I learn something every semester from each of my students, but one student’s work this semester was more of a revelation to me. Bevin Burns drew on her experience promoting sexual health and education on college campuses to highlight some potential negative consequences of adopting an abstinence-based approach to gun safety education.
This really resonated with me because I have noted the two different approaches to gun safety: safety WITH guns vs. safety FROM guns. The #gunsafety and #gunsense movement is really promoting the gun equivalent to “abstinence only” sex education, and we know how well that worked over the years.
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 Bevin Burns
Many of my opinions have changed since the onset of this class regarding the actual role of guns and gun use in American society. “Ignorance is bliss,” they say, but ignorance actually has the potential to make you just plain wrong and frankly, stupid. As stated previously, I was taught to fear guns and raised on the premise that guns were bad, and I did not question these ‘lessons’ because I had the privilege of never having to. I ignorantly equated firearm use and ownership with negative emotions and expectations. Since no one I knew growing up had a gun, or at least spoke of having one (looking back this was probably ignorant as well), my strong and oblivious opinions regarding guns were never challenged.
I had a blind trust of the information that was being given to me. Adults closest to us or those we look up to are supposed to be the ones we model our thinking and actions after right? No, not necessarily but this happens more often than not. We do not want to question the judgements made by the ones we trust the most but this unwavering trust and confidence we place in those opinions that we model after them may not do us well in the long run. When we grow up around our parents or teachers who believe a certain way, it is not until we are forced to think for ourselves that we may question their reasoning behind an opinion. Like when some people who were conditioned to be Trump supporters never question his actions until they are away from their parents and learned about his treatment toward women. Or when we were taught that police officers are there to protect the community but we learn that they might not be there to protect everyone. Or even still when we learn that sex before marriage makes you dirty and a slut. When presented with a diverse and unbiased learning environment that we begin to question the validity behind some of the “truths” we were conditioned to believe.
Something that I “unlearned” as a result from this class is that guns are normal. If you asked me three months ago if I thought guns were normal I would have said “absolutely not they serve no purpose other than to inflict mass destruction and devastation.” I have been fortunate enough to learn from people whose opinions differed tremendously from my own and to realize the ignorance I had around the entire topic of gun culture. I am a strong advocate that education has the power to truly make a difference in the way people collect knowledge and then apply it in their lives outside of traditional learning environments. I also believe that Americans in general need to shift towards a culture of normalization. Through my research I found that teaching young adults how to handle themselves in situations regarding safe gun use and safe sex, that when they encounter a situation in their future they will be safer than those who are not as educated.
Learning about how to handle a firearm and how to be safe when having sex, are topics that come with a lot of baggage attached to them. They are systematically polarizing and conversation around them is often uncomfortable. The need to teach adolescents basic firearm safety and basic sexual health safety is obvious. By normalizing the topics and becoming comfortable about speaking them, more research can be done to determine effective strategies from education to more medicalized public health efforts. The saying is true that ‘education really does have the power to change lives.’
Millions of children live in homes with guns present and millions of those children have friends who may not have a gun in their home enter a space that has one. Parents inform each other of their children’s peanut allergies and what to do if they have a reaction. This is considered a normal, proactive, and logical behavior. Parents don’t often inform each other that they have a gun in their homes. If a gun is not properly stored and a child does not have any safety training or knowledge of what to do the consequences could be deadly. However, if gun owners and advocates made a push to be proactive about educating not only themselves and their children of safe gun use, but also the parents of their children’s friends we may see the incidents of unintentional and intentional deaths from “family fire” greatly decrease. We need to make the discussion gun culture has open and normal to that of the discussion around something as common as a peanut allergy. Because about 3 million people in the United States have a peanut allergy and 72 million people own guns in the United States.
When a child turns 16 in Massachusetts they are able to take their permit test, but only after they have completed hours of practice and education on how to be a safe and smart driver. They then have a 6 month period where they have to be accompanied by a licensed adult before they can set off on the road by themselves. This makes perfect sense. If steps were put in place similar to the ones of how people obtain a driver’s license, gun culture becomes safer, smarter, and less secretive. All of this harkens back to the idea that education can save lives and help those behind the wheel or behind the trigger to be more cautious and more informed about how to be a normal citizen who just happens to have a gun for any number of reasons.
Learning from presenters that came and spoke to our class about gun use was really eye-opening for me. They all discredited my previous assumptions that white, conservative men were pushing the agenda around gun culture. While they might have been for a while, minorities are taking back their rights and normalizing the use of guns for normal people. I found it incredibly fascinating that the majority of stereotypes about guns and gun ownership in the United States are incorrect. The media and NRA’s rhetoric contribute to misleading the public’s perception on the reality of gun culture in the United Stats. Something that I have definitely been guilty of buying in to.
Chances are high that I will never own a gun in my life, but my reasoning behind why has shifted. Previously, I thought I would never own a gun because I did not want to be associated with the people that own them. Now that I have come to accept that gun ownership is normal and not going anywhere, I see the ignorance in my past belief. If I were to own a gun I would not feel comfortable going to a store and purchasing one with a minimal background check. I would feel unsafe and uncomfortable with handling a gun without extensive training. Before moving anywhere in my future I will definitely be researching the statistics about gun ownership and various other measures that would feed into my safety. I asked the question in my first paper “Why are my opinions so strong if I have almost no experience with them?” My opinions were so strong because of the ignorance I had to gun ownership and culture. I realize that I have no place passing judgement onto people who own or take part in gun culture, because one day I could possibly muster up enough courage to purchase one for myself. It is so important to educate myself about the actualities of any topic, not just gun use, before I have opinions that are solely based on ignorance and those around me. The most important takeaway from this class that I have learned is that guns are normal and normal people have guns.