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).
Here is the sixth of several such essays, written by a student whose initial reflections on our field trip to the gun range can be found here. (Link to first, second, third, fourth, and fifth essays.)
By Alexandra Tourret
As I shared in my field trip reflection essay at the beginning of the semester, I had very little experience with and knowledge of guns coming into this class. I have only been to the gun range twice and have held an unloaded gun once since my last trip to the range. Until recently, my perspective of guns and America’s gun culture was based on what I saw and heard in the news. The daily shootings I read about in my local news app and the incidents of mass shootings that seem to dominate the national news at least once a year shaped my opinion of gun control. I believed that there were too many guns in society, that only law enforcement and active military should carry guns, and that gun violence was so prevalent because of how many civilians own and carry guns in the United States. Looking back at my initial reflection, I agree that “my ideal understanding of guns in the US was flawed and impractical and did not actually align with my morals.” Just as I firmly believe that the majority of cops do not engage in police brutality, I acknowledge and understand that most gun owners do not contribute to gun violence.
Within a couple of weeks of attending this class, I completely stripped down my stance on gun control and gun culture. I no longer knew what I believed, so I worked to rebuild my position while learning the course content. The first thing I learned that influenced my understanding of gun culture was that there are many reasons as to why people in the United States want to own a gun, but that the desire to own a gun for self-defense reasons has increased dramatically in the last few decades. Although there are certainly risks of owning a handgun, we discussed in class that those risks can be mitigated through proper training and procedures, and that the benefits of having a gun in case of an emergency outweighs the risks for many people.
The zoom visit from John Johnston was the first event in our class that helped me discover my stance on gun control and gun violence. I found myself agreeing with some of the things he said and disagreeing with others, allowing me to slowly shape my beliefs. Johnston argued that the people who are most likely to need a firearm for self-defense have the least accessibility and financial capability for license procedure and training. Based on my knowledge of socioeconomic gaps, I agree that the current gun control measures and restrictions are discriminatory against poor and minority communities. While I believe we should have some form of gun control, I think that it needs to be reformed with the mindset of ensuring equity in the procedures of obtaining a carry permit and purchasing a gun.
However, I disagreed with Johnston’s claim that felons should not have access to guns, and because we do not trust them with guns or the right to vote, it seems logical to not release them from prison in the first place. My automatic reaction to his claim helped me to realize that I believe gun control should not generalize; not all felons are violent criminals who would use a gun if they had access to one. I have just finished taken Dr. Gunkel’s class on corrections, so I know that the composition of prisons disproportionately reflects Black men who were arrested on a drug-related charge, many of whom pled guilty because they could not afford the legal costs of a trial. Denying those released felons access to a firearm is just another form of racial discrimination.
The literature I found for my paper also largely shaped my comprehension and view of gun culture. Several of the researchers I relied on for my paper argued that many Americans own a gun because they think the police are inadequate at protecting them against gun violence and/or because they are afraid of police brutality and racial bias. This completely changed my original belief that only law enforcement should own and carry guns. As someone who is going into law enforcement and has gained some experience from working with police officers, I still believe that gun violence needs to be policed by law enforcement through collaboration with communities. However, I understand why many people of racial and ethnic minorities fear the police and the power the gun gives them. While only a small percentage of law enforcement officers abuse their power and harm civilians, the number of incidents of police brutality is astounding. Thus, I believe that gun control includes both vetting of people who should not have access to a gun because of mal-intent (and risk probability) and vetting of people who apply to work in law enforcement.
My major research assignment also made me aware of how little we know about the issue of policing of guns. Each state has its own gun control laws and views of gun ownership. Each jurisdiction has discretion for how to deal with crimes involving guns and there are discrepancies in the strictness and enforcement of state laws on guns. There is very little data on what policing strategies work best in preventing and combating gun violence. The need for more research regarding the policing of guns is crucial. This issue is very relevant to my future, as I will be fighting gun violence while also trying to build trust with communities that do not have faith in or good relationships with the police. I want to contribute to destigmatizing gun ownership and securing gun rights in addition to protecting communities from gun-related crimes.
The other main area of gun culture that I need more information on is whether and how to mandate training for gun owners. I do believe that anyone who owns a gun ought to be properly trained, and I think gun owners should have to renew their gun permits every five to ten years to show they still know how to use the gun safely. Law enforcement officers regularly pass training tests to ensure their competency with a gun, and I think this is a good idea for civilian gun owners as well. However, as we have discussed in class, state mandates have been shown to not be effective, and I still have no idea how training should be mandated. While I will be provided training through my career in law enforcement, I still think it is important for more attention and research to be given to better solutions for encouraging training for all who own and/or carry a gun.