“Control” = “"ban”? 
Posted: 13 June 2007 01:31 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This is a VERY loaded question, but it is strictly apolitical. I will swear to that on my mother’s grave (wishful thinking).

While watching an episode of Penn and Teller’s “Bullshit” the other night, and listening to them spewing bile and invective against gun control advocates, I was again left wondering how it is that in the US the phrase “gun control” is understood by many to mean “the total banning of firearms”. I don’t live in the US, and so the issue is of no interest to me from a political perspective. I am simply quite genuinely fascinated by the language usage implications. Here in Aotearoa/NZ for example, there are well over one million firearms, around 1 for every 4 persons. This in a country which very definitely controls the purchase and ownership of firearms.

I guess what has long interested me from a semantic point of view is the “all or nothing” assumptions made. Since there are already controls in the US that would appear to “infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms” in that I’m guessing private citizens are not allowed to own nuclear weapons or military artillery for personal use, what is the semantic or linguistic border? That is, for those who parse “gun control” as “banning guns”, what is the linguistic distinction that permits some “controls” and does not view them as breaching the 2nd amendment, while other attempts at regulation are viewed as in breach?

I apologise in advance for any political aggravation this question causes, but this is a word usage question that has long fascinated me. Part of that fascination may well come from my own cultural background, growing up in a country that has always regulated and controlled firearms ownership, but has also always had plenty of them. This may be what makes it hard for me to grasp how “control” can be understood as “elimination”. So if anybody can offer an apolitical explanation, I’d be indebted.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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maxqnz - 13 June 2007 01:31 PM

I was again left wondering how it is that in the US the phrase “gun control” is understood by many to mean “the total banning of firearms”. I don’t live in the US, and so the issue is of no interest to me from a political perspective. I am simply quite genuinely fascinated by the language usage implications. Here in Aotearoa/NZ for example, there are well over one million firearms, around 1 for every 4 persons. This in a country which very definitely controls the purchase and ownership of firearms.

My two cents:

In the US, gun control really is about controlling rather than banning the ownership, use or possession of guns.  The idea of “the total ban of firearms” is so unrealistic here that most efforts are focused on controlling rather than banning the buying, selling, ownership and otherwise distribution of weapons that cannot legitimately be used for sport.  Guns are not permitted in certain venues.  I note, for example, in Minneapolis, signs at the entrances of many public buildings including Churches that make it clear that possession of a firearm in these buildings is strictly forbidden. 

There are controls on the types of weapons that might be possessed, bought or sold.  Assault weapons, Saturday Night Specials, concealed weapons and the like have “controls” placed on them.  Guns in homes need to be under lock and key and unloaded and if a child is hurt by an unlocked or loaded weapon, the owner of the gun can be charged.

There may certainly be those who would like to ban the possession of all firearms, but that’s not the focus of most gun control.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t think I want to touch this topic, although I will point out that the movement that led to the complete banning of alcoholic beverages in the US went by the name “temperance” (which, before they got hold of it, meant “moderation and self-restraint”.)

You might find this summary instructive.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks for the reply. However, my question was really about the way that it seems the idea of “control” is understood by many of those opposed to it. The whole Charlton Heston “out of my cold dead hands” thing seems to sum up the way many quite genuinely equate “control” with “ban”. I couldn’t give a fetid pair of dingo’s kidneys for the argument per se, but am fascinated by this apparent shift in perceived definition of the word “control”, especially because it seems both widely held and very deeply entrenched.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dr. Techie - 13 June 2007 02:22 PM

I don’t think I want to touch this topic, although I will point out that the movement that led to the complete banning of alcoholic beverages in the US went by the name “temperance” (which, before they got hold of it, meant “moderation and self-restraint”.)

You might find this summary instructive.

Thanks for the link, and the “temperance” example, which is directly analogous and on the other side of that particular debate. The redefining of “temperance” to mean “total abstinence” is a perfect example of the same sort of meaning shift that sees “control” become “ban”, or so it seems to me.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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BTW, I like your logo.  In my younger days I worked at a college whose computing system consisted mostly of VT100 terminals connected to a DEC PDP-11 (and later VAX) computer.  The terminals were pretty much pure text displays with little if any graphics capactity, but had the ability to display double-size text by virtue of having extra character sets that consisted of either the top or bottom halves of extra-large letters.  So if you wanted “STOP” to appear extra large, you’d display it twice, on successive lines, first in the “top half” set and then in the “bottom half” set.  I wrote a logoff routine that would leave the top half of “SHARE AND ENJOY” displayed on the terminal.  But so far as I know, none of the other users ever stuck their head in a pig.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Re capital porcine insertion: Thanks! I once had it printed on a T-shirt.  Over the lifetime of said shirt, I never had any reaction at all, from anyone. :)

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Posted: 13 June 2007 09:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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maxqnz - 13 June 2007 02:29 PM

Thanks for the link, and the “temperance” example, which is directly analogous and on the other side of that particular debate. The redefining of “temperance” to mean “total abstinence” is a perfect example of the same sort of meaning shift that sees “control” become “ban”, or so it seems to me.

