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 sixth and final of several such essays (see the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth), written by a student whose initial reflections on our field trip to the gun range can be found here.
By Juliana Smith
I started this class with virtually no knowledge about guns. I had never seen one up close, the thought of holding one terrified me, and I had absolutely no idea why there was such strong opposition to increased gun control measures in the United States, when it seems like there is news of a school shooting every other week. While I had my own opinion about guns going into the class, and favored measures that would restrict a citizen’s ability to purchase weapons like assault rifles, I was not entirely sure how far my stance on guns went either way and I was eager to learn more about a culture that is so prevalent in the United States and so subdued in my home country of Canada. I wanted to know more, I wanted to be able to do more when it came to dealing with gun violence, and I wanted to be able to have informed discussions and make informed choices when it came to talking about the topic.
The trip to the gun range was where the first shift in my opinion on guns began, despite not shooting the gun and being quite fearful of the guns themselves during the trip, the gun became less of an abstract, scary object in my mind. The staff at ProShots were responsible and communicated a clear desire to obey all regulations and maximize community safety, and their insistence on communicating that surprised me, since most media portrayals of those against gun control measures seem to suggest that these people “don’t care as much” about the violence plaguing the nation as those who do favor stricter gun laws. Richard Talbert’s descriptions of why he was against more auditing of gun stores, along with proposed restrictions on firearm sales allowed me to have a broader understanding of the opposition to gun control in the United States. While at first, I thought I would never be able to understand the logic or reasoning behind those who did not want further gun restrictions, I was able to understand and appreciate his justification on the matter.
The trip to the gun range also allowed me to gain more of an insight into the gun culture in the US as a whole, and how going to the gun range to shoot for a short bit of time on a regular basis was a much more normalized process than I ever thought it could be. It helped me understand not only the gun culture, but also reasons why some individuals are more resistant to gun control measures in the United States. Not only do guns serve as a tool for the protection of one’s family, they are also used in a multitude of normalized activities in the United States, like hunting and going to the gun range recreationally, and the “taking away of guns” could threaten families from having those experiences that can bring them together. While it was easy for me to not see that impact that guns would have in that sense, as they are not a part of my family life, this experience allowed me to understand other facets to the opposition on gun control, which I did not understand prior to this class.
Throughout the class my stance on guns evolved even further, especially through the different speakers that came to class. All of these speakers have much more knowledge about guns than I do, and while many of them had different opinions on gun control than I do, their comments changed the way I thought about guns and how to tackle gun violence in the United States. It was through these interactions, especially with the speakers that I had different views with, that I feel like learned the most and changed the most. I came into this class with the desire to learn more about the other side of the gun control debate and figure out what makes people defend guns so staunchly in the United States, and I feel that these speakers in class really did just that.
When Rob Pincus spoke about his resistance to hard-line gun policies and the sentiments of others in the “gun camp” when it came to increased government involvement in civilian affairs, I was able to grasp the messages that he, and other gun owners, were getting at, and at some points even agreeing with his logic, something that really surprised me, just like it did with Richard Talbert. Furthermore, the disdain for the NRA that was expressed by many of these speakers was also particularly refreshing. A lot of people, myself included prior to this class, really believe that the NRA furthers and promotes the ideologies of the majority of gun owners in the United States. I strongly disagree with a lot of what the NRA puts out there, and most likely always will, but I was always unsettled with the thought that an organization that I disagreed with represented such a large group of Americans. To see that this really is no longer the case and that many in the gun community view the NRA as an almost extreme organization soothed me to a certain degree. It made me feel less confused and less pessimistic about the gun community as a whole.
I started my reflection in this class wondering why some in the gun community are opposed to gun control policies, assuming that their logic was similar to that of the NRA, and after realizing that in most cases that is not true, I was able to feel better about the gun community as a whole. I never held any sort of ill will towards any members of the gun community, but I was more confused and upset with the rhetoric of the NRA thinking that it represented the whole community, and I was pleased to see that it is not the case. Additionally, the conversation that Rob Pincus had about the framing of the gun control debate was something that I thought was one of the most important conversations we had all semester. Everyone in the United States knows that there are issues with gun violence in the nation and everyone wants that violence to subside, but finding a common ground and coming up with policy to fix that has evaded us. I at times have struggled being able to have conversations about gun control, especially when people are having the conversations right after a mass shooting or tragedy, without letting my emotions or confusion on the situation disrupt the conversation. I think that by Rob stressing the importance of finding common ground with individuals in the “middle ground” was extremely important, and not something that I had really given much thought to before. Idealistically, I believed that we could have everyone across the spectrum to find one common policy and agree on it, but after hearing Rob’s logic, and learning more about both sides of the debate through our readings in class, I understand that this is not really a possibility. There will always be people on both sides of the debate that will not be swayed to see any of where the other side is coming from so focusing on an approach that appeals to everyone is not the most efficient or productive way with dealing with the issue. Now that I have come to terms with that reality, I am able to look at the gun control debate, and what my own suggestions for reducing gun violence in the United States in a different way.
While writing my final paper and comparing gun control in Canada and the United States, my opinion on guns and gun control probably had the most dramatic shift. While I still believe that Canada’s gun control measures are more effective than measures in the United States, I began to see different facets about gun control’s limitations along with the cultural significance of guns in the United States. Reading extensively about the spiritual and historical impact that guns have had on American society has changed the way that I view about guns as an object themselves. In all honesty, prior to teaching this class I thought that it was kind of silly how intensely protective some Americans got when it came to their guns, because I was not aware of the greater significance they held in society. After understanding the spiritual connection that many Americans have with guns, and their connection to freedom and individual liberty in the United States, I was able to view the gun as not just a tool, but something that does mean something to a lot of people, enhancing my view on why there is opposition to gun control in the first place. Additionally, though writing this paper, I learned a lot about the potential limitations that gun control policies can have and how gun control measures do not fully solve the problem like I may have thought earlier. While I still favor stricter gun laws, I know that there needs to be other initiatives implemented in the United States and other countries, like mental health awareness initiatives, to help deal with a lot of the surrounding issues that contribute to gun violence in the world.
Overall, my stance on guns has remained the same in some respects and changed in others. I still would prefer if citizens were not allowed to have assault weapons and I do think that more gun control legislation needs to be put in place in an attempt to try to deal with the gun violence problems that exist in the United States. However, through the major writing assignment, along with discussions with speakers like Rob Pincus, I have gained an understanding about framing the whole discussion, and the limitations that gun control can have. Essentially, guns still scare me I do not think I will ever own one of my own, which has not changed since the beginning of the semester, but I do have a much greater appreciation for the significance that they have in so many people’s lives and understand a lot more than I did prior to taking this class about the “other side” of the debate. This class has helped me understand the whole gun culture in the United States and has helped me understand more about gun culture in Canada as well, which has really peaked my interest in terms of studying guns, their impact on society, and gun violence even further.
But, I still do not think my journey with understanding gun culture and guns is even close to being complete. I still have a lot of questions about the industry and the culture as whole, and I think that there is still a lot of room to grown in my own opinion about gun control. I want to know more about the specifics of the policy proposals that each side of the debate has, I want a more extensive knowledge about the guns themselves and how they work, along with the different types of guns that are common in the United States and I want to learn more about the ways that we can help effectively reduce gun violence in our communities that does not require actual legislation to be passed. Gun violence is a very serious issue in the United States, and I think that it is important that we as citizens take measures into our own hands as well to deal with the issue. It should not just be up to legislators to solve the problems for us, we need to make a conscious effort as well and that’s why I want to learn about the impact we can make in our own communities so badly.