On Violence (and guns)

Sam Harris started a Violence FAQ where he posts his replies to questions on violence.

Here are my questions and responses. (I also sent this to Mr. Harris):

Mr. Harris, I like your idea of an evolving FAQ on violence. And I appreciate that you published it and invited responses. (I also appreciate that it is you—a reasonable person—creating/curating it.) The FAQ does not seem to argue one side (it seems to argue both sides) and maybe that is the purpose.

Is it accurate to conclude that you are: For gun ownership and for a bit more regulation?

Some observations:

You said, “Such people should not own guns.” That is the definition of gun control and the primary point of those who favor gun control: let us do whatever we can to keep guns out of certain hands.

You said, “And I suspect that most gun owners could be convinced to trade their guns for a nonlethal alternative, provided it had the stopping power and other defensive virtues of a gun.”

I am certain you don’t believe that. Any more than you believe this: “Most religious folks could be convinced to switch religions if another religion proved more effective than their current religion.” If you listen to gun-lovers talk, you know that they have an unreasonable dedication to guns.

You said: “This is untrue. A gun can be properly secured and yet available in seconds. A lock box solves the problem.” Yet for that linked lock box, 25% of people leaving reviews complained about a faulty or finicky lock. Not only does getting to, and opening a lock box (or trigger lock) take more than “seconds” (unless you do have one in every room), there is a 25% chance you will not be able to open it. It seems that the keeping a gun safely in a home and keeping a gun handy are incompatible.

The story about Steve and Nev and the points you made seem to suggest vigilantism. Surely there is another way to deal with Steve and Nev than putting guns in the pockets of all possible victims. Given the nature of Steve and Nev’s attacks, there is no way a person would know to, or have time to, pull out a gun. Further, given the nature of people like Steve and Nev, if they found a gun on an injured victim, or caught a victim in the process of pulling out a gun, a hospital visit would likely turn into funeral preparations and a great deal more suffering than an assault. It appears that Steve and Nev have been arrested. Can’t the state lock them away? Can’t the state force them to pay back to society?

It is difficult to talk about guns as protection without sounding like an advocate for deadly chaos. You mentioned bar fights, road rage, and several other violent encounters. Do you really want people pulling out guns every time there is anger or danger? The problem is that guns do not protect. They are not shields. They are not tools of defense. Guns have only one purpose: they are handheld murder devices. They either kill, almost kill, or threaten to kill. I can’t imagine that a thinking person wants a shoot-em-up, settle-problems-with-murder society. (Unless there is some argument I don’t see.) Side point: Why some people are so into handheld murder devices is beyond me. My guess: either profound fear/insecurity, or lack of thought about the matter—simply following a party line or indoctrination.

I am always surprised when people try to use deaths by automobile as support for guns.

First there is the matter of purpose, which is sure and irrefutable: cars have many purposes, murder is not one of them. Cars certainly kill, but that is far from their purpose. Guns have only one purpose: they are handheld murder devices. Not hitting something with your car means you are using it correctly. Not hitting something with (the bullet from) your gun means you failed in its use.

Second, deaths by car occur by accident. There are no massacres (of school children or otherwise) by car.

Third, it is currently much more difficult to get a car than a gun. To drive a car, you have to pass two difficult tests; register your car with the state; notify the state of the sale or purchase of a car; pay an annual fee; and place a visible, unique license on your car at all times.

Fourth,

  • 90% of Americans own a car. That’s roughly 270,000,000 car owners.
  • The average American spends 2.5 hours per day in their car
  • That equals 675,000,000 total hours per day using a car.
  • 33,000 people per year die from traffic accidents in America. That is roughly 90 per day.
  • Or… 1 death per 7,500,000 collective hours of use.

On the other hand…

  • An estimated 45% of Americans own a gun. That’s roughly 135,000,000 gun owners.
  • The average gun owner averages one minute per day using their gun.
  • That equals 2,250,000 total hours per day of gun use
  • 32,000 people die per year from guns in American. That is roughly 88 per day.
  • Or… 1 death per 26,000 collective hours of use.

So, while cars cause slightly more deaths each year, guns are 300 times more deadly. (Is there another way to view these numbers?)

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2 comments

  1. Wow… outstanding, tremendous questions and responses to Sam Harris. For example: “Not hitting something with your car means you are using it correctly. Not hitting something with (the bullet from) your gun means you failed in its use.”

    Interesting data, also, supporting your argument. Thank you for bringing this to our attention… it is sobering, indeed.

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