How we talk about guns

Fundamental to communication is the ability to speak the same language. This entails more than just using the same words of course, it means that there must be agreed upon meaning for the words that we are using. All to often in the current climate, we have many people using the same words, but precious few of them have the same meanings. I am going to attempt to point out several areas of miscommunication that occur when we talk about guns in America today. In the interests of full disclosure, I am generally a second amendment type of guy. If knowing that means that you don’t want to read further, then you might be part of the problem.

The single largest language barrier we encounter is likely ‘assault weapons’ or ‘assault style weapons’. The words bring to mind destruction and death, but their meaning is nebulous at best. Most people now tend to think of assault weapons to be more about the appearance of a gun than it’s functionality. I dare say that the US Army knows more about firearms than most of us (at least it should), so it seems wise to use their definition when we are speaking so that we have common terminology. ” A selective-fire rifle chambered for a cartridge of intermediate power.” This is what the military calls an assault rifle. This is the definition that many gun owners and users use for assault rifle. If you use assault rifle in a different way, then often people shut off because it seems to them that you simply do not know what you are talking about. It seems wise to me to not use, my definition, or your definition, and especially not the definition of the politicians and media who are trying to score public opinion points. Let’s use the definition of the US Military who spend far more time with guns than the vast majority of us. By said definition, assault weapons are illegal, by and large, to own by the general public.

Another loaded term is ‘high capacity magazine’. So many people talk about them being the problem, or a part of it, but the words have no actual definition. Colorado says it is 15 rounds or more. Ohio says it is 10 rounds in a rifle or carbine, but 5 in a shot gun, and 20 in a handgun. It goes on. What then is a high capacity magazine? If we don’t know, we can not communicate.

Yet another loaded term is ‘mass shooting’. Depending on the media outlet, depends on what constitutes a mass shooting. A good example of this can be found in a December 15 story from the Dallas Morning News. The story is a bit old, but the definition still remains just as nebulous. To demonstrate the problem here, person A could cite respected sources and claim that there had been 353 mass shootings in 2015 and person B could cite respected sources claiming that there had been only 4. Both would be correct according to their sources because the term is nebulous, and not useful until there is an agreed upon definition.

‘Right’ is a very important term that is often used in conversations about guns. What then is a ‘right’? Well half of the problem is that we don’t agree upon that either, but that is a different rabbit hole for a different day. Because gun ownership is a right, it must be treated as such. When looking for comparisons on what restrictions are reasonable under the constitution, we would all do better to look toward the first amendment (or any of the remaining 9 in the Bill of Rights for that matter), than say driving a car, which is not a right. When people speak about regulating guns as you would a motor vehicle, many of us shut down because this is not an apples to apples comparison in the least. One is a right, the other is not. We have rights precisely because they are treated differently. When speaking of the second amendment, we must deal with things as they are and not as we want them to be. Legally, the second amendment does not apply only to the National Guard, for example. Your opinion may be that it should, but legally it does not, so we must deal with things as they are if there is going to be any sort of conversation. A helpful summary of what the second amendment covers can be found through Cornell Law School.

Causation and correlation are important terms as well. Causation, put simply, is the root cause of an event. Correlation, put simply, implies there is a relationship between two things, but that one does not cause the other. Often these two things become blurred, often intentionally, to try and sway public opinion. Honest conversation requires that we do not blur these tow things. This info-graphic, made popular by  The Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, uses this type of tactic. 
The graphic would have you believe that somehow large capacity magazines are responsible for making mass shootings more deadly by using a small sample size of hand picked cases over a 20 year span to supply cherry picked data to sway opinion. This is intellectually dishonest and it’s a shame really. Even so, they found that in 50% of cases, high capacity magazines (whatever that means) were used. That is not even a good correlation, let alone a causation. I could say just as easily, and accurately according to their graphic that standard magazines were used in 50% of mass shootings. The shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine come to mind as examples of standard capacity magazines being used. The point here is that their info-graphic does not establish causation, and barely, if that, establishes any sort of correlation, to high capacity magazines (what ever those are) and mass shootings (what ever those are). Bad evidence and undefined terms are used to try and sway opinion. That is not conversation. It’s even more sad is that this info-graphic has been shown to congress as some sort of evidence, yet it actually says and does very little. There are real numbers out there. By all means let’s examine them and come to conclusions, but let’s do so honestly.

At the end of all this, we can’t talk about guns because we have forgotten how to communicate. We don’t have agreed upon language to even have a conversation, let alone to try and find solutions to this, or much of anything else really. Until we come to some sort of understanding of common definition, we are not having a conversation about guns. We aren’t even having a debate about guns. What we are doing is saying a whole lot of stuff just to hear ourselves and gain the approval of those who agree with us, because the meanings of the words we are using is not understood by those with whom we disagree. Yes, let’s talk about guns, but yes, let’s speak the same language.



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One Reply to “How we talk about guns”

  1. I tend to agree.
    Since things are slow, I might as well add something. From Josephus. I think I conclude three things from this.

    1. Violence of this type will always occur. Not just a function of our current times.

    2. Although this event occurred after Jesus, I would expect the Sicarii existed even 40 years earlier in Jesus’s time. Since Jesus didn’t become political, calling for knife control, I suspect that he would expect ministers and congregations to keep religion and politics separate, and not get involved with pro or anti gun control.

    3. This, mainly because of the quote, “In which expedition they prevented those citizens that could have stopped them, before they could arm themselves, and fight them.”

    “2. And now a fourth misfortune arose, in order to bring our nation to destruction. There was a fortress of very great strength, not far from Jerusalem: which had been built by our ancient kings: both as a repository for their effects, in the hazards of war: and for the preservation of their bodies at the same time. It was called Masada. Those that were called Sicarii had taken possession of it formerly: but at this time they over-ran the neighbouring countries: aiming only to procure to themselves necessaries. For the fear they were then in prevented their further ravages. But when once they were informed that the Roman army lay still; and that the Jews were divided between sedition and tyranny; they boldly undertook greater matters. And at the feast of unleavened bread, which the Jews celebrate in memory of their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage; when they were sent back into the country of their forefathers; they came down by night, without being discovered by those that could have prevented them; and over-ran a certain small city called Engaddi. In which expedition they prevented those citizens that could have stopped them, before they could arm themselves, and fight them. They also dispersed them, and cast them out of the city. As for such as could not run away, being women, and children, they slew of them above seven hundred.”

    Although I am certain others would disagree.

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