Changing the definition of words to win an indefensible argument is kind of a popular pastime for the Right. Just ask any evangelist about the Failed Prophecy of Jesus (where he said he would return within a generation), and watch them try to change the meaning of the word “generation” from “a group of people” to “a length of time.” Go on…it’s fun.
Gun nuts are another kind of group that doesn’t necessarily have to (or desire to) live in our own reality to function. In fact, questioning the very nature of reality itself helps to keep them in that singular biodome, with its atmosphere conducive to keeping conservative logic alive.
Take Fox “News” host Tucker Carlson, for instance. While interviewing gun shop owner Joseph Palumbo of New York’s Albion gun shop, Tucker was on hand to watch police ask for sales records. Palumbo has been under investigation by the police, drawing national attention for selling weapons modified with a typical “bullet button” that allows magazines to be ejected from AR-15s and similar rifles.
According to NY’s SAFE gun law, rifles cannot use ejectable magazines. Palumbo says he’s contacted NY State, and believed he was in compliance with the law. Still, police came for his sales records to track down the guns’ owners — and that was what drew FOX’s attention.
In the midst of the interview, Carlson jumped in for a bit of “clarification” that must have sent a shudder of embarrassment going down even the most hard-core gun owner’s spine. Watch via Media Matters:
“We should be clear for our viewers that ‘assault weapon’ is a made-up term, and there really is no such thing as an assault weapon.”
Where to begin.
Yes. The nature of language itself.
Tucker — all words are “made up.” There isn’t a single term in use in any language that wasn’t made up by somebody to describe a thing. In fact, commonly agreed upon terms are sort of a fundamental of language.
Second: The existence of “assault weapons.”
The term “assault rifle” was an indirect translation of what is generally agreed upon as being the world’s first “Assault Rifle” — the German Sturmgewehr. Adolf Hitler personally named this weapon (formerly known as the Machinenpistole 44), and the German name translates directly to “storm” (Hitler’s term for a military assault) and “rifle.” The indirect translation “Assault Rifle” has been in use by English-speaking countries since the gun has existed.
To the legal definition:
According to New York, as of 2013, an “assault weapon is defined as (in part) being a semi-automatic rifle that has a detachable magazine AND any of the following characteristics
- Folding or telescoping stock
- Protruding pistol grip
- Thumbhole stock
- Second handgrip
- Bayonet mount
- Flash suppressor
- Muzzle compensator
- Muzzle brake
- Threaded barrel
- Grenade launcher
Now, say what you will — but that definition follows very closely the definition of an assault rifle, as it has always been defined. The term assault weapon was only coined to extend the definition of include assault pistols (already banned in several states) and certain types of tactical shotguns. But the words “assault” and “fill-in-the-blank gun” are long-used and well-defined.
And besides — even if the term wasn’t explicitly defined before, it certainly is now. And the fact that it may or may not be “made up” doesn’t make it any different from the words Hitler used to define many identical weapons: assault rifle.