Student Range Visit Reflection #7: The Power I Felt Behind the Gun Was Unsettling

Students in my Sociology of Guns Seminar are required to visit a gun range with their classmates early in the semester and to write a reflection essay based on the experience (see the assignment).

Below is the seventh student reflection essay for Fall 2020. (Find the first here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, and the sixth here.)

I give this student a lot of credit because she overcame a tremendous fear of guns and shot two pistols and a rifle during our range trip.

Sociology of Guns student at range visit. Photo by Robin Lindner/RLI Media

By Bevin Burns

There are some things that have been ingrained into my mind for as long as I can remember: don’t talk to strangers, treat others the way you want to be treated, the sun is yellow, and that guns are bad. Very early on in my life I was taught to fear guns because of their power to inflict mass destruction and devastation.

I did not grow up in a house with guns, nor did my parents grow up in a house with guns. No one I knew talked about guns or felt as though they needed to sleep with one on their bedside table for protection. My parents and my community feared the power of guns, and in turn, they instilled that fear in me.

Before the range I had two distinct memories that reinforced my fear towards guns. Flash-back to December 14, 2012 when my fear of guns was recognized for the first time. The day of the Sandy Hook shooting I remember vividly. I was sitting in Mr. Martin’s seventh grade algebra class when he broke the news to us. I later found out that my aunt’s friend and assistant of twenty years lost their son in the terrible tragedy. The trauma that that family feels to this day was a result of someone who should have never gotten their hands on a gun.

It has been almost eight years and the number of mass shootings and unnecessary casualties caused by guns are unfortunately still at the forefront of most people’s minds.

The first time that I had seen a gun in person was on a police officer’s belt my sophomore year as an RA in a freshman residence hall when they were responding to a medical call. I was just inches away from the gun that was safely secured, but still felt a sense of panic come over me.

Prior to last Tuesday’s trip to the gun range my first hand experience surrounding guns was nonexistent. I had barely even seen a gun, let alone shot one. The anxiety I had about going to the range was off the charts. Approaching the range my heart was beating 132 bpm according to my Apple Watch. When we got out of the car and began walking towards the range and heard gunshots ring out from the group before us we all felt very weak in the knees. Even though I knew where those shots were coming from, I was not prepared for the sound and the emotions that hearing a gunshot would bring.

I was not planning on shooting a gun but figured that it might be my only opportunity, since I do not foresee myself going to a shooting range again.

Sociology of Guns student at range visit. Photo by Robin Lindner/RLI Media

The thoughts were racing through my head just as fast as my heart was beating: Why do I have the right to shoot this lethal weapon after receiving nine minutes of virtual training? What if someone snaps and turns the gun around on the observers? Will the kickback of the gun hurt? Why the hell do people do this to release stress when I feel like I am about to have a heart attack?

The preconceived notions I had on guns and their power clouded my experience at the range (as well as my safety glasses). The power that I felt behind the gun was unsettling. The ease of pulling the trigger heightened my fears behind the capabilities of what a gun could do. One mistake or thought of malice from the person holding the trigger can have such devastating repercussions for countless people.

Growing up the conversation around guns was as taboo as the conversation of sex was. The adults in my life were uncomfortable discussing these topics themselves so instead of being proactive and forthcoming with information they took the easy way out and said “guns are bad, sex is bad, stay away from both.”

The approach of not discussing topics deemed ‘difficult’ was used in my community, but now I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who do not share the same opinion as me.  This allows me to broaden my perspectives on countless issues, even if I do not agree with them.

This has made me aware of just how much the environment you grow up in can shape your beliefs, because I am sure that if I grew up elsewhere, I may be a gun fanatic. I have been taught to hate guns and to be afraid of them and probably always will be to some extent, but I keep asking myself, “Why are my opinions so strong if I have almost no experience with them?” That is a question I hope to have an answer to by the end of this course.

