The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

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Travis
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The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by Travis » Thu Jan 03, 2013 7:27 am

Fantasists and zealots can be found on both sides of the debate over guns in America. On the one hand, many gun-rights advocates reject even the most sensible restrictions on the sale of weapons to the public. On the other, proponents of stricter gun laws often seem unable to understand why a good person would ever want ready access to a loaded firearm. Between these two extremes we must find grounds for a rational discussion about the problem of gun violence.

Unlike most Americans, I stand on both sides of this debate. I understand the apprehension that many people feel toward “gun culture,” and I share their outrage over the political influence of the National Rifle Association. How is it that we live in a society in which one of the most compelling interests is gun ownership? Where is the science lobby? The safe food lobby? Where is the get-the-Chinese-lead-paint-out-of-our-kids’-toys lobby? When viewed from any other civilized society on earth, the primacy of guns in American life seems to be a symptom of collective psychosis.

Most of my friends do not own guns and never will. When asked to consider the possibility of keeping firearms for protection, they worry that the mere presence of them in their homes would put themselves and their families in danger. Can’t a gun go off by accident? Wouldn’t it be more likely to be used against them in an altercation with a criminal? I am surrounded by otherwise intelligent people who imagine that the ability to dial 911 is all the protection against violence a sane person ever needs.

But, unlike my friends, I own several guns and train with them regularly. Every month or two, I spend a full day shooting with a highly qualified instructor. This is an expensive and time-consuming habit, but I view it as part of my responsibility as a gun owner. It is true that my work as a writer has added to my security concerns somewhat, but my involvement with guns goes back decades. I have always wanted to be able to protect myself and my family, and I have never had any illusions about how quickly the police can respond when called. I have expressed my views on self-defense elsewhere. Suffice it to say, if a person enters your home for the purpose of harming you, you cannot reasonably expect the police to arrive in time to stop him. This is not the fault of the police—it is a problem of physics.

Read on.
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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by Marc » Thu Jan 03, 2013 5:03 pm

Ok - here I go, half wishing I wasn't....

Sam, it's a well written cogent argument although you contradict yourself in places...

However the stats say it all. Over 10,000 gun deaths in the USA last year. 38 or so in the UK. Our population is a quarter of yours.
And I don't know but I'll guess a minority of those deaths relate to armed intruders being killed in self defence. A far greater number of deaths will be family members - husbands v wives, lovers etc. and altercations of that nature. No doubt the majority were inter gang /drug related.

However the true issue remains that the genie is out of the bottle. Get the good people to give up their guns and the baddies will remain armed. However, the legal penalties for committing an armed offence are much greater than those for an unarmed offence - so a burglar in the uk, not expecting to meet firearm equipped resistance does not want to carry a gun in case he is caught.

Apart from how you deal with that aspect, I cannot see any good reason why military assault rifles should be available outside of the army. And that Second Amendment bollocks - designed primarily so that States could raise a Militia to overthrow a Federal govt if it got too big for its own boots- is anachronistic and shows little faith in America's avowed belief in Democracy!

I accept it is a problem but believe the problem lies in how you disarm the bad guys after you've started down the gun control road.

Marc

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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by Travis » Thu Jan 03, 2013 8:27 pm

I don't understand. Where are the contradictions?
There's only one rule in street and bar fights: maximum violence, instantly. (Martin Amis, "Money")

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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by Ros » Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:06 pm

The problem with the US seems (to me, an outsider who can't be bothered to look into it in detail) is the assumption of a gun; whether carried by an intruder or someone defending their household. There just doesn't seem to be that expectation in Europe and so people don't feel the need to have a gun to counteract it.

The tone of the article seems to me to be summed up here:
"In the vast majority of murders committed with firearms—even most mass killings—the weapon used is a handgun. Unless we outlaw and begin confiscating handguns, the weapons best suited for being carried undetected into a classroom, movie theater, restaurant, or shopping mall for the purpose of committing mass murder will remain readily available in the United States. But no one is seriously proposing that we address the problem on this level. "

- the assumption that owning a handgun is something ordinary.

I think many people outside the US don't understand this urge to own guns in the home.

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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by k-j » Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:46 pm

Article too long for me to read, sorry. Just read the excerpt. I don't think I've spoken to a single non-American who thought the U.S. gun laws were reasonable.

