I’m going to go out on a limb, and write about guns. Specifically, handguns and so-called “assault weapons.”

I’m not going to opine about what the law should or shouldn’t be, but only about the personal advisability of owning these kinds of firearms.

Likewise I make no comment about shotguns and single-action rifles. If you enjoy owning them for skeet or target shooting, I’ve got no argument with you, and in fact I agree those activities are kind of fun. If you like them for dove or deer, more power to you, even though I don’t share your passion for hunting.


Those statistics that say people in pistol-owning homes are far more likely to get shot, or to experience a tragic accident involving a child, than to shoot a hostile intruder? I tend to believe them. But we don’t even need to go there. Let’s focus instead on firearms training.

There are at least 52 million gun owners in the US1. Most of them know they should take gun safety training and regular target practice. (It’s universally recommended by police departments3.) How many do? How many start and then slack off?

Here’s a clue: In the USA, 44 million people smoke cigarettes2. All of them know they should quit. Obviously they have not quit. It’s easier not to. Now I ask you again to estimate, how many Americans keep up their gun handling skills on a regular basis?

I’m sure you’re diligent about safety and training, as you are an intelligent reader of Science2.0. But your slacker neighbor, he should be making you nervous. My dumbass neighbor sure keeps me nervous.

As said neighbor keeps her gun in her purse or nightstand drawer, one nightmarish headline would read, “Robbery victim shot while reaching for weapon.”

Or even worse, “Phillips shot as neighbor discharges gun through apartment wall.”

Your own training is not the end of the story, though. My good friend “Martin” and his girlfriend are in love, though she doesn’t share his interest in gun collecting and shooting. Martin is absolutely committed to gun safety and training. One night they thought they heard an intruder in the house. Martin told “Angela” to stay put. He took his pistol (yes, from the nightstand) and started to search the rooms. He saw a shadowy form. His finger had started to tighten on the trigger when he realized it was Angela, who’d come to “help.” Yes, true story. There was no intruder, maybe just a cat in the garbage cans.

“Scariest moment of my life,” Martin told me, “I almost shot her.” Martin’s extensive training did not affect Angela’s behavior. Angela knew the four basic rules of gun safety, but her lack of training in tactics nearly got her killed.

A pistol in the house is a danger to friends and family, even with all the training in the world. Without all the training, it’s not even a means of self-protection. It is a lazy shortcut to a false feeling of protection.

Automatic rifles

Leave aside the 2nd Amendment and Framers’ intent. And we all know that if you hunt deer with automatic weapons you are not exactly a person of good sporting character. The only thing worth arguing about is your conviction that you need advanced weaponry to protect yourself against a predatory government.

Newsflash: The government is not afraid of you, no matter how many Uzis you’ve got stashed in your basement. In a moment, we’ll talk about what the government is afraid of, but for now please understand the government will always trump you, weapons-wise.

If they do find your basement full of automatic weapons, law enforcement will be more concerned about the possibility of a school shooting than of an armed insurrection. That’s simply because statistically there have been many more school shootings than armed uprisings.

No, you say? They’ve suppressed news of local uprisings, and fear of school shootings is just a pretext to get your guns? Sorry – I come back to the point that the government is not afraid of your guns.

Instead, the government goes after the likes of Julian Assange, he of Wikileaks fame. The government is nervous as hell about Mike Janke, whose startup firm Silent Circle offers a surveillance-proof peer-to-peer encryption capability for the masses. The key to organizing an uprising is the word organizing. It requires access to information, and it requires communication. If the US government were malevolent (it mostly isn’t, but if it were, in some imagined future), it would worry about your communications and not about your armament.
And parenthetically, the loudest anti-government statement I can recall was the Oklahoma City bombing. That guy used fertilizer, not guns. I condemn his action roundly, and mention it in this context only to emphasize: He used fertilizer, not guns. Farther back there was the attempted secession of the Confederacy, and there the point was not that the North had more guns, it was that the North had superior capacity to manufacture even more guns. Which I assume you don’t have, in your basement.

So join the 21st century and get over the guns-against-the-government thing.

In sum, there are excellent reasons not to own a handgun or multiple-action long gun, no matter what the future brings in terms of new legislation, and regardless of how you interpret the second amendment.

I know this is a loaded, hair-trigger issue, puns definitely intended. So for the sake of your fellow readers, commenters please address the points raised here, and don’t start tangential arguments about the law, the Constitution, Waco, etc.

Coming soon: Another self-protection-oriented article.
1 More exactly, there are 52 million gun-owning households in the US, many with two or more gun-owning adults and teens. (Wikianswers.com)
2 CDC statistic.
For example, www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2013/02/05/kessler-police-recommend-new-gun-owners-get-training-safety-tips/