First, we could stop culture-bundling. We culture-bundle when we use one political issue as shorthand for a big group of cultural and social values. Our unproductive talk about guns is rife with this. Gun control advocates don’t just attack support for guns; they attack conservative, Republican, rural and religious values. Second Amendment advocates don’t just attack gun control advocates; they attack liberal, Democratic, urban and secular values. The gun control argument gets portrayed as the struggle against Bible-thumping, gay-bashing, NASCAR-watching hicks, and the gun rights argument gets portrayed as a struggle against godless, elitist, kale-chewing socialists.
That’s great for rallying the base, I guess, but that’s about all. When you culture-bundle guns, your opponents don’t hear “I’m concerned about this limitation on rights” or “I think this restriction is constitutional and necessary.” They hear “I hate your flyover-country daddy who taught you to shoot in the woods behind the house when you were 12” and “Your gay friends’ getting married would ruin America and must be stopped.” That’s unlikely to create consensus.
Second, we could recognize that accurate firearms terminology actually matters to the debate. Confused gun control advocates may suggest a ban on “semiautomatic weapons,” believing that means automatic rifles, when it actually refers to nearly every modern weapon other than bolt-action rifles and shotguns. Such linguistic flimsiness drives the perception that mainstream gun control advocates want to take away all guns.
If you think precision doesn’t matter, forget about guns for a second. Imagine I’m concerned about dangerous pit bulls, and I’m explaining my views to you, a dog trainer — but I have no grasp of dog terminology.