As noted previously, 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.
By Kristen Guyler
When I first decided to take Sociology of Guns, I was not really sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure whether the class would be polarized and filled with debates, or it would be more of an informative class. Either way, I was terrified of guns. Since I had never seen a gun besides on an officer’s hip, I was pretty sheltered from the gun world in many ways. My only interaction with guns was seeing and reading about the mass shootings that have occurred throughout the United States. This interaction, in a way, blinded me to the other aspects of guns and their role in society; I perceived guns as being one-hundred percent dangerous, no exceptions. So, through the class, I was rather surprised to learn about the roles guns have in the society and all of the ways that guns are beneficial. Consequently, I have become less terrified of guns and I appreciate their uses more. Overall, Sociology of Guns has provided me with a broader understanding of guns, gun culture and their various roles in society.
Prior to even beginning class, our trip to the gun range was really informative as we learned about the ways in which people obtain guns. In my first reflection, I discussed my concern with the fact there was no mandatory training; I found it completely irresponsible and just outright absurd. But, through our classes and guest speakers, I began to see that it is not as black-and-white as I made it out to be. Training people to use firearms is actually really challenging for both the instructors and the students. While my perspective on training and gun safety has changed, I am still appalled that the FBI only has 3 days to conduct a background check before a firearm is sold legally. I think this time is simply too short and it is unrealistic to think a government agency, which probably receives hundreds of applications daily or weekly, could determine someone’s “fitness” to own a gun that quickly. I would have wanted to learn more about peoples’ responses to the process of obtaining a gun and how stricter requirements would affect the number of lives lost to gun violence.
The gun range, as also mentioned in my first reflection, made me aware that guns are no more than a commodity– anyone interested in obtaining a gun can go into a shop, touch the guns and pick which one they want. This was the first time I caught myself saying, “wow guns are kind of normal and must not be as terrifying to others as they are to me.” Through our discussions about guns’ role in suicide, politics, police force and homicide, just to name a few topics, my perception of guns changed as I not only saw the multiple roles guns but also realized that these roles extend far beyond the rhetoric we hear regularly on the news and from various politicians.
I think it is important to point out that learning about Gun Culture 1.0 and Gun Culture 2.0 in the beginning of the semester, caused me to step back and see the evolution of guns’ roles in American culture and society. By analyzing Gun Culture 1.0, I began to see that from the beginning of time, guns played a vital role, as they enabled people to hunt for food. As time as progressed, and we have shifted to Gun Culture 2.0, guns are used more for self-defense, which in cases, can save people’s lives. Thus, from the beginning of class, I gained a broader perspective and understanding of guns, their place in society and how we can not objectively claim all guns are bad.
Although I appreciated our discussions every class, the class topics that stood out to me most, and that I enjoyed most, were the ones on concealed carry, police use of force and suicide. In terms of concealed carry, the clothing/carrying options and the gender aspect were particularly interesting. As someone who thinks everyone is bad, I always carry pepper spray in my shorts/legging pockets when I go for a run. So when we were talking in class about conceal carry in everyday life and looking at clothing options to conceal carry, I remember thinking, “how do you run with a gun if a gun is your means of protection?” It never even dawned on me that people would want to carry a gun while they run and that there would be so many obstacles to do so. Moreover, from a more gendered standpoint, I never really thought that women would encounter so many issues when choosing to carry a gun; I just assumed they would have them on their hip like most men do. But, through our conversations, I became aware this was not the case and women, seemingly, were trying to find other ways to conceal carry their weapons. It never even occurred to me that there would be a market for women’s wear to conceal carry weapons so hearing about the market, and seeing some of the challenges, i.e. being able to quickly get it, was eye-opening.
Another topic I found to be fascinating was firearm-related suicide. From the sad stories in my town, to my friends telling me stories at their colleges, it always seemed like those who wanted to commit suicide would either overdose or cut themselves. But, I did not ever really think about guns as playing a significant role in suicide, even though it makes sense they would be used most often because they have the quickest, most desired effect. I guess I did not think that guns were so readily available for people to use to kill themselves. I wish we could have read a study that looked at whether families did more to secure a gun if they knew their family or friend was depressed. Regardless of these minor limitations, I had never really thought of the impact that gun accessibility had on someone’s decision to shoot themselves. I always assumed that if someone wanted to kill themselves, they would find a way, ignoring the possibility that sometimes one’s decision to kill themselves may be impulsive. This impulsivity, when coupled with an available gun, leads to more suicide. This made me realize that it is so important to properly store guns as it could help save someone’s life.
In addition to concealed carry and suicide, police use of force was probably the most interesting topic to me, which is why I decided to write my paper on it. As I already mentioned, I am a pretty skeptical person and I think that most people are bad or scary, including officers. I always fear officers and become particularly anxious when they are in my neighborhood in Winston-Salem and New Jersey. This fear is irrational for many reasons, but when I joke about my fear of officers, my friends always say, “you’re a white girl, nothing would ever happen to you.” Even though its a light hearted comment, it’s not true for all Americans. My best friend is black and to see her fear and outrage at the black men killed by officers is both hard/sad to hear and informative. While to many, officers are protectors, to the black community, that is not the case. The data shows that blacks are targeted and face more police use of force, but why? This is what I wanted to find out. Through my research, I found that stereotypes, police culture, ecological contamination and a suspect’s race all play a role in an officer’s decision to use more force. To help the black community overcome these fears, we have to implement education and training programs amongst many other tactics, to alter police culture and police racial stereotypes. In conducting this research, I recognized that when conducting a study on such a contentious topic, it is important to look beyond just the statistics. We cannot understand the racial difference in police use of force unless we look at both the root causes and the quantitative data.
In regard to police use of force, I really enjoyed and appreciated Craig Douglas. Not only was he super cool, but he provided a different perspective on police use of force. Making the students pretend to be officers, receive a call, and react to the situation exposed how officers are put in difficult situations where they do not have the whole story. Reflecting on that class, I realized that we are quick to criticize and blame offers for their response, as we do not hear the entire story. That demonstration has definitely made me more aware that the media does not portray the entire story, especially when it relates to police use of force. Because of that, I feel I will think twice before I point fingers and blame officers.
When looking back on the entire semester, I have become more educated and knowledgeable about guns and their role in our society. In addition to learning more about background checks, and how families could protect their loved ones from firearm suicides, I have liked to learn more about the mass shootings that have occurred as they have shocked the country over the past few years. Regardless of these few limitations, I am definitely not as terrified as guns as I was when I started class. Yet, being from New Jersey and moving to New York, I do not want to own a gun, nor do I want my family members to have guns in the house. To me, and to most people from my hometown, guns are unnecessary and the only people who should have them is law enforcement. Although those around me won’t have guns, the conversation about guns and gun control always exists. By taking Sociology of Guns, I will be able to impart the things I have learned onto those around me and provide them with a broader understanding of guns and their role in society. I believe that in doing so, I can help shape my communities views on guns whereby they too can begin to see that guns are not all bad, and when used correctly, are beneficial.