The Progressive Assault on Our Words is Real. Just Take “Gun Control.”

by | May 26, 2023 | Restoring Our Language

Part of a new series on how the Left is destroying our vocabulary for political gain.

If there’s one thing the Left excels at, it’s stealing everyday words and redefining them to fit a political agenda.

Terms we once understood—race, sex, fossil fuels, gun rights, democracy, and abortion—have either lost their original meaning or been inserted into Americans’ vocabularies, letting “progressives” dictate the terms of debate. In the case of firearms, for example, the Left has completely redefined weapons based on their looks rather than function—hence the term “assault rifle,” an ill-defined term meant to stoke fear by gun control activists.

Everyone knows this—but now we have the proof.

Who Controls the Language?

On a fundamental level, gun control seems to mean what it says—methods for controlling guns, yet the Left has adapted their language to “help” (read: convince) the American populace that gun control is the easy and smart choice by redefining the term as “common sense gun control.”

From 2004 to 2023, 5,263 news articles mentioned “common sense gun control.” That number peaked between 2017 and 2019, when nearly 2,000 articles mentioned the phrase, according to LexisNexis. We know why: During those two years the Las Vegas hotel, Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Texas, and El Paso shootings all occurred.

In the wake of these horrific events the Left leaned more heavily on the “common sense” need for gun control, and the data reflects that in Google search results in subsequent years. From 2019 to 2023, Google Trends reported an uptick in search relevancy and frequency for “common sense gun control” among its users.

“Gun control.” Google Trends.

(Note: Google Trends uses a scale of 0 to 100 to show the frequency and relevancy of a given phrase or term during a specific period compared against all searches at a time. Google trend only uses a handful of searches and looks at “data representatives” to create its charts, so take them with a grain of salt—or two.)

The Left has a number of loaded terms in its arsenal: Gun violence, assault weapons, mass shootings, and assault rifle are all meant to change how Americans see and discuss firearms. Describing certain firearms as “assault-style” weapons, for instance, has slowly become more prevalent in newspapers over the years. Again, the data shows how widespread this has been.

From 1985 to 1993, only 273 articles referenced “assault-style” weapons, according to LexisNexis. Yet between 1995 and 2011, 3,273 articles referenced “assault-style” weapons. That figure ballooned again between 2011 and 2017, when 7,015 articles referenced “assault-style” weapons—and even higher between 2018 and 2023, with nearly 22,000 articles referencing “assault-style” weapons.

Per Google Trends: “Assault-style” was not used between 2017 and 2019 but started to be used again in 2020 after the word appeared a record number of times in the legacy media.

“Assault-style.” Google Trends.

Similarly, “mass shooting” was a rarely searched term before 2004, according to Google Trends. From 1980 to 2008, the phrase “mass shooting” appeared 11,000 times in the press—a figure that seems high, but consider that that span covers nearly four decades.

Contrast that with references to “mass shootings” from 2009 to 2023—a stunning 380,000 times, according to LexisNexis.

References to “mass shootings” skyrocketed in 2021, and we may know why. That year, many legacy media groups shifted away from the FBI’s method of labeling an event as a “mass shooting,” which required four or more people be killed during the incident, opting to use data from the Gun Violence Archive instead.

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that tracks “gun-related” violence, defines a mass shooting based on the amount of people hit by a bullet and not the amount that were actually killed. Since then, “mass shooting” has continued to lift ever-upwards, according to Google Trends.

“Mass shooting.” Google Trends.

To anyone who’s followed the news and noted the Left’s (Orwellian) experiments with redefining words to suit a political need, that’s not surprising. “Gun violence” used to refer to murder, but over the years has slowly come to mean any and all violence caused by—or even in proximity to—a gun: Accidents, suicides, and police shootings.

In the two decades 1980 to 2000, the term “gun violence” appeared in only 26,000 articles. But in the two decades between 2000 to 2023 the term was referenced a whopping 456,000 times by the media, according to LexisNexis—an increase of 1,653 percent.

Did homicides rise by anything near that rate? Of course not—the Left lumped in suicides, which make up 54 percent of what “progressives” now consider “gun violence,” according to the Pew Research Center.

Even the dictionaries have gotten in on the action. In 2018, Merriam-Webster “updated“ its definition of “assault rifle” to include visual qualifiers:

Definition in 2016: Any of various automatic or semiautomatic rifles with large capacity magazines designed for military use.

Definition in 2018: Any of various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles (such as the AK-47) that can be set for automatic or semiautomatic fire; also: a rifle that resembles a military assault rifle but is designed to allow only semi-automatic fire.

New Terms, Same Debate

The Left implements many new terms to reframe a debate, and in many cases, the language is unknown to many Americans. Many of the new terms continue to remain prevalent in society, yet others pop up momentarily to push a “progressive” narrative. Many of these terms can never be defeated as public norms if their origins, time of relevance, and purpose are not widely known.

There’s only one solution for conservatives: Take back their language. Winning debates about the issues is only half the battle.