I came across a blog entry that had been posted to Reddit today. I’ll admit, I’d tagged the submitter as the typical antigun nutjob, so I was quite surprised to find that the article was about the toxic hostility of the typical facebook antigun zealot and how language matters when discussing law:
If you don’t understand these terms already, why should you care? You should care because when you misuse them, you signal substantially broader gun restrictions than you may actually be advocating. So, for instance, if you have no idea what semi-automatic means, but you’ve heard it and it sounds scary, and you assume that it means some kind of machine gun, so you argue semi-automatics should be restricted, you’ve just conveyed that most modern handguns (save for revolvers) should be restricted, even if that’s not what you meant.
It’s hard to grasp the reaction of someone who understands gun terminology to someone who doesn’t. So imagine we’re going through one of our periodic moral panics over dogs and I’m trying to persuade you that there should be restrictions on, say, Rottweilers.
Me: I don’t want to take away dog owners’ rights. But we need to do something about Rottweilers.
You: So what do you propose?
Me: I just think that there should be some sort of training or restrictions on owning an attack dog.
You: Wait. What’s an “attack dog?”
Me: You know what I mean. Like military dogs.
You: Huh? Rottweilers aren’t military dogs. In fact “military dogs” isn’t a thing. You mean like German Shepherds?
Me: Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody’s trying to take away your German Shepherds. But civilians shouldn’t own fighting dogs.
You: I have no idea what dogs you’re talking about now.
Me: You’re being both picky and obtuse. You know I mean hounds.
You: What the fuck.
Me: OK, maybe not actually ::air quotes:: hounds ::air quotes::. Maybe I have the terminology wrong. I’m not obsessed with vicious dogs like you. But we can identify kinds of dogs that civilians just don’t need to own.
You: Can we?
Because I’m just talking out of my ass, the impression I convey is that I want to ban some arbitrary, uninformed category of dogs that I can’t articulate. Are you comfortable that my rule is going to be drawn in a principled, informed, narrow way?
So. If you’d like to persuade people to accept some sort of restrictions on guns, consider educating yourself so you understand the terminology that you’re using. And if you’re reacting to someone suggesting gun restrictions, and they seem to suggest something nonsensical, consider a polite question of clarification about terminology.