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9 thoughts on “Student Range Visit Reflection #7: The Power I Felt Behind the Gun Was Unsettling

  1. 3 Guns, 3 Countries

    During the summer of 1992 I traveled to Alsace with the Weinzapfel family, on their first international family reunion. After the Civil War, belief and faith and Roman Catholicism was declining rapidly in the American Midwest, and the Holy Father in Rome sent priests from Alsace to stem the tide of apostasy. My ex-wife was Catholic, her mother was Irish Catholic, who did not practice but had a heart of gold. My father in law was Catholic as well, descended from those Alsace priests and still had priests, nuns and a monsignor in the extended US Weinzapfel family.
    Before we were married, we had to take instruction from the priest who would marry us. I remember reclining on the carpet in his office, talking, and found out he thought that I, a Protestant, was the long term Catholic and my fiancé was the Protestant. He had majored in Drama in Chicago, had a great sense of humor and we got along well.
    The Weinzapfel family made reunion plans with the Alsatian family in France, many Alsatians still retained the name and some were still wine makers along the Route De Vin. We were a large group, 30 people perhaps, and a few nuns, and Monseigneur Weinzapfel, from the Dallas, Texas Catholic Diocese. During this 2-week trip, we traveled through France, Germany and the Swiss area where the family had lived and migrated. In Alsace, we lived with family members, 2-4 Americans in homes where we would live like royalty with home prepared meals and long conversations over courses of food and different wines. In the middle of one of our last suppers together, Marie Louise Issemann spoke to me in French across the table. When she told me that I was not American I was puzzled and said “Pourquoi”? She said, “You are not American, you are French!”
    “You have a taste for food, wine and art, as well as history.” Once we were sitting viewing pictures of her travels. She had visited Haiti and I kept seeing one Black Haitian man in her pictures, wearing dark sunglasses. With a smile on my face, I pointed to him and said, “Tontons Macoutes. Marie Louise waved her finger back and forth and said “Non, the Tonton Macoute never smile.” ” This was my only time in life where I would be sent down to the wine cellar to select wines for the evening meal.
    But I digress. We, the family group on a tour bus, were in Strasbourg, home of the European Parliament. One of my favorite stories about Yassir Arafat, when he spoke to journalists in Strasbourg and renouncing terrorism for the first public time, was asked by a member of the press, “ Chairman Arafat, what do you mean renounce?” Arafat relied, and I regret that I have never been able to use this line myself, “Look it up in your Larousse.” My memory puts me alone on a street in Strasbourg and I am on a sidewalk with a French policeman. During our conversation, I asked what model pistol he carried in his full flap holster, expecting just some words in response. Instead, he opened the flap and handed me his pistol, still loaded. It was the French Model 1935, manufactured in Alsace and chambered in 7.65 long. His automatic was decades old, a bit rusty and he told me that the Bas-Rhin Department drug dealers had them outgunned, mainly with 9mm pistols. After examining his pistol in detail, I thanked him, returned it, and rushed to find my tour bus and family group.
    Then in October 1996 I arrived in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, to teach the DLI, the Defense Language Institute course at TINS, the Saudi Naval Academy. Since there were no women, (Saudi, Muslim, Hindu, or American) to interact with, and our BOQ rooms had TV, but a channel of prayer, Saudi news which focused on the royal family, a sports channel (think cricket and tennis) and a channel from India, old black and white movies, MTV Mumbai, and other delights.
    Instructors become disillusioned and unhappy and might not stay their 2-year contract and do a runner (leave on vacation and never return.) So, the 15 or so new instructors, mainly American, British, Irish, Ugandan, were given indoctrination and acclimatization workshops, one being a visit to Khobar on the bus. This trip was to show us where the 330pm and 630pm bus dropped off and picked up teachers who went to town for toothpaste, bookstores (Jarir), a meal, or just to see the marble malls and bright lights. One new instructor was a former US Naval officer, was gay and had gotten out of the Navy before Don’t Ask and for God’s sake, do not tell. This guy had an acerbic sense of humor and had dyed his white dress uniform pink with Kool Aid to muster out of the Naval Service his last day. Another story. While being led from the Khobar Post office (we still wrote letters in those pre internet days), the group was strung out from Travel offices, to Indian restaurants where $2 would buy a full meal. Across the street I saw a uniformed man holding a Beretta Model 12 9mm submachine gun. Excited, I asked the group to halt and wait a moment and I took my life in my hands and ran across the road. Coming up to this guy, I pointed to his Beretta and I told him I loved it and I had two questions. Was this the Model 12(with the cross-bolt safety) or Model 12S with the new safety and was it manufactured locally or in Italy?
