A little while back, I wrote an article that was born out of my frustration with the gun debate, particularly in how one side misuses terminology and the other will be pedantic about it. My point was that if we are going to talk about guns at all, we really need to be on the same page and using the same vocabulary, especially if we're going to talk about legislating firearms based upon features.
After the horrific events of the Sandy Hook school shooting, the rhetoric on both sides has been turned up to 11. Unfortunately, the understanding of the terms used has stayed at it's previous setting of 4.
I don't plan on rehashing the terms I used in the glossary in my first article (including the definition of "assault weapon" and what a magazine is versus a clip), but I do want to talk about some terms used by the media and in general about how violence is reported upon.
Jon Stewart described the media's bias best when he said it was neither towards liberalism or conservatism, but towards sensationalism and laziness. The media makes its money on the dissemination of information, but simple facts are often boring. No one reads boring.
So they use evocative language. The problem is that if one is not careful, that evocative language obfuscates the truth.
I've collected(mostly cheap) knives and swords for a number of years and have more than a few , at least twenty. I also have a small collection of firearms. This includes a single shot 12 gauge with which I will eventually take up quail hunting, a modest home defense shotgun and an almost 60 year old Russian bolt action rifle that was designed as a WWII infantry weapon but that I keep for deer. I also have a .22 semi-auto rifle I use for target shooting.
I don't think any of that sounds unreasonable.
If the items in the previous paragraph were to be described by the media, it would come out thus:
An cache of dozens of weapons, including high powered and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Neighbors were unaware that such an arsenal was right next door....
All of that would be true and it sells much better than "a couple of hunting weapons and some knives". However, it does make it sound like I'm keeping enough firearms to stock the next sequel to "The Expendables".
If you doubt me, consider that when a disturbed young man brought a knife and a bow to a college classroom, having used them to kill his father's girlfriend, then his father an himself, the way the killer's weapons were described thus:
Besides the fact that compound bows have an advantage in that they are easier to hold at full draw than recurve bows, not that they are inherently more powerful, consider the terms in bold, terms used to play up the dire nature of an already dire situation.
It's all about presentation.
With that in mind, here are some of the terms that get used frequently in reporting and discussion and why they are either misused or meaningless.
-Cache is a term that has a wonderful military feel to it, but it just means "a secure storing place", or more often "a hiding place". It is no commentary on the number of things kept there.
-An arsenal is, properly speaking, a place one makes weapons but it can also refer to a collection of weapons. A couple of single shot .22 rifles is an arsenal.
-High powered is a relative term, as the question is "high powered compared to what?". "High powered rifle" is in fact almost redundant as almost all rifle cartridges are made for taking down medium to large game and almost all of them will penetrate a bullet proof vest (most of which are designed to stop rounds from handguns).
-High capacity is also a relative term. Since nearly the invention of firearms that would accept detachable magazines, there have been firearms that were designed with capacities of 13, 15, 20 or more rounds. Usually, this term is used in relation to the arbitrary number that was chosen for the 1994 assault weapon ban, which limited newly manufactured or imported magazines to 10 rounds.
-Saying that a firearm can "fire dozens of rounds in a few seconds" or "fire hundreds of rounds a minute" sounds pretty scary. Except for one thing: that's true of almost every repeating arm in the world, be they lever action, bolt action, pump action or semi-automatic. The man who holds the record for speed shooting fired 12 rounds from a 6-shot revolver in under 3 seconds. Translated out, that's 4 rounds a second, or 320 rounds a minute.
-Military style is also a pretty much meaningless term. The military uses rockets and machine guns, sure, but they also use pump action shotguns and bolt action rifles, virtually no different from firearms used by civilians. While barrel shrouds and vertical foregrips may evoke the image of a soldier going to combat, they don't necessarily denote a military firearm or anything the military would use.
I'm sure that there are more than these (and I encourage people to mention them in the comments).
Again, the point is not a commentary on the efficacy or lack of efficacy of gun laws, but the need to be using the same words if we're going to talk about legislating them.
Otherwise, all we're doing is making noise.