Is it a GUN or a FIREARM?!#?

Is it a GUN or a FIREARM? It’s a good question and one worth asking yourself. Why? Well because the words we use to describe things often shape how we use them, or think about them.

The other day I had an interesting insight into the deeper meaning behind the word firearm and I thought I’d spend a few minutes fleshing it out. My hope is that by thinking a bit deeper about the etymology of the word “firearm” that you gain a deeper sense of what it means to USE a firearm.

As always if you have thoughts or comments about which word you think is better, or if I got something wrong in this video be sure to share them below in the comments section. Whatever you say, try to be encouraging, loving and respect for each other.

In Australia, guns are commonly referred to as “firearms”. This is partly due to the strict nature of gun legislation in Australia, strongly influenced by the Port Arthur mass shooting in 1996. This choice of terminology reflects the wider Australian societal attitude concerning guns, emphasizing the legal frameworks, and the broader cultural context, rather than the object itself.

For some reason when I heard the word gun repeatedly I thought of the word “firearm” and then the penny dropped, immediately revealing the implications of this word.

Before I reveal this deeper meaning which I think is significant and shapes both what we think about guns as well as how we use them I want to unpack the word and discuss it’s origins to help give us a framework off which we can work.

The term “firearm” has its roots in the late 16th century. The word “firearm” is a compound of two older words: “fire,” referring to the ignition of gunpowder, and “arm,” indicating a weapon. The same root for armada, army,

With the development of a new class of weapons or “arm” technology that made use of gunpowder, the people needed a new broad term to describe them. And so the “firearm” came into common usage as these gunpowder-based weapons became widespread.

Now what’s interesting is that the word arm, when referring to weapons, has its own deep history that’s important to understand.

The word arm draws its roots from the Latin word “arma” which means “tools of war” and the Old French word armes “weapons of a warrior”.

Now the suffixed form the root *ar- “to fit together” then led to the development of term “armus” (upper arm or shoulder) which then later split into two branches, one leading to the modern English word “arm” for the limb and the other to “arms” for weaponry. So, etymologically speaking, there is a shared origin between the two meanings.

So there is a common link between the idea of an arm, and the extension of that arm being a weapon. In fact, the Finish definition of “arm” in the content of a weapon is “something longer than your arm”. It’s about your ability to reach out into the world past your physiological limits and effect change.

So combining these ideas we come to an interesting conclusion. The word “firearm” may have less to do with the object and more to do with the relationship between the object and the person wielding it.

What do we think about when we use the word fire? We think about its power, its dynamic nature and momentum, and its destructive force. We then take this power, harness and direct it, and all of a sudden we have a powerful extension of own own arm, a weapon we can use to kill, far exceeding our own ability to do so.

I think this focus on firearms as an extension of ourselves (much like a smartphone) is an important concept. It forces us to focus on the ethics concerning the use of this technology. After all, it’s an individual’s use of the firearm that determines the ethical outcome.

This is reflected in the common phrase developed in 1910 by the NRA “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”

Now whether you believe in this statement or not, we can’t avoid the personal implications behind the word firearm and what makes the term so rich in meaning.

When using a firearm (an extension of yourself) and directing its power you have a responsibility to use it ethically. You have a responsibility to use it safely. This means treating every firearm like it’s loaded, never pointing it at someone (even when empty). Storing the weapon securely and away from children or non-licenced shooters. Spending time developing your shooting skills to ensure the highest probability of a clean and ethical kill. All of these ideas are woven and knit together to form the term firearm.

I’m not trying to convince you that if you use the word “gun” to instead start using the word “firearm” instead. Use whatever word you want to. But what I do want to encourage you to think about is your relationship with that object, how it’s a powerful extension of yourself, and how this knowledge should shape the way you use it.

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