This is the sixth post in a series of however many I feel like blog posts on the misuse and abuse of language with regard to controversial topics. For some context, it might be helpful to read the posts in order starting with the first one. The second one, third one, fourth one and fifth one may also be of interest. Perhaps there will be a seventh entry in the series, because [insert deity, non-anthropomorphic abstraction, or prophet of choice] knows that we have enough misused language to examine.
The War on Words continues over the hills and through the woods as rifle reports sound and the furry victims of shootings fall to the ground dead or dying. It rages in the big cities and border towns where drug trafficking and crushing poverty lead people into desperate times and toward desperate measures that often leave bullet holes in their fellow man. It sometimes sneaks into the suburbs with fearful parents who have no idea how to secure their adult security blankets and on occasion ends for a moment in tragic accidents when the children they were trying to protect find a deadly weapon that looks like a toy. It quietly ignores the real wars raging across the face of our little planet so long as it can be avoided.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been treated to the mind-boggling inanity of a debate over gun control prompted by many folks who seem to enjoy using a tragedy to push their favored policy without even understanding the situation and perpetuated by many folks who oppose that policy change without even knowing what it might entail.
It didn’t take long before the straw men were burning and red herrings were being tossed around. The few sensible conversations on the topic were quickly drowned out by a tidal wave of self-righteous outrage on the part of those advocating for stricter gun control laws and the indignant retorts of those who like their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms just the way it is, thank you very much. The discussion of the mass murder at the elementary school went from laudable human empathy to a rancorous policy discussion at the speed of rumor, the only known substance proven to routinely exceed the speed of light. The few voices mentioning that we should have the policy discussion only after we had calmed down and suggesting that we should not be so quick to pick out a scapegoat to sacrifice to the gods of authoritarianism were quickly shouted down by those shooting off at the mouth and firing only blanks at each other.
I was amused to note that many of those who seem greatly concerned by the shootings at an elementary school did not bother even taking aim at other atrocities committed in their own names. Maybe those who suffer from myopic vision ought not to be allowed to make broad policy suggestions. And let’s face it, the shooting isn’t what bothers most of us so much as the murder. Calling it a shooting (while certainly accurate) understates the real tragedy of the deaths of children and teachers and skirts the real cause of our fear and pain. I’m sure most of the folks who are so deeply outraged by the event will agree that it was the wanton killing that really bothered them much more than the methods even while they seek to redirect their emotional turmoil and turn their internal firing squad against those who disagree with them on matters of policy. Maybe we need to just take away their microphones if they’re emotionally unhinged. After all, the right to free speech need not be interpreted so broadly as to allow people to use their voices irresponsibly while mentally unstable. Speaking of mental instability…
The wildly and hilariously varying definitions of gun control being bandied about were a linguistic spectacle taking place in public discourse akin to the clowns in a circus playing at being gymnasts and genuinely believing that they were champions at it. For some, gun control apparently means banning automatic weapons for most people, which as I recall is already in effect. For others, it means banning semi-automatic weapons, a proposal I can only assume comes from those traditionalists who feel that muzzle-loaders are the best sort of gun to have and that we should really get back to the good old days when each round had to be loaded individually. For a few others, it meant that the government was coming to take all their guns and they really ought to go out and buy more of them, a perspective which I’m sure was greeted with applause by gun manufacturers and retailers. For yet more, it meant bringing back the good old Assault Weapons Ban, a piece of legislation that even one of my friends who happens to be a longtime Democrat in favor of stricter gun control measures admitted was woefully ineffective and did not accomplish what he would have liked it to accomplish.
As long as we use the phrase “gun control” to mean a bunch of things that either don’t make sense or don’t work very well, the debate over which gun control policies we should enact goes nowhere fast, gun violence will continue to be a far more common problem than it should be, and policy measures which would really prevent gun violence will remain out of reach. Even worse, the anguish in the human heart, the callous disregard for the lives of others, and the desperation of poverty that are far greater contributors to gun violence will go untreated as we shoot an already mostly dead scapegoat to feel better about ourselves.