What we talk about when we talk about guns

By MAX PADILLA

Gun control has been a hot button issue for the past decade. With the 2020 election looming on the horizon, conversations surrounding gun control can feel like a dime a dozen. And while it is important to have those difficult conversations, it is equally important to do so correctly. With what is often a lack of proper knowledge surrounding the issue and a lack of proper use of terms, it becomes incredibly easy for conversations to become muddled. 

 The most common mistake made by both the media and the general public is misidentification of what a “mass shooting” actually is. Anytime there is any shooting anywhere and someone gets hurt, people seem to cry “mass shooting.” Those instances are both horrifying and traumatic, but those aren’t technically “mass shootings.” The Justice Department doesn’t consider an instance a mass shooting unless three or more people, excluding the gunman, are shot and killed in a single episode. Most people (including some media platforms) use the Gun Violence Archive’s definition: Four people, excluding the gunman, must be shot in a single episode. While at first glance this distinction might seem trivial, it actually takes the number of mass shootings from 283 between Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 1, 2019 (reported by CBS as of Sept. 1, 2019) to 32 (reported by the New York Times as of Aug. 3, 2019). The disparity in information and numbers makes communication difficult and unproductive, making the possibility of effective and agreeable legislation even more unreasonable. It’s therefore hard to formally prosecute offenders of any public shooting because, as a nation, we’ve yet to provide a legal definition for the term “mass shooting.”

Discussions become even more confused when talking about the guns themselves.”

Discussions become even more confused when talking about the guns themselves. When talks of gun control arise, progressives start with the necessity of banning of “assault weapons.” This is problematic, if only because the term “assault weapon” has no real, technical meaning. Some state legislatures have gone so far as to create their own definitions. The state of Connecticut defines assault weapons as “selective-fire firearms capable of fully automatic, semi-automatic, or burst fire at the options of the user.” According to Connecticut’s definition, all “semi-automatic” means is that one bullet is released each time the trigger is pulled and the gun also performs all the necessary tasks that prepare the gun to fire again should the trigger be pulled a second time. The term semi-automatic thereby applies to a wide variety of fairly benign firearms (i.e., many hand guns traditionally used for self defense), in addition to damage heavy guns like the AR-15. Blanket definitions like these make it hard to get gun enthusiasts and hunters on board with current proposals for gun control. The problem of vague definitions is made worse by the fact that they’re not standardized; for example, Virginia defines an assault weapon as any weapon with a magazine capacity greater than 20 rounds. This obvious disconnect between states does not set national gun legislation up for any sort of success. If local legislators themselves can’t even agree on what terms mean, how can we, as a nation then agree on any sort regulation pertaining to those same terms? 

The definitions we have are not serving us properly.”

Often, when people refer to “assault weapons,” they really mean assault rifles. Assault rifles are mostly used by military and police forces. The technical definition demands that a gun of this status has “fire reduced-power ammunition and can fire in either automatic or semi-automatic modes.” Notably, this definition excludes the AR-15. If that sounds familiar to you, good. The AR-15 is the firearm that has been used in most of the higher-profile mass shootings like Sutherland Springs, or the Las Vegas Strip, or at Stoneman Douglas High School. The AR-15 is not classified as an assault rifle, and it shouldn’t be; the gun only has semi-automatic capabilities. “AR” does not stand for “assault rifle” or even “automatic rifle.” It stands for Armalite Rifle. It is because of its classification that Democrats in Congress push for such severe regulations on guns in general. And I understand that. However, those severe regulations often also require the banning of handguns and hunting rifles. The ownership of both hand guns and hunting rifles are legal in legislation other than the second amendment. Clearly, the definitions we have are not serving us properly. Given the disparity in the types of guns designated the semi-automatic label, it may be useful for us to technically differentiate between those weapons capable of mass destruction and those best served for self-defense and hunting capabilities. 

I’ve seen guns serve to destroy, to aid and to protect. I’ve seen them used for sport and art. They are not bad. Dangerous in their nature only if used improperly and not regulated by those who promised to serve and protect. People should be able to use and own certain types of guns within the confounds defined by the law. Self defense via using a gun is legal, so long as the amount of force used is “only the amount of force reasonably necessary to fend off the attacker,” according to Criminal defense lawyer Lauren Baldwin.  Hunting  largely relies on the use of firearms, and is legal (to certain extents). Gun control is a complex issue that deserves time and meaningful discussion. Please argue, discuss, disagree and object but do so with nothing less than the proper knowledge in hand.

Max Padilla ’22 is The Campus’ senior photo editor.

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