The Gun Culture In America

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

With recent headlines, comes the inevitable deploring of the use of words associated with guns and shooting. While I believe in measured rhetoric and I am not a supporter of vitriolic speeches, I mourn for the loss of America's culture when I hear the political correctness movement suggest that gun metaphors lead to violence.

American history is so intermeshed with weapons and the right to bears arms that gun terminology has become part of the vernacular. Moreover, the origins of our freedom and the establishment of democracy can be directly linked to an armed citizenry who took up their muskets to secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for themselves and their posterity.

Let us consider the extent to which we use of gun metaphors in today's modern-American English. To name a few: You're “jumping the gun.” That's like “shooting your self in the foot.” That person is a “straight shooter.” I need that like I need a “hole on the head.” He bought it “lock, stock, and barrel.” “Lock and load.” “Rock and fire.” That is “on target.” The goal is “within range.” Keep your “powder dry.” “Set your crosshairs” on that. They are “under the gun.” The final “shot” “beat the gun.” We are “going great guns.” You should “stick to your guns.” Bring in the “big guns.” That is the “smoking gun.” He is a “hired gun.” Why not “take a shot at it?” The idea was “shot down.” They are “shooting off” at the mouth. That person has a “hair trigger” temper. They are a little “slow on the draw.” Sometimes we have to “lower our sights.”

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Some people suggest that when the 2nd Amendment refers to “a well armed militia,” it means only the National Guard or other state branch of law enforcement. Others make the case that the Amendment is only about protecting our hunting heritage. I believe the 2nd Amendment is about much more than a well armed militia and protecting opportunities for sport hunting. In fact, if you don't think the Founding Fathers meant for you and I to have “the right to bears arms” of any kind for any lawful purpose then consider some of their writings.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes…Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” Jefferson put the 2nd Amendment in perspective when he said, “Those who hammer their guns into plowshares will plow for those who do not.”

Samuel Adams referenced the right of citizens to bear arms when he said, “Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First, a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property, together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.” He went on to say, “And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the Press, or the rights of Conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; …”

Consider George Mason, co-author of the 2nd Amendment, who said, “I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”

George Washington made the importance of gun rights clear. “Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence…”

Patrick Henry added these two points. “The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun.”

Alexander Hamilton complimented that when he said, “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”

Beyond the 2nd Amendment issues, the manufacturing of firearms in the United States in the 1800's was one of the prime drivers of the Industrial Revolution that established America as the most powerful and benevolent nations on earth. And it was guns that won the West and, notwithstanding the scrutiny of how American Indians were treated, the settlement of the West was also crucial to making the United States a world power for good and peace.

We owe the establishment of the world's first democracy and beacon of freedom to guns for we surely could have never prevailed against the British Empire without a well armed citizenry. We can be thankful that gun manufacturing pioneered the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing processes used by other industries making the United States the economic hope and benefactor of the world. And, we can be proud that Americans are free to use their gun lexicon in their daily lives as they see fit, at least for now.

As pundits line up to analyze every tragic shooting and suggest their remedy to what they perceive to be the problem, let us take stock in the fact that firearms, gun ownership, shooting sports, and even the use of weapons by law enforcement and our military is as American as apple pie. Moreover, firearms are so intertwined with our culture that even those who don't own or use a weapon, likely utilize gun metaphors in their everyday life.

The next time someone in the news media suggests, as has been done recently, that gun metaphors should be the new “N-word,” I hope someone out there has the courage to tell them that they are way “off target.”

(Paul D. Hoffman is a California native who spent most of his life in Cody, WY. He has been politically active and has spent much of his career in public service at various levels of government, including serving as State Director to then-congressman Dick Cheney, and in non-profit organizations. From 2002 to 2008, he was a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of the Interior in Washington, DC. He is a resident of Prince Edward. He can be reached at