We've all heard the terms in the gun control debate: assault weapon, weapons of war, military-style weapons, arsenal, and rapid fire killing machines capable of spraying bullets. It's about time we call "assault weapons" what they actually are: semiautomatic firearms that fire one bullet at a time with each pull of the trigger. They are not the same weapons that our military uses, nor are they the ones used in war. What we call these firearms does matter if we want to have a healthy discussion about them.
After watching the video below, I felt compelled to write this article. As the presenter in the video points out, labels are a very powerful way to control the debate before the debate even gets started. If you call something an "assault weapon" or a "rapid fire killing machine," you've already limited any meaningful discussion of the topic. Surely no one wants anyone to have a rapid fire killing machine!
Consider the difference in impact of these two statements, where the first is a quote from President Obama:
“But I am also betting that the majority, the vast majority, of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would agree we should be available to prevent an irresponsible few from buying a weapon of war.”
“But I am also betting that the majority, the vast majority, of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would agree we should be available to prevent an irresponsible few from buying a semiautomatic firearm."
Notice the difference?
Even when our politicians reference these firearms as "military style guns," they are already making that decision for us, that these should not belong to the ordinary citizen because they only have military uses, when in fact that is not true. When Obama calls these firearms "weapons of war," he is already planting the seed in our minds that these firearms are meant only for "war," when in fact they are used for other purposes.
Furthermore, labels can also be used to elicit emotions like fear, insecurity, and disdain. When gun control advocates call these guns "weapons of war" or "military-style assault weapons," they are already assigning a negative connotation to these guns. Our politicians in turn can use these negative emotions to garner support for legislation that they say will make us safer.
Instead of calling the new gun control legislation an "assault weapons ban," maybe we should call it a "scary semiautomatic firearms ban." What we name this new legislation matters *cough* PATRIOT Act *cough*.
These labels are used to control what we think about certain things even before the discussion starts. They can also be used to control people's emotions and thoughts on a particular subject. In that sense, the language of labeling becomes more powerful than any gun can ever be, especially in the hands of a politician.