    Turned out the guard spoke little or no English, but he knew that I was excited and happy and kept gesturing to his submachine gun. Since a tenet of Islam is to be hospitable, he handed me his Beretta. Checking the subgun from stem to stern, 32 round box magazine. Check. No cross-bolt safety, so the later model, the 12S. As I read the stampings on both side of the receiver, I noticed the entire group of my colleagues watching me across the street. I waved, examined it again, then presented the Beretta back to the guard with my thanks. I ran back and the former Naval officer with his dry wit stated that I had been in country a few days and already had automatic weapons. I apologized for holding up the tour and we continued the tour. 4 years later I was leaving TINS, the Saudi Navy and Dammam-Khobar for good. At dinner in the Mess hall one evening John Hamilton and Peter Janke presented me with a Saudi shoulder holster, leather with a palm tree design cut in the leather. Flipping it over and over, surprised and pleased by the wonderful gesture, I slipped it on, adjusted the elastic straps and settled it in place and smiled. Peter, Oxford man that he is, exclaimed “I would not even know how to put that harness on!”
    The summer of 2006 my wife and went to Jordan. We had adopted a Jordanian woman who came to UNC- Chapel Hill for her post doc in pharmaceutical design. (I have seen her interviews on Jordanian TV thrice lately, coronavirus made the obscure specialization most relevant.) Since we took Rima under our wing and made her our family, her parents and husband wanted us to visit Jordan and reciprocate the following summer. Family members were Police chiefs, intelligence, and officials in the Department of the Interior. Wasta. One night in Ammam we went to a wedding, large wedding in a hotel. Janis was inside with the women’s wedding and I remember being outside with the men’s wedding. At some point Mahmoud stood and said we had to leave; we were heading for Petra. We returned home, changed out of our wedding clothing, and climbed into the car for a long ride South from Amman to Petra. It was dark, we drove fast, and at some point, we were passed by a police vehicle. We pulled over and I though a ticket was about to be given, but it was Mahmoud’s brother, who was the police chief for the Petra district. After introductions and greetings, I rode in the police car and we led the way through the darkness to Petra. We talked about guns, a Glock in the front seat, and about Bill Clinton when he visited Petra.
    Arriving at the hotel about 3am, we walked in, around the metal detectors, and with no check in, went to our rooms. Our stay was complimentary. 2 hours sleep later, I rose, opened the curtains, and the full force of the desert sunblasted my eyeballs, searing and killing thousands of braincells. A quick shower helped me to breathe normally and walk upright and I left the room, ready to explore. The Jordanian Army was guarding all 4 and 5 star hotels, since tourism and phosphates are the only hard money factors of the Jordanian economy. Putting on my sunglasses, I ventured outside to check out the desert, the sun, and the army guards and their equipment. The first soldier that encountered was armed with the Beretta AR-70 with a side folding stock. From a distance, it and the stock looked like the Israeli Galil, so I asked the soldier to examine his rifle. The Police chief had appeared, probably waiting for us to waken and begin his tour for us. The soldier looked at the chief, the chief nodded, and I held the rifle, turned it to examine and read the brand and where it was manufactured(Italy), then returned the rifle and thanked him. Time for breakfast.
    This summer the kids and grandkids were visiting us in the mountains and my son in law had a flat tire. We have a friend who has a tire shop, so Jason and I headed to town after breakfast. After the tire was fixed and was paid for, a customer walked in with a new t shirt on and it said NO EXCUSES. I walked over and asked where the shirt was purchased, we talked, then Jason and I drove home. Later, over lunch, Jason tells everyone that I walk up to strangers as if I have known them all my life and if he did it, the guy would have hauled off and hit him. Janis said I get away with these interchanges with a combination of innocence and sincerity in my face and eyes.
    Phillip (but I grew up in a military family and my grandfather hunted for food)


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