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Shooting our mouths off, as well as our guns

After yet another mass shooting, the Monitor's language columnist considers the role of gun metaphors in ordinary conversation.

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Why do Americans keep shooting their mouths off?

A few weeks after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December, I bookmarked a commentary by an educational consultant named Joe Lurie. His point was to question all the gun metaphors that creep into daily conversation in American English.

"Having worked as a university executive with students from more than 80 countries," Mr. Lurie wrote, "I've noticed that students from abroad are struck by the violent language in our songs and films, and they hear it bleeding into our political discourse."

The piece, which I found on the website of the Contra Costa Times, in California, was illustrated with an Associated Press photo taken after Christmas in a gun shop in Casper, Wyo. The shop had been all but stripped of merchandise by customers eager for military-style guns. The caption indicated that the store, like many nationwide, had sold out of firearms after the Sandy Hook shootings raised concerns over the possibility of new antigun legislation.

This concern, we now know, was misplaced. President Obama's proposed bill to tighten gun laws failed in Congress in April, despite overwhelming public support.

I kept my note-to-self about Lurie's commentary on the chance it might regain relevance.

And so, alas, it has. A young gunman identified as John Zawahri went on a shooting rampage June 7 in Santa Monica, Calif., before being killed by the police on the campus of Santa Monica College.

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