Guns and The American Culture - Inseparable

Just the other day,  NBC’s Tom Brokaw opined that he would be nervous about being in an Arizona bar because (horrors!) there might be people with “concealed weapons” around him. I was not surprised, as those on the Left have a history of being almost phobic about guns (except of course, the guns carried by their personal security staff. Chicago’s Mayor Daley is a perfect example – he surrounds himself with heavily armed bodyguards, but makes sure that the average Chicago citizen is virtually defenseless).

But when MSNBC’s left-wing talk show host Chris Mathews recently proclaimed that merely using expressions like “gun” or “lock and load” in political rhetoric was somehow promoting violence, I had to laugh. Not because Mathews is being hypocritical, although he most certainly is. Mathews has engaged in some of the most vicious and hateful attacks on conservatives, often using the most inflammatory language imaginable.

No, my real amazement is that anyone should find “gun references” something new, let alone something “scary” or threatening. After all, every one of us, whether we realize it or not, regularly pepper our language with expressions that have their origins in firearm nomenclature. Perhaps a few comments I have overheard in just the last month will illustrate:

“My daughter has her sights set on law school.”

“I love the new Mustang 5.0 – that motor is bulletproof!”

“Important meeting next week; they’re bringing in the big guns from corporate.”

“My proposal to the City Council was shot down.”

“My 16 year old wants a new car. I told him, point black, the answer was no.”

“Don’t go off half-cocked.” – A reference that came from the operation of single action “cowboy” six-shooters – in the half cocked position, the gun could not fire. Thus going off half cocked is to act without being properly prepared.

“He has a gun for an arm.” A comment about a quarterback’s ability to “fire a bullet” to a receiver in the end-zone. And naturally, the “linebackers were gunning for him.”

“I sold it all, lock stock and barrel.” – The lock, the stock, and the barrel are the three main parts of any gun. The phrase thus has come to mean “the complete package” or, as some people also say, “the whole shootin’ match.”

“He’s just a flash in the pan.” – Contrary to the recently created notion that this expression came from prospectors panning for gold, it actually goes all the way back to Colonial times, and refers to the operation of their flintlock muskets. If the spark from the flint against the steel (which took place in the “pan” on the side of the barrel) did not ignite the main powder charge in the barrel, the pan “flashed” but the gun failed to fire. Thus a “flash in the pan” came to mean someone who initially showed promise, but failed to follow through, or live up to expectations.

“I tell my sales reps to aim high.” – a reference to the arcing trajectory of a bullet. If you seek to achieve your goals you have to aim well beyond where you ultimately want to wind up up. Note that virtually every business organization has their monthly, quarterly, and annual (you guesses it)targets.

Even the expression, “He’s a dud,” comes from the term used to describe ammunition (whether a bullet, an artillery shell, or a bomb) that failed to fire.

And there are many, many more. But the point is that there is nothing unusual, let alone sinister, about Americans using words and phrases that refer to guns. It is even part of our national identity. Because truth is that America does not have a gun culture – America IS a gun culture. No one with any knowledge of history would deny that fact, or be surprised that so much of our language has its origins in  firearm design and/or function.

As much as the pacifists hate to admit it, the harsh reality is that the United States would not even exist today if it weren’t for guns. Because without their muskets, the Colonists would never have been able to even challenge (let alone defeat) the British, who had the most heavily armed and best-trained military force in the world. It is an indisputable fact – No guns, no America.

Now, I’m all for debating, but on the issues, not engaging in attacks on an opponent’s physical appearance or other equally irrelevant personal attributes. But, please, if you are so timid or emotionally fragile that you can’t deal with language that involves metaphorical references to firearms, then you might want to consider counseling.

But do not attempt to use Political Correctness about guns to silence your political adversaries.

Your efforts are certain to misfire