Sam Harris: The Riddle of the Gun

Posted on: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 09:35 By: Tom Swiss

Sam Harris, author of several best-selling books on secularism and reason, has written the most rational recent piece on guns and violence I've seen: The Riddle of the Gun

Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world. A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want.


It is reasonable to wish that only virtuous people had guns, but there are now nearly 300 million guns in the United States, and 4 million new ones are sold each year. A well-made gun can remain functional for centuries. Any effective regime of “gun control,” therefore, would require that we remove hundreds of millions of firearms from our streets. As Jeffrey Goldberg points out in The Atlantic, it may no longer be rational to hope that we can solve the problem of gun violence by restricting access to guns—because guns are everywhere, and the only people who will be deterred by stricter laws are precisely those law-abiding citizens who should be able to possess guns for their own protection and who now constitute one of the primary deterrents to violent crime. This is, of course, a familiar “gun nut” talking point. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

I don't agree with all of his points (the Second Amendment deserves more respect than he gives it here), but overall this is the most well-balanced take on the issue I've seen in a while.