Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Except that as with so many other quotations from famous people, he never wrote that, and no one who spoke with him recalls him saying it. The concept expressed by the statement, however, does make the point that we have to be careful when leaping to conclusions about the meaning of symbols.
Language is inherently symbolic, though — words are like maps, abstractions that are not the territory — and we have the challenge of drawing the boundaries of meaning that our labels will cover.
One illustration of this is found in the statement made by Grant Stinchfield of NRATV. Commenting on the Georgia law that now permits concealed carry on college campuses, he criticized The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s use of the word, weapon. In his view, “weapon,” is the wrong word to use. one that should be reserved to describe the firearms carried by soldiers. What he carries is a firearm, a tool for self-defense, not for offense.
Now I am sympathetic to his concerns over the way in which the news media refer to firearms. As my co-author, Ranjit Singh, and I discuss in our book, Each One, Teach One, too many journalists use sloppy language when reporting on guns, “assault weapon” being just one example of this. But while the words we use can have a good measure of overlap with each other, we have to keep clear their unique elements.
“Gun,” for instance, is the subject of the chant in the military — “This is my rifle, this is my gun. This one’s for shooting, this one’s for fun.” — designed to break recruits of their civilian thinking. However, in ordinary speech, a gun is a tube, closed at one end, in which powder burns to accelerate a bullet down range, and this reminds us that the Venn diagram of colloquial and technical language has to be kept in our consciousness when we’re speaking in any particular situation.
Take this firearm, a Walther GSP:
Is this a weapon? Perhaps as a prop in a science-fiction film, but it’s used typically for the sport of target shooting, and despite what gun control advocates will often say, no, this isn’t a sport that is practice for killing, either humans or other animals. This is in fact the sport of putting .22 caliber holes in sheets of paper. But because the magazine isn’t contained in the grip, there are places here in the United States that ban this piece of sporting equipment as an “assault weapon.”
That being said, the firearm that Stinchfield carries presumably is a weapon, a tool that human beings use as a tool in fighting.We do no service either to gun rights or to our general thinking by trying to obscure the truth about violence. It does involve deadly force at times, and in contrast to the muddled wishes of some, it is at times necessary to defend the life and other rights of good people.
A gun can be, as I said, a piece of sporting equipment, or it can be an object of art, an investment, or employed for some other purpose that doesn’t primarily involve violence, but the word is centered on the concept of weaponry, and we accomplish nothing in the attempt to obscure this fact. It’s better for us to be honest in saying that yes, a gun is for fighting and to explain when things are worth fighting for.
For the book that I mentioned above, Each One, Teach One, or others of mine, go here.