As noted yesterday, the final assignment of the semester in my Sociology of Guns seminar is for the students to write an essay reflecting on their personal experience with and understanding of guns in light of what they learned in the course (full text of the assignment is here).
Changing Demographics and Changing Opinions
By Michelle Lazaran
Prior to this course, my experience with guns included my anti-gun family, the news, movies, and TV shows. These sources, however, usually portrayed guns in one light, as a tool used for school shootings, mass shootings, and homicides. My viewpoint, while still having reservations, quickly changed after the field trip to the gun range. I found myself holding an AR-15 with this unyielding desire to hit closer and closer to the center of the target. All of a sudden, guns did not just represent fear and anxiousness, but rather the joy of self-competition. Nevertheless, neither of these ideas truly encompass guns in the United States. Throughout this course, I learned that having a singular idea of firearms is inaccurate and detrimental to productive conversations. Therefore, four months from the first time I ever fired a gun, I have come to the understanding that guns are more than the fear of violence or the joy of competition. Guns are utilized by a wide variety of people as a form of expression, protection, and or heritage.
Thus, over the course of the semester, we have focused on the diverse culture that is surrounding gun ownership, or as Dr. Yamane coined “Gun Culture 2.0.” Rather than the historical perception of white southern males owning guns for sport and hunting, America’s identity of gun owners is changing. Now, more Americans of all backgrounds are obtaining firearms for self-defense. This more inclusive environment includes a younger and more racially, politically, and sexually diverse crowd than traditional owners. Therefore, as the United States continues to grow and change, gun ownership has begun to reflect those changing demographics. Moreover, some firearms owners, such as Tiffany Johnson and Aqil Qadir, endeavor to continue opening the Second Amendment to as many people as possible. Johnson and Qadir offer an online course, “Broadening the 2A Tent,” that describes the altering population and tips to better welcome individuals, especially those who differ from oneself. Every tip acknowledges the need for open and honest discussion to continue growing the community of gun owners. For example, the first tip is to “Meet them at 60%,” highlighting the need to give sixty percent in a conversation to create a dialogue of depth and understanding, rather than disagreements and miscommunications.
Another guest speaker who represented the changing demographics of gun culture was Lara Smith. As both a woman and the national spokesperson for the Liberal Gun Club, Smith demonstrates that historical stereotypes no longer accurately define those who practice the Second Amendment. While Johnson and Qadir described their course and their work to open the conversation of firearms to others, Smith expressed her relationship with guns and politics. More often than not, she also saw the two overlapping, particularly with this shifting gun culture towards one of inclusion and protection. In class, Smith discussed that she has witnessed how the changing times have prompted individuals to pursue firearms as a form of security and potential protection. Smith explained that following mass shootings in which specific groups of individuals felt targeted, such as the Pulse Nightclub, often increased membership rates. Smith also discussed that membership numbers rose significantly with President Trump’s election in 2016. Many people felt grave uncertainty due to the heighted rhetoric, particularly against racial minorities and individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community. Interestingly, Smith and Johnson both discussed how when it comes to politics, they must prioritize which issues on the ticket are of graver importance for themselves as individuals. Therefore, while not ideal, if a candidate, for example, wanted to place restrictions on the Second Amendment but supported a personal issue for them, they would be willing to risk those restrictions to protect other rights.
Consequently, due to this course, I understand my grave inaccuracy in believing that gun owners were mostly southern white males. Moreover, I thought that guns were utilized for hunting and sport or misused by threatening individuals- such as showing up armed to counter-protest Black Lives Matter Movement-, and or for violence. However, again and again, the literature, lectures, and guest speakers demonstrated the falsity in my opinions and my ignorance regarding not only guns, but the gun community. Additionally, as my assumptions were challenged, I began to comprehend the complex role that guns play in American society. First and foremost, the Second Amendment extends to all Americans and is utilized by many individuals of all differing backgrounds, genders, faiths, sexualities, and political parties. Additionally, to each American, a gun represents something different: a family heirloom that you have looked at your whole life, a good memory with a family member, a source of comfort, and unfortunately, for some, a source of fear. However, while some individuals misuse a gun, the reality is that the majority of gun owners are responsible.