The language of guns

When President Obama unveiled his gun reform package yesterday, one month after the Newtown massacre, there was a commonly used phrase that wasn’t uttered by him or Vice President Joe Biden. Same with Gov. Deval Patrick, who also unveiled his measures yesterday.

The term that was missing was “gun control” and you can bet as the debate over that heats up, there will be more subtle differences in the way the issue is talked about and, especially, written about in the media. Because whoever wins the battle for control of the language, wins the dialogue.

Gun control advocates are beginning to excise the phrase from their vocabulary because it alarms gun owners who see “control” as a government attempt to limit their Second Amendment rights. Instead, more and more of the focus is on “stemming gun violence” and “increasing gun safety.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is open to a debate about gun control, but says the discussion needs to go broader to focus on “violence control.”

At yesterday’s White House press conference, where Obama signed 23 executive orders relating to gun access and mental health, both he and Biden mentioned guns on 40 instances but not once did the word “control” follow. Biden called it “gun violence legislation” several times,  while Obama used that term and also called for “gun safety” reforms. They, as well as many gun control advocates, are framing the issue as a public health crisis, rather than making it about guns.

Patrick, a close ally of Obama’s, was in step. “Only this morning we refiled several gun safety measures to help stop tragedies like Newtown or the recent shooting of a 13-year-old boy in Roxbury on his way to choir practice,” Patrick said in his State of the Commonwealth address last night.

It is not unlike the abortion debate, when those who oppose the procedure locked onto the “pro-life” moniker while those on the other side insisted they were not “pro-abortion” but, rather “pro-choice.” It matters because the terms become part of news media’s in-house stylebook. If you’re not pro-life, does that mean you’re pro-death? Can someone who does not agree with abortion nonetheless have empathy for a woman’s right to choose abortion? The Globe uses “anti-abortion” to describe that sector and “pro-choice” for the Roe v Wade crowd. Most other major outlets follow the same guidelines.

Most savvy advocacy groups know that words matter. How much attention would the surgical procedure of intact dilation and extraction get among the masses? Hardly a raised eyebrow, likely. But turn that into “partial birth abortion” and suddenly there is a cause that mobilizes even the most moderate of voters.

With guns, the National Rifle Association and its supporters have owned the debate. Read any newspaper’s letters-to-the-editor section after a story or editorial on assault weapons and you’ll see gun owners writing in to correct even the slightest error in differentiating between automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons.

There’s even been some obfuscation in other areas. The NRA’s latest public relations ploy is to point out that while Obama has dismissed their proposal to place armed officers in every school in the country, he has no qualms about making sure his daughters are protected at school by armed guards. Most people, though, call those “armed guards” Secret Service and they are tasked by Congress with protecting the First Family. As cynical as that approach is, it will resonate with their supporters. Words matter.

JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Gov. Deval Patrick calls for an increase in the state income tax, and a decrease in the sales tax, to fund his new transportation and education initiatives. Here is the text. Senate President Therese Murray says the Legislature might “meet him somewhere down the road, but we don’t know yet.” A Herald editorial casts the governor as declaring “war on the taxpayers of Massachusetts, proposing the largest tax hike in state history.” The Salem News gathers local legislative reaction.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Cambridge hasn’t yet approved a lab development project that’s been languishing for a year, but it’s getting closer.

Boston City Councilor John Connolly is on a fundraiser tear, but insists he’s not running for mayor.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, a mentor and close friend to late Internet activist Aaron Swartz, talks about how big moneyed interests have corrupted our democracy in the Conversation interview in the new issue of CommonWealth.

An inspector general audit of the IRS finds that the agency’s lax enforcement action in asking taxpayers to prove the value of their annual charity gifts costs the government $1 billion a year.

President Obama vows to put “everything I’ve got” into his gun control push. Gun manufacturers, meanwhile, still remember when Smith & Wesson took some steps towards cooperating on gun control, and was quickly pushed into bankruptcy by a gun rights backlash. the Daily Beast reports. Applications for gun permits skyrocket on the Cape. Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, responds to the push for gun control measures on WBUR’s Radio Boston.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will take his bolo tie home, and step down in March.

Slate runs down the carnage to ensue if Congress hits the debt ceiling.

The Wilmington Ten get vindication in the form of a pardon from North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue.

ELECTIONS

Let the games begin: The Senate schedules a confirmation hearing for Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state for January 24.

In the wake of Colin Powell’s salvo against the Republican Party, The Bay State Banner provides an analysis of the GOP’s electoral problems with people of color and finds that candidates like Bob Dole and George W.  Bush did far better than Tea Party era standard-bearers like John McCain and Mitt Romney (via The Root).

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

With cookie season officially underway, U.S. News & World Report takes a look at where the Girl Scouts’ $800 million in annual sales stands when compared to major brands, and they come out quite well despite the limited time period they sell.

A developer who received a $225,000 loan from New Bedford’s Economic Development Council is also a friend and landlord of the EDC’s senior lending officer, a relationship that wasn’t revealed when the loan was approved.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon takes a huge pay cut, while Goldman Sachs piles up stacks on stacks on stacks.

EDUCATION

More Boston public school graduates are going on to graduate from college, report the Globe  and WBUR.

The Berkshire Eagle backs Gov. Patrick’s education proposals.

HEALTH CARE

Here is news of a promising treatment for those suffering gastrointestinal infection that is not recommended reading for those with a stomach given to queasiness.

TRANSPORTATION

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder calls for higher gas taxes and car registration fees to raise money to fix roads and bridges, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Nissan cuts the price of its all-electric Leaf by $6,000, Time reports.

All wall panels will be removed from Boston’s Callahan Tunnel, NECN reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz broke her silence on the Aaron Swartz case, issuing a statement late last night defending her office’s handling of the prosecution of the 26-year-old Internet activist who committed suicide last Friday.  Globe columnist Joan Vennochi offers a defense of Ortiz and wonders whether Swartz’s lawyer provided him with the best advice. Greater Boston looks at the ongoing “blame game” surrounding Swartz. Dan Kennedy applauds the Globe’s tougher coverage of Ortiz.

A clerk magistrate declined to bring charges against prominent defense attorney Tracy Miner after a show cause hearing for violating the social host law when police said she held a raucous drinking party for her teen daughter and her friends at her Scituate home.

A student charged with credit card fraud gets off when it is discovered the card he had allegedly stolen was actually a debit card and not covered by the law, the Salem News reports.

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

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