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 Maddie Dorfman
After taking SOC 346 with Dr. Yamane, I can confidently say that my attitude towards guns in the United States has changed. I did not really know what to expect regarding the content of the course – I was unsure if we would be learning about the dangers of guns, why people own guns, how guns are not as bad as they seem, or some other topic concerning guns altogether. I also did not really have any previous experience with guns, unless you count shooting a rifle at sleepaway camp one time. All I knew was that people had raved about this class in the past, and I enjoyed taking Sociological Theory with Dr. Yamane, so I decided to give it a chance. It turned out that everything I thought the class could have been about was in fact included in the course, plus even more interesting topics I had never even considered. Looking back on what I knew at the beginning of the semester, I now feel that taking this class not only gave me a better understanding of guns in America than I previously held, but it also gave me a better understanding of this topic than most Americans have.
As I wrote about in my reflection essay on our field trip to the gun range, I felt very mixed emotions about my experiences there. Not only was I surprised by my ability to actually hit the targets (and even break one target, oops!), I was surprised by the fact that I had fun shooting the different guns. After all, I had spent most of my life prior to the field trip hearing how guns were horrible, violent instruments that do nothing but promote violence and fear and should be avoided at all costs. Having fun at the gun range did not line up with these preconceived notions, so I was confused, even a bit annoyed with myself. However, I saw this confusion and annoyance as an opportunity to open myself up to learning even more surprising things about guns. With this mindset in place, I began the class feeling intrigued and a bit apprehensive for what was to come.
The course content really gave me a comprehensive view of all standpoints regarding guns. That was something I really appreciated about Dr. Yamane’s teaching style: despite being a self-proclaimed “gun nut,” he never used his position as our professor to attempt to push some “guns are the best and you should think so, too” agenda on us. Rather, he fairly and thoroughly presented different pieces of information about guns for what they were, allowing us to draw our own conclusions and discuss them together every week. Also, the course covered a wide range of topics, ranging from why people own guns, gun violence, suicide, the politics of gun ownership, and so on. As someone who mostly thought of guns in terms of politics and violence, seeing other elements of guns in America and learning that they are not all bad opened my eyes more to how diverse the gun community really is. It does not just consist of redneck, white, conservative men who own guns for fun; there are countless reasons to own a gun, and these different reasons bring people from different backgrounds into one giant community. I never knew there were populations of liberal or LGBTQ gun rights advocates, and seeing this diversity in the community highlighted for me that supporting the 2nd Amendment does not automatically equate to being a redneck or not caring about gun violence. I would say that, overall, the biggest thing I learned from this course was to not make assumptions about gun owners. You cannot know just from the fact that someone owns a gun and supports the 2nd Amendment why that person owns a gun, what that person’s political views are, how often that person uses the gun, or really much of anything else. All you can really do is stay as educated as possible about guns and form your own opinion regarding where you stand in the gun debate.
Although Dr. Yamane obviously taught me most of what I learned from this class, I have to say that spending the whole semester researching the media’s portrayal of gun violence and its impact was also very educational and interesting for me. As I mentioned before, violence was one of the main associations I paired with guns, and a large part of this came from what I would see in the media – local reports of gang shootings, national headlines about mass shootings, and everything in between. Once I started learning about guns in this class and seeing that they were not such a bad thing after all, it made me think more about why I only saw the bad side of them in the news. This is what made me want to research this for my paper, and my research showed me that the media was not telling the full story, after all. This was pretty alarming for me to realize, because it showed me that most of what I knew about guns was actually wrong. Writing this paper did not only inform me about the reality of guns in America; it taught me to be more critical in general of what I see in the media, and to only form opinions when I actually know the full story.
With all of this new knowledge and a fresh perspective on guns accompanying me forward, I am now faced with analyzing how exactly I should proceed from here. I want to ensure that I do not simply fall back into my old pattern of viewing guns in a strictly negative way, nor do I want to pretend that I am now some gun expert whose opinion on everything gun-related is automatically correct. I think the best thing I could probably do for myself going forward would be to do what a student is meant to do: research anything and everything I can on the matter before forming an opinion. This is the only way to continue to truly learn about guns, and learning about guns is something I am interested in continuing. I would also like to have conversations with people who do not necessarily agree with me about guns. For instance, my dad is a staunch anti-gun man, and I would be curious to see what talking to him about this class would look like. On the flip side, I know a few people at this school who are very pro-gun, so talking to them about this class would also be intriguing. While I may never be a person who will own a gun myself, I want to guarantee that I will now be a person who wholeheartedly respects others’ rights to do so; that is the biggest takeaway I could possibly hope to gain from this course.