Gun control is a topic which never fails to inspire heated debate. In addition to the vehement passion of groups which support or oppose gun control, conversations about restrictions on gun ownership are further complicated by a lack of agreement and understanding of gun vocabulary.

Dan Bier at the Foundation for Economic Education explains:

“But another common feature of the gun control debate—the inability of many activists to speak with even minimal literacy about firearms—suggests a bigger problem: proponents of gun control don’t even know what they are proposing.

I routinely see journalists and politicians conflate semi-automatics, automatics, and machine guns, confuse clips and magazines, and, of course, casually refer to “assault weapons” as though there was any accepted definition of that phrase.”

This language barrier makes it difficult to communicate and effectively debate gun control. For those who aren’t familiar with guns or gun control terms, Bier cites an excellent article on gun control dialogue by Ken White at Popehat:

“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 #$&@.

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?”

Gun control is a controversial issue that deserves serious, thoughtful conversation. We’ll never have that conversation, though, as long as the language of the main voices on guns remain inconsistent and confusing.