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Gun Metaphors And Disrespect

By Mary Hamer

12 January, 2011

*PURPOSE: The purpose of this essay is to investigate Gun metaphors.


*On Saturday January 8th 2011, in Arizona: A gunman shot at & critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with a gun shot wound to the head; This gunman also killed & wound many other people. Congresswoman Giffords’ name was on a list of 20 Democrats posted on the Internet regarding a vote on the health care bill. The Crosshairs of a gun scope were marked over the 20 Democrat’s districts on a U.S. map. (1) In 2010, Giffords said: “We’re on (a) targeted list … There are consequences to that action”. Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva said the nation must assess the fallout of “An atmosphere where the political discourse is about hate, anger & bitterness”. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said in a statement: “Today’s attack … cannot be viewed apart from the climate of violence & the degradation of civil society that are anathema to democracy”. (2) During Giffords 2010 campaign a slogan used against her said: “Help remove … Giffords from office” & invited people to “Shoot a fully automatic M16”. (3)

*GUN METAPHORS: The human race uses Gun metaphors in everyday language such as: Bang for the Buck, Best Shot, Bite the Bullet, Bull’s eye, Cocked & Ready, In the Crosshairs, Easy mark, Fire away, Fired up, Go out in a Blaze of Glory, Gun down, Half-cocked, Hit list, Hitting the Target, Hot shot, Locked & Loaded, Open season, Pistol Whip, Pull the Trigger, Shoot oneself in the Foot, Target, etc..(4) Keith Olberman commented on the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords: “We need to put the guns down. Just as importantly, we need to put the gun metaphors away.” (5) Free speech is an important right of citizens in a Democratic society, but Free speech also implies responsible speech.

*RELOAD: Does the Gun Metaphor ReLoad Incite Violence? CNN in a segment titled “Dangerous Rhetoric:When Heated Words Incite Threats & Violence” asked: Is it responsible for someone to say things like: “It’s not a time to Retreat, It’s a time to ReLoad”? The discussion centered around cross hairs on a map, gun language, militaristic language, etc.. (6)

*MURDER FANTASIES: The Michael Moore website discusses the topic of Murder Fantasies & cultures that “Fantacize about Assassination & other forms of violence against those deemed Enemies”. (7) When people use gun metaphors, do they have murder fantasies?

*VIOLENCE BEGETS VIOLENCE: What are we communicating to other people when we use these gun metaphors such as Cocked & Loaded, Hit List, Hit the Target, In the Cross hairs, Locked & Loaded? Gun metaphors communicate negative thoughts, anger, hatred & violence -- directed toward an enemy.

*MOTIVES: What are the motives for the use of Gun metaphors?

#1. Power & Control? Do gun metaphor users want dominate others?

#2. Advertising/Marketing strategy? To draw attention to an issue with Emotional drama. #3. Entertainment Value? To use a Macho, sexy, glitzy word/phrase.

#4. Do Humans have Murder Fantasies? – As the Michael Moore website discusses. (8)

#5. Or in George Orwell’s terms: (Are) “Noises coming out of (our) larynx, but (our) brain(s) are not involved?”. (9)

*FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT & NUMBING EFFECT: How many times has the human race heard a gun metaphor: A Million, Billion or Trillion times? Repeated use of such words has a numbing effect on our psyches. Gun metaphors are as familiar as drinking a cola & eating potato chips. We become gun metaphor zombies. But, There’s nothing routine or average or common about a gun shot wound.

*RATIONAL THINKING: Why can’t we use simple, honest, rational words to communicate with others? Why can’t we show respect to others when we communicate with them. – Rather than use gun metaphors. Or on a higher level, why can’t we use a win-win negotiation approach to conflict resolution & problem-solving? Why must we use an adversarial, antagonistic, aggressive approach to communication? Yes, rational terms & ideas are less sexy than gun metaphors, but rational communication is cognitively healthier & less emotional. Accurate words promote better communication & better relationships.

*RATIONAL & IRRATIONAL THINKING: Albert Ellis describes Robert Abelson’s concept of Cold –vs- Hot Cognitions as described below: (10)

The following discussion shows the different types of cognitive thinking progressing from the more rational Cold cognitions to the more irrational Hot cognitions:

*Cold Cognitions: Deal with the Facts only & No emotions. e.g. You are a stranger.

*Warm Cognitions: Show Preferences & Mild emotions. e.g. I don’t like strangers.

Healthy emotions: Frustration, disappointment, etc..

*Hot Cognitions: Make irrational Demands & show strong unhealthy emotions: e.g. I hate strangers. You must be like me & please me Or I will target you & shoot you down. The result of these hot cognitions is anger & violence.

*CONCLUSION: May we favor the more rational, less emotional & healthier Cold & warm cognitions in our daily dialogue with others & avoid the Hot cognitions which show great disrespect to people.

*LANGUAGE of PEACE & RESPECT Rather than the WORDS or WAR: Why can’t we speak a language of peace -- Rather than the language of gun metaphors & violence? Why can’t we speak in an open, honest language of Unity, equality & tolerance – Rather than use words of Domination, aggression & emotions? We all have a duty to use language responsibly. Words are powerful. May we all choose & use our words wisely. But even more importantly may we have dialogue that beneath the words, in our thoughts & in our hearts -- is respectful.

Thank you. Respectfully, Mary Hamer, M.D.


1. www.huffingtonpost.com. Sarah Palin’s PAC Puts Gun Sights on Democrats She’s Targeting in 2010.

2. news.yahoo.com. Tucson Rampage casts light on Toxic Political Tone. By Charles Babington. AP. 1/8/11.

3. www.washingtonpost.com. Gabrielle Giffords: Congresswoman seen as Rising Democratic Star. Washington Post Staff Writer Matt Schudel. 1/8/11.

4. www.squidoo.com. The Gun as a Metaphor: Parts I & II.

5. www.huffingtonpost.com. Keith Olbermann Issues Special Comment on Arizona Shooting: ‘Violence has No Place in Democracy’. 1/8/11.

6. www.newsbusters.org. CNN Convicts Palin & Tea Partiers of ‘Inciting Violence’ & Stoking Racism. By Brent Baker. 3/28/10.

7.www.michaelmoore.com Flashback: ‘Fox News: The No. 1 Name in Murder Fantasies’. Referencing Steve Rendall, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Mike’s Blog.

8. www.michaelmoore.com Flashback: ‘Fox News: The No. 1 Name in Murder Fantasies’. Referencing Steve Rendall, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Mike’s Blog.

9. www.world-english.org: Orwell, George. Politics & the English Language. 1946.

10. Albert Ellis References Robert Abelson’s Hot Cognition concept in the book: The Evolution of Psychotherapy. Edited by Jeffrey Zeig, PhD. Brunner/Mazel Publishers. C 1992. Pg 87.



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