Should I buy a gun for home defense in response to COVID-19?

post by Keegan McNamara (keegan-mcnamara) · 2020-03-23T04:29:49.216Z · score: 14 (5 votes) · LW · GW · 1 comment

This is a question post.


    17 Elizabeth
    7 Dagon
    4 leggi
    4 Mary Ritenour
    3 steve2152
    -4 lincolnquirk
1 comment

Before the pandemic, Scott Alexander's short post [LW · GW] reviewing a few correlational studies on gun ownership and violence left me feeling uncertain about the moral status of owning a home defense weapon. Times have changed though, and I suspect that there will be a larger risk of home invasion during the course of COVID-19's spread. Many people are buying guns and ammunition in what is likely preparation for this increased risk.

Assuming that I continue to own the gun after the inflated risk of home invasion due to COVID-19 decreases to a negligible level, should I buy a gun for home defense now?


answer by Elizabeth · 2020-03-23T04:39:00.940Z · score: 17 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I say this as someone who was at one point extremely good with one kind of gun: guns take a lot of training to be useful for self defense. If you don't already have that training, I'm extremely skeptical they will be useful to you.

comment by jimmy · 2020-03-23T06:42:53.441Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strong disagree. Anyone who knows how to operate their weapon and is willing to use it is a formidable threat to all but the most trained and determined invaders. The level of accuracy needed to hit a man sized target inside a house with a long gun is really low. Low enough that if you miss the problem isn’t that you aren’t yet skilled in the art of aiming, it’s that you didn’t make sure to aim at all before you pulled the trigger.

The bigger barrier is psychological. If you can’t get yourself to take deliberate aim on another human and pull the trigger knowing what will happen, then a firearm might not be useful. If you can do that though, the mechanics won't be a problem except in the difficult cases.

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2020-03-23T07:01:57.210Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not American, so bear that in mind.

1. Does the lack of skill issue apply to shotguns?

2. If not a gun, then what alternatives to that?

3. With or without a gun, what's the viability of body armour?

comment by Dagon · 2020-03-23T16:10:38.250Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) Less so than pistols, but still yes. As Jimmy points out, at least some of the training requirement is psychological - running enough rounds through the gun under simulated conditions that your muscle memory allows actual aiming under insane amounts of stress. Long arms (shotguns and rifles) do require a bit less skill at aiming, and are somewhat harder to shoot yourself with. But still a very high chance to miss and destroy something behind or near your target rather than your target itself.

2) Pepper spray. Air horn or noisemaker (unless it's sci-fi levels of anarchy, in which case none of this advice applies - you're dead anyway). Solid door locks and barred windows.

3) For what purpose? If you're in active combat with lots of bullets flying, and you have time to prepare, you probably want body armor. But that's not a likely scenario outside of military or movies.

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2020-03-24T08:48:39.788Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

2 & 3: I was functioning off the assumption that if guns are trivially available then you can reasonably expect assailants to be armed with them. Ergo, you need to be able to match that force and/or mitigate it.

There's nothing inherently wrong with less lethal weaponry but there's obviously a force imbalance between them and guns (or even knives).

comment by Dagon · 2020-03-24T16:44:06.867Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is an inherent asymmetry, unrelated to weapon availability, between people asking this question and the potential assailants we're worried about. That is about psychological preparation and willingness to use lethal force. And a very assymetrical situational awareness - the attacker knows exactly what's going on and is ready to meet you, the defender is confused and unsure.

These important differences mean you really need different tools and options for defense than for assault. This isn't a showdown with two gunslingers equally prepared to shoot. This is an ambiguous, terrifying, sudden decision with an unknown but VERY short timeframe for success. Non-lethal defenses are FAR more powerful, in the case where you're sleepy, confused, unsure of your target, or just not convinced you want to kill someone, because you can actually pull the trigger in time.

And, of course, "why not both?" is a FINE question. If you're prepared for the responsibility of having a gun around, and you're willing to drill quite a bit so the option value is greater than the solution-search cost of having to decide on the fly, that's great.

answer by Dagon · 2020-03-23T15:59:19.910Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heh, just had this conversation with a close friend of mine. I strongly recommended no guns, but maybe pepper spray. I recommend the same to you.

I used to be fairly into this, did a lot of training and competitive shooting, and some amount of bird hunting. I do have guns in my house, but not accessible - they're in a locked safe, unloaded, with individual trigger locks. It would have to get a lot worse before I wanted one at the ready - a combination of knowing that it's more likely to hurt someone I love than to stop a crime, and not wanting to kill anyone, even a criminal.

