The Semantics of Civilian Firearms Education

The media has manipulated language to instill fear in people about guns. Here’s how we can use facts and reasoning to help educate our fellow citizens about self-defense, the Second Amendment, and personal liberty.

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Photo: author

Semantics (si-man-tiks)
  • the study of the meanings of words and phrases in language
  • the meanings of words and phrases in a particular context
  • the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings
  • from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

    In this age of political correctness, Orwellian double-speak, and mainstream anti-liberty agendas, semantics can be an important element of any lesson or spirited pro-gun discussion. As a firearms instructor who teaches defensive concepts, practices, techniques, and basic safety, I like to take time to educate students (and instructor candidates) on the importance of being an effective ambassador for the Second Amendment by using specific words and avoiding others to help educate our fellow citizens. As responsible law-abiding gun owners, we must attempt to educate our friends, families, co-workers, and fellow citizens whenever the opportunity arises. Employing various techniques, words, and phrases will help us influence these audiences toward the side of liberty.

Photo: author

Photo: author

The Dreaded “W” Word!

It has long been a policy of the NRA for instructors to avoid the “W” word. Weapon has a negative connotation. This policy often divides the room. A person in law enforcement or with a military background who has only ever referred to firearms as a weapon will often take the stance that the policy is founded in political correctness. This too was my initial opinion, but after having “gun” discussions with many non-gun folks and training civilians new to firearms, I see exactly where the NRA is coming from with this policy and believe that they are right on.

I have spent many years in the music and film industries. I can say with relative authority there are certain words, phrases, sounds, contrasts, and colors that are purposefully used to evoke a feeling or emotion within all media. Those of you in the intelligence community may recognize this concept as psy-ops. “Weapon” is one example of a trigger word (if you will pardon the not-so-clever pun) used in media to evoke a sense of discomfort. People are trained by TV, films, and other media to feel a sense of danger when they hear the word “weapon.”

After all, during the Zimmerman case, it was argued that Martin “weaponized” the concrete. Now that was some impressive wordsmithing! These trigger words cue a learned fear or even physical response. Ask any LE officer what they would do if they were on a routine traffic stop and heard someone say “gun.” Needless to say, the operator of that vehicle will have a much longer day. This is one example of semantics.

I like to refer to my carry firearm as my “particular tool of self-defense.” Although a bit wordy, it puts my firearm into a much more positive context. It is a tool I have if I ever need to defend my child or my wife or my child’s daddy (me). I carry it responsibly, keep it concealed, and folks only know about it if I decide to bring it up. As responsible law-abiding gun owners, we need to frame all that we say and do gun-wise in a positive context. I truly believe this will help educate our fellow citizens. Whereas the LE officer or military service person may use a weapon to fight the enemy or stop the criminal, or a criminal uses a weapon to harm innocent victims, civilians use our tools to defend our families.

Radicals, Martyrs, and Uneducated Sheeple

Looking at the pro-gun/anti-gun populations, we can surmise that the majority of folks in the middle don’t really care either way as long as they are not directly and negatively affected by the pro or anti sides. Ironically, a very small percentage of the population — the radical anti-gunner — would bash you with a baseball bat because you own a firearm. Another small percentage of the population would proudly go to prison so you could buy .22 ammo at Wally World — the selfless Second Amendment activist. The great majority of folks are floating around in between. Many are uneducated about guns and vulnerable to anti-gun propaganda. If we step up our professionalism and articulate our beliefs in a positive and confident way, we can surely win over the “maybe-antis” or sway the “maybe-pros.”

Photo: author

Photo: author

Safety and Defense

Civilian personal-defense firearms instruction and training must always be in the context of safety and defense. “Joe Yucca-Puck’s Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out” courses marketed to civilians do not help the cause of educating our citizenry. In many instances, these courses turn the “maybes” to the dark side, as well as being ethically and professionally irresponsible. We are law-abiding citizens who are prepared to use deadly force only when we have no other option – when the threat of death or grave bodily harm (or in Pennsylvania, kidnapping and/or rape) is imminent and we cannot safely retreat or escape.

