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Opinion: Sorry, rebranding gun control as ‘gun safety’ won’t work

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) joins colleagues at a news conference on gun control at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 8.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) joins colleagues at a news conference on gun control at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 8.

(Mark Wilson / AFP-Getty Images)

So it isn’t just me. A few days I ago I tweeted: “Has a memo gone out to pro-gun-control folks to call it ‘gun safety’ instead? If so, it won’t change any minds.” On Thursday, Charles Krauthammer asked readers of his Washington Post column to “notice, by the way, how ‘gun control’ has been cleverly rechristened ‘common-sense gun-safety laws,’ as if we’re talking about accident proofing.”

Krauthammer was reacting to this comment by President Obama at a news conference after the shootings at a community college in Oregon: “The reason that Congress does not support even the modest gun-safety laws that we proposed after Sandy Hook is not because the majority of the American people don’t support it.... It’s because of politics. It’s because interest groups fund campaigns [and] feed people fear.”

And consider this headline on a New York Times editorial praising Hillary Rodham Clinton for proposals to reduce gun violence: “Democrats Regain Their Voice on Gun Safety.” (My harder-headed Los Angeles Times colleague Doyle McManus wrote that Clinton had unveiled “tough new gun control measures.”)

I’m an equal-opportunity critic of euphemisms, from “undocumented immigrant” to “right to choose.” I’m bothered by the obfuscation involved (why not be clear and say “the right to choose abortion”?), but I also believe the rebranding is futile because euphemisms have an amazingly short half-life. People who despise “illegal immigrants” aren’t going to feel any more kindly about “undocumented immigrants” once it’s clear that the terms refer to the same reality.

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If “gun safety” becomes code for what we have always called “gun control,” opponents of “gun-safety” laws will figure that out pretty quickly, as Krauthammer and I did. They’ll still be against them.

And don’t tell me that “gun control” implies confiscation of guns while “gun safety” refers to, say, background checks, bans on “assault weapons” or limits on purchases of guns by the mentally ill. All of these restrictions are accurately described as ways to “control” the use of guns -- yes, in the interest of safety, but public safety was always the underlying justification for gun control.

What’s in a name? Less than what the rebranders of “gun control” suspect.

Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3


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