Yesterday’s mass killing in Orlando, FL, has already raised the decibel level on the gun control issue once again. And it will command the headlines for a week or so, while the NRA will stand by its slogan: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
I’m not the first person to weigh in on the slogan, but as a writer I find a serious grammatical flaw in it. And that flaw leads to a flaw in the logic. Of course, it’s highly possible there is nobody left in this country who thinks logically, but I’m offering my two cents anyway.
The NRA’s two sentences can stand by themselves. However, they are connected by a semi-colon. This suggests the two parts are equal. And I think that’s what the NRA wants us to see. But they’re not equal because the subjects are not equal.
I’ve probably lost half my readers already, but I’ll forge on. The subject of the first sentence is “guns.” The subject of the second is “people.” The thing is guns are inanimate objects; people are not. So some of the equality disappears right there.
Consider these two sentences joined by a colon. “Baseballs don’t hit people in the stands in the head; players hit people in the stands in the head.” Would anyone disagree that the batter hit the baseball? And that the baseball then accidentally hit someone? And would anybody disagree that to say, “Players hit people in the stands in the head” changes the discussion altogether? Maybe players used their fists . . .
Or this sentence: “Cars don’t hit people; people hit people.” In both instances, we see that the sentences are not equal because the subjects in the first sentence – baseballs, cars – are not the same as the subject, “people,” in the second sentence.
It’s easy to fix. The NRA slogan should read; “Guns don’t kill people; people with guns kill people.” Or “. . . people kill people with guns.” But that wouldn’t serve the organization’s agenda. And since there are probably fewer grammarians than logicians left in our country, most likely all this will go unnoticed.