When seconds count, help (police) is minutes away. This hard fact of life is why we take on this responsibility to defend the ones we love. If we can implement plans that buy the police those minutes, so much the better. Defensive mindset, situational awareness, and conflict avoidance must be stressed along with gun-fighting skills. We shoot to stop an attack and to save our life and the lives of our family members. We do everything we can to avoid deploying the gun in the first place. This narrative must be reinforced at all times, especially when talking to that guy at the grocery store who noticed the instructor patch you left on your hat.

Photo: author

Photo: author

Statistics and Love

Facts and data are certainly on our side. You can quote all kinds of FBI Uniform Crime Report data, or whatever study you want. This is good for reinforcing a point but not necessarily good for selling one. Numbers help, but emotion seals the deal. Allow me to give you an example.

Fact: FBI Uniform Crime Report data supports that more citizens were killed last year by hammers and clubs than by rifles, including AR-platform rifles. Although this is true data, it seems ridiculous to someone who only gets the 30-second sound bites from the media. Most reasonable folks would say to themselves, “If that’s the case, why isn’t Senator Feinstein pushing for an assault hammer ban?”

Most folks don’t know or understand what the AR platform is. They only know them as assault rifles or black rifles. Color breeds emotion: black death, black arts, black Tuesday, black ops, black mamba, black market … black has a negative connotation. Why? Black is simply a color, right? However, the black rifle designation is perpetuated by the media. Just one more example of the wordplay that occurs.

Talk about what you know. Be level headed, factual, and passionate. Personalize your argument. I am armed because I love my family and I have accepted the responsibility to protect my family. Love lifts us up where we belong! All you need is love! Who can argue with love? Make the correlation like this: you love your family … you feed your family, you take care of your family, I am sure you too would do anything you could to protect your family, and God bless you for that. This is why I carry a firearm.

Photo: author

Photo: author

Lions, Tigers, and Assault Rifles … Oh My!

The term “assault” in conjunction with the AR has always been a very useful bit of disinformation for anti-gunners. Of course the term “assault rifle” is a manufactured negative term to evoke a sense of discomfort and uneasiness … semantics. In reality, assault rifle is the English translation of the World War II German Sturmgewehr (StG44). Ironically, the rifle was said to have been named Sturmgewehr by Adolf Hitler himself for propaganda reasons.

The most recent incarnation of the assault-rifle moniker is that of “military-style assault rifle.” We hear this one all over the news today in the context of despicably evil acts. It is my opinion that this new title is evidence of the anti-military sentiment of the last eight-plus years within the media. What better way to demonize a group than to lump them into an established negative term? Ever hear the phrase “militarized police”?

I have successfully used liberal anti-law enforcement arguments against anti-gunners to help them embrace liberty. Many anti-gunners claim that we live in a “militarized police state.” If I can get someone to proclaim this, I can make the argument that perhaps the Founding Fathers wanted the Second Amendment guaranteed in the Bill of Rights because they too did not want a militarized police state. We as citizens of a community can help protect ourselves and one another. More responsible law-abiding well-regulated citizens could lessen the need for more police. Let the antis realize that the Second Amendment is their right too! Once folks get the “gun lust,” their love of liberty always follows.

Photo: author

Photo: author

Load and Make Ready with Facts

I once engaged in a spirited debate with an anti-gunner in a crowded restaurant. I kept my cool, stuck to the facts, and personalized the argument, presenting my case in a professional manner. The other guy waved his hands, got loud, drew attention, and left the conversation just as anti-gun as when we started. I was asked by a colleague, “Why did you waste your time talking to that guy?” My response was, “Because all the people around us were listening.” I was pretty sure I was not going to sway the anti guy, although I gave it the old college try. I took advantage of the opportunity to educate the onlookers, and perhaps sway some of the potential maybe anti/maybe pro folks in the room over to the cause of liberty. Having the right information is like having the right ammunition for your gun. It is essential.

When you use facts, remember the specific words and phrases used to disseminate this information are key in how we can influence our fellow citizens toward the light of liberty. Education must not stop in the classroom or on the range.