If you're seriously concerned, get a few decent-quality pepper spray canisters. These are somewhat less effective than guns in some kinds of confrontation, but more effective in others (because you can use it without full confidence in your target and what's behind them), and WAY less likely to kill a neighbor or family member. Get enough that you can waste 2 on practice and familiarization. Go hose down a tree and practice the take-out, un-lock, point-right-direction, spray-entire-upper-body movements.

answer by leggi · 2020-03-23T07:48:02.419Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you know how to use a gun?

Where would you store it? Easy access to loaded gun or locked in a safe /unloaded.

Would you be willing to use a gun? (waving one round for home invader to disarm you and then have it pointed back at you - if they're not already armed.)

What risk factors are in your house (i.e. children) that having a gun might be more of a threat to household than invaders?

What kind of distance would be be defending yourself from? small apartment v. taking out intruder from the top of the stairs out of arms reach.

A lot of other things can be used for defence. Something I read as a kid with plenty of suggestions was the SAS survival handbook. A kettle cord with a plug on the end (UK 3 point plug) was one that stuck in my mind (but these days a phone charger might be the easiest thing to hand) and I remember being on a regularly hijacked bus route with my can of deodorant ready to be sprayed in someone's face.

Do you have anything really worth defending in a robbery? (violent attackers a different matter).

answer by Mary Ritenour · 2020-03-23T06:10:53.452Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with Elizabeth. There is a learning curve that you MUST commit to, to be safe owning/using a gun responsibly. That learning curve includes regular sessions at the range (1-2 hrs a week) and 100-300 rounds of ammunition per session. So you are looking at a time and $$$ commitment at a time when demand has pushed costs high.

Your decision, given your risk assessment of the potential danger to you and yours. Don't get a gun unless you're willing to commit to the training. Otherwise, you've increased the risk of problems, not decreased them.

Good safe!

answer by steve2152 · 2020-03-23T14:10:41.657Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My understanding is that if you try to defend yourself with a gun, it's much likelier that, at the end of the day, you'll wind up dead. I would guess that a much better option is to find a really good hiding place for the things you don't want stolen, and have enough non-hidden stuff to make the criminal feel like they robbed you successfully. (And be a good liar.) Also get a security camera ... and/or a prominent sign that says you have a security camera. :-P The only scenario I can think where a gun might be worth having is a complete breakdown of civil order, with people literally starving of hunger etc. If you think that's sufficiently probable as to be worth preparing for, you can get a gun, and just absolutely don't use it unless that scenario actually happens.

answer by lincolnquirk · 2020-03-23T13:27:34.760Z · score: -4 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems like a big part of the value of a gun might be the ability to wave it around and say "I have a gun". So, as an alternative strategy, have you considered buying a prop gun and practicing the words in a mirror?

comment by swarriner · 2020-03-23T14:49:28.420Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, don't do this. If you threaten someone with a higher level of violence than you can deliver, it's more likely they try to pre-emptively attack you (i.e. shoot you first) and you will have no defense against this. If you cannot win a violent encounter then compliance is generally the safest strategy.

comment by lincolnquirk · 2020-03-25T11:33:56.347Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand that - if you’re facing down someone else who’s armed you should obviously just comply. I’m mainly expecting this strategy would work against e.g. unarmed looters. Do you not think it would?

comment by Dagon · 2020-03-25T17:59:11.789Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think there are good general solutions to this question - it's going to vary a lot based on the situation, participants, capabilities, and what they (think they) know of each other. If you want to go deep in your spare time, start with Von Neumann and Nash, work up to Schelling (it's important to go that far, as you'll need to include partial-knowledge and precommittment in your thinking). That's fun reading regardless :)

A mixed strategy of sometimes shooting first, sometimes threatening, sometimes complying, sometimes just not reacting and pretending you're asleep is probably where you'll end up. Usually making yourself a worse target (in terms of risk/reward to your opponent) before the confrontation even starts is going to be right, but it's non-obvious exactly what makes you worse - a sign that says "I'm armed" means "I have valuable guns to steal, and shoot me first so I can't shoot you". Solid doors and barred windows are good options to stop the problem before it starts.

In many locales, escalating "unreasonably" is a crime in itself. Also, you probably don't know whether the looter is unarmed (for the same reasons you didn't tell them you were armed), so conditional actions (threaten if unarmed, comply if armed) aren't available to you.

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comment by justSomeRando · 2020-03-23T17:53:13.848Z · score: 13 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's far from obvious to me that the effect of COVID-19 will be to increase the probability of a home invasion.

On the other hand, it's likely that COVID-19 decreases social contact, makes it more likely that you'll experience the death of a close friend or family member, and increases the probability that you will lose your job. So you are probably more likely to experience suicidal ideation during the quarantine than you would be otherwise.