Mass destruction

Arguments with gun control advocates often require weeding through profligate fallacies and false or misleading claims of facts.  One example of this is the attempt to classify firearms as weapons of mass destruction.  This is akin to the slovenly usage of “assault rifle” and is an effort to substitute emotionalism for careful thinking on the subject of guns in America.

WMDs have a precise definition in U.S. law (18 USC §2332a):

  1. Any explosive (see below list), incendiary, or poison gas;

– Bomb

– Grenade

– Rocket having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than four ounces,

– Missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,

– Mine, or;

– Device similar to any of the devices described above;

  1. Any weapons that is designed or intend to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;

  2. Any weapon involving a disease organism;

  3. Any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life

As the FBI goes on to explain, such weapons “have a relatively large-scale impact on people, property, and/or infrastructure.”

Note the lack of mention of firearms in that definition.  The inclusion of simple bombs sounds like a bureaucratic grab of territory for the Bureau’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, but if that keeps the BATFE (and however many letters they’d added of late) busy, so much the better.  The definition is what I’d expect of something that produces mass destruction, and it’s a surprising example of accuracy in official speech.  The first recorded use of the term was in a speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the bombing of Guernica by allies of Spain’s nationalists.  After World War II, various governments and the United Nations adopted definitions that are largely the same as the current one given by our federal law, an understandable reaction coming after two global conflicts that used such weapons.  The Soviets, for example, used the term, Oruzhiye massovogo porazheniya, weapons used to inflict heavy casualties.

WMDs are in fact nothing new in the history of human beings killing each other.  One vector of transmission of the Black Plague into Europe may have been the chucking of infected bodies into the city of Caffa on the Black Sea by besieging Mongols, and the use of blankets carrying the smallpox virus to infect Native Americans was at least discussed by British officers during Pontiac’s Rebellion, though whether that was ever carried out isn’t known.

Human beings have long sought ways to kill each other.  But as efficient as firearms are in achieving that purpose, are they weapons of mass destruction?  Of course not.  While the word, gun, can apply to everything from a .22 Short revolver to a battleship’s primary weapon, in the present context, a gun is a tool used by one person in fighting with another.  If personal firearms are weapons of mass destruction, then a chisel is the same as a century of erosion, a drop of water is a tsunami, and one swallow does a summer make.

Try to be consistent and informed about language, and you’ll be accused of arguing semantics, but there are many worse things we can be.  The words we use are the pieces of thoughts, and when we’re defending our rights, including the rights to own and carry firearms, those words shape the message and its effect on others.  It’s important for us not to let sloppy usage or deliberate attempts to silence us with emotionalism pass by unchallenged.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of