger gun and show him who wears the trousers!”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Brazilian Jiu-jitsu … I would extend the same reasoning, albeit less emphatically, to owning
    and training with firearms. I sleep much better knowing that I am
    prepared for certain low-probability but worst-case scenarios, and I
    find the process of training for them more empowering than onerous.

    What a rational and valid comparison! I admit that I lose sleep sometimes, worrying that while I am away at work my children will get their hands on my Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and hurt themselves or others with it. This Harris fellow is logic personified, and is making a terrific contribution to the necessary dialogue.

    • sunburned

      Wow. Just wow. I just can’t imagine Harris has the gumption to draw an analogy between two things that are not completely analogous in every exacting detail. The unmitigated gall.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        The two things are dissimilar in many ways that severely undercut the comparison, and Harris’ argument. So go fuck yourself.

        • sunburned

          Such a well reasoned response.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            And yet it was enough to refute every specific point you raised (i.e. none).

            • sunburned

              What point? That no analogy is 100% accurate? Or the point where your just being a dick?

        • JGoertzen

          Apparently you missed the part where Harris advocates keeping guns locked up. If you’re at all worried your children have access to your firearms, you haven’t stored them properly. The topic requires something other than the black and white thinking you’re using to “critique” his analogy. :

  • Don

    Harris has it wrong here. He really expects a battered woman to pick up a gun and kill her husband (even if he is a piece of shit)? What’s more likely is he takes the gun away from her and beats her with it or kills her. The better solution: don’t have a gun in the house.

    • sunburned

      No, the best response is to not be in the house in the first place. A point I believe Harris made.

    • http://twitter.com/Sajanas1 Sajanas

      I also seem to recall that while Florida’s Stand Your Ground law worked perfectly well for a man killing a black teenager armed with skittles, there was a woman who killed her abusive husband that was none the less facing the death penalty. Never expect the laws of self defense to be applied equally.

    • jimv2000

      “The better solution: don’t have a gun in the house.”

      That solution is difficult to achieve under our legal environment. I don’t think the Supreme Court will ever let a gun ban of that scale stand. That said, your solution really isn’t the “better” one in that it’s infeasible.

  • BrianE

    Wow, really disappointed in the comments on this.

    First, there’s a serious lack of reading comprehension and broad brushing going on with this topic and others that Harris has had the balls to address. Any of you who claim that Harris is ‘pro-torture’, ‘pro-profiling’ or ‘pro-gun’ are guilty of this. As Harris has tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to point out is that this problem (and others) is more nuanced than ‘take away all guns’ OR ‘give everyone a gun’. Commenters here are being equally guilty as their conservative counterparts of black and white thinking on this issue and others, whereas Harris tries to take unbiased, logical, and factual-based arguments for a neutral solution, and your lambasting him for that.

    And I haven’t seen one of you offer a counter-argument to the situation Harris mentions where the recently widowed woman successfully defended herself and her infant with a shotgun against two male intruders armed with knives.As Harris put it: “An ethical argument for the banning of guns must tell us why it would have been preferable for this woman to have been armed only with a frying pan. ”

    I think some of you need to worry about the plank in your own eye before worrying about the speck in Harris’….

    • http://twitter.com/Sajanas1 Sajanas

      The problem is that people are using anecdotes like the one you brought up to ignore huge statistical trends that say more guns equals more gun crime, more murders by spouses, more successful suicides, etc.

      I’m glad that woman was able to defend herself. I don’t think that woman would not be able to defend herself with more sensible gun control.

      • jimv2000

        On the other hand, there are countries that have high gun ownership and lower crime, like Canada.

      • BrianE

        “I don’t think that woman would not be able to defend herself with more sensible gun control.”

        I completely agree, and so does Harris. That’s what’s being lost in this discussion is that in both articles, Harris has already conceded that more sensible gun control IS needed; it just might not be the laws people instinctively think are needed.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      “Harris tries to take unbiased, logical, and factual-based arguments for a neutral solution”

      He really doesn’t. He pushes his (wacky) views and /claims/ that he’s being unbiased. It’s a basic rhetorical device – always paint yourself as the reasonable one, and thereby try to make opposition look unreasonable.

      “An ethical argument for the banning of guns must tell us why it would
      have been preferable for this woman to have been armed only with a
      frying pan. ”

      Simple – all the lives of the people killed using guns. It’s not worth sacrificing that many other people just to give this one, and the relatively few people like her, an arguable better chance. The stats are clear – fewer guns => fewer violent deaths.

      • BrianE

        And as Harris pointed out, fewer guns => higher assault rates, including rapes. So I guess this means you’re ‘pro-rape’. Here that everyone, Ewan wants more rape in our society! How does your broad brushing feel now?

        • TristanVick

          A proliferation of PORN is tied to lowering rape cases and assault on women by up to 65%.

          So what we really need is MORE porn!

      • BrianE

        “It’s a basic rhetorical device – always paint yourself as the reasonable
        one, and thereby try to make opposition look unreasonable.”

        I don’t see anywhere where Harris is trying to claim that Faircloth is unreasonable. I only see you doing this.

      • JGoertzen

        Really? Are the stats “clear”? Have you looked them up? I have. You’re absolutely wrong. Fewer guns = fewer *deaths by gun*. Fewer guns =/= Fewer violent deaths. Like most people on this subject you’re assuming stats back you up, when they don’t. Please, view the actual stats:

        https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AvJnYme-AbqXdG9GSHI1c2xjU2p2Y1U5eUhFeXB4cUE

        You’ll find that the actual correlation is fewer guns = more violent deaths, but that the confounding factor of poverty makes the correlation irrelevant. So please, explain how it’s “clear” that fewer guns = fewer violent deaths.

        • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

          You’re including warzones. Iraq? Seriously?

          • JGoertzen

            Haha yes…which has a LOWER homicide rate than the US, despite being a warzone…

            The whole point is that the stats aren’t clear. You have to filter out the poorest countries and warzones–at which point there is no correlation. If you DON’T filter out said countries, there’s an INVERSE correlation, with less guns correlating with more violent deaths. So the “the stats are clear” line is clearly false.

            • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

              “..which has a LOWER homicide rate than the US, despite being a warzone”

              Is suspect that what Iraq actually has is a higher homicide rate and really bad stats collection. I shall endeavour to re-find the stats I was referring to (which were for developed countries broadly comparable to the US) and post them properly.

              • JGoertzen

                As indicated in my link, the stats were those gathered by the UN. If you can find better stats, good luck. But Iraq is essentially irrelevant, since you want to focus on the *developed countries* to make anything like a relevant point. I’ve made a new tab, doing this, for your benefit. When you do that, you’ll find an insignificantly negative correlation. Essentially: no correlation.

                Seriously, you don’t do good stats by looking for stats that confirm your suspicions. You do good stats by looking at the actual available stats, and correcting for confounding factors.

        • dan

          These stats say otherwise, remember stats can be twisted depending on your intent. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/index.html

          • JGoertzen

            Yes, stats can be twisted–that’s my whole point: that the statistics are far from clear.

            Some of the studies listed there have seriously weak methodologies–one uses, for instance as the measure firearm availability *the percentage of homicides that use a firearm”–which would immediately include every illegally purchased firearm (drug wars, mafia, etc.), which makes the results useless for determining the utility of legislation (i.e., reducing availability).

            Another is data from 1988 – 1997, and separates homicides into different age groups where some show a correlation (though the age group wherein the vast majority of homicides are found, ages 15-34, there was no correlation), then declares that they’ve found a correlation; no justification is given for the division, which smells of data massaging.

            So yeah: statistics can be manipulated. Which is why even experts (I’m obviously not one) say “the relationship is unclear,” and not “the stats are clear,” as Ewan did.

      • AbelCrunk

        Actually, I don’t think I ever see Harris claim to be unbiased. He very consistently acknowledges his biases.

    • jimv2000

      The current culture has no time for nuance. Gather information quickly and make a judgment quickly. Nuance only slows that down.

    • Pseudonym

      As Harris has tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to point out is that
      this problem (and others) is more nuanced than ‘take away all guns’ OR
      ‘give everyone a gun’.

      It would be easier to identify nuance in Harris’ arguments if he didn’t constantly assume that everyone else lacks nuance in their argument, such as assuming that gun control advocates want a world without any guns whatsoever. Conceding that people who disagree with him actually have nuanced arguments is invariably something that Harris reserves for the follow-up post.

    • Obama Lied and People Died

      Harris whines that he is “misinterpreted” about pre emptive nuclear war, torture, profiling and so forth but it happens again and again as he addresses these topics.
      Perhaps he should be more clear?
      The fact is that he has supported all those things but when there is a backlash he starts dodging and weaving like a lying politician.

      • AbelCrunk

        Or maybe, just maybe, people used to reading and refuting the poor thinking of creationists have lost the attention span required to digest a complicated position on a complicated topic. I seem to understand him right the first time consistently.

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

      Yes, I can counter that argument for you – the one Stupid Sam made that the only way to effectively tackle a person with a knife is with a gun.

      Every day in the UK our (almost entirely) unarmed police men and women tackle knife wielding criminals using NO guns. A truncheon and a mace canister is all they need.

      Facts 1, Anecdote 0

  • Phillip Moon

    Just using the example of domestic violence, there are several issues worth noting. First is that any gun in the home available to the abused wife/woman is also available to the husband/male. What makes you think a male abuser is going to allow his abused wife to have a loaded gun in the home, and how does a loaded gun make the children safer? Saying that abused women should “…refuse to stay in abusive relationships,” is just silly. If it were that easy, then there wouldn’t
    be a problem. The first time a man raised his hand to the woman, she’d be gone,
    but here, Sam is ignoring thousands of years of social conditioning as well as
    threats to the women, and often, to children (including the threat to take the
    children away from the mother).

    Finally, women who kill their husbands or abusive boyfriends are more likely to
    find themselves in jail for murder or assault than to be supported for proper
    use of self-defense, yet another issue that has to be dealt with before advocating women become killers. The question usually become one of, “why didn’t
    you just leave.”

    Domestic violence is better dealt with as a social issue that requires efforts to counter patriarchal training and attitudes towards women in society, as well as a focused effort to get men to quit hitting women. Education and social support structures that help to tackle issues of substance abuse and poverty, as well as male privilege would be more helpful than teaching women to just kill the guy.

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

    Yes – I have a criticism and can see a glaring omission.

    First in his original Simple Sam chose to ignore the fact that UK police are largely unarmed, and thus his assertion that the only way to effectively deal with a knife wielding person is to shoot them is blatantly false. He still ignores that, and does not address the assertion so I guess he still stands by it, despite the fact it rates a 10 on the Stupidity Scale.

    Next he uses yet more anecdotal evidence, this time concerning Nev and Steve, a couple of chav thugs from the UK. NO Simple Sam, Nev and Steve are not free to run rampant. They will eventually fall foul of the law and end up in prison. They will be arrested, even if armed with knives, by unarmed coppers. And Nev and Steve seem to me to be more chavvy bluster thugs and bully boy braggarts than serious criminals. The reasons they were free to brag are not really addressed properly in your anecdote, one of course being that they are small fish, another that nobody had so far pressed substantive charges against them.

    By extension, and the snarky use of “this is what assault means in the UK”, Simple Sam asserts that all assaults are like those described by said chav scum. Not true. Assault is a specific legal term with defined parameters. Its a punch up. Use a weapon of ANY kind and assault becomes ADW – Assault with Deadly Weapon. Added to those charges will be the accompaniment kickers – Resulting In : (one of the following) Actual Bodily Harm (bruising etc) or Grievous Bodily Harm (broken bones and bleeding). There are also “Intent” charges that can be added – “with intent to” if the assault is determined to be pre-determined (a Mens Rea offense).

    Gang violence such as described in Simple Sam’s anecdote is a minority of assault incidents, and a minority of overall violent crime in the UK. Had Sam bothered to read any of the Home Office stats and reports, rather than some headless chicken scare novel, he would know that. He would also know that every police force in the UK now has specialist units tracking the Nevs and Steves, and that they are doing a good job of taking them out of circulation.

    But not in Simple Sam’s Simple Story of course.

    This is Sam post all the other wrong stuff he has asserted floundering
    around again like a fish out of water. I admire his pluck for repeatedly
    walking over hot coals, but just wish he wouldn’t as he keeps getting
    his tootsies toasted.

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

    My prior rant was long, so I thought Id throw another spanner in Sam World in a separate post. This one concerns the stupid and blatantly false myth that is “The Responsible Gun Owner.”

    Sam, who works in Neuroscience, should know more than most others that the human mind is a pretty robust thing, but that even the strongest minds can still be broken once the right stress factors are applied. Some minds take a lot, others much less. In some cases it needs the threat of loosing a house then you loose your job, your wife, etc. In others it is the loss of a loved one. In some more prone to irrational fears, such as Randy Weaver and other militia groups, it is fear of the contrived threat from outside. In some it is growing alienation from the world. There are many reasons that a normally stable and respectable, reasonable person “Goes Postal”.

    And once that does happen, the responsible mind becomes the unresponsible mind. The reasonable, quiet, good neighbor becomes the gun wielding nut who walks into work and guns down his boss and colleagues. The quiet and introverted student pushed around and bullied becomes the next Columbine style shooter. Yesterdays Responsible Gun Owner(tm) just became todays spree shooting maniac.

    And then of course we have the other Responsible Gun Owner(tm) who, just like you and I occasionally forget where we left our keys, forgets to lock the gun chest or that there is a round still in the chamber. The Responsible Gun Owner(tm) whose kid gets access to the gun and shoots his mate, or the Responsible Gun Owner(tm) who accidentally shoots his kid, his wife or his mate when that round in the chamber goes off.

    Sam knows, from his work, that the human mind is both breakable and fallible. To perpetuate the myth, he ignores the facts, and that from a man who works on the mind is nothing short of blatant dishonesty.

  • Pureone

    I like the “several guns” bit. Apparently people think one can shoot trap with a deer rifle, use a turkey gun on grouse and woodcock or pheasants ( one can, but not well), or use a semi-auto pistol in pistol/shotgun deer areas…


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