AP Stylebook Catches On To Gun Terminology Before The Left By: Lars Smith

Image Credit: Associated Press

As the standard of “no color commentary” news reporting, AP Wire has long been a source other news outlets use to generate their own coverage, though of course they often add a lot to those stories. For over 110 years, they have also produced a style guide, which has become the standard for journalism, public relations, and marketing communication. It’s not required, but the influence on text based media is inescapable.

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Standardizing word choice and usage is valuable, so as to avoid unnecessary confusion when attempting to communicate a concept to as diverse a group of people as “English speakers”. Examples of things the AP style guide has standardized include a.m. and p.m., the use of % over “percent” and which words are to be capitalized in headlines. So in light of that, it’s refreshing as hell to see them take a reasonable stance on gun communications. Among other terms they’ve chosen to highlight in this most recent update, is the ever controversial “assault weapon/rifle“.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, “assault rifle” is a gun industry/military term denoting a weapon of carbine or rifle dimensions, that fires an intermediate cartridge (between pistol and traditional full-size rifle size) and is capable of select fire: Semi, burst, and/or full auto. There are arguments about which was the first, and I’ll leave that up to someone more qualified than me, like Ian @ Forgotten Weapons, but generally speaking the German-made MP/Stg-44 and the AK are the grandfathers of the bunch. The M16, L85, FN FNC, AUG, etc all evolved from those, and similar predecessors.

Per the NRA-ILA, the term “assault weapon” first showed up in 1984, as part of a pro-gun control newspaper ad from Handgun Control, Inc. Since then, it become the nom de rigueur of anything that looks scary enough to the genpop that anti-gun groups and politicians think they can gin up support to ban them. They did so successfully for a decade between 1994-2004, and have been actively trying to repeat that success ever since.

The problem is that, as a lobbyist/media generated term, it doesn’t have a defined meaning, and indeed fluctuates wildly in definition between “assault weapon” bans from various jurisdictions. The federal AWB regulated rifles, mainly, but the NY SAFE act limits handguns as well. Indeed, as the decades have gone by, its application has only expanded, to the point today that we are hearing calls for bans on semi-automatic firearms entirely. Well, except for actual “weapons of war” like the M1 Garand, or anything that has a wood stock, for some reason.

Looking for cognitive dissonance in anti-gun legislation is like playing whack-a-mole on easy mode, obviously, but we appreciate that at least someone in the media is trying to minimize the bullshit hyperbolic hoplophobia, and attempting to restore a margin of accuracy and sense to the “debate”.