I'm wondering what the correct definition of "banned" is in the following sentence:

The private ownership of handguns ought to be banned in the United States.

Does "banned" refer to an outright prohibition of handguns among everyone in the United States, or is it possible that – grammatically and semantically speaking – "banned" could refer to a specific group of people in the United States, such as people with a history of committing domestic violence crimes?

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    Banned means prohibited. The sentence doesn't modify the prohibition in any way. Whatever interpretation you choose to make is a semantic issue. Grammar can only take you so far. – deadrat Jan 31 '16 at 6:36
  • @deadrat That makes sense. However, semantically speaking, could it refer to everyone or a specific group? Is there a specific semantic term that encompasses my question that I can research in depth? – Shrey Jan 31 '16 at 6:38
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the answer is 'primarily opinion / wider context based' (rather than answers are going to be primarily opinion based). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 4 '16 at 12:57

This refers to all citizens of the United States, because the United States would be putting a ban on anyone buying handguns, since it was specified in the statement.

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  • @Rathony Police and Military could get around the ban by having guns issued to them by a government agency, rather than having to buy the guns themselves. – Hellion Jan 31 '16 at 15:31
  • @Hellion - And arguably some sort of organization could be formed to own the handguns, after a few court battles over the definition of "private". Plus there's the question of whether handguns owned by, say, security businesses would be "privately owned". (There would no doubt be some tap-dancing around the Citizens United decision.) – Hot Licks Mar 2 '16 at 23:59

To be able to refer to a specific group, you would need to modify 'banned' in such a manner that it referred to that group: Handguns ought to be banned among left-handed Tagalog-speakers in the United States, for example. However, your statement does indirectly refer to a group by specifying private owners; other owners/users such as the police would not be included, and the sentence could even imply that non-private owners should not have their handguns banned.

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