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(0:00) https://youtu.be/Lo52BObqCds

KASKY: Senator Rubio, it's hard to look at you and not look down a barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nicholas Cruz, but the point is you're here and there some people who are not.

This video is about the town hall meeting held after the Florida School shooting. And I don't know what "look down" means here, so I'm having a difficulty understanding a whole sentence. I looked up the definition of "look down on" which means to think that you are better than someone, but I think it definitely doesn't fit this context.

What's the meaning of the sentence?

For those who don't know, Nicholas Cruz is the criminal and AR-15 is a gun he used.

3 Answers 3

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As JavaLatte alluded to, and as Canadian Yankee said more clearly in a comment, Kasky is describing the feeling of looking into the barrel of a gun which is being pointed at his face. The preposition "down" is used to describe how he is "looking." I don't know that this makes any logical sense; it is just an idiom that must be learned.

And again, as JavaLatte alluded to, "look down the barrel of a gun" often has the meaning of "aim down the barrel of a gun" or "sight down the barrel of a gun"—that is, to be the person holding the gun and aiming it. When describing the action of being-pointed-at, it is more common to use "stare down the barrel of a gun." But Kasky is using a parallel construction—he is looking at Rubio and looking down the barrel of a gun.

Now, I disagree with JavaLatte that Kasky's meaning is unclear. It is this:

Kasky was a survivor of the shooting attack carried out by Nicholas Cruz. In that attack he may have, at one point, literally "looked down the barrel" of the gun Cruz was using or he may not have; I don't know the details. But he was there at the school at the time.

He is now on stage with Senator Marco Rubio, who is a gun-rights advocate and accepts campaign donations from the pro-gun National Rifle Association.

In describing his feelings on sharing the stage with Rubio, Kasky says it is hard to look at Rubio and not feel like he is looking at the person who attacked his school; it is hard to look at Rubio and not feel like he is "looking down the barrel of an AR-15"—that is, it is difficult for him to not feel like he is being threatened, because the Senator will not enact policies that prevent these shootings.

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To slightly extend @randomhead's answer the general phrase "to look down the barrel of a gun" in the sense provided here is an analogy to being in a situation with no easy solution.

Without going into too much extrapolation, contrary to popular depictions in entertainment media, if someone has a gun pointed at you, things are likely to end badly for you and your agency to change that outcome is very very tenuous at best.

What Kasky is implying here is that talking about this issue to Rubio, given Rubio's position and the kinds of people who support Rubio is very probably going to result in some blowback from those supporters.

Ultimately, taken on the whole, Kasky would rather not be in the position he is, as there will likely be some very real negative personal impact to him specifically, however, as he goes on to say, not everyone has a voice (the opportunity to have his particular position heard) in this particular discussion, and so by having a voice, he feels a duty to use it, despite what he perceives as a very tough situation.

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In this context, look down is not a phrasal verb. The verb is look, and where you look is down the barrel.

look down the barrel of a gun has two common meanings. The most common use is to examine the inside of the barrel, to check that it is clean and undamaged.

It is said that all firearms record their history and perhaps this is the reason people look down the barrel of a firearm. An experienced eye can tell the method of cleaning, make a close guess about the number of shots put through the barrel, and understand the gun maintenance routine applied to the firearm. The gun digest

The second meaning is when you line up your eye with the back of the gun barrel and then align the front of the barrel with something that you want to shoot at: It is a primitive way of aiming the gun.

You are going to look down the barrel at the target. No greater king: a story of slavery and war

It's not clear exactly what Kasky is trying to suggest, but it's clear that the meaning is something to do with aiming an AR-15.

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  • Thanks a lot, but I still don't get this sentence... Then what is it that's "hard" for him? He said "it's hard to look at you(the senator), and not look ... AR-15 and Nicholas Cruz." Is he saying that he wants to face Nicholas Cruz directly, not the senator? Sorry I'm completely lost.
    – dbwlsld
    Mar 7, 2018 at 11:29
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    "Look down the barrel of a gun" is also used when someone has a gun pointed directly at their face in a threatening manner, which is the sense that is being used metaphorically by the student here. This is literally the same as your first meaning (i.e., looking at the inside of the barrel), except as a potential target, not as a inspector maintaining the gun. Mar 7, 2018 at 15:54
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    @dbwlsld: as I said, it is not at all clear what the speaker means by these words. In normal conversation, people often say things in an imprecise way: and in an emotional situation like this, people say things which carry a lot of emotional charge for the people present, but don't really make sense to people who are not present.
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 7, 2018 at 18:56
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    @Java: I think his meaning is very clear; see my answer.
    – randomhead
    Oct 25, 2021 at 0:54
  • @randomhead: well done for investigating the context: that makes it easier to understand what he was trying to say.
    – JavaLatte
    Oct 25, 2021 at 7:46

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