Guns Are Freedom. NRA’s Positive Framing of Guns and Gun Rights Through Conceptual Metaphors

Hausarbeit, 2019

25 Seiten, Note: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. Preliminary Considerations
2.1 The Corpus
2.2 Frames and Metaphors

3. Framing Guns Through Conceptual Metaphors
3.1 Keyword Analysis
3.2 Rights and Freedom
3.2.1 Rights
3.2.2 Freedom

4. Conclusion



1. Introduction

The subject of gun rights and the legislation of private gun possession has been one of the major topics in politics of the United States of America for many decades. The preservation of the Second Amendment and especially the ‘Right to Keep and Bear Arms’ is a ubiquitous matter in debates between the political parties and organizations, and groups which fight for or against stricter regulations of gun rights. One of the main participants is the National Rifle Association (NRA). This association, whose primary goal once was the promotion of science-based rifle shooting to improve the strength of the American troops when it was founded in 1871 (NRA Homepage), has become the biggest lobby group in favor of loose regulation on gun rights to preserve the Second Amendment. This ideology, of course, is conveyed through language and (cognitive) linguistic devices such as frames and metaphorical expressions. Recent studies have discussed the framing within the climate discourse (Dahl 2015; Kapranov 2018), the use of metaphors for cancer discourse (Demmen et al. 2015; Semino et al. 2018), a text-linguistic approach to the language of the NRA as being religious (Dawson 2019) and the use of metaphors in the gun debate (David et al. 2016). The foundation of these studies is the notion of frames by Minsky, Fillmore, Tannen and Wallat, as has been collected by Bednarek in a previous work on frames (2005) and the conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 2003). CMT is based on the finding “that metaphors are essentially bundles of mappings across frames that occur within domains” (David et al. 2016).

Therefore, frames and metaphors are closely connected. This leads to the possibility to search for metaphors – and thus arrive at their relating conceptual metaphor – in texts with the aim of deciphering the frames which are evoked. This paper argues that the NRA uses conceptual metaphors to frame advocacy for gun rights and the possession of guns in a positive way. Based on the methodologies of Semino et al. (2016) and Kapranov (2018), a corpus of 261 texts by the NRA will be searched through using LancsBox to find keywords by contrasting the NRA corpus with the Brown Corpus of written texts in American English. Then, these keywords will be investigated with the Whelk-Tool of LancsBox to detect metaphors in the surrounding text which will be compared with the list of conceptual metaphors and frames from MetaNet. Afterwards, the distribution over the sub-corpora will be compared for an insight in the way, the NRA changes its framing within different types of texts for varying target audiences, and the framing of guns in all their texts. Finally, the frames of rights and freedom will get a closer look to reveal conceptual metaphors which frame gun usage and possession in a positive way.

This paper has been organized in the following way. Chapter Two introduces the used corpus and further explains the theoretical dimensions concerning frames and metaphors. The third chapter presents the findings of the study. The conclusion offers thoughts about further studies relating the language of the NRA.

2. Preliminary Considerations

2.1 The Corpus

The Corpus consists of 261 texts with an overall word count of 159,950 words. All texts were copied from the NRA’s homepage and the period of time they were published in ranges from December 29, 2017 to July 6, 2019. All texts were chosen randomly with no focus on specific topics. Therefore, latest debates about gun legislation after the major rampages in Dayton/Ohio and El Paso/Texas are not included. For comparative purposes, it has been divided into 6 sub-corpora, respectively ‘NRA Family’, ‘America’s 1st Freedom’ (both online publications of magazines), ‘Legal & Legislation’ (concerned with legal questions and gun legislation), ‘Press Releases’, ‘From the Director’ (texts by NRA’s CEO Cox) and ‘News’. This division has been carried out for the purpose of avoiding the possibility of over-generalizing what is warranted by empirical data (Semino et al. 2018) since keywords and therefore frames and conceptual metaphors within the sub-corpora can differ.

