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.
January 30, 2019
In the weeks following our trip to the gun range I told almost everyone I knew that I shot a gun for the first time in one of my classes. I also told people that, surprisingly, I didn’t hate it, and actually had a lot of fun. As someone who grew up without guns, I was uncomfortable coming into the gun range, and was prepared to experience a level of moral outrage and disgust when I held my first gun. When I experienced the opposite, I was both surprised and confused. Our time at Pro Shots challenged my assumptions about guns. At one point during the class session with Richard Talbert, I declared to the class that I’m a cynic and a skeptic when it comes to the laws and systems we have in place surrounding guns. However, the trip to the gun range showed me my lack of knowledge regarding the actual processes surrounding gun purchases, ownership, and culture.
The wide range of courses offered at ProShots intrigued me. On one hand, Talbert emphasized the importance of proper gun safety, teaching us the four main rules, and noting that his classes are especially valuable to gun owners with children. He spoke a lot about the importance of preventing children from being harmed accidentally by gun use. In other words, Pro Shots was not in the business of promoting negligent gun ownership. On the other hand, the beginner class is also a gateway into the world of guns. Pro Shots offers advanced courses in handguns, shotguns, and AR-15s, some of which include tactical situations and obstacle courses. As these courses get more intense, there is a shift in focus from safety or recreation to self-defense. I have always thought a demarcation existed between the recreational gun users and self-defense gun owners, but that boundary appears more blurred to me now. Other sociologists have studied the socialization process through which people become comfortable around guns. Through increasingly intense courses, Pro Shots helps people grow more comfortable with the idea of using a gun against another human being.
Talbert focused a lot on gun safety, even explaining that he occasionally taught classes to children. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a sketch by Sacha Baren Cohen on Who is America? In the sketch, Cohen’s character and a firearms fanatic discuss the value of arming children. While Talbert’s comments immediately brought this to mind, he was more focused on the importance of ensuring that children would not accidentally shoot themselves with a parent’s gun, and not the value of arming children to make America safer. I previously thought anyone in favor of educating kids about guns was simply trying to raise their kids to be fervent defenders of the 2nd Amendment. In reality, there is actually a lot of value in teaching children how to be safe when there are guns in the home.
Our time on the range was both fun and disturbing. Shooting at a cartoon mole wearing a caving helmet did not require any kind of moral reckoning for me, but watching another patron shooting at a human target did. I believe Dr. Yamane made a joke about purposefully avoiding the human paper targets because we were not ready to deal with the ethical ramifications of that yet, and I understood his sentiment. I was really uncomfortable watching another range patron shoot a powerful rifle at a paper human target.
I tried to keep an open mind throughout the trip, but I will admit most of my opinions about guns have remained the same. Nonetheless, the actual experience of shooting a gun gave me insight into the appeal guns have, and shown me of the complexity and nuance of the gun debate.
[DY NOTE: I have very lightly edited this text for length and to correct glaring spelling, grammar, and/or substantive errors.]