Such questions are inevitable. Technology makes guns, and questions on how to use them follow. How do I shoot [targets] [birds] [other people] [my own foot]? It's no surprise that we all see "how do I do the inadvisable" on many different subjects on the many variations of Stack Exchange. So how should you respond to someone asking how to shoot themselves in the foot?

Most/all of us immediately want to find out why the OP is asking. This is mainly prudence guarding against accidents. But it isn't always possible for an OP to answer that question of "why". They've spent days analyzing it and the logic that led them to ask this question isn't simple to explain without pages of work. Or more commonly they're a little unclear themselves, and are unable to explain why they want something, just that they really really want it and could someone tell them how please.

I've seen multiple ways of responding such questions, including but not exclusively:

  • Ignore the question. Move on and let the tumble weed deal with the OP. There's no shame in it.
  • Assuming the OP has an XY problem and answering an entirely different question the OP didn't ask. This frequently frustrates the OP as they've put some thought into the fact that shooting themselves in the foot really is what that want.
  • Endless lectures on the dangers of guns, both in comments and answers. Also frustrating to the OP. See above.
  • Down voting the question. Even though the question is clear, well formed and posted on the right site for the subject. If one person has asked how to do it, then chances are that another will want to as well.
  • Simply giving the answer to their question explaining how to load, aim and pull the trigger. I mildly prefer this but it does lead to concerns that future readers will fail to realize that an ambulance and hospital will be required.

These are merely my observations of what others do. I was wondering if the community has any ideas of best practice:

  1. How do we satisfy the OP and protect future readers?
  2. Do we need to do both these things?
  3. Should such questions be worthy of down voting?
  4. Is it better to leave such questions unanswered, even if the technical answer is simple enough to give?
  1. How do we satisfy the OP and protect future readers?

I usually provide an answer to the question, but first I will try to explain why I think it is bad and what other solution I would use. Usually my preferred solution has much more explanation than the easy / bad solution, emphasizing the good solution. This gives everyone the chance to make up his own mind and choose whether they like their feet or not.

  1. Do we need to do both these things?

Ideally yes, we want to answer the question, but also we want to make sure everybody survives and ends up happy. One characteristic of the 'here is the gun' answers is that they satisfy the OP in the short term but will bring less joy in the end (server hacked due to SQL vulnerability, etc.) If we can prevent that, it makes our work better.

  1. Should such questions worthy of down voting?

If someone deems the question not to be useful, yes, it is worth a down vote. It is not our call to decide how one should vote.

  1. Is it better to leave such questions unanswered, even if the technical answer is simple enough to give?

Unanswered questions help nobody, so if you can provide an answer as described by 1. If you can't, and you are only familiar with the messy answer, stay away.

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