This is my rifle, this is my gun

Posted by Bruce Canfield

Anyone who was in boot camp in the pre-politically correct days or has seen the first half of the movie Full Metal Jacket is familiar with the none-too-subtle way a drill sergeant “helped” recruits distinguish the difference between a “rifle” and a “gun.” For obvious reasons, this specific method of indoctrination wouldn’t work today since we have female recruits in boot camp…but I digress.

The Corps’ long-standing abhorrence to using the word “gun” rather than “rifle” begs the question…is such vernacular incorrect? I’ve heard theories that the reason for such differentiation in the Marine Corps is because the Navy refers to the cannons on warships as “guns,” thus a small arm, such as a rifle, cannot be a gun. Even though they don’t like to admit it, the Marine Corps is part of the Navy, so I suppose this distinction makes some sense. However, is it wrong to refer to a rifle as a “gun?”

In course of research into U.S. military weapons over several decades and, specifically, while perusing boxes of documents and memoranda from Winchester’s “Pugsley Files,” it is undeniable that the U.S. military and related entities frequently used the terms “rifle” and “gun” interchangeably. This true is in untold numbers of documents emanating the U.S. Army, Ordnance and War Departments, Winchester company and scores of other sources. Additionally, I just looked at the Merriam-Webster dictionary and the first definition of “gun” is “…a weapon that shoots bullets or shells.” It certainly seems to me that a rifle fits the definition of a gun. While it wouldn’t have been wise to argue with your DI, there is nothing incorrect in calling a rifle a gun, and vice-versa.

While on the subject of incorrect firearm-related terminology, there is still widespread usage of terms that are actually incorrect. Among the most common is the word “clip” when “magazine” is appropriate. The M1 Garand rifle utilized a clip. The M1 carbine was designed to take a magazine. Clips and magazines are not the same thing but many otherwise astute people often confuse the two. This misuse is so ingrained today that it will still be around well into the next century. Likewise, use of the term “bullet” when “cartridge” or “round” is meant is equally widespread. A “bullet” is a projectile. A cartridge, or round, contains a bullet, powder and a primer. I guess if someone is out of ammunition, he really is “out of bullets” but he’s also out of the other stuff that makes the gun…excuse me, the rifle, go “bang.”

If anyone still wants to argue that a “rifle” should not be called a “gun,” I would refer them to the words of someone who knew a little something about military firearms; John C. Garand. When asked what he thought of the M1 rifle he designed, he commented “She is a pretty good gun, I think.” That’s good enough for me.

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