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Opinion: Gun safety, not control

When talking about the gun debate, consider an old piece of motherly advice: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.  Specifically, the discourse surrounding gun legislation should be changed (in both the media and everyday discussion) from “gun control” to “gun safety.” This would facilitate more meaningful discussions and, hopefully, solutions. While the switch from gun control to gun safety may seem minor, the change could potentially open up real discussions about gun policies, not only nationwide, but on Clemson’s campus as well. But how?

To put it simply, words matter. Diction and connotation affect public perceptions of issues, especially in politics. For starters, the word “control” carries a connotation that makes people more defensive. Control implies restriction — the opposite of liberty and a loss of autonomy. It is reminiscent of regimes we’ve waged war against and government horror stories we create in movies and literature. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, our knee-jerk reaction to anything purporting control is to resist — even if the end result is the loss of more lives. 

Safety, however, is a concept that the vast majority of people can agree upon. In fact, Republicans and Democrats are less divided on the issue of gun safety than the media reports. According to a 2017 Pew Research study, the majority of both parties support preventing the mentally ill from purchasing weapons, requiring background checks for private sales at gun shows, banning assault style weapons and creating a federal database to track gun sales. The loss of innocent lives due to the mishandling of guns is something everyone is against.

The word “safety” also shifts the focus of the debate away from the right to own guns towards responsible and safe gun ownership. Focusing on safe gun ownership could lead to more effective gun policies, like ones designed to keep guns out of the hands of children. It could also promote innovation rather than strict regulation, with the promotion of smart guns with added safety features. Overall, public and private safety from gun violence is at the heart of this debate; the language used to discuss this topic should reflect the central concern.

Our generation is painfully aware of mass shootings, particularly in schools. Clemson University has the potential to truly widen and challenge the perspectives of its students. Caught in the balance between attending a school in a traditionally red state and being a part of the generation leading the call for gun reform, Clemson students are in the perfect position to assert their views on the issue in terms of gun safety. As young scholars and social media content producers, we can choose how to shape the context of this issue and  advance the conversation. While it’s naïve to think that changing a single word is going to cease all contention over the issue of gun violence in America, it is possible to imagine that discussing “gun safety”  rather than “gun control”  could influence more people clouded by bias. If the proposition of “gun safety” is the term that opens the door to finding a common ground and building better solutions, it should be welcomed with open arms.

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