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.
Here is the fourth of several such essays (see the first, second, and third), written by a student whose initial reflections on our field trip to the gun range can be found here. (As before, the student wishes to remain anonymous.)
As I mentioned at the beginning of the semester, it is not at all in my nature to be close to guns, neither in fact to mention the issue of guns. In France, we do not have a longstanding culture of owning guns apart from rifles for hunting game and thus do not tend to bring up all the controversies that come with owning such a dangerous object. I was quite eager to see how this class would unfold; what information you would teach, which type of person would enroll for the class, what kind of conversation we would be having. In addition, I have always perceived the United States as a country which, in many circumstances, tries to be politically correct and as this is a sensitive topic, I was very curious to see if heated conversations would stem from our discussions. To my surprise, most of our conversations stayed pretty neutral and it was obvious that everyone was interested in learning about the role guns play in American society.
Before starting this class, I had a couple preconceived ideas about guns. That gun owners were reckless people, were only extremely conservative, that the excessive number of guns was the reason for so many homicides and I could name a couple more. Even though my mind has not entirely changed on all my preconceived ideas, I do believe that studying guns’ importance in American culture has helped me understand and be more tolerant towards gun ownership. In this respect, I would say that as a result of this class, my mind has and has not changed depending on which aspect of guns we are talking about.
First of all, as I talked about in my first reflection essay, I discovered that the majority of gun owners really try to keep their guns in a safe place so as to not hurt anyone accidentally. I was surprised because I previously thought that gun owners simply thought about having the credentials of owning a gun and any precautions that needed to be taken later were a detail. I also discovered that individuals worked on creating tools for the safeguarding of guns. As a non-gun owner, I don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, but in class we read a couple articles which talked about how different companies are currently trying to develop efficient techniques and new technologies that will prevent accidental shooting and gun theft. I really appreciated reading these articles because I now know that people are aware that there is a real danger due to the misuse of guns and are conscious that measures need to be taken to prevent casualties.
The class covered many other subjects that I found interesting. I was very pleased to hear about guns and their relevance in history; as was mentioned in class, there was a transition from gun culture 1.0 to gun culture 2.0 and being relevantly young, I had only heard of gun culture 2.0. In my opinion, I still believe that there is a better way than owning a gun for safety; the police exist for a reason and taking someone’s life is an extreme measure, including for the one who fires the gun. On the other hand, with this class, I did understand other people’s perspectives; especially for women, hearing about their motives for buying guns, the dangers they could face and how reassured it made them feel.
In addition, hearing about how people owned guns for leisure, for the sake of collecting them or as a family activity, made me somewhat more okay with those people owning guns.
On the other hand, I am still adamant that lowering the number of guns in the United States could reduce the number of people who die per year. We have looked at so many topics in the class including suicide where guns are one of the most used tools for an individual to use; if people did not have access to guns, then they would not be able to kill themselves in that manner. People might argue that if they want to die they will do it anyways, no matter how, but guns are such a lethal weapon, and an easy one to use in haste, that there is no going back. Briefly looking over the topic of homicide was also beneficial for me; I realized both in this class and in my homicide class, that an offender will find a gun no matter what, therefore even though I might be pushing for gun control with that argument in mind, determined murderers will find a gun. On the other hand, I do believe that if there were fewer guns available to steal, it would make the job more difficult for offenders to find guns, and it would maybe deter them from using a gun overall.
Having guest speakers in class was a great idea, I got to hear perspectives from people who were currently working with guns, on gun projects, and most importantly who had very interesting ideas. For example, Rob Pincus showed a great model of how individuals, pro and con gun control, should listen to each other. While he was doing his presentation on how he would ideally like both sides to stay open minded and peacefully interact, it reminded me that it is important that I also stay open minded and listen to everyone’s argument. I was also fascinated by Craig Douglas, he showed us what real dangers were out there even though they are probably not the ones we will encounter in our everyday lives. The only speaker who evoked my angry thoughts about guns was John Johnson. He claimed that he would be able to defend himself with his bare hands but sometimes having a gun was “necessary”, even saying that he had to use it a couple times for his safety. He seemed very macho and he confirmed some of my preconceived ideas of a typical gun owner.
I think that with all the information I have read and heard from the speakers, I am now knowledgeable enough to have an informed conversation with someone on the subject; I am also very happy because I can now take a neutral stance, yet see both sides of the argument. On the other hand, I do not ever see myself owning a gun, and if I do decide to live in the United States later in life, I do not feel like I will get used to the idea of having people around me, depending on the state, carrying guns around with them.
I think that one of my only regrets in this class is that there could have been more debate, it would have been interesting to hear more about people’s perspectives. Yes we should respect everyone’s opinions and listen to one another, but I think that it is also interesting from time to time to hear someone else’s personal point of view. I was really glad to come into this class open-minded; I did not realize that there were so many aspects that surrounded the issue of guns apart from politics and homicide.