Guns

The Gun Debate Is Just Another Part of the Culture War

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 7:01 AM EST
The SOCOM 16 is a civilian version of the M14 assault rifle. It has the shortest permissible barrel for civilian use under NFA guidelines.

As we wade deeper into the guns debate, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: This issue is just as much a part of the never-ending culture wars as gay marriage and abortion.

I've written in the past about the language of politics, and specifically the language of conservative (or "reactionary") politics. People on the right and the left tend to use different language to present and enforce their ideas about the world and society, and this can create something of a barrier between liberals and conservatives. For instance, the president is often referred to by members of the far-right as a "socialist" while many members of the far-left refer to him just as disparagingly as a "neo-liberal." You could just as easily find more libertarian types calling the president a "statist" while died-in-the-wool socialists might refer to him as a "capitalist." Yes, he can be all these things at once, and yet none of them helps us understand his actual politics.

Obviously definitions vary wildly depending on one's point of view. Language is simply another currency of power, and every party to a political fight seeks to exploit language in order to advance their cause. The gun debate is no exception. 

Two of the most loaded terms in this debate are "assault weapon" and "gun control." Assault weapon has a very frightening sound to it, especially for people who don't own or understand much about guns. Gun control is similarly alarming for pro-second amendment activists, and certainly groups like the NRA utilize the term (and other more extreme language) to fan fears.

"Assault weapon" evokes images of machine guns firing off dozens of rounds each second, the sort of military weapons people are accustomed to seeing in violent films and video games. "Gun control" inspires people to line up at gun retailers to purchase as many weapons as possible before the government comes and takes them all away.

Neither of these assumptions is correct, and both serve to muddy the waters of debate. So let's take a look at some of the current misconceptions surrounding guns and gun control, and try to have, for lack of a better phrase, a fair and balanced discussion of the issues. Full disclosure: I'm not a gun owner, and have never liked guns, and if I had a magic wand I'd erase them from the planet. But since I live in the real world, in which magic wands are regulated far more heavily than AK-47s, I'll be happy with more practical solutions.

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