As noted yesterday, for the final assignment of the semester in my Sociology of Guns Seminar in Spring 2019, students were asked to write a 1,000 to 2,000 word essay in which they would:
revisit your previous personal experience with and understanding of guns in the U.S. (as expressed, e.g., in the field trip reflection essay) in light of your consideration of the role guns actually do play in American society. Reflecting on what you learned from completing your major writing assignment, as well as the class more generally, discuss how your mind has (and/or has not) changed. Conclude this paper by considering what more you need to know in order to make informed choices about your own participation with and the place of guns in the communities in which you live and will live in the future.
Guns in America and My Feelings Toward Them
by Katherine Cassidy
When I began the Sociology of Gun Culture course, I had little to no familiarity with guns and was very uncomfortable by the idea of them. Excluding the time I accidentally found myself in the middle of a 2nd Amendment protest and gun control counter-protest when observing the Republican National Convention with Wake the Vote, I had no experience seeing guns up-close outside of a police officer’s holster. Although I did not have a strong stance in either direction before this class in terms of the Second Amendment and gun control policy debate, the idea of being near a gun was unsettling. Since the first class meeting at Proshots, I have invested serious thought into my position on guns and how that aligns with the sociological research that we engaged with during the semester. The two largest shifts in my thinking center on a decrease in my conceptual discomfort with guns and a shift away from an essentialized idea of gun ownership to one of a multiplicity of gun cultures.
One shift in my thinking is that I am a lot less conceptually fearful of guns. To be clear, I would still be extremely uncomfortable if someone had a gun on their person in a place where they are not meant to have one (such as the Wake Forest campus); however, I think that I would be comfortable returning to a shooting range and am less fearful of the idea of individuals legally carrying their guns in public places. Part of this shift had to do with Remi presenting a criminology observation that seemed generally familiar to the sociologists in the room: men are more likely to be victims of violent crimes, whereas women are more likely to be fearful of being the victim. This may seem like an unsurprising observation, but was something that I had not considered before and found personally very interesting to contemplate. As John Johnson and a few other speakers addressed, the statistics do not seem as comforting when you become the victim in the study. However, I found that my perception of gun violence was generally a lot higher than crime statistics show. The studies – in addition to hearing from gun owners with a wide array of backgrounds and perspectives – helped me picture guns and their use by human beings outside of violent settings.
Although the studies were helpful in giving me perspective about guns, their owners, and how they are used in different contexts within the United States, I do not believe that my experience would have been as transformative as it was if the class was structured differently. Between the emphasis on discussion among peers and insight from guest speakers, I felt like I was exposed to a broad variety of opinions that challenged me to think critically about my own idea about guns. Generally, the guest speakers made me both more and less anxious about gun owners: I left feeling very comfortable about the professional trainers’ use of guns, but also very unnerved by the idea that the vast majority of individuals do not undergo this kind of rigorous training. This feeling was especially the case on March 6th, when I made my debut in Craig Douglas’ gunfight simulation. Although I certainly still feel unprepared to engage in a gunfight, his contextualization of training individuals to act as a last resort (and use the “rules of stupid” to avoid being in those situations whenever possible), I felt more comfortable with the idea of responsible gun ownership, an idea that I had semi-questioned the validity of prior to taking this course. In addition, getting to process the course materials with my peers through discussion was incredibly useful.
Remi’s background with criminology was very helpful in understanding some of the journal articles that we read, and I greatly appreciated listening to the sociology majors ask questions because they approached the readings from a different academic discipline than my training. I also enjoyed hearing Caroline, Lola, and Juliana’s perspectives on gun cultures elsewhere because it helped me understand an external perspective on US gun culture. Listening to a variety of perspectives in class – ranging from complete discomfort around guns to complete support for their use – helped me process the information and increase my comfort with living in the context of American gun cultures.
The Sociology of Gun Culture course was different that any class that I have taken at Wake Forest. Beyond being in a different academic discipline, the course combined experiential learning with guest lectures and frequent discussion on a timely topic often perceived as deeply personal. The unique nature of the course all yielded different realizations than many classes that I have taken in college. While I generally leave with an increased interest in a topic and an increase in content regarding a given subject, classes have rarely required me to challenge my personal assumptions.
I entered in January fearful of guns, skeptical of justifications of their ownership, and with an essentialized narrative about guns in America. As I graduate college and leave Wake Forest, I hope to continue being open minded and hear more perspectives to further explore gun ownership in the United States and contemplate my personal positions. I am interested in learning more about how ‘everyday’ gun owners perceive the information discussed in class: while we heard from a lot of prominent figures from the gun community, I am interested in learning more from how wider audiences view the various topics discussed in class.
[This essay has been edited for clarity and length – D.Y.]