Let’s Talk about Guns

“Use your words,” we used to say to toddlers when they were having tantrums.

Nowadays parents are advised to use other strategies, ones that involve much more talk and modelling. Advice changes. Words change.

But words are important, perhaps never more so than at this time when they are being used to misrepresent, to mislead, to manipulate. As Andri Snaer Magnason says in his illuminating book, On Time and Water:

If one thing characterizes our time, it’s the struggle over words, the power to report and shape the news. That struggle is about how the world is worded. Words create reality; owning words and the means to distribute them is crucial to all powers. http://biblioasis.com/shop/new-release/on-time-and-water/

We must be very careful to choose the right words in order to express the truth of a situation to the best of our ability.

When I was young, I sometimes heard the term “gunman.” The Oxford dictionary defines this word as follows: ‘a man who uses a gun to commit a crime or terrorist act.’ That’s pretty much what it is according to all the dictionaries I consulted. It’s that simple: a man, or person, with a gun.

I didn’t hear that word often because, where I grew up, there weren’t a lot of people getting shot, but there was no question about what it meant.

These days, we hear the word “shooter” more and more frequently. I used to think it had an innocent sound, suggesting peashooters or garden shoots. Dictionaries offer several meanings for the word including: a person who fires a missile-discharging device; a person whose turn it is to shoot in a ball game, e.g. in basketball; a photographer; something that is used in shooting such as a revolver, a peashooter or a marble; a small amount of food served in a shot glass like a deconstructed taco or an oyster shooter.

It seems a ”shooter” could mean many things, then, but what it is usually intended to suggest, when we hear it on  news reports, is a man with a gun. So why not call it that? A gunman?

Could it be that the word “shooter” is used in preference to “gunman” because there are powerful interests who don’t want us to think of guns when we hear about mass shootings? It’s not about guns, some people say.

I think we need to hear a lot more about guns and consider the danger they represent. Dr. Lance Strate, professor and media ecologist, is also a performance poet. It’s worth listening to a poem about guns that he read for a New York Society for General Semantics event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_91FwreSfq4

The last line seems especially timely to me. (You will hear some laughter throughout the reading. I believe it is nervous laughter.)

The NRA and many Republicans have stated that recent mass murders are not about guns but are about mental illness. It’s not the gun, they say, but the shooter.

But experts point out that the vast majority of people suffering from mental illness will never engage in a violent crime. And statistics show that having tight restrictions on the sale of weapons greatly reduces the incidence of gun homicide. An article in the New York Times illustrates how in countries that have tighter gun control laws, gun-related deaths have plummeted:

Many news reports note that the USA is an outlier in terms of death by firearms.

The “shooter” is not the problem. There are no recorded cases of a crazy person without a gun committing a mass murder. It just doesn’t happen.

The people who are guilty of these horrendous killings are likely to have experienced violence and abuse and to suffer from mental illness. Clearly mental illness is a serious problem that needs to be addressed — but it’s a complex problem and solving it will take time.

Meanwhile, let’s focus on the obvious simple change that can make a difference and save lives. Let’s control who gets to buy and use guns.

Most schoolteachers do not want to pack a gun, nor should they have to. The answer to a bad man with a gun is not to have good men with guns. There were at least 19 good men with guns at Uvalde, and it didn’t stop children from being killed.

In the longer term, we need to look at what kind of a country we want to live in, what kind of culture we want to build, and what kind of supports we are willing to provide for people suffering from mental illness.

But first, let’s talk about guns. And how to make them much harder to get.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s