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.
I begin with a student from Northern Virginia who had never before held a gun.
30 January 2019
As I walked into ProShots Range, I felt completely out of place. Nervously, I shuffled into the store and beelined for our class. January 16th marks the first time that I have ever held a gun. Prior to the fieldtrip, I had minimal exposure to guns, and was largely afraid of them: outside of accidentally ending up in a large open-carry protest while with Wake the Vote at the Republican National Convention, I cannot remember a time where I have been within 100 feet of a gun that was not contained in a police officer’s holster. That protest included individuals open-carrying AK-47 guns as a means of inciting fear in the counter protesters and the accidental observers like myself. This experience left me even more nervous around guns.
All of the excitement and curiosity that I felt when I registered for the course melted away the moment I walked into the store. Despite the fact that the store was calm and quiet with polite staff – as with any other kind of retail store – I could not shake the internal sense of danger that I felt.
Somewhat ironically, the safety course left me even more afraid than when I walked in. Richard Talbert expertly answered our questions regarding purchase logistics, the gun store to government relationship (both federal and state/local), and the mechanisms in place to prevent restricted individuals from receiving them. For example, Richard pointed out Section 11a on the Firearms Transaction Record, a provision in place to prevent straw purchases. He then shared an anecdote of refusing sales to a grandmother and her underage grandson who was picking out the gun. To clarify, Richard effectively calmed my nerves about ProShots: the store-range-training facility hybrid is well-run, clean, and safe. If the course involved an assertion by Richard that all gun stores were run similarly, I would have left with a sense of peace.
However, the safety course fostered two separate fears: how much the current laws appear to rely on stores being as responsible like ProShots and how little I know about guns. From requiring storage of non-digitized copies of every Firearm Transaction Record to the fact that transfers can occur without a cleared background check if the FBI does not respond within three days, the laws appear to leave space for copious errors. While stores like ProShots may wait until receiving formal clearance to transfer, even if this occurs after three days, this strategy risks business. Other stores may not be willing to risk the loss of revenue, and a transfer could be made to someone who is later denied. Although the U.S. Marshals are then charged with confiscating the gun from the denied party, the weapon could be used maliciously in the time before this occurs. The rules seem to privilege gun stores that do not prioritize the due diligence found at ProShots.
The afternoon at ProShots also taught me how little I know about guns. Although I understood conceptually that there are a variety of styles of the weapon and that they are dangerous, I knew very little beyond the obvious. For example, I did not know that bullets can go through two car doors until Richard told us and found myself walking around with mini-existential crises in the week following our fieldtrip, equipped with the knowledge that a stranger could shoot me through my car before I would realize what happened. In addition, I did not appreciate the variety of guns and their features until this visit; as I handled and shot the revolver, handgun, and Glock, I noted these differences. Certain guns had safeties to prevent accidental shootings, and that the weapons used in the range varied in the amount of ammunition that they could hold and the time it took between shots.
Prior to the field trip, I had not given guns much thought outside of the fact that, conceptually, their use is debated and politicized. I genuinely believe that if I had to shoot a gun in self defense before this field trip that I would have more likely injured myself or bystanders rather than the target. To a certain extent I think this would likely be the case now but feel a little less afraid of guns after learning about proper form and safety techniques.
What I found most surprising about the experience is that I know understand the appeal of shooting as a form of recreational sport. Because I grew up in a community where recreational shooting is not present, I never fully understood the appeal of the activity. However, I began to understand while we were in the range. There was a sense of camaraderie among those not in our class who were there; strangers smiled at one another, and a man shooting a large rifle even made conversation with me while I was waiting to shoot. In addition, as a competitive person, I could see once I had shot the three different types of guns why one would practice refining their shot purely from a sporting perspective. This helped me better grasp a portion of U.S. gun culture that I had never understood in the past.
[DY NOTE: I have very lightly edited this text for length and to correct glaring spelling, grammar, and/or substantive errors.]