Weapons or Words: Which are More Dangerous?

by John Minbiole

Assistant Director of Graduate Studies
Dept. of Communication Arts & Sciences

Weapons or words.  Which are more dangerous?

In the Bill of Rights, speech, among other things, comes first.  Guns second.

But should either be merely ranked one over the other?  Should either be reduced to mere tools, or instruments?  Rather, with a nod to Marshall McLuhan, should we view both as extensions of the human?

Shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA brought to bear a hardy gun rights commonplace: “Look, a gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal.”

But is picking up a gun at all like picking up a hammer or a screwdriver?  Does not a gun on one’s hands fundamentally change one’s entire worldview?  To pick up a gun is to hold an uncanny power.  From a distance and in a shockingly quick and almost effortless way, one has the capacity to end a life or many lives, ruin countless other lives, or even change the course of history.

Is the metaphor that LaPierre uses – inscribed in America’s collective memory in the 1953 film Shane – also simply a tool itself?  Or is language also an uncanny power?  McLuhan provocatively suggested that in an age of “electric technology,” language itself could be regarded as a weapon.

Do we sufficiently understand our relationship with either guns or language?  Do we sufficiently comprehend either’s essence – not just their material existence as “instruments,” but also the uncanny extensions of human motives, emotions, reasons that both seem to offer?

Other thoughts and trivia:
– A gun is a tool, Gary Gutting says, but the question is: should we own one?
– Google search results for the exact phrase, “a gun is a tool”:  132,000.
– Google search results for the exact phrase, “a gun is not a tool”:  49.

– On the lighter side: are guns, like dildos, more a matter of one’s identity than of actual use?

– “Guns are basically that dildo sitting in a drawer. You own one—or a dozen—to own them. You can lie to yourself until you’re blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is they are closer to a knick-knack than a tool. Except they happen to be knick-knacks that can used to murder someone in your family during a dispute, to kill yourself in a moment of despair, or to go off accidentally and take a life or limb.”

– Amanda Marcotte, “Guns: So many people obsessing over a tool so few will ever use.” Raw Story.