Deconstructing how we use gun-control language

Shae Slaughter

The Second Amendment’s language pertaining to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” has sparked innumerable arguments over the course of our nation’s history. Now, more than ever, Americans are torn over the Second Amendment, but why?

The most logical answer to that question relates to the mass shootings that have been ravaging our country the last few years. The five deadliest mass shootings in all of U.S. history have occurred within the last 10 years, according to CNN. This is clearly a problem, but people have different ways of viewing and solving it. 

I think the easiest thing that people on both sides of the gun control issue can agree on is that something needs to change. Some believe these mass shootings are a product of mental health issues, while others believe the guns are the problem. Either way, these responses have led to a sort of hysteria among the general public that has forced people to pick an extreme side. 

What really needs to be examined is the way we are dealing with this problem. If we can agree that we don’t want these mass shootings to continue, it is important to develop a dialogue that allows for appropriate and productive conversation. We need to understand what the other side is talking about. We need to stop villainizing each other and the words that surround guns in this country.

One of the most common phrases is “gun control.” These two words can cause an uproar incredibly quickly, but what do they really mean? Do they mean taking all guns out of the U.S., or do they mean re-examining our gun laws and making it more difficult to purchase a weapon? Many advocates of gun control do not want all guns to be taken away—they simply want licenses or classes that show that users know how to operate a gun. 

Why are these words so bad then? Upstanding American citizens who should be able to carry a weapon should have no problem getting this license or passing these classes, right? As former President Barack Obama once put it, “Why don’t we treat this like every other thing that we use?” You need a license to drive a car, to be a cosmetologist or to own a small business, so why not a gun? 

Maybe gun control isn’t so bad. But wait, what about those who are “pro-gun?” Phrases that fall on the pro-gun side include words like “semi-automatic.” Do these words hold all of the maleficence that people think they do? I don’t believe so. 

“Semi-automatic” and similar words sound scary to me and I think to a lot of other people, too. When Grand Rapids Community College found a magazine for a semi-automatic handgun in one of its bathrooms not too long ago, I was worried. But once again, what do those words really mean?

First, I think it is important to note that the vast majority of guns purchased and owned are semi-automatic. One bullet is released with the pull of the trigger one time, and the gun reloads automatically. A semi-automatic is exactly what most people would think of when imagining a gun. It is not a weapon of mass destruction like many people have been led to believe. 

We hear these words in connection to horrible things like mass shootings, and suddenly they become criminalized. We hear “gun control,” and it is always associated with violating the U.S. Constitution, but that oversimplifies things. These are now just buzzwords and semantics that distract from the bigger picture. 

The gun problem in the U.S. is not easily solvable, but I do believe that open communication is necessary. Both sides of the aisle need to remember that no matter which side of the issue someone stands on, they are not intending to cause harm. “Gun control” and “semi-automatic” are only examples of words that have put bumps in the road on the way to fixing this problem. A little research could go a long way in helping to understand both sides of this debate and hopefully solving it.