2.2 Frames and Metaphors

The preceding cognitive turn during the 1980s led to a cognitive linguistic approach to language which, amongst others, culminated in frame theory, which, in a short definition, is “a mental knowledge structure which captures the ‘typical’ features of the world” (Bednarek 2005: 685f.). Following the studies concerning the frame theory by Fillmore (1975), other terms competing with frame have emerged (schema (Tannen and Wallat), scenario (Sanford and Garrod), script (Schank and Abelson))[1]. These terms are in close relation to one another so that the term frame will cover all these notions of frames because a clear distinction between these terms is beyond the scope of this paper. Thus, frame is regarded as “a general cover term for the set of concepts variously known […] as ‘schema’, ‘script’, ‘scenario’” (qtd. in Bednarek 2005: 688).[2]

Out of the notions of frames, the conceptual metaphor theory by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) emerged. Following this theory, metaphors or metaphorical expressions consist of a target and a source concept. Linking (mapping) these concepts is the only possibility to understand the expression, with the premise of mutual understanding of the corresponding concepts. For example, the conceptual metaphor time is money is conceptualized by TIME (target) and MONEY (source) (Ungerer and Schmid 2006: 118). A speaker who is not familiar with one of the two concepts would not be able to understand metaphorical expressions such as:[3]

Don’t waste my time.

I’ve spent too much time for it.

He’s lost some minutes.

The time wasn’t worth it.

The source concept of MONEY, the possibility to lose or waste it, are transferred onto the target concept of TIME. The resulting metaphorical expressions lead to a mapping of the frames which are evoked by the concepts, creating a mapping scope (Ungerer and Schmid 2006: 119).

Typical for conceptual metaphors is their characteristic to be a part of a system of sub-categorization. Therefore, the conceptual metaphor of time is money underlies the sub-metaphor of time is a limited resource and time is a valuable commodity (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 2003: 9). The graded salience hypothesis by Giora has shown that some metaphorical meanings are more obvious – salient – than others (Deignan 2005: 107). This shows, that understanding and discovering metaphorical expressions is a field of research with much room for interpretation for researchers.

Following this reading of the graded salience hypothesis, the following chapter will show more or less salient metaphors within the NRA corpus and investigate the evoked frames and conceptual metaphors behind these metaphorical expressions. After introducing metaphor-invoking keywords and their relation to the NRA’s framing of guns, metaphorical expressions connected with rights and freedom will be examined within, e.g., the conceptual metaphors of rights are possessions or rights are shields from harm, and freedom is a valuable possession.

3. Framing Guns Through Conceptual Metaphors

3.1 Keyword Analysis

To find keywords within the framing of guns in texts of the NRA, the whole corpus and all single sub-corpora were merged with the Brown Corpus in LancsBox using the Words-Tool that can show positive and negative keywords, and lockwords. This study will only investigate the positive keywords; those which occur more frequent in NRA texts. The following tables (1-7) show the first 20 keywords from the 6 sub-corpora and the complete corpus:

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Table 1: Press Releases Table 2: America’s 1st Freedom

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Table 4: Legal & Legislation

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Table 3: NRA Family Table 4: Legal & Legislation

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Table 5: From the Director Table 6: News

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Table 7: Complete NRA Corpus

As can be seen from the tables above, gun(s) and firearm(s) are keywords in every sub-corpus. What stands out is the fact, that firearm(s) has been used less often in the ‘NRA Family’ sub-corpus (Table 3). The title of this magazine already implies, that it is meant for topics concerning families and their relation to guns. For the purpose of making the texts easy to understand for every member of a family, the magazine uses more common language and therefore does make less use of the word firearm, since this term for guns is usually used in legal terms. Thus, keywords concerning law/legislation and rights are not used often enough to become keywords which underlines the previous claim that NRA Family uses clearer language for easier understanding.

Also, the texts in the NRA Family corpus mostly talk about instructions about how to get kids into guns, and tips for the first steps when starting shooting. Within these texts, the line [t]o really feel involved, kids need their own gear-everything from hearing and eye protection to their own rifle gets to the eye after looking for occurrences of the search term kid*[4]. This line activates the frames of involvement/membership and protecting alongside the obvious gun/weapon frame related to rifle. This implies that kids must possess crucial equipment to become a part of the group of gun owners. The frame of membership makes use of the part whole frame which, connects to the conceptual metaphor groups are part-whole structures and its subpart groups are possessors as kids can only become a part of gun owners if they possess certain kinds of equipment as mentioned above.

