When it comes to the issue of gun control, I am agnostic. I see the effects when these tools fall into the wrong hands. We cannot always fix crazy, but guns certainly allow someone who has somehow detached from society to do more damage in a shorter amount of time. It is also clear to me that guns feature prominently in our society and our culture. One can own a gun or like to shoot and not be crazy or a criminal.
In a way, the issue of gun violence is symbolic of everything that is currently wrong in American politics. Both sides are so invested in being “right” that they are deaf to what the other side has to say. However, like most issues, the solutions will not be found on the extremes, but in the middle.
To me, nothing symbolizes the pro-gun extreme more than the NRA. Therefore, it was not surprising to me that their response to the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was to “not budge an inch toward discussion of gun control.” (1) Instead, they blamed violent video games and movies. Apparently, guns do not kill people, the mass media does.
Given my feelings towards the NRA, I would not think that there is much that I could agree with their Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre. However, in his response to President Obama’s second inaugural speech, I found something. He was not making a point that I agree with, but in his argument he stated “Words do have meaning, Mr. President. And those meanings are absolute...”(2) I could not agree more.
Unfortunately, he breaks his own rule with the conclusion to the sentence: “especially when it comes to our Bill of Rights.” ABSOLUTE is a word that has meaning: “free from imperfection; complete; perfect” (3) The rights of the first ten amendments to our Constitution are not “complete.” For example, the first amendment ensures that “Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” However, any middle school scholar will tell you that you this amendment does not give you the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Also, printing lies about a person will subject the media to libel law suits.
The misuse of words extends beyond the gun control debate. For example, the President is often described as “Socialist” by some on the right wing. Socialism is defined as “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.” (4)
Under this definition, the government needs to take control of private industry and in 2009 Obama threw GM “a lifeline of $50 billion in exchange for 61% of its shares.” (5) However, by the following year the government was already making plans to privatize its ownership. As of last month its ownership was down to 32%. Current plans call for the government to be completely divested by next year. (6) In the words of The Economist, the President is “A gambler, yes. An interventionist, yes. A socialist, no.” (7)
Obamacare is another policy that is often cited as proof that the President is a “Socialist.” However, even before this reform the government paid “43% to 46% of all healthcare costs, mainly through Medicare, Medicaid, and the armed services. When Obamacare is fully implemented, it is expected this amount will increase to 49.2%.” (8) This is 50.8% short of the government controlling all health care spending. Additionally, healthcare reform does not force doctors to become government employees or eliminate private health insurance. In fact, it forces more people to become customers of private health insurance.
The Debt Ceiling is another issue where meanings are often mangled. Raising this ceiling simply allows the government to borrow the money to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized. Yet, Republican Senator Mike Lee said “I would vote against raising the national debt ceiling. Again, this is about mortgaging the future of unborn generations of Americans. It's a form of taxation without representation. I don't think we can do that.” (9)
We should not confuse the mechanism for paying for our spending with the spending itself. If I find that my household budget is out of whack, I cannot fix the problem by stopping the payments on my credit cards. I either have to find a job that gives me more income or I have to reduce my spending. The debt ceiling is nothing more than our country’s credit card statement.
Violence, health care and our national debt are just some of the important issues that are facing our county. To successfully debate these problems and compromise on solutions, we have to start by agreeing to solid definitions of our words. Language is the expression of our ideas and when expressing these ideas, words matter.
(5) and (7) http://www.economist.com/node/16846494