The Cornered Cat

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.

11 Responses to Weapon

  1. Donnie says:

    I got here from a share on Facebook (Tam, I think) riffing on the idea of not using the word “weapon.” There’s a much bigger point here, though, isn’t there? This cult of the unprepared . . . . the person who wasn’t “looking for trouble.” Similarly, often the hero has to be shown trying to “stay out of it” and “let things be” at least a few times before she has permission to kick someone’s ass, even in self-defense.

    It’s a key to the opposition to “stand your ground” laws, too. I see it again and again.

  2. guffaw1952 says:

    In the ‘Gun In The Home’ classes, the NRA stresses we not use the term ‘weapon’.
    Of course, they also have only three rules…

    I do as is appropriate.


  3. keseymour says:

    Great article and insight. I’ve often wondered why there was such opposition to speaking the truth, they are so much more comfortable being ‘nice’ and ‘proper’. There are bad people in the world and I’ll be ‘bad’ to be prepared.

  4. larryarnold says:

    First off, I agree completely.

    Now some quibbles:

    I teach Texas Hunter Education and target-shooting classes. Are those about “weapons,” or “firearms?” I avoid the term in those two contexts because I don’t want to play into the anti-gun mantra that “all guns are weapons, meant only to kill people.” Really? A Thompson Contender? My bolt-action, single shot, .22LR Marlin No. 1?

    Then there’s the anti-gun flip side, “The victim was an unarmed child.” He may have actually been an enraged 19-year-old, 6’6″, 250lb football player with a felony record, but he didn’t have a gun so shooting him was “murder.”

    OTOH: When we step away from that, we have precious little ground to stand on when we say we should be allowed to own guns.

    Absolutely true. The only valid political justification for owning firearms is self-defense.

    Just to get really cantankerous (being the aforementioned “older gentleman”) the NRA’s three rules are better for my beginning students than the “magic” Cooper four.

    • Kathy Jackson says:

      If you’re using it to hunt, it’s a weapon by every definition I could find. That’s the gun’s design and that’s its purpose. The hunter intends to use that rifle (or pistol) to kill another living being.

      However, I do get your point, especially when it comes to persnickety target guns, which are designed and intended for the task of punching holes in paper in high-accuracy games. It makes about as much sense to call a Feinwerkbau AW93 a weapon as it would to call a modern epee by the same term. An epee might have evolved from a true weapon, but it bears little resemblance to the battle sword from which it evolved. Same thing with a precision pistol used in Olympic competition; it’s related to a combat pistol, but hardly the same thing. But here’s the key point: both types of dictionary, common English and legal, say otherwise. If it launches a projectile through the rapid, confined burning of a propellant, it’s a weapon by definition.

      But that’s not the point, is it? After all, there’s no political movement in America bent on banning precision pistols designed for competition. That might happen some day (as happened in England), but it’s the end game. If we effectively stand our ground on the human right to own and use effective tools for self-defense, that day will never come.

      • larryarnold says:

        As I said, I agree with you with quibbles.

        “After all, there’s no political movement in America bent on banning precision pistols designed for competition.”

        But there is this:
        “Several dozen children clutching water pistols and cap guns were lined up to exchange their fake weapons for books and non-violent toys … Monday’s event in Newark was organized by a grass-roots group called Stop Shootin’ Inc. It offered children donated goods including hockey sticks and pucks from the New Jersey Devils, basketballs and Barbie dolls in exchange for toy guns.”

        Of course turning in “deadly weapons” like Nerf guns and videogame blasters for “non-violent” hockey sticks and pucks is beyond irony.

  5. Female and Armed says:

    Kathy, I am so happy to see you writing more, and I love your work. On this one, I disagree. Yes, I’m a NRA instructor and yes, we are told to avoid the word Weapon because so many newer students find it frightening. Plus, Firearm or Gun is more precise, I teach guns, not knives, baseball bats, or any of the many other things that could be a weapon. I think of a weapon as an offensive tool, and my gun as a defensive tool. I will never use my gun offensively.

    It may be splitting hairs, but it is a distinction I can live with.

  6. Pingback:Weapon | Cornered Cat | Gun Free Zone

  7. JOHN says:

    I am a firearms instructor with three different organizations. Two of them are very constrained in their use of nouns such as “weapon” or “training.” The third, USRA, speaks plain language. It’s much easier to communicate with students when we all speak the same language and we know why we are there.

  8. wkeller says:

    Quite the topic here Ms. K. I found it interesting that when I took NRA Training Counselor training in September that they had moved their resistance to the use of the word “weapon” in the Personal Protection courses. I believe that is a good move. More “real world”.

    I also posted on this topic months ago. Rather than a copy and paste, here is a link to my thoughts.

    Liking your blog, lots of good info. More info is always good . . . . .


    • Kathy Jackson says:

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for posting the link to your article. It’s a good one!

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