Letter to the editor: Communication in the gun debate


Proper terminology is essential in any open communication or debate. It is important so that all parties are saying the same thing. This becomes even more important when there are strong emotions involve. Words matter! One disconnect that comes up in the gun debate is the use of the term “weapon”. Weapon is a term that is descriptive of use. An object becomes a weapon when used in an aggressive act of assault or to threaten or when it is used in a defensive act of self-protection. Therefore, a weapon could be a firearm, a hunting knife, a machete, a hammer, a club, a bow and arrow or even a person’s fists. Often you hear speakers or see writers use the word weapon when the correct term is firearm. A firearm only becomes a weapon when used in assault or self-defense. Law enforcement personnel carry firearms that only become weapons when they use them when responding to criminals and confronting them. You may wonder, “What difference does it make?” It makes a big difference because law abiding citizens own firearms that only become weapons when they need to use them to protect themselves. If you use the word weapon when the proper term is firearm, you are using the terminology that the anti-gun people like to use to propagandize their position. It is a clever strategy because it instantly stigmatizes every firearm as an instrument of confrontation. To be fair, many if not most people have not considered this distinction. That is why I am writing these comments.

Another disconnect comes with the use of the term “assault rifle.” This is similar to issues around the terms firearm and weapon. The word “assault” describes an activity. A rifle is just a firearm unless it is used to assault someone. So, it follows that any instrument used in an assault could have its name prefaced with the word “assault.” Therefore, there are assault hand guns, assault hunting knives, assault clubs or even assault fists.

Closely linked to this confusion has to do with the much maligned AR15 firearm. What does the AR stand for? A few years ago, a friend who is a gun collector told me. Like most people I assumed that the AR stood for assault rifle or automatic rifle. I was wrong. Actually, the AR stands for ArmaLite rifle. I googled “what does the AR in AR 15 stand for” and this is what I found:

ArmaLite rifle

The AR in “AR-15” rifle stands for ArmaLite rifle, after the company that developed it in the 1950s. “AR” does NOT stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.” AR-15-style rifles are NOT “assault weapons” or “assault rifles.” An assault rifle is fully automatic — a machine gun.

Before we leave this discussion let’s discuss one other frequently used term in the gun debate and that is the term “gun.” Gun is an inclusive word that covers a much broader spectrum than the word “firearm.” The term “gun” can be applied to firearms, water pistols, BB guns, pellet guns or even grease guns. Firearms use exploding gun power to propel a bullet or pellets and basically fall into three categories, hand guns, long guns and shot guns.

In conclusion, clearer and more honest discussion and debate occurs when proper terminology is used rather than emotionally loaded terms.

One more thing. As discussion and action are taking place around the issue of raising the age for purchasing long guns to twenty-one, stop and think about how many young people in our military under the age of twenty-one are prepared to use firearms to protect our nation.

Dr. Elden Daniel

Monte Vista

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