Before We Begin: A Crash Course On Terms

In order to do this properly, we’ll need a discourse, so that all sides can find middle ground that they can agree on. And in order to communicate, we’ll each need to use the same words to mean the same things.

For example: It might surprise some people to learn that there is actually no such thing as an “Assault Weapon”. Sure, you’ll find it in the dictionary of your choice, but the definitions are nebulous and disagree. They named the 1994 law after it, but the descriptions involved such superficial specifics as a bayonet lug or pistol grip without enough generalities to retain long-term value. The law expired in 2004; by then, the industry had long since retooled such that they could largely avoid its strictures.

In addition to underlining the need for proper definitions, the lesson here is twofold: First, if you’re going to write laws, you should know something about the subject of those laws — in this case, guns. Second, laws need to be written very well in order to remain valid for any length of time.

But let’s stick with definitions for the moment:

Assault Weapon: There is no such thing. It’s a made-up word with no definition, used in speeches and sound bites and repeated on the news. An “Assault Rifle” is a portable military weapon capable of firing three-round bursts or fully automatic fire, and is already illegal in the United States. Most military-style firearms aren’t high-powered; their deadliness comes from the rapidity of fire and light weight. If you want a proper descriptive term for a civilian AR-15, think “High-capacity semiautomatic rifle”, or HCSAR. Here’s a guide for non-shooters.

Magazine vs. Clip: Clips were speedloaders used in World War 2; John Wayne used the word a lot in “Sands of Iwo Jima”, which made it popular. The thing full of bullets that goes into the butt of a handgun or the bottom of an AR-15 is called a magazine. The main difference is safety, which is one reason nobody uses clips these days. On the other hand, the distinction is somewhat academic.

Mass Shooting: The first line of the Wikipedia entry is, “There is a lack of consensus on how to define a mass shooting.” For our purposes, we’ll go with the Gun Violence Archive’s definition, which is four or more victims shot in a single event; they exclude robberies and terrorism. Half a dozen people that catch splinters in a drive-by qualify it as a mass shooting, even if nobody dies. There are an awful lot of these events, mostly gang, drug, or crime-related.

Rampage Killing: This is what makes national news, when someone kills a dozen people in a mall or theater or school. The FBI’s behaviorists classify the shooter as a “Spree Killer” to differentiate him from a “Serial Killer“; there’s some ambiguity there, however, and a debate whether the Maryland Beltway Sniper was Spree or Serial. For our purposes, a Rampage Killing involves half a dozen dead in one event, or a string of related events, over a very short time; again, we exclude robberies and organized terrorism. These events are uncommon and usually involve guns. To be specific, we’ll also be using the term “Rampage Shooting“.

Gun Violence: Any violence involving a gun. It’s an extremely broad term that covers everything from suicides, armed arrests, armed robberies, accidents, drive-bys, the proverbial “good guy with a gun” shooting a burglar, getting hit over the head with an unsecured weapon during an auto accident, and the ever-popular “Death By Cop”.

School Shooting: Any time a gun is discharged at a school, it’s a school shooting. Since Resource Officers are armed, and since an awful lot of them started working at schools all at once, it’s no surprise that school shooting numbers went up as a direct result; accidental discharges and students trying to steal a gun are two things that can’t happen if there’s no gun present. Similarly, an awful lot of teachers kill themselves in their classrooms; students occasionally do so on school grounds — after hours, in most cases, but even so it’s traumatic. Gang-related assassinations frequently take place near the entrance, since it’s an easily scheduled event. A very few involve a madman shooting up a classroom full of kids; for that, we’ll be using the term “School Rampage“.

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