As noted earlier, 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).
By Mary Sills
I’ll be honest. Going to the gun range and shooting a firearm for the first time in my life was a little bit of a daunting start to this class. But I’m glad I did it. This class has broadened my perspective on a topic that I’ve long been ignorant about and a little afraid of. I had always viewed the gun-owning community in a negative way which stemmed from my minimal exposure to it and seeing what gun violence did to my hometown. But now I have a better understanding of the major role that guns play in our society even if I chose to ignore it all my life. One of the overarching themes that I learned this semester was just how much the gun-owning community was changing demographically. Learning that new gun owners are more and more diverse than ever before challenged the stereotype of the typical gun owner that I had always had in my head.
Throughout the semester, I learned many different aspects of American gun culture that I had just never been exposed to or ever knew about. One major idea that was interesting to learn about was just how diverse the gun-owning community is. In my mind, the gun-owning community consist of white, conservative, and older men. But we learned there are in fact liberal gun owners, gay gun owners, and more and more female gun owners as well. This shift to Gun Culture 2.0 with gun owners being younger, more female, more racially and sexually diverse broke my longstanding ignorant belief about who comprised the gun-owning community. Learning about the Pink Pistols and the Liberal Gun Club showed me that there is more than one type of gun owner.
Two of the guest speakers that really struck out to me were Tiffany Johnson and Aqil Qadir from Citizens Safety Academy. Their mission of “Broadening the 2A” is a great way to get more people into the gun-owning community. For me personally, I would feel so much more comfortable going to a gun range if they didn’t tailor to a certain audience and if they didn’t alienate any groups or demographics with politics. I think that concept of inclusivity can make someone who is uneasy about learning how to use a gun, like myself, feel more comfortable fitting into this somewhat intimidating community of gun-owning people. Every person has a right to defend themselves and no part of their identity should make them feel unwelcome in the gun-owning community. It’s encouraging to learn that people in the gun-owning community want to create this inclusive environment for people who may be apprehensive about joining.
Also, a quote from “The Meaning of Guns to Gun Owners in the US” by Michael Siegel and Claire Boine really exemplified the divide that is still apparent when trying to enact policies regarding gun violence prevention. “Nearly 70% of gun owners reported that a reason for their reluctance to engage in gun violence prevention was that they feel alienated because they perceive gun control advocates as blaming them for the gun violence problem, not understanding gun ownership, and not understanding much about guns.” This is one of the main reasons why policies to combat gun violence are always heavily debated and rarely enacted. But it’s encouraging to learn that the gun-owning community is changing and people are making it a more inclusive, diverse place that bridges this gap (such as Lara Smith from the Liberal Gun Club and the Citizens Safety Academy) But it still has a long way to go.
One writing presentation that really struck me was Bevin’s comparison of the ignorance and little information we receive about guns in general to the little sex education Americans are taught as well. Coming from a Catholic school where sexual health was rarely discussed (and when it was, it taught the archaic idea of abstinence) I thought this was a great connection of why both of these topics are considered taboo and why that ignorance to talk about it is not helping properly educate people about guns and sex, which both play such a major role in American society. I know for myself that I would have been more comfortable with the idea of guns if I was properly educated about them. That type of knowledge brings a level of comfort and lessons that fear of the unknown. So, I agree that some type of thorough gun education course would be helpful to open the gun-owning community to new people and different perspectives. Guns are apart of American life and the first step to normalize it to the rest of the population is through proper education.
Also doing my research on arming teachers and other measures to prevent school shootings exposed me to how we still don’t have clear answers for gun violence prevention. I’ve learned that we need more funding for research on gun violence prevention. I think that coupled with the changing-demographics of the gun-owning community (one that is more inclusive) will be a good first step to creating bipartisan gun violence prevention policies that both gun owners and non-gun owners can support.
I think I want to take a full gun safety class in the future to really understand the gun-owning community. Our field trip to the gun range was a good first step to familiarize myself with something I had never done before. But I’m still anxious. But after taking this class, I want to actively start to educate myself how to use a gun and practice shooting one. I think this type of firsthand experience will help ease my nerves and also expose me to the gun-owning community and hear their different perspectives. I want to be an ally of the gun-owning community because I think that’s a good way to start bridging the divide between people like me (who have never been exposed to guns their whole life) and gun owners. This class helped me realize just how diverse the gun-owning community is and that I want to get that firsthand experience to augment my understanding.