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 Sarah DeFelice
Before taking this class, my experience with guns was moderate but my knowledge of gun culture was limited. I have only fired a gun a few times, but immediately found the excitement when I hit my target. The field trip at the beginning of the semester sparked a competitive element that made me want to try and outshoot my classmates. In the small group that I attended with, half had never fired a gun before. As our time at the range went on, the fear slowly disappeared from my group and the recreational element increased. It was hard not to notice their smiles from behind their masks after they hit the target. The false perception that shooing is easy also went away. Proper technique is extremely important to accurate shooting. The field trip was an excellent way to frame the learning for the rest of the semester. Guns and gun ownership have a multitude of components that cannot be reduced to a blanket statement of one type of individual.
In light of taking the Sociology of Guns class, my understanding of the different types of people that own guns and the purpose for owning guns has evolved beyond the basic assumptions that many, including myself, have made. The various guest speakers brought the concept that there is more than one type of gun owner to light. John Johnston, Lara Smith, Mike Sodini, Rob Pincus, Tiffany Johnson, and Aqil Qadir are all very different people with different motivations surrounding their gun ownership. These guest lecturers brought to light that it is just not white, older, conservative men who own guns for hunting or sport. Although we read that Gun culture 2.0 has more diverse, young, liberal, and female gun owners for self-defense purposes, it was seeing and hearing from Lara Smith from the Liberal Gun Club and Tiffany Johnson from “Broadening the 2A Tent” that highlighted that you do not have to fit in one category to be a proud gun owner. Listening to these guests connected the concept on paper to the real world.
The class discussion that resonated with me on an extremely emotional level was on the topic of suicide with Mike and Rob from Walk the Talk America. I found this class slightly difficult to prepare for and try to participate in the discussion because growing up one of my peers in middle school took his own life with his father’s handgun. While I have recently found that guns can be fun and recreational, there is also an extremely dangerous and lethal component to them when placed in the wrong hands. Walk the Talk America provides the bridge between mental health awareness and rights protection. Their use of sharing accurate information and trying to destigmatize seeking help when you need it is extremely significant towards saving lives. Seeing across the news the March for Our Lives campaign in 2018 only gives one perspective to the solution of gun violence. Through the guest lecture, I learned that taking away guns may not be the best solution because the mental health issues and lack of resources is a problem that will persist. Suicide by firearms is tragic, but treating the underlying mental health illnesses is the most guaranteed way to prevent any form of attempts.
Many individuals in the United States and across the world make extreme assumptions about gun ownership based on what they witness in the media. Mike and Rob with Walk the Talk America are trying to change the perceptions by providing accurate information and resources related to mental health. Additionally, my paper topic highlighted another assumption about gangs, guns, and the underground market. Based on mass media, it is easy to associate illegal guns and gangs with one another. With no empirical research to support my assumptions, I hypothesized that gangs were the primary contributor to the underground gun market. In my mind, it just made sense that gangs participate in illegal activities, so they must also be the ones responsible for the illegal underground transactions of guns. Despite that the research on this topic is sparse, I found that the primary contributor to the underground gun market was friends and family. They are the ones that are allowing disqualified individuals to have a gun in their possession, and that many of the illegal transactions are opportunistic. The research I uncovered was baffling and I was surprised that more people were not aware of this fact. My consumer behavior class that I took over the summer taught me about the availability heuristic and how the ease with which an individual can recall information guides their beliefs and decisions. It makes logical sense then that the portrayal of gangs—from news sources and other media outlets—as entities that only participate in illegal behaviors would cloud the beliefs and information surrounding illegal transactions of guns. This false representation of reality guides societal beliefs about the involvement of gangs in illegal gun transactions because individuals can more easily recall that gangs participate in illegal activities than that they are not the primary contributor.
Ultimately, throughout this class, I learned that a majority of individuals make inaccurate assumptions about guns and gun ownership. I typically try to formulate my opinions based on facts, but this class revealed that I, like many others, make several assumptions about guns that are unfounded. In light of my more recent exposure to guns and a better understanding of their power, I have chosen to apply to receive my gun permit in New Jersey. I have accepted a full-time job in Alpharetta, Georgia beginning in June 2021 and will be living on my own for the first time. My father feels strongly that I should have the resources to protect myself and urged me to apply. To make informed choices about my participation with guns, I hope to take more safety courses to be best prepared, understand the firearm, and know the proper techniques. To fully understand the place of guns in the communities in which I live and the one I am going to live in the future, I need to understand what gun culture is like in that city. Having lived in rural New Jersey my entire life, I truly only understand the gun culture there. Gun culture 2.0 is bringing a shift in what types of gun owners are out there, but understanding the community’s general belief in guns will be important to understand my role. In conclusion, the class allowed me to understand that beliefs based on media coverage and not based in fact about gun usage are detrimental towards the national understanding that guns serve a multitude of purposes—protection, sport, recreation, hunting, and more.