Firearms Instruction

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OPINION PIECE

The word WEAPON

Too many people use this word when they shouldn’t. It has too broad a meaning to adequately describe what they are talking about. Just think about that. What is a weapon? It is a knife, a club, a taser, a stun gun, a bow & arrow, a can of bear spray, a sword, a gun, a cannon, a bazooka, an ICBM, etc. That word has too broad a meaning to convey what you are trying to describe. 

Unfortunately, in the media, the word weapon is most often used to describe any firearm. I would think a reporter, who has been trained to get the details right, would use a more descriptive term for what he is describing. Too often it is reported that a person shot himself with a pistol. Then, in the next sentence the writer will refer to the pistol as a weapon. Why? He has already told us what it is – a pistol. Then he refers to it with a broad word that does not really describe what it is. Why?

Could it be that the word weapon gives the gun a bad connotation? The word weapon sounds a lot more evil than handgun, rifle, pistol, revolver, etc. Could the media be using that word purposely to make the gun sound bad? I often wonder, because wise use of the English language would not recommend that word in that context.

What does the word mean anyway? My dictionary says the word weapon means any instrument, such as a gun or sword or cannon that is used aggressively in combat or war. Surely that does not describe the guns I use to teach gun safety. Neither does it describe the guns you use for hunting or target shooting, or even for self defense. These guns are not used aggressively in combat or war. 

So, I suggest that you be more specific when referring to any gun. Call it exactly what it is, a rifle, pistol, shotgun, etc. Then we will know what you mean, and we will not be thinking of implements of war. I understand that police and military do use their firearms as weapons of war. But in the civilian world, let’s not use that term unless it is truly appropriate. 

Editor's note:
This opinion piece was posted December 16, 2008. Joe Nava, the author, former NRA Board Member and NRA Training Counselor and firearms instructor, was a founding member of the board of directors of AIM-COMM (
www.aimcomm.org). A discussion about the word "weapon" and how it is used in the media, and how people perceive the word, prompted Nava to write this opinion piece which is published online, on aimcomm.org, with permission.

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Gun Handling Safety Rules:

  • ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a SAFE direction!
  • ALWAYS keep your FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER until ready to shoot!
  • ALWAYS keep the gun UNLOADED until READY TO USE!