Saturday , February 24 2024
In sloganeering, clarity must come first.

Language Matters in Life and Business: Gun Rhetoric Control

peace team gun controlIn the wake of the latest mass shootings, gun control advocates are ramping up their sloganeering and rhetoricizing – sometimes coherently, but not always.

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the few public intellectuals still countenanced by our lowest-common-denominator society, tweeted some statistical parallels on gun violence and terrorism that gained a lot of notice. He observed, for example, that 3,400 Americans died by terrorism since 2001 – and that the same number “died by household Firearms since five weeks ago.” Effective rhetoric (although it does beg the question of the definition of terrorism).

On the other hand, The Peace Team’s new bumper-sticker slogan, “People with guns kill more than people without guns,” fails on both rhetorical and grammatical grounds.

The meaning is a hopeless tangle, both grammatically and rhetorically ambiguous. The most obvious intended meaning, to me, is that there are more shooting murders than other types of murders, or – a related idea, but with a different statistical meaning – that you’re more likely to kill someone if you have a gun than if you don’t. (“If there were no guns, the lethality of crimes would be less,” says Charles F. Wellford, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland. “You can’t have a drive-by knifing.”)

To make that first meaning clear in the slogan, you’d need to insert a word: “People with guns kill more than do people without guns.” But, although grammatically correct, that would sound awkward.

On the other hand, the slogan could even mean that people with guns kill not only people who don’t have guns, but also kill other people – presumably, other people who do have guns. (Although it doesn’t specify who or what is being killed. People? Animals?)

That meaning doesn’t make logical sense, but it’s right there in the grammar.

It’s not easy to come up with a new slogan. But the first rule has to be clarity.


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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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  1. Dr Joseph S. Maresca

    Comprehensive gun legislation must include all phases of gun ownership from the
    purchase to the sale, registration, insurability and an excess consumption tax.
    Registration and licensing is happening already in places like New York.

    We need to put teeth into the registration process as we do with automobiles. No plates are issued without an exhaustive process of auto inspection, an owner declaration and evidence of current insurance.

    Today, there are some missing pieces in the gun registration process like an owner declaration of intent/usage, as well as, a glaring absence of requiring an insurance company to insure the act of owning a gun.

    The requirement of a declaration forces the owner to specify the intended use i.e.
    hunting, home security, industrial security, shooting range recreation or peace officer.
    Getting an insurer involved in the process will introduce more declarations which can
    be monitored independently together with a national gun registry.

    An excess consumption tax should be levied on the basis of proportionality.The
    purchase of a small handgun might have a 25% tax. The purchase of multiple guns
    would have progressively higher tax penalties and other monitoring mechanisms.

    Currently, alcohol, firearms and tobacco are taxed at higher rates in response to the necessity for more government monitoring and provisions for expensive medical interventions in public and private hospitals. These expensive medical interventions are connected causally to the uncontrolled/irresponsible usage. The same taxation argument needs to be applied more stringently for gun sales so that the funding is there to provide more security to protect the public from great harm.

    The security infrastructure has to be more rigorous in high crime areas and areas
    where there are higher densities of people. An elderly couple in the middle of a desert
    needs a gun for personal safety. That situation is different from the recent
    shootings in San Bernadino, California which ranks 5 on a scale of 100. The highest
    number signifies the safest locality (100) and the lowest indicates the most dangerous

    Lastly, domestic terrorism has no particular ethnicity or religious underpinning. For instance, Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski (AKA Unabomber) was educated at Harvard and raised in a typical American household.


    • One policy change that needs to be made is that prosecutors commonly make a blizzard of serious charges, among which are the gun possession charges, intended by the legislators to be an enhancement of other charges, to discourage misuse of deadly weapons, but are dropped in plea bargaining.
      The purpose of the executive department of the government, which includes the prosecutors, is to carry out the will of the legislature, as explained by the courts, within the limitations of the constitutions.
      The firearm enhancements are intended to discourage firearm use by people who have already displayed a propensity for violence, and exacerbating what would be without the weapon a minor offense.
      In practice, when a victimless crime such as simple possession is prosecuted it is not dropped just because there was no victim. It is prosecuted because it is the only offense charged, or is the only serious offense charged. But if it is only one of a dozen or a gross of charges, it is readily plea bargained away as part of the negotiations. The accused agrees to plead guilty to some other crime in return for the dropping of the gun charge.
      This effectively is the opposite if the intent of the legislature, which is to discourage improper use and possession of firearms and other dangerous and deadly weapons.
      Example: I am in a store when an enemy tries to pick a fight with me. As I am leaving, the owner of the store calls the police. They come and stop me down the street. They find that I have a concealed pistol, for which I have a permit to carry concealed. As my enemy has accused me to the police of trying to start a fight by threatening him, the police detain me for investigation. But possession of a firearm during the commission of a (other) crime enhances the simple assault charge to a one year minimum sentence. The prosecutor offers me a deal: plead nolo to the assault charge and the gun charge is dropped.
      Do I plead guilty to the false charge of assault, lose my permit, which I got because of threats and assaults by this enemy, lose my $900 gun that was impounded by the police, pay a fine and be on my way or do I fight the charges and risk a 10 year maximum sentence?

    • How many guns did Kaczynski have? Did he use a gun to commit his crimes?