Helen of Marlowe's Blog

The Language of Gun Control

Posted in "North Carolina", Language by helenofmarlowe on April 10, 2013

Language matters.

The Associated Press has decided to remove from its guidebook the term “illegal immigrant” to refer to people residing in a country without permission.  Because language influences thought.

Other political issues could also benefit from thoughtful use of language. Perhaps “gun regulations” would be less onerous than “gun control.”

As I’ve written before, such as here (Hospitality Customers), I do think language matters.

I’d like to see the term “gun control” replaced by the term “gun regulation” – because many (most? All?) products are regulated, so why should guns not be as well? Perhaps if the news writers, newscasters and commentators, editorial writers and bloggers spoke, not of President Obama’s actions regarding “gun control” but spoke rather of “gun regulations” – then perhaps fewer heels would dig in.

Today’s headline reads Obama Seeks Compromise on Gun Control. What if the headline read Obama Seeks Compromise on Gun Regulations  instead?

From Bloomberg Businessweek: “On Tuesday, Washington again will echo with calls for tougher gun control … ”  Wow! Gun Control! We can’t have that!

But what about gun regulations? You know, like seat belts and windshields and kerosene heaters are regulated? Just as toothpaste labels and highway speeds and electrical outlets are regulated? Can we speak of gun regulation, instead of gun control?

Would it help?  Since language matters?

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4 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on April 11, 2013 at 9:29 am

    This concept has a lot going for it. After “regulation”, I would love to hear of “gun elimination”.

  2. Jim Wheeler said, on April 11, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I agree, Helen. Regulation is a much better word because “control” seems to imply some kind of continuous action rather than at discrete points such as sale. States don’t “control” the driver-ships and operability of vehicles, they “regulate” them, and the same should be true for guns.

    The columnist Paul Greenberg wrote deploringly in our paper today about the “illegal immigrant” change in the AP style book and I have to say that I agree with him. It is one thing to employ rules for style in order to improve clarity and efficiency of communication and quite another to achieve political correctness, something dependent on where one’s head is. Greenberg was right to recall George Orwell’s thinking on doublespeak in the instance.

    • helenofmarlowe said, on April 12, 2013 at 6:14 am

      Good points all, Jim.
      The change to the AP stylebook has certainly stirred more interest than I would have expected. And USA Today has said “The term illegal immigration is acceptable, but do not label people as illegal immigrants.”
      Maybe “undocumented immigrants” is linguistically more accurate.
      I’m at this moment listening to NPR reporting on “gun control legislation.” By saying “gun regulations” they could be more accurate and even save a word!

  3. shimoniac said, on August 8, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I don’t think anything will improve the issue of gun control, even a shift in word usage. The perceived rights and entitlements around the Second Amendment are probably impervious to amelioration. It’s much the same thing surrounding any hot-button issue. Until there is a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue, all we’ll ever have are competing monologues.


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