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.
By Sam Harris
About Sam Harris
Sam Harris is the author of five New York Times best sellers. His books include The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Lying, Waking Up, and Islam and the Future of Tolerance (with Maajid Nawaz). The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. His writing and public lectures cover a wide range of topics—neuroscience, moral philosophy, religion, meditation practice, human violence, rationality—but generally focus on how a growing understanding of ourselves and the world is changing our sense of how we should live.
Sam’s work has been published in more than 20 languages and has been discussed in The New York Times, Time, Scientific American, Nature, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Economist, The Times (London), The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), The Annals of Neurology, among others. He also hosts the Making Sense Podcast, which was selected by Apple as one of the “iTunes Best” and has won a Webby Award for best podcast in the Science & Education category.
Sam received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. He has also practiced meditation for more than 30 years and has studied with many Tibetan, Indian, Burmese, and Western meditation teachers, both in the United States and abroad. Sam has created the Waking Up App for anyone who wants to learn to meditate in a modern, scientific context.