Discussion
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30 Responses to “The Semantics of Civilian Firearms Education”
  1. Ken

    Being in the military I do use the term “weapon” but on a civilian range I say firearm. When I hear a news report reflecting something ridicules and outright lies such as “SKS assault weapon found along with stolen property and drugs, a stock pile of ammunition was also confiscated” police told this reporter. Someone called me a gun nut once and I replied that I was a firearms enthusiast. I also believe in democracy and the freedom of being a participant as a law abiding citizen in society. Another peer asked “why do you need a black riffle (implied to be assault style) and my response to him was “why do drive that fancy muscle car that can do well over 300kh. Max speed on Canadian highways is 100kh”. Also if I go to the liquor store, buy alcohol, put it on my back seat (unopen, in a bag & out of sight to the public) should I be arrested for alcohol in vehicle with intent to drink & drive? Just because I may own a firearm does not mean I will do illegal things with it. To my American friends, watch what is happening to your cousins in the north in regards to firearms rights and take heed! Very soon even a sling shot will be prohibited.
    Please check out our current legislation and news.

    1)Nanaimo RCMP discover Soviet assault weapons
    2)B223
    3)Justin Trudeau (Prime minister of Canada) stance on gun control.
    Just to name a few.

    Reply
  2. Neil Long

    I have been voicing my opinion on a firearm or gun not being a weapon now going on 4 years and it disgusts me every time I hear the word weapon used when firearm or gun should be used instead. Even the word gun is being used against us pro firearm groups as the media is cramming the word ” gun” down the throats of anyone on the fence about gun control issues The word weapon means ” a device used for attack or defense” in which almost any object can be used such as a rolled up newspaper, fist, or even a pencil, etc,etc.

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    • Richard

      Before I respond to your statement regarding perceptions and the term “weapons” and what that encompasses I want to be perfectly clear that I am 100% pro 2nd amendment and that ALL law abiding citizens can and should carry a weapon, legally, to defend themselves and for no other reason. I just feel its a very foolish argument to classify a pencil, a rolled up newspaper and a AK47 all in the same category as a “weapon” since they all could conceivably provide lethal force. if used accordingly. There is NOTHING wrong with either the word weapon, or gun. They both refer to a TOOL that can fire bullets BOTH OFFENSIVELY OR DEFENSIVELY. If a gun and a pencil were both weapons, then I would need a CCW to carry a pencil or pen in my pocket, but I don’t. They are VASTLY different and trying to hide behind words just makes you look weak and illegitimate in your argument. Stand up tall and proud. If you have the right to own and carry, then there’s nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of and call a gun, A GUN. GOOD GUYS carry guns too. The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Elliott Ness and so on. Guns are not bad, people are bad. Guns don’t kill people, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE. Train, stay legal, STAY VIGILANT and then train some more. ANd don’t feel like I want to open a conversation, because I DON’T. If you don’t agree with me, fine. If you agree with some of what I believe fine too. I just wanted you to hear a response, not start an argument or discussion.

      Reply
  3. Secundius

    Hope Handgun isn’t Loaded, or it’s going to be “Splat Cat” on the Presentation Display…

    Reply
    • Klint Macro

      The pistol was in fact freshly cleaned and unloaded at the time, although the photo does not reflect that… my cat did not seem to care either way, she knew that the gun was not going to harm her. Like myself, she too enjoyed the smell of Hoppes! I think that was why she sat down.

      Reply
  4. Skeets

    This was very well written and thought out. My hat is off to you Sir! As you said, cannot sway everyone but perhaps you can make someone on the fence think about your view and maybe even understand.

    Reply
    • Klint Macro

      Thank you Sir! I appreciate it your encouraging words. If we each do our best to put a responsible, intelligent, and professional face on firearm ownership and usage, we pull the rug from under many of the anti’s disinformation.

      Reply
  5. Stan Hepler

    Excellent article. Someone has said, “Spectacular success is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” This is an excellent example of why we need to be prepared, keep our cool in any discussion. We can’t win them all but we will win some.

    Reply
  6. Scott

    A well thought out post. I agree completely, but I must admit not using the term weapon is hard for me, as a retired cop. Speaking of semantics, I remember a term that was used jokingly in classes teaching conflict
    de-escalation. The instructor used the term “tongue-fu”, an obvious take off of Kung Fu, meaning to use language to de-escalate a situation.

