There are few issues more divisive than gun control, which is itself a term devoid of a simple meaning. The generally accepted definition is “restricting or limiting the sale or possession of firearms.” A firearm is usually a rifle or pistol, but guns include everything that shoots some kind of projectile, including cannons and missile launchers. They are the big guns. Guns can also shoot water like squirt or water guns, darts like dart guns and BB’s like BB guns. They can deliver a high-frequency debilitating shock on direct contact like a stun gun or high-voltage barbs from a distance of a few yards like a taser, which is classified as a firearm, not a gun. Yet a taser certainly acts like a gun of limited range and, in fact, the original taser used gunpowder as a propellant. Compressed nitrogen is the modern propellant, but if it shoots like a gun and looks like a gun, it must be a gun.
Guns can shock into submission, douse with streams of water and kill and maim dozens of people in a matter of seconds. The point is that if we can’t agree on a definition for guns, how can we agree on which ones we control and who is entitled to safely possess, for instance, a semiautomatic Glock or an M4 Carbine assault rifle. Passions rise whatever your position on guns and who should and shouldn’t have them, and I’m not about to stir up advocates on either side of the gun control issue.
I’m here to dig deeper into the impact on guns and shooting in the language we all use. If you take a closer look at the things we do, use and say, we live in a world influenced by war, hunting and a pioneer history where guns play a big role in what we’ve become. I like to think of this blog as a rare opportunity to have some fun with guns and shooting.
The language of home improvement is an example. We have nail guns, soldering guns and caulking guns. It’s true that nail guns aren’t about to be used as weapons in school and mall shootings, but they can be a danger to their users. They are responsible for some 37,000 emergency room visits a year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), but I’m not seeing any movement to register nail-gun owners. It’s probably more of a mental health issue, with inept DIY nail gunners tackling jobs they should have hired out to a contractor. So far, no word of any mass caulking deaths in the United States.
We love to dramatize our lives by using terms like gun shy when we’re leery about entering into a confrontation or conflict. A runner in a track meet might be accused of jumping the gun if he is off and running before the starting gun sounds. Ditto with the kid who opens one of his Christmas presents before parents and siblings are out of bed. Of course, if we believe deeply in keeping guns away from skinheads with Swastikas tattooed on their foreheads, let’s say, we like to think we’ll stick to our guns on this issue. Why do we say we are under the gun to get something done or make a decision? Guns add the threatening element of immediacy.
You can gun an engine without shooting anything or going anywhere. And what’s the deal with guys referring to their biceps as guns?
By the way, a shotgun isn’t a gun that is shot, as in no longer useful, but a type of weapon that fires multiple small pellets with one blast, which explains what a shotgun approach means and even why shooting from the hip is often an effective way to fire a shotgun in a shootout. You can ride shotgun on a road trip, and if you’re the groom in a shotgun wedding, which used to require pregnancy and a really pissed off father of the future mother, you’re probably in for a miserable honeymoon. Shooting from the hip means you are firing off assorted opinions and damaging rhetoric without concern for accuracy, and that is something that has become far too common in politics and in the social media.
You can’t talk about guns without mentioning one of its consequences— shooting. The words shoot, shot and shooting show up everywhere in our speech and writing, and sometimes we’re not sure how this came to be. A big shot is not really the same as a big gun. Both refer to someone important, but the latter implies someone who can do some damage in a competitive situation, whether it’s in war or a basketball game. A big shot really doesn’t make any sense literally. Then again, neither do big cheese and big enchilada.
Shooting the breeze? That’s idle talk about unimportant things. You know, like bantering, chit chat and shooting the bull. Shooting the bull doesn’t seem all that idle as an activity, until you consider that the bull here isn’t the animal itself but the animal’s excrement. So, what you’re shooting is something that is necessary but unwanted — waste that a bull eliminates from its system. Where I come from we like to shoot the shit. Why we’d want to shoot it begs other questions, but I think I’ve gone as far as I need to on this topic. Sorry, Mom, guess I’m guilty of shooting first and asking questions later.
We all know that taking a parting shot is delivering a rebuke or criticism as you walk away from a debate or discussion, but, as one might expect, its origins go back to a military maneuver. It refers to an army or a military unit seemingly in retreat turning in unison with all the riflemen firing a barrage at the pursuing enemy before continuing the retreat. Some might think of this as a potshot, which in hunting is a random shot at an easy or unsuspecting target. Rhetorically, it means pretty much the same thing. One thing is certain, a real straight shooter doesn’t take potshots. However, you may shoot from the hip, which often misses the mark, but the bottom half of your face remains intact if you shoot off your mouth.
√ You can shoot an angry look at someone or shoot the rapids if you are in a hurry. Plants can shoot up out of the ground and some are even called shoots. You can’t shoot a hypodermic needle. It’s more of a jab, but once the injection is made, it becomes a shot. Shooting the works mean going all out, pulling out all the stops and going for broke.
√ You can shoot a round of golf or shoot a game of pool. You can shoot craps or be a crappy shooter in basketball or darts. You can shoot a love or action scene while making a movie. Movies may produce a shooting star when a young actor gets a great part in a big movie. The heavens may also display an occasional shooting star.
√ You may shoot down a proposal at a board meeting or a bill with a legislative vote, and if someone is eager hear your opinion about something, he might say, “Shoot!”
√ You’re not taking aim at the nighttime heavens when you shoot the moon, but you’re attempting to reach great heights
√ When you blame the newspaper for printing a news item about a loved one being cited for DUI after an automobile accident, you’re shooting the messenger. (As a former news reporter, I’ve been cold-shouldered more than once for being the bearer of bad news.) The expression is don’t shoot the messenger for being the bearer of bad news.
√ When you want to get a quick message off to an employee or a business associate, you might shoot off a memo, an email or a text.
√ If you’ve said or done something that unintentionally drew a lot of flak (another weaponized word), you have likely committed the gaffe of shooting yourself in the foot.
I could go on and on with this theme, but I must confess that I’ve pretty much shot my wad.