While legal terms are not present in large numbers in NRA Family, the NRA tries to convince people of the need for the right to keep and bear arms, following the Second Amendment, by repeatedly mentioning that American gun owners are law-abiding. David et al. have shown that those who fight against the right to keep and bear arms oftentimes frame guns as a disease within the conceptual metaphor of gun ownership is a disease (2016: 25-27). The NRA tries to reverse that narrative and use it for their purposes. For them, the right to keep and bear arms was made to protect law-abiding Americans from violent career criminals that plague many neighborhoods (emphasis mine). Here, the NRA activates the conceptual metaphor crime is a disease, leaving law-abiding people as the good guys, evoking law-abiding is good and violence is bad or violence is a disease. Also, within the frame of protecting which makes use of the frame of harm floats the conceptual metaphor rights are shields from harm, therefore framing gun rights are shields from harm and at last guns are shields from harm. Since harm is the target frame in harm is physical injury, protecting against violent career criminals is framed positively because what follows is a framing of violent career criminals as a threat to everyone by violent career criminals mean physical injury, because violence is physical injury. Thus, gun ownership is framed as necessary to protect oneself against violence.

Another important role in the NRA’s framing of guns is reserved for rights and freedom, which have become a part of the DNA of Americans and especially supporters of gun rights. While rights are used in an extensive way, what has made them become keywords, within the corpus, freedom is not. This is because the frame of freedom is part of the frame of rights as will be shown in the following paragraphs.

3.2 Rights and Freedom

For many Americans, as Dawson (2019) has shown, gun rights have become part of the American way of life and the NRA draws upon that feeling by using religious language and metaphors to claim that gun rights were God-given. The following two paragraphs will show that religious metaphors are not only part of the ‘American Rifleman’[5] but are also used in other publications of the NRA. Nonetheless, the focus will be on ‘military’ metaphors since they are the most frequent ones, as the relation between an association for gun rights, and the military, which has the strongest link to guns and weapons, is expected.

3.2.1 Rights

A qualitative analysis of the vicinity of rights shows that there are at least 3 metaphorical expressions with religious background concerning (gun) rights:

[T]here are 22 states that have enshrined the right to hunt […]

[…] laws that clearly infringe on the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment.

[…] stand up for our God-given rights without exception […]

[all emphases mine]

These examples, all taken from ‘America’s 1st Freedom’, show that the religious glorification of gun rights stretch upon more than just one magazine of the NRA. This constitutes the conceptual metaphor of gun rights are values of worship connecting with guns are objects of worship since the rights are enshrined in the Second Amendment. Worshipping something makes it a target of psychological fixation and things people are concentrating on, are objects people want to possess.

Therefore, metaphorical expressions revolving around rights are possessions emerge on a regular basis within NRA’s texts. In 76 instances (4.75 per 10K), gun rights are mentioned as our right*, making it a possession of everyone. In 10 occurrences, these rights need to be protected, evoking the frame of protecting, since valuable possessions require protection, again referring to rights are shields from harm as mentioned in 3.1. Other instances of rights are possessions are as follows:


[1] A collection of these terms can be found in Bednarek 2005: 686-687.

[2] Fillmore, Charles J. 1982. Frame Semantics. In: Yang, I. (Ed.). Linguistics in the Morning Calm. Selected Papers from SICOL-1981. Seoul: Hanshin, 111-137.

[3] Different examples, but inspired by the list of Ungerer and Schmid (2006: 118)

[4] The asterisk behind search term kid* (and also behind other search terms which will follow in the rest of this paper) indicates that derivations such as kid, kids, kiddo, etc. are included.

[5] The ‘American Rifleman’ is the oldest magazine by the NRA which is still published regularly.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 25 Seiten


Guns Are Freedom. NRA’s Positive Framing of Guns and Gun Rights Through Conceptual Metaphors
Universität Augsburg
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Cognitive Linguistics, Conceptual Metaphor Theory, CMT, Lakoff, Bednarek, NRA, Metaphors, Framing, Frames, LancsBox, MetaNet
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Dominik Pohlmann (Autor:in), 2019, Guns Are Freedom. NRA’s Positive Framing of Guns and Gun Rights Through Conceptual Metaphors, München, GRIN Verlag,


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