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The 2 Types of Freedom That Will Help Us Settle the Gun Debate

Gun enthusiasts are worried their guns could get confiscated by the feds. Writer Michael Shermer explains why that's not going to happen.

Michael Shermer: Yes, well guns is a special case because it does have very dire consequences for misuse of other people’s freedom. So, you know, the general libertarian perspective or principle that I should be free to do what I want as long as I don’t restrict your freedoms from doing what you want. That is, the freedom for me to swing my arm ends at your nose. Okay, so guns are a special case. I’ve long been pretty much against gun control. That is people should choose to do what they want. I’ve since gone back and forth on this mainly because the rates of accidents and suicides and homicides is so high when guns are readily available. It is a complex statistical argument in both directions. More guns, less guns, more crime, less crime. Which way does it go? Which state? Which county? Carry and conceal laws. So this is one of the more complex social science problems I’ve ever looked into. And I have to say it isn’t really obvious other than if you look at states like in most European states that either — where no one has guns or almost no one has guns. They have nothing like even remotely like the gun violence we have. So clearly if no one had guns we wouldn’t have a gun problem. That said, that’s never going to happen in America.

There are about 320 million guns on the streets, in people’s homes or whatever. We’re never going to take them back. No one’s going to go house to house like Nazis breaking down the doors and stealing people’s guns. That’s never going to happen. So in fact the Supreme Court has voted twice in '06 and '08 and particularly the Heller case, handgun case in Washington, D.C. It is protected by the Second Amendment. That’s not going to change anytime soon. So let’s face up to that and see if we can do something to just reduce the carnage. Like why are people allowed to buy AR15s and AK47 rifles? What are those for? I grew up hunting with shotguns. I had a 20-gauge and a 12-gauge shotgun. Shotguns are used for shooting birds out of the sky. Or certain rifles are good for deer hunting. Okay, I get all that. And handguns for self-defense — okay I understand. I’m not going to have one in my house. Too many risks there. But still if you want one okay. But what’s the purpose of an AR15 or an AK47? It was designed to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. And of course that’s exactly what it’s used for. Target practice? I don’t know. Maybe I guess. Some people say they enjoy that. I don’t know. But there I would say the risk is too high of it being misused. And as we’ve clearly seen in recent terrorist attacks anybody can get one. They’re not hard to get. And that’s a problem.

Gun enthusiasts live in constant fear that the federal government will someday come and take away their guns. The imagery and pageantry of this fear is pervasive, contributing to a strange state of gun-owner paranoia.


In this video interview, science writer Michael Shermer explains why such a scenario (and comprehensive gun control in general) will never happen in the United States. In short: Gun control is not a popular policy in the United States, or at least not popular enough, and the Supreme Court has again and again protected the Second Amendment in relevant decisions.

That said, Shermer notes that there's no real good reason for why a normal citizen would need to own a military-grade weapon such as an AR15 and AK47.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

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