My email box gathers interesting letters sometimes. One of my perennial favorites: the well-meaning note, usually from an older gentleman, telling me that I shouldn’t use the word weapon.
This isn’t unique to me, I’m sure. I guess most people who speak or write about firearms have been chided, at one time or another, for calling a handgun a weapon. We shouldn’t do that, we’re told, because it scares people. It’s all about perception, you see. We can’t go around frightening people. We should use gentler words. People have this idea that weapons are evil. So we shouldn’t refer to our guns as weapons, not even the guns we carry for the express purpose of using as defensive instruments if we are assaulted.
This makes no sense. First, take a look at some regular English dictionaries. Many define weapon as “any device or instrument designed or intended for use in attack or defense…” or as “something used to injure, defeat, or destroy.” Most dictionaries also specifically list a firearm as one example of a weapon. So it’s perfectly accurate to call the gun you carry a weapon, because it is designed to be used in defense and because you intend to use it that way if circumstances require it.
Legal dictionaries go one step further, and straight-up call a firearm a deadly weapon. For example, here’s the definition of deadly weapon from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary: “A gun or other instrument, substance, or device, which is used or intended to be used in a way that is likely to cause death. … Some laws list ‘deadly weapons per se,’ which are weapons that by themselves are likely to cause death, such as a gun, regardless of the user’s intent.” To the best of my knowledge, most or all state laws define a firearm—any type of firearm—as a deadly weapon per se.
By these definitions, it’s quite accurate to call a firearm a weapon. But should we? I think so. In fact, I think it’s dangerous not to. When we tip-toe around this perfectly accurate word, we reinforce the awful idea that there is something wrong with ordinary citizens owning the tools they need to protect themselves and their families. If we give away this strongest, most essential point from the beginning, we will lose any political argument that follows (as gun owners in both England and Australia learned to their sorrow).
The firearm I carry every day has been designed to make it easy to fight with. I carry it because I intend to use it to defend myself if I am ever attacked. That makes it a weapon in both common English and legal usage, according to both types of dictionaries. There’s nothing wrong with this, because there’s nothing wrong with an ordinary citizen being reasonably equipped and able to defend herself.
Changing gears for a moment—I’ll come back to weapons, honest!—the whole argument really highlights a weird cultural phenomenon. Did you ever wonder why it’s so often the “good girls” who get pregnant in high school? It’s because the “bad girls” plan to have sex, so they use birth control. With the shoe on the other foot, a lot of “good boys” become early fathers. That’s because the “bad boys” plan to have sex, so they carry condoms in their wallets. It’s almost as if “bad” simply means, “Someone who plans ahead.”
Another example of the same weird cultural thing at work: the wildly popular 1980s television character named MacGyver was a good guy. People thought of him as a hero even though he regularly risked the lives of bystanders when he blew his enemies (or at least their belongings) to smithereens using cobbled-together field expedients. Heaven forbid that he had instead actually come prepared to do the job he fully intended to do! He wouldn’t have been a hero if he had planned ahead and brought the tools he needed to the job site.
One more example. American audiences apparently feel terribly disappointed if a movie heroine resorts to—gasp!—carrying a firearm to protect herself when she knows she’ll be facing extreme personal danger. They’d rather see a cute little 90-pound blonde traipsing merrily into trouble, unarmed and unprepared, than to cheer her on for intelligent planning and foresight. It’s okay if she can kick the snot out of the bad guys with her bare feet, but it’s not okay for her to come prepared to do it or to carry tools that could help her do it better.
Lesson: stupidity is always popular in the movie theater and on the teevee screen, intelligent planning notsomuch. “Bad” people plan ahead, but “good” people do not. Good people just barge into danger and hope for the best.
Back in the real world, and here we are back at firearms again, this cultural weirdness could be why good citizens say utterly stupid things following an otherwise completely-justifiable act of self-defense. They say things like, “The gun just went off!” or, “I didn’t mean to shoot him!” or, “It was an accident!” Statements like these can, and often will, get these folks into serious legal trouble, because an accidental shooting is not legally defensible, but a deliberate act of self-defense is. But many of us have absorbed and internalized the Hollywood lie that planning ahead is evil. Good people just schlep unprepared into danger—that’s how we know they’re good people and not bad ones.
So let me repeat my first and most important point: there is nothing wrong with actively planning to defend yourself if someone tries to kill you. There is nothing wrong with being prepared to do that. There is nothing wrong with learning how to do it well and there is nothing wrong with owning the tools to do it more effectively.
It makes no sense to pretend that the guns we keep on the nightstand to defend our homes, or that the pistols we keep in our holsters to protect ourselves and our families, aren’t actually intended for such a task. Any kindergartener could see right through such a transparent denial. So don’t deny it. State it proudly: “I own this weapon so I can to defend myself. I practice with it so I will become good at defending myself.”
When anti-gun people get the vapors about us having weapons, they put their fingers directly on a critical point: firearms give ordinary people the physical ability to defend themselves against other people. That’s exactly why the Founders protected the right to own them, not for any other reason. The 2nd Amendment does not protect sports or games. It does not protect the right of athletes to compete at the local club on the weekends or to enter the Olympics every four years. The 2nd Amendment protects the everyday right of ordinary people to own weapons—arms, instruments of war, instruments or devices used in offense or defense against other living beings. It does not protect your right to own tools or toys. It expressly protects your right to own weapons.
When we step away from that, we have precious little ground to stand on when we say we should be allowed to own guns. After all, if you don’t have the right to own a tool designed for the express purpose of defending your very life, what possible right could you have to own a mere toy that disturbs other people or causes them to fear for their safety? After all, if lawn darts could be banned as a menace to the public, why not firearms?
So don’t give up the moral high ground. Be proud! You own a weapon, and there’s nothing wrong with that.