If I understand “on the other side of that particular debate” rightly, that is an important distinction.  The alcohol abstinence folks of the 20s may have chosen the word “temperance” as a way to get the dromedary’s probiscus under the tabernacle.  The assignation of “control” to mean “ban” in the gun debate was done by those who want to paint the control people with the tar of abstinence from any guns.  If that’s what you mean by “the other side of that particular debate” I’m with you.

The “gun ban” citations in the good Doctor’s link are all about hand guns only, thus I would say that they are about “gun control” (not banning all guns, but rather guns of a certain class).

But then, I’m of a certain persuasion on this question.

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Posted: 14 June 2007 02:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Just another voice saying that I believe that the equation control=ban is espoused only by the “cold dead fingers” crowd.  But then I’ve been wrong before.  All I know is that I’m sure glad they got that van der Lubbe fellow and I hope he rots in Gitmo.

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Posted: 14 June 2007 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I have never run across anyone advocating the complete banning of firearms.  I won’t say there are no such people out there, but it would be a fringe position.  The point is well taken that words like “control” can be used as code for “ban”.  But I know of no evidence that this is the case here.

For what it is worth, the US gun lobby takes an extreme slippery slope position:  that any controls will, at least potentially, lead to a complete ban.  I have never seen a reasoned argument for why one would believe this to be true.

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Posted: 14 June 2007 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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You’re asking why people who resent and oppose efforts to control firearms use words in a way that makes their cause appear more just and right?  Doesn’t the question answer itself?  (N.b.: I take no position on the issue of firearms; I merely point out that advocates for every cause twist semantics in their favor.  Cf. “death tax,” “pro-life,” etc. etc.)

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Posted: 14 June 2007 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Yes, “gun control” is a case of different sides in a political argument using the same term, but interpreting it in different ways. “Gun control” can mean anything from registration requirements to the outright banning of firearms. Few, if any, gun control advocates actually push for the latter (although the banning of handguns is commonly called for), leaving that interpretation of the phrase to the opponents of gun control.

This contrasts to the abortion issue, where the two different sides use different terms of art, such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

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Posted: 14 June 2007 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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languagehat - 14 June 2007 05:29 AM

You’re asking why people who resent and oppose efforts to control firearms use words in a way that makes their cause appear more just and right?  Doesn’t the question answer itself?  (N.b.: I take no position on the issue of firearms; I merely point out that advocates for every cause twist semantics in their favor.  Cf. “death tax,” “pro-life,” etc. etc.)

Actually, I was asking because what seemed to make it a different case to the “pro-life"/"pro-choice" situation is that from what I’ve seen and heard, many who oppose the idea of gun control are not consciously using words in a particular way to support their point of view but seem actually to believe that the term really does mean what they take it to mean. If that makes any sense.

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Posted: 14 June 2007 03:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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If this were a political discussion board I would have a lot to say about some of these comments, but as usual people who can’t keep their political opinions out of their postings rely on the forbearance of those of us who can.

edited for typo

[ Edited: 15 June 2007 07:05 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 17 June 2007 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Maxqnz, as stated several ways here, the word “control” takes on two separate meanings to the opposing factions, and it is political for the most part, and also very emotional to some people. I don’t know how large the portion of people of the U.S. feel emotional about it, but the press plays a roll in it, so it is discussed quite often.

A gun advocate may use the word to mean “ban” in order to stir up gun owners emotions. For those gun owners who mistrust the government, allowing more restrictions (controls) will only lead to an eventual ban. They believe that the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights allows “the right of the people to bear arms”, and therefore there should be few, if any, regulations.

A person who believes in regulating guns through laws uses it to mean just that, regulating through licensing and the ability to restrict (ban) certain types of guns. The words, “regulated militia”, in the Second Amendment, are used by this group to mean that the average citizen is not a part of a militia, so should not have that right without some restrictions.

Of course, there are many, possibly most, who are somewhere inbetween. I believe I read that less than 40% of all households in the U.S. have a gun in them.

[ Edited: 17 June 2007 09:41 PM by Eyehawk ]
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