    Reply
  7. Sidney Sorrells

    I would like to see our Pro-Gun folks go a step further; and change from calling a carry permit from: CWP (concealed “weapon” permit)
    To: CCP (concealed carry permit)
    This is much less likely to rile the anti-gun; or the not too sure which side they are on ones… I would also like to see the media to understand and educate the public that AR-__, means, Armalice Rifle, NOT; ASSAULT rifle…thank you

    Reply
    • Keith

      Here in Texas, due to open carry being legal now, ours was changed to LTC (License to Carry). And to correct you the AR in AR15 actually means ArmaLite Rifle.

      Reply
  8. Ron Jackson

    One thing I would add to the discussion re: assault rifles. Do not use the term “Assault Rifles”. When DHS put out a solicitation for 7000 military-grade (i.e. full automatic capability) AR-15 rifles, they didn’t use the term “assault rifle”, they referred to them as “Personal Defense Weapons”. That’s the term I always use now – if its good enough for the government, its good enough for me.

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  9. Core

    Klint Macro, Great writeup. As a wartime veteran, sustainable hunter, and supporter of Second and First Amendment freedoms, I seldom recall the day when I was young and easily swayed by those who seek to dismantle liberty in America. I remember my ignorance was captivated by President Bill Clinton and his “Assault Weapons” and “High Capacity Magazine” bans. Coming from a family of farmers and hunters in rural Maine, most of us were compelled to see these as practical laws. But in truth we were ignorant, and fell for an ideology that placed our ignorance and law abiding nature second to predacious criminals and madmen. It’s difficult for good law abiding citizens to understand the criminal mind let alone the fundamental principles of liberty. As an instructor, I have forgotten the “W” but I still cling to those things that may be perceived as evil by those who are uninitiated, this is a helpful reminder. Excellent explanation of these types of semantics, America needs to read more of your work. It will help those in the middle to form educated decisions, and someday accept those terms that don’t seem to be politically correct as no more than a common adage used by those who seek to dismantle liberty.

    Reply
    • Klint Macro

      Thank you Sir, I appreciate your comment and the thought that went into it. It truly is unfortunate and disheartening that we even need to make a sales pitch for “Liberty”, however the pitch must be made more and more each day. I think that too often our fellow citizens loose sight of the fact that our freedoms are in fact OUR FREEDOMS… all of ours. Limitation by it’s very nature destroys freedom. A responsible, educated citizenry is very capable of self government, self defense, and civility. We must not get discouraged, we MUST continue to keep our cool, engage, inform, and educate.

      Reply
  10. Tom

    Well stated and thought out article. I have been appalled by some of the comments that I read in pro gun news letters, the grammar, spelling and vicious comments leave me cold. I am an owner and user of fire arms for plinking, target practicing, varmint control and hunting and I just want the government to leave me alone and stay out of my life as much as possible so I really appreciate this type of article.

    Reply
  11. Ed Button

    One of the most pertinent and timely articles I’ve read on PDN. Mr. Macro should be a monthly contributor.

    Reply
  12. Janet T.

    Excellent article!! I often talk about people who are willing to accept facts ( which to many seem cold and calculating), yet there are so many more are swayed and actually make decisions based on feelings without any facts…….trying to consciously blend the two – is the best!!

    Reply
  13. Ronald Maylath Sr

    I’m 82 years old , my hands shake, would you advise me not to have a gun? If you suggest that having a gun would be OK for defense, what kind of gun would you recommend?

    Reply
    • Klint Macro

      You are the only one that can answer that question. You must be confident in your ability to use a firearm as a defensive tool. You must be comfortable with accepting the responsibility that comes with using that tool to defend your self and your family. I have worked with lots of folks with mobility issues and steadiness issues. I would be happy to offer my opinion based upon my experience with other folks but some more information would help. Are you wanting to use a firearm “concealed” outside of the home or specifically as a home defense tool?

      Reply
  14. Rod

    One of the best articles I have read on the subject and a philosophy I have adopted years ago. Ladies and gentlemen – we are going to lose the war on liberty if we are not able to articulate the arguments. As Aristotle pointed out 2000 years ago – Pathos will defeat Logos every time. Logic simply is not enough when weighed against perceived safety. We have to make the argument personal, reasonable, and passionate. As lovers of liberty we need to be ever mindful of how we carry ourselves – that we embrace our status of ambassadors of our community.

    Reply