Defining Memories

How we think about our past and how our past thinks about us

Considering Gun Culture

Our vocabulary might be killing us.

The title of this post refers not to guns or to hunting or to people who enjoy guns and hunting, but to the word culture. And the focus is not on politics but on the psychology of language.

I grew up in the middle of Iowa in the late fifties and sixties, and we hunted. For ducks, for pheasants, with shotguns and rifles. Every boy in the neighborhood owned a BB gun. Hunting can be a rich and rewarding activity, placing the hunter in nature and instilling an appreciation of the cycles of life.

But when politicians and other celebrities speak glowingly of the “gun culture,” it’s usually not about hunting. It’s in defense of people who collect guns. A lot of guns.

Again, this post is not against gun collectors. Anyone who has a hobby that involves collecting things knows the satisfactions of gathering and organizing and taking care of the collected items. But we need to recognize it as just that, a hobby. When I was young, collecting stamps and collecting coins were popular activities. We even used the proper names for people who did such things. Philately, sounding vaguely lewd, referred to collecting stamps. A stamp collector was a philatelist; a coin collector a numismatist.  

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No one ever thought of describing avid stamp collectors as belonging to a stamp culture.

Sucrology is the collecting of sugar packets, something my mother did regularly without realizing it could be honored with a label. And my mother would never have considered herself a member of the sugar packet culture.

In answer to those who bring up the Second Amendment in our Bill of Rights as singling out guns for special treatment, we should point out that nowhere does it state protections for hobbyists. To the assertion that identifiable cultural characteristics may correlate with people who collect guns, it can be argued that while gun collectors tend not to live in large cities, they do reside in all fifty states and come from a diversity of backgrounds, like people who sew or fish.

My proposal is simple. Every time we hear the phrase “gun culture,” we substitute “gun hobby.” We should continue the debate on guns and gun control, but we should do so with more honest and accurate language.

Robert N. Kraft, Ph.D., is professor of cognitive psychology at Otterbein University. 

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