I never shoot the breeze anymore, even in the middle of a casual conversation. You won’t see me sweating bullets under any circumstances. And nothing can trigger me, although it very well might set me off. Such careful word choice is my way of helping to mitigate the toxic and pervasive gun culture in the US. It’s a small but direct verbal stance toward cultivating a more peaceful world. Perhaps you can try adopting the practice too, because this country needs every bit of help it can get to confront the intolerable scourge of gun violence.
My approach to modify gun-related language was prompted in part by a year living in Italy, where “the gun issue” came up regularly. While America’s militaristic reputation still had mostly positive connotations (since our WW2 prowess helped to quash Mussolini’s fascism), the predominant Italian impression was of an unsafe, trigger-happy country, overrun with guns. As a consequence, many Italians we met were fearful about ever visiting the US.
I was a bit of an apologist at first: “Yeah, but the US is a big country and crime is exaggerated. It sounds worse than it is.” However, I couldn’t deny that I was among countless Americans who had grown increasingly numb to gun violence. Who’s to say whether that’s a coping mechanism or conditioning that happens due to the ongoing saga of gun tragedies, punctuated by horrific mass shootings such as Sandy Hook, Parkland, or Las Vegas. What is certain—and what underscores the horror—is that too many Americans accept it as “the way things are.” Perhaps we’ve embraced a toxic addiction to being “Number One!” even when that’s #1 among wealthy nations in gun violence and #1 in the world for gun ownership.
Sure, plenty of us get angry and protest, or we call our representatives after a mass shooting. Each new wave of families devastated by gun violence fuels such activism. Yet why does it feel more and more impotent, despite the cumulative grief? Because our government, initially born out of land-grabbing by armed force, has become drunk on NRA money. It has learned how to navigate the behemoth warship named “The Gun Issue” with thoughts and prayers, as it sails through a sea of both rabid and dumbstruck citizens. Fixing the problem continues to get punted to the next Congress until… when? Until enough Americans lose a loved one to gun violence? Until we arrive at a hundredth monkey tipping point? Or until we capitulate to a distorted notion that power lies in the hands of whoever holds a gun? Shame on us if we can’t find better ways to drive positive change.
A Refusal to Throw Our Hands Up
Despite the current impasse, I maintain the pen is mightier than the sword. Or more aptly put: Words are more powerful than an AR-19.
“Words have power” is a central concept shared across both cultures and time. For example, West African tribes believe there’s an active essence in the spoken word that can unleash change. The Japanese have Kotodama: the belief that good words will make good things happen (and vice versa). An assumption that words contain “magic” has made its way into new age thought, while modern psychology affirms that words can change our brain. So if words have the power to create a filter that colors our thinking, which can affect our experience, then we need to pay attention to even the offhand remarks that aim, shoot and fire bullets at us. No doubt they contribute to our passive acceptance of gun culture.
We fill the air with gun verbiage without even realizing it. For example, how many of the following do you encounter on a given day?