Agree with Ros: if banning* handguns is unthinkable (though evidence from other countries says it isn't), why not at least start with anything (semi) automatic? What possible need could a person have for that kind of weapon?

Also agree with Marc's point, the statistics alone should be evidence enough. America may be the land of the free, but the citizens of Canada, Australia, Japan, the UK and most of Europe have a freedom Americans lack - the freedom to live with only a vanishingly minuscule chance of being killed or maimed by a gun. They are also free from the (to me) slight queasiness induced by seeing guns everywhere in society, by living in a society where a thing designed for killing people is as ordinary a thing as a snow-blower or a cellphone.

Except perhaps for those living in exceptionally dangerous places, the risk of dying at the hands of an armed intruder is tiny, even in America. You are far more likely to be killed by a motor vehicle or by drinking too much soda than by someone bursting into your home. Owning a gun solely to protect against this - and given that doing so is by no means an infallible protection, and the risk that despite all your precautions and sanity it could fall into the hands of a crazy guest or relative, and given also the wider risk posed by having millions of guns floating around in the hands of potentially crazy people - is therefore paranoia. We shouldn't legislate based on paranoia, but on evidence.

Re: Marc's "genie is out of the bottle" argument. Maybe so, but when you're in a hole, and all that.

*by "banning" I mean stringently regulating as in other countries.
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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by Ros » Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:56 pm

Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by brianedwards » Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:59 pm

It's just Americans shooting each other, so fucking what? Land O' Da Free dude.

B.

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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by Nash » Thu Jan 03, 2013 11:43 pm

What's wrong with guns? Guns are great? You can't argue with the NRA, I hear they're going to use this as their anthem.



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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by twoleftfeet » Fri Jan 04, 2013 12:52 pm

Here in the UK I believe we have been experiencing a similar problem (but much smaller) to the USA, with knives instead of guns.
It's an arms race, of sorts: if you believe the other guy is armed then you will be, too.The excuse is always "self-protection".

The NRA thrives on this misguided logic - I expect gun sales go up every time there is a mass-shooting,
despite all the hand-wringing from the liberal politicians.

I don't know what the standard response from the U.S police is to a 911 call involving guns , but in the U.K it seems always to be treated as a major incident (rightly so, as our police are not routinely armed) involving armed-response teams.

I dread to think what would happen if every PC had a gun, considering that, recently, one of them deemed it necessary to taser an old blind guy with a weak heart because he suspected his white stick was a samurai sword.

AS has been said, the genie is out of the bottle in the USA, and the NRA will see to it that it never goes back.
Instead of just sitting on the fence - why not stand in the middle of the road?

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Re: The Riddle of the Gun (Sam Harris)

Post by pseud » Thu Jan 24, 2013 8:51 am

SS - what do you think of this article? I think Harris makes a lot of sense and got it right.

But I'm just a guy, not a criminologist. I lived in a bad part of St. Louis for many years. I know responsible gun owners - avid hunters, or ex-military types who know a thing or two about actually defending their home in case of a break-in. Funny, it's a little more complicated than "point and shoot" when walls are thin. And I've also known irresponsible gun owners - the kind who would claim "home defense" but really end up leaving a loaded pistol on the ground under a pile of laundry.

We've also got to take into consideration the horror stories of children accidentally discovering a firearm and killing themselves or someone else. But alas, "guns don't kill people..."

I've had one waved in my face as I've been robbed, too. Coincidentally, it was a small revolver that only held 6 bullets, not an "assault" weapon that the President is seeking to ban.

Harris' article was really a breath of fresh air. Between movies, video games, documentaries (Michael Moore is not the expert he seems to think he is), self-proclaimed krav maga experts, the "media," and other armchair warriors, there is no end to the amount of idiotic theorizing going on about actual knife or gun fighting, let alone the reality of mass-murderers.

As Harris points out very well, the real thing is way too unpredictable, and at some point America is going to have to wake up to the fact that we cannot legislate our way out of this, because it is a problem that has been around for a long time. Guns and ammo will always be too available, some people will always be too stupid, and there are certain things that can't be planned. Let's face it, the U.S. politicians on both sides are playing a game of "who cares more about the kids," because even if they mean every word they say, they also know that they can't afford to look ineffective - or worse, like they could do something, but just don't care enough.
"Don't treat your common sense like an umbrella. When you come into a room to philosophize, don't leave it outside, but bring it in with you." Wittgenstein

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