Sam Harris on Gun Control

Outside of perhaps his opinion on Free Will, Sam Harris’ views on Gun Control are among the most famous, and perhaps most useful, opinions he has had on public policy. Owing mostly to his viral, January 2nd, 2013 blog post titled The Riddle of the Gun. In the piece, which totaled  5,436 words that are well worth the read, Sam makes the case for a degree of mature gun ownership and repudiates many of the common tropes heard or suggested from the left side of the aisle. Spread out across a variety of interviews and articles, Sam has several wonderful passages that articulate the problem and potential solutions. We’ll go through them now.

Sam is For Responsible Gun Ownership

In his Riddle of the Gun essay, Harris argues that people who wish for a world without guns are not correctly understanding what such a world would look like. To present this argument, Sam appeals to the classic example used by many gun owners and gun ownership advocates, that believe that violence is inevitable and gun’s fundamentally protect the weak from the strong.

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 a world in which a man with a knife can rape and murder a woman in the presence of a dozen witnesses, and none will find the courage to intervene.

Harris: “Getting a gun should be like getting a pilot’s license.”

On the episode of Bill Maher, Sam was attempting to explain the problems with current gun control in the United States (albeit while defending gun ownership). The neuroscientist stated that he believes that it’s way too easy for someone to get a gun in the United States (via legal mechanisms) and the he believes that getting a license to own a firearm should be akin “to getting a pilot’s license” in the U.S. In reality, getting a gun is much easier than even getting a Driver’s License which, in the United States, requires the passing of a written test, then a year of on road supervision, and then ultimately a road test administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Conversely in 36 states, there are virtually no legal requirements for gun registration, no permit needed, and not even a license is needed for the acquisition of most guns (such as a rifle, shotgun or handgun).

Sam Harris on the Second Amendment

Part of what makes his opinion on gun control so refreshing, and perhaps nuanced, is his rather straightforward reading of the second amendment.

It should hardly need to be said that despite its brilliance and utility, the Constitution of the United States was written by men who could not possibly have foreseen every change that would occur in American society in the ensuing centuries.

That is Sam’s lead in to the following passage which certainly seems to be a potent challenge to defenders of the second ammendemnt. In full:

Even if the Second Amendment guaranteed everyone the right to possess whatever weapon he or she desired (it doesn’t), we have since invented weapons that no civilian should be allowed to own. In fact, it can be easily argued that original intent of the Second Amendment had nothing to do with the right of self-defense—which remains the ethical case to be made for owning a firearm. The amendment seems to have been written to allow the states to check the power of the federal government by maintaining their militias. Given the changes that have occurred in our military, and even in our politics, the idea that a few pistols and an AR 15 in every home constitutes a necessary bulwark against totalitarianism is fairly ridiculous. If you believe that the armed forces of the United States might one day come for you—and you think your cache of small arms will suffice to defend you if they do—I’ve got a black helicopter to sell you.

Quintessential Sam Harris on Gun Control:

As of right now we have three pieces of media that very well incapsulate his views on the subject and provide both depth and clarity. We’ll embed the video of the last one below but all three are worth checking out.

  • The Riddle of the Gun, written January 2nd, 2013
  • His Bill Maher interview where he discussed the subject at length (we’re still looking for clip online). 
  • His reading of his 2019 essay titled No Ordinary Violence (embedded below).

Please let us know if we’ve failed to include any articles, debates, or important opinions Sam has had on the issue of Gun Control. Despite their brilliance and utility, the sampling we provide are just a collection of some of our favorites. As always, this document is open to ongoing revision if any error or issue is spotted. In such a case, please contact us immediately. 


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