Words In Review: Should we say 'assault weapons'?
Washington state has banned the sale, manufacture, and importation of certain semi-automatic guns. The law calls them “assault weapons.”
People who oppose the ban tend to not like that label. They say “assault weapon” is a made-up term meant to demonize guns that are overwhelmingly used for lawful pursuits.
Here’s the Associated Press Stylebook advice:
“Avoid ‘assault rifle’ and ‘assault weapon,’ which are highly politicized terms that generally refer to AR- or AK-style rifles designed for the civilian market but convey little meaning about the actual functions of the weapon."
Crosscut reporter Joseph O’Sullivan says his organization uses “assault-style” in headlines. But Axios Seattle reporter Melissa Santos says the public understands “assault weapons.” She uses that term in headlines and then elaborates in the story, listing specific makes, models, and accessories that are outlawed.
In this episode, you'll hear me make the case to these journalists that any gun is capable of assault, so calling certain guns “assault weapons” is way of vilifying them. Now maybe there’s good reason to do that, depends on your viewpoint. But I’d rather leave that to advocates, and just describe what’s banned without characterizing it.
But you may have noticed that when it was time to write the headline above, I grabbed my quotation marks and went with the way most of us talk.