I was driving my truck home from work last week, listening to National Public Radio, and a story came on about the recent Kansas shooting. It’s absolutely tragic and coming in the wake of the its alleged perpetrator being served a protection order over domestic violence, says a lot about American male entitlement, but something else stuck out at me. Aside from even moderately socially conscious broadcasters like NPR often having a hard time breaking through issues regarding patriarchy, it’s also difficult for them to talk comprehensively about guns.
Left to right: .45ACP, 9mm Lugar, .22LR
A commentator in this case referred to the individual, who murdered three others, being armed with a rifle and “High Caliber handgun.” That sounded rather sensational, so upon getting home, I fired up the internet and checked. Apparently this pistol in question was a .40 Glock. In other words, an entirely average caliber, known for being especially popular among police departments. Here’s the thing. Calling something high caliber is a relative term. Caliber refers only to bullet diameter and can easily mislead. For instance, a .22 cartridge is typically used only for target shooting or small game, yet many military rifles are chambered in the comparatively robust .223. Though only imperceptibly wider, the latter cartridge is longer, containing a bigger powder charge. Or look at .38 Special and .357 Magnum. Same diameter, but a .357 is significantly more powerful. Yet, none of these could be reasonably called high caliber.
To elaborate, in the US, .40 is an extremely common caliber, as are .45, 9mm, and .38 Special. Anything much smaller would be unusual among handguns designed for self defense. An example: I stand 5’9” high. That makes me fairly average among American men, but when I travel in central or northern Europe, most everyone towers over me. The situation becomes reversed when spending time in Latin America. Therefore, when I am carrying my 9mm in the US, I am an average sized individual with an average sized gun. In Nicaragua, however, people just as correctly call me tall. Context remains everything.
Another term the media likes to throw around is “High Powered.” To accurately call a gun high powered, it should be something more than typical, like the famed .50 Desert Eagle pistol, or Barrett long range .416 rifle. Still misleading. I feel like my .50 black powder rifle is pretty high powered, yet it requires a long time to load and never tops the lists of dangerous firearms that should be banned. There’s no international standard with any of this. Just another term useful for raising people’s blood pressure instead of facilitating comprehension.
A six-shooter .38 Special S&W revolver. At one time, High Capacity
Then take “High Capacity.” The gun used in Kansas likely used a standard fifteen round magazine. Over the last thirty-plus years, that number has become increasingly common, to the point where one might call a classic 1911 style .45 pistol with its seven round magazine, Low Capacity. Back in the late 19th century, a rifle like my K98 Mauser’s five bolt-action shots was considered high capacity, but after a few decades, it became overshadowed by newcomers like the AK-47’s thirty rounds magazine. Terminology must adjust with technology over time or looses all meaning.
K98 Mauser carbine with maximum capacity clip. Also once High Capacity
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with words like high caliber, high power or high capacity. The problem lies in how such terms are manipulated, out of ignorance and to inspire fear. Just as the right wing media twists inaccurate information about various issues, keeping listeners frightened into supporting the status quo, supposedly more responsible news outlets do the same thing in furtherance of their own agendas. It’s important to stay aware. The way words are used can set minds free, or just as easily hobble them.