This is the third of several planned posts featuring Sociology of Guns Seminar student reflections on our field trip to ProShots, a local gun range. I provide the actual assignment in the first post, and you can also see it in the context of the syllabus itself. (Link to second post.)
Many gun people take for granted that everyone has a basic familiarity with firearms. As someone who never saw, touched, or fired a (non-BB/pellet) gun for my first 42 years of life, I know there are many of us out there. The student’s reflection below highlights some of the discoveries that can come from venturing into the unknown of a gun store and range.
Sociology of Guns student field trip to ProShots Range, January 2018. Photo by David Yamane
How many guns are there in the United States today? No one really knows, but research conducted by the Geneva, Switzerland based Small Arms Survey provides the best guesstimate for 2017:
Civilian-held Firearms: 393,347,000
Military-owned Firearms: 4,535,380
Law Enforcement Firearms: 1,016,000
TOTAL FIREARMS ESTIMATE (2017): 398,898,380
This is the second of several planned posts featuring Sociology of Guns Seminar student reflections on our field trip to ProShots, a local gun range. I provide the actual assignment in the first post, and you can also see it in the context of the syllabus itself.
This student refers toward the end of her reflection to me making “a joke about purposefully avoiding the human paper targets.” Although I probably said this with a smile on my face, I did not mean it as a joke. In fact, the first time I took a class to the range in 2015, we (without thinking) put up humanoid targets. One of the students – pictured below — asked to shoot a non-humanoid target. We had an excellent discussion in class after about the ethical significance of target selection. Since then, as much as possible, I have tried always to use non-human/humanoid paper targets during our field trips.
Sociology of Guns student wearing Christian Peacemaker hat at Veterans Range, 2015.
As I discussed previously, my Sociology of Guns seminar’s field trip to the gun range is always a highlight of the course. This year was no exception.
The field trip has two components: A mandatory classroom introduction to firearms/safety and a voluntary opportunity to shoot guns on the range. In recent iterations of the course, I have required students write a short, 750 +/-250 word essay reflecting on the field trip.
In this essay, you will describe your experience participating in the introduction to firearms class and range visit. The essay is a subjective recollection of your experience at the range, so the content is largely up to you, but it must answer the following question: How did the experience fit with your prior understanding of guns in the US?
To answer this question you might benefit from thinking about the following related questions: What did you find surprising? What did you learn? What did you find appealing (or disturbing)? Although you can (and should) reference particular events, processes, or experiences, this essay should not be a mere “play-by-play” of what you did during the field trip. [Assignment borrowed from Brett Burkhardt of Oregon State University]
In the coming days, I will post some of these student reflection essays. They provide interesting insights into the experience and thoughts of young adults who for the most part are not invested in, or even familiar with, guns and gun culture. They are gun curious.
My Sociology of Guns seminar’s annual field trip to the gun range is such a highlight that I sometimes wonder if I should do it at the end of class rather than the beginning. The class really is all down hill after visiting the range.
This semester my 15 students and I once again made the short drive from Wake Forest University to ProShots Range in Rural Hall, North Carolina.
I concluded a recent post saying if anyone ever asks you how many gun owners there are in America, you can tell them AT LEAST: 40% of households in America have guns in them and 30% of individuals in America personally own a gun.
Saying AT LEAST is crucial here, because these figures underestimate the actual rate of gun ownership in the United States. How badly they underestimate gun ownership we do not and cannot know precisely. My educated guess is that the underestimate is at least 10%, that 25% would not be an unreasonable amount, and more than 25% is likely.
So, if anyone ever asks you how many gun owners there are in America, you can tell them, No one really knows but PROBABLY:
44 to 50% of households (or more) in American have guns in them
33 to 37% of individuals (or more) in America own a gun
Widely circulated internet meme. Unattributed.
One of the best places to satisfy gun curiosity is at the gun range. So the highlight of my Sociology of Guns seminar at Wake Forest University each year is a field trip we take to a local range. There students get a first exposure to what guns are, how they work, and what it is like to handle them. This provides an essential experiential base of knowledge that carries over through the semester.
Sociology of Guns student learning how to operate an IWI Tavor bullpup rifle at Veterans Range, 2016.
No one knows what percentage of the U.S. population actually owns guns. As with religion, the federal government does not keep official records or collect statistics on gun ownership. So we depend on surveys conducted by organizations like the Gallup Poll, Pew Research Center, NORC/General Social Survey, and others.
Those surveys often produce different estimates of gun ownership rates. Consider data from questions about whether respondents live in a household in which someone (not necessarily themselves) owns a gun (including the margin of error):
Pew Research Center (2017): 39-45% household gun ownership
Gallup Poll (2018): 39-47%
Monmouth University (2018): 43-49%
NORC/General Social Survey (2016): 29-35%
One place I often meet gun curious people is in the Sociology of Guns seminar I teach at Wake Forest University.
As I have for the past four academic years, I am currently teaching the seminar this semester. A PDF of the current syllabus is available, as are my dozens of posts on previous year’s classes.
The U.S. population breaks down roughly in thirds –
- Current Gun Owners: 27 to 33%
- Not Currently But Possible Gun Owners: 33 to 39%
- Not Now and Not Ever Gun Owners: 30 to 36%
Americans are politically divided by the issue of guns. But as with other “culture wars,” the fighting is often undertaken by elites, while the muddled masses watch from the sidelines, often with disbelief or revulsion at the true believers screaming past each other.