I was fortunate to be asked to present on “Guns in America” at the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America yesterday (6 October 2021). I discussed “Gun Culture 2.0 and the Changing Face of Gun Owners in America.”
I was fairly certain that the presentation would not be recorded, so before I left for Jay, Vermont I recorded an abbreviated (15 minute) version of my talk from my basement studio and uploaded it to YouTube.
It is entirely possible that the general openness students have to the experience of shooting is due in part to their general openness to taking a course called Sociology of Guns.
The students are also self-selected in that they must receive my permission in advance in order to enroll in the course. To be clear, I am not looking for any “type” of student when I give permission. Any student who reads and understands what they are getting into in the course is given permission.
The permission of instructor information form for Fall 2021 is reproduced below for your information.
Following their gun field trip reflections, the core assignment in Sociology of Guns is for students to move beyond their personal views (articulated in their field trip reflection essays) and adopt a scholarly approach to the question of guns in society.
Here the issue is not their personal experiences with or beliefs about guns, but empirical research on guns. Students consider the role guns actually play in society by systematically engaging sociological theories and studies (called “the scholarly literature”) on one specific aspect of the broader phenomenon (e.g., concealed carry, homicide, self-defense, hunting, sport).
Because there is a limited number of topics I can cover in a single semester, I encourage the students to choose a topic that is of interest to them that they want to investigate further.
Guns have never played a big role in my life. There were certainly no guns in my house when I was growing up. If I ever talked to my parents about guns, it was usually after a terrible tragedy, like a school shooting, or as we headed out to a protest, like a rally we attended on the Boston Common that was organized by Parkland High students.
That does not mean I had no personal connection to guns, or that I never thought about their popularity. My mother grew up in Vermont, and her father (my grandfather) and her older brother (my Uncle) were big hunters, so her childhood was filled with talk about guns and hunting, and she used to tell me about that, even though she hates guns.
Many years ago, when we went to visit my Uncle in Boise, Idaho, where he lives now, he showed us some of his rifles and the safes he kept them in. I also remember him talking a lot about gun safety, and how worried he was that someone might break into his house and steal his guns, which is why he always disassembled them and kept them in different safes.
When we went on our field trip, I wondered what the experience would be like and how it would affect me. Would I feel the sense of excitement that I know lots of people feel when they shoot guns? Would I surprise myself and actually enjoy firing a gun? Physically, would the guns be heavy or hard to hold? Would I understand better why people might want to own not just one gun, but five or ten different guns?
In Fall 2021, I will teach my “Sociology of Guns” seminar at Wake Forest University for the seventh consecutive academic year, dating back to the fall of 2015. A PDF of the course syllabus for Version 7.0 is available HERE, and links to each of the course modules are available below.
Over the years, I have posted a number of times on this blog and my older Gun Culture 2.0 blog about this seminar. This entry collects those earlier posts — from both blogs — including many written by students in the class.
Ever since I was little, my dad always taught me about gun safety and how to act around guns. Starting with nerf guns, all the way up to his prized Remington 870s, I was taught about the great pleasure that shooting guns can be if I follow all the rules to make sure myself and everyone around me were safe.
When it came to the field trip, however, I felt like half of the knowledge I had saved up over the years about gun safety had dwindled. As someone who handles guns relatively frequently, I was surprised to find out that I barely knew how to operate a simple .22 pistol that was so similar to the one I own at home. From this, I felt that no matter how acclimated you are (or think you are) to guns, there is still a rather startling feeling about picking up a new gun for the first time.
This is the sixth of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1, reflection #2, reflection #3, reflection #4, and reflection #5). The assignment to which students are responding can be found here. I am grateful to these students for their willingness to have their thoughts shared publicly.
By Kierra Law
Overall, I would say that my experience going to the gun range did not fit with my prior understanding of guns in the U.S.
Our field trip to the gun range was my first experience handling a gun. I appreciated this trip because it made me realize some things that I had not realized before. There were also parts of the experience that I enjoyed and parts that still made me feel uncomfortable being around guns.
This is the fifth of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1, reflection #2, reflection #3, and reflection #4). The assignment to which students are responding can be found here. I am grateful to these students for their willingness to have their thoughts shared publicly.
By Claire Hunt
Prior to our trip to the gun range I had little experience with guns and held a deep fear of them.
Growing up in the public school system, after Columbine and during the years of Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas, I grew up accustomed to regular active shooter drills and terror over becoming prey in the classroom. I participated in student-led rallies post Stoneman Douglas that demonstrated the frustration and hopelessness we as students felt everyday in school over the fear of experiencing a school shooting.
This fear however was not limited to schools. Living in Charleston, South Carolina I experienced the heartbreak of the Emanuel shooting and constantly feared that similar terror would occur in my own church where our inclusivity has made us a target of hatred in the past.
I have developed an anxiety of being in large groups, going to movie theaters, church, or being anywhere that I believed could be the location of the next mass shooting. I now find myself both consciously and unconsciously establishing an escape route and making a plan of action when entering into a new environment in the case there were to be an active shooter situation. While I believe this to be safe and proactive thinking, it is also a burden that I believe my generation carries more than any other generation because of the gun environment we grew up in.
The argument over gun legislation and regulation in the United States is multifaceted and there are a range of perspectives, some of which I agree with and others which anger me. I do however find great value in learning more about the things I am fearful of or passionate about and the trip to the gun range presented a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of guns.
So while I associate guns with terror and mass shootings from the environment I was raised in, I also recognize their presence in America and the ownership of them by normal, sane people.
This is the fourth of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1, reflection #2, and reflection #3). The assignment to which students are responding can be found here. I am grateful to these students for their willingness to have their thoughts shared publicly.
By Dalton Collins
My understanding of firearms in my life has always been that they are primarily tools, regardless of their ability to maim and kill. They are tools by which we can hunt and defend ourselves. Despite this, it has always been important to treat them with the utmost respect in order to handle them safely. Like many other tools they can be used for recreation.
Shooting guns is fun. There is an adrenaline component to the sound and recoil as well as a satisfaction found hitting a target.
Our trip to the range was the first time I have fired a gun in over a year. Despite how fun guns can be, I do not tend to find myself wanting to fire them. In fact, I have spent more time considering my opinions on gun control than handling firearms. in the US.