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Published January 22, 2013 in Talking Points by Sharon Harris
Guns: Reframing the Debate
Words have enormous power.
Words shape how we and those we are talking with view the world and react to political events.
Using the right words can make the difference between persuasion and failure to persuade; between winning an audience to our side or losing them. And between making your point clear, or perpetuating falsehoods and misperceptions about your views.
Best-selling author and gun law expert Alan Korwin has spent years exploring how language can win -- or lose -- for you on the gun issue.
I’m going to share some of my favorites of his in this column and the next. I highly recommend that you read his “Politically Corrected Glossary of Terms,” the article from which these examples were taken.
Certain words, Korwin notes, frame the political debate. By using them, you reaffirm the anti-gun worldview. You’ve lost half the battle before you start.
For example, if you say you are “pro-gun,” some people immediately put you into a category of “gun nuts” or “gun lover.” Instead, try “pro-rights.”
Says Korwin: “Pro-rights [is] a more accurate, and far more compelling term than the common ‘pro-gun.’ The reverse term, which describes them, is ‘anti-rights.’ Misguided utopian disarmament advocates love the phrases ‘pro-gun’ and ‘anti-gun,’ because they automatically win when they're used. They believe the righteous path is to be anti-gun, because only devils would be pro-gun. You flat lose if you allow a debate to be framed that way.
“The debate is really between people who are 'pro-rights' and 'anti-rights' -- and then you automatically win, because the righteous choice between pro-rights and anti-rights is obvious.
“You're pro-safety; pro-self defense; pro-freedom; pro-liberty; pro-Bill of Rights. [This by default correctly casts your opponents] as anti-safety; anti-self defense; anti-freedom; anti-liberty; anti-Bill of Rights. This is an accurate depiction of people who would restrict, repress and flat-out deny civil rights you and your ancestors have always had in America.”
Korwin also suggests saying “Bill of Rights” instead of “Second Amendment” when possible. For example: “I support the Bill of Rights. Isn’t that what America is all about?” Korwin notes that the Bill of Rights is a consistent whole; it “was a single amendment (with separate articles) to the Constitution.”
Korwin writes that this is “more broadly appealing and less polarizing than ‘Second Amendment.’ Sure, I talk about the Second Amendment all the time," he says. "But saying ‘Bill of Rights’ protects you from malicious stigma and stereotyping as a ‘gun nut.’ It’s much more difficult to oppose; it slows the gun bigots down. All the rights count, don't they, and they're all under attack.”
A strong defense of the Bill of Rights may win you respect even from those who disagree, and you may find an ally on other important issues.
I’ll share more of Korwin’s arguments next in a future post. Again, you can read more of his work on this issue here.
As always, when trying these and other techniques, remember the basic rules of communication, persuasion and empathy that we’ve discussed in previous columns. In general, unless debating, our goal is to persuade, win friends and allies, and when possible, convert others -- not just score points and win arguments. Indeed, on some issues, with some people, it may be better to simply accept differences, try to find